Comic Review: The Mercenary Sea #1-6
In The Mercenary Sea, Captain Jack Harper leads the crew of the Venture on merc jobs in 1938 during the Second Sino-Japanese War. They face enemies and espionage at every turn. Survival is a challenge in these treacherous waters yet; the Venture crew manages to stay alive through improvisation, the power of snappy dialogue, and straight up bravado!
Catch up on adventures in the South Seas with the Mercenary Sea TPB Vol. 01
In six issues, the crew of the Venture make trips to trade with native islanders, perform covert extractions of intelligence officers, and partake in an impromptu rescue mission of Chinese villagers. Each job carries its own set of challenges. Harper and company always find what they need for success, whether it be skill or luck, The Mercenary Sea has a classic Hollywood feel to it with a bit of Johnny Quest and the A-Team thrown in for good measure. It is this classic movie feel to this series that causes me to both enjoy and be critical of the comic.
Reading The Mercenary Sea is a bit like spending a lazy afternoon with Turner Classic Movies. I’ve spent more time than I care to admit among the black and white features, with accompanying eye rolls as necessary. While those films are exceeding charming, the representation of women from a different cinematic era can get under my skin (heck, representations of women in this era often drive me crazy). Those war films of the 1940s and 1950s often treat women characters as novelties. So goes The Mercenary Sea: Hey, look it’s a girl mechanic! Hey, look it’s an alluring, mysterious Asian beauty! Hey look, it’s a sassy [SPOILER] that verbally spars with the handsome male lead! All the women in The Mercenary Sea story are appreciated or encouraged on their beauty or sexual appeal first and foremost, and any skills or abilities second, if at all.
The Mercenary Sea is not a fact-filled historical epic–it is adventure in war-time setting. Therefore, the story is not tied to any sort of actual portrayal of women in 1938. I would love Symons to leave some of those trappings behind and give me a female character that is more than an object for the male gaze. It’s a missed opportunity, in my opinion, since inspiration could even come from some of the Golden Age wartime heroines like Pat Patriot or Pat Parker, War Nurse.
Despite wanting a different treatment of female characters, I like the fast-paced plots in The Mercenary Sea and the art is very striking—oh, those silhouette splash pages! Reynolds uses bold colors reflect the time of day and the environment to great effect. Plus, I dig an ensemble cast on a search for a lost island that may or may not have dinosaurs living there. There is a lot to like here that I believe could be made stronger with a few changes in approach to women characters. Give Sam more agency and focus on her technical skills (like Kaylee from Firefly) instead of having her pine for a romantic relationship with a much older man and I believe this series is a winner. As it stands, The Mercenary Sea goes on the “fun, with eye rolls” reading list.