“The opposite of war isn’t peace . . . “
Twenty years ago, the world of comics was a much different place, everything was extreme and to the max. Men were men and men in capes were more so, and the only way a woman could outstrip a man in power was to do it in costume, as well. Not that we’ve moved terribly far from that status (We only have to look at recent covers of Spiderwoman, Catwoman and Batgirl and the fallout that even five years ago wouldn’t have raised as much fervor.), but on the whole we’ve migrated to a more eclectic array of titles and stories within them. We can have the incredibly bloody slasher book but balance it with works that edify and enlighten, as well. Mercy is a book that fits perfectly into the world we have now, and yet was written in the time of tight-pants testosterone and no-pants lady testosterone. The darkness of Miller and Moore was a darkness of the human spirit: this was the time of Watchmen, this was the age of the Wolverine. This was also the time of Mercy.
J.M. DeMatteis and Paul Johnson came together to build a story that has no contemporary equal, and not many that I’ve seen since either. DeMatteis doesn’t ask us to leave ourselves at the door but invites everything we are along for a ride through the human spirit. A man in a coma who is able to perceive the world outside of his body happens upon a powerful force in the persona of Mercy, a woman who seems to always be in places of darkness, defeat, and death. At times, she seems to set things right, at others, she seems to cause more pain than balm, and our protagonist feels compelled to solve her riddle, cast her down for bringing false hope to the lost and broken. What I love most about this is the evident tough, but fair, love in every motion, the balance that is sought in every situation. Mercy confounds the man whose thoughts we inhabit, and in the end finds something he didn’t realize that he was looking for. This is, to quote a friend of mine, a story of hope, where the journey leads to a place of building up rather than tearing down and does so in a brusque and somehow otherworldly manner. The effect comes from Mercy’s absolute faith in herself and those she travels to, and the artists’ absolute faith in their story, letting the pieces fall as they will in pursuing the razor’s edge of their story’s balance. It’s a cool risk to see on the page, and I think it pays off big.
Paul Johnson has a wonderful touch in this book and shows his great skill in the transitions between clarity and chaos in each image. Mercy sometimes stands out, and sometimes you have to hunt for her, without perhaps understanding why. The ethereal quality of the artwork lends itself to the feeling of being between worlds, of being given a glimpse at what lies beyond the real world that we see and work in every day. This twilight is where Mercy does her work, and the feeling will keep you transfixed throughout.
In this new release, we’re also treated to a great, behind-the-scenes look at the creation of this work, with storyboards and production artwork, as well as notes from the creators and editors who had a part in bringing it to life. There are also a few pieces of the history behind this book, a great glimpse into how a story like this made it to the page in that muscle-bound time, and how important that it was that it did.
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