No Mercy #9
The psychological horror series by Alex de Campi and Carla Speed McNeil concludes its second arc with the most powerful issue yet.
It’s also a great starting point, if you’re curious, since it’s a flashback issue focusing on a single one of the doomed teens. (If you’re looking for a more chronological starting point, the first four issues of No Mercy have been collected at a discount price.)
Back in issue #6, we saw how poorly siblings Chad and Charlene get along. They managed to make it to a town after hiking out of the bus crash area, but when Chad Skyped their parents, they basically told him to get lost, since video of him with another guy had hit the net, video he claimed was fake. The parents are conservative and religious, and their “deviant” children are an embarrassment to them. Chad had always been the good kid, selling out his sister, so I can only imagine how hearing “don’t come home” to his privileged life would affect him.
Issue #8 shows more of what happens to each. Charlene is now Sebastian, the trans boy she always knew she was. Chad, well, I don’t want to spoil things, but remember, this is a horror series. Many privileged kids do very stupid things that result in pain, mutilation, or death, never thinking that anything bad could happen to them because their life so far has been so special and bubbled. (One of the areas of appeal, though, is how much some of them deserve what happens to them. One of the horrible elements is how much some of them don’t.) We end, ominously, on Sebastian saying “This isn’t my first time in Mataguey,” explaining why he knows the language.
We find out what that means in issue #9, along with how far Charlene’s parents were willing to go to sacrifice their child to their principles. On the eve of her debutante “coming out” (a phrase used knowingly), Charlene tried to run away. Her brother Chad told her parents, and they sent her to a special school, which thinking people would more accurately call a reeducation camp.
All that mattered there was getting the kids to fit in and behave “properly”. They were disciplined to break their spirit and prevented from making any friends, because everyone informed on everyone else. It was a place for parents to get rid of their embarrassments, to hand over responsibility so they didn’t have to think about relating to their children as people in their own right.
This issue is the scariest of any out so far because these private schools, in other countries, really exist, and they really do use extreme methods, including what some would call torture, to try and force kids who don’t fit in back to the straight and narrow religious life their parents want for them. And the result is, kids die. Either from their treatment, or from suicide. That abuse of parental responsibility and abdication of child protection is more horrifying than anything de Campi, good a writer as she is, could dream up.
Together with Speed McNeil, the two put forward the best kind of entertainment, one with a message that will open the eyes of readers and show them what it feels like to live in a different skin.
#9 will be reprinted as the concluding issue of No Mercy volume 2, due out June 8. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)