No Mercy #1
Two of my favorite women making comics, Alex de Campi and Carla Speed McNeil (Finder, Bad Houses), have teamed up for a new Image series, No Mercy. Now, this series could be described as horror — it’s about a well-meaning but clueless group of privileged students traveling to Central America, where everything goes wrong and various of them end up maimed or dead — which I normally stay well away from, but in this case, I’m glad I gave it a chance. (The first issue is scary more by suggestion than actual images, anyway; that will change later.)
As I mentioned, the setup is a group of college kids from all over the country who are participating in a charity trip to help build schools, most of them to make their transcripts look better. The creators do an amazing job of crafting these various personalities in just a few images or bit of dialogue. They’re identifiable, but not necessarily sympathetic — which helps when bad stuff starts happening. We’re learning who they are at the same time the other characters are.
One moment of inattention, and there’s a bus accident, and the group is trapped in dangerous country. The coyotes aren’t the only predators around, particularly since the nun who guides their bus trip has a no-good uncle who hitched a ride.
A few personalities are already grating: The bullying brother who does nothing but abuse his more skilled little sister. The casually racist kid who assumes the black guy must play sports. The craftpunk freegan who can’t help bragging about the countries he’s already seen and how superior his way of life is.
Most of these kids have never known a world where things didn’t go their way, and their unconscious self-centeredness provides context and background for some of the stupid decisions to follow. I love the way the scenes are littered with their texts and social media posts, around the edges, They look like visual decoration, but the content adds depth and detail to the events.
Some of the most potent moments are brief, as when the nun, knowing how bad events are, takes off the headpiece of her habit while muttering to herself about how they’ll need weapons to survive. Or when one girl, sitting by the body of a badly injured friend, says, “They’re gonna come find us…. I mean, like, we’re Americans.” That isn’t a good thing, necessarily, in this series with a more global view of things.
It’s unusual for me to see such a generous comic, by which I mean, characters are created just to be lost in the accident. There’s no tight-fistedness with ideas and twists. Every panel has something of value, and the skill on display, both in dialogue and image, is something others could learn a lot from. The idea of putting a class of students in mortal danger isn’t new — manga does it a lot — but the way it’s executed here is fresh and intriguing.
The other brilliant thing is that de Campi and Speed McNeil have already finished the first five issues, and I got a chance to read them. I scarfed them up like popcorn, since I couldn’t wait to find out what happened to these poor kids. No word from me to spoil the many revelations coming, but there’s a lot still to happen. And every issue leaves you hungry for the next, building suspense in each installment.
In this interview, de Campi promises that after all the “darker and tenser and messier” events in this country, we’ll also see (sales permitting) what happens when the survivors get back home, which should be equally fascinating. For more, Image has posted preview pages. (The creator provided a digital review copy.)