Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: The Mercenary Sea # 1

I've been keeping my radar tuned to a lot of Image comics and their sister imprint, Top Cow, and I was especially impressed with the debut issue of Kel Symons and Mathew Reynolds' The Mercenary Sea.

With no interior advertising and a genre-colliding adventure yarn inspired by post-Depression American action films, The Mercenary Sea is well-worth a pick-up.  This series off-the-bat feels like a 1930s World War II epic centering upon a band of ocean-bound bootleggers and smugglers.  The numerous expositions of Symons' lore roll like a parade of senses-bombing serial flicks and while the action only hits a few climactic heights, I'm already suckered by this series.

The story centers on bootlegger Captain Jack Harper and his crew of on-the-lam ex-patriots, runaways and mercs such as John "Smokestack" Jackson, a prizefighter with a hit on his head by the mob after he refused to throw a match.  Then there's "Doc," a Royal Army surgeon from the UK who accidentally killed a solider while operating on him drunk.  You have the baseball cap-crowned Samantha Blair, daughter of a moonshiner and quite adept at mechanics.  Included in this motley band is a former German submarine captain from World War I, Wulf, a French soldier of fortune, Jarreau, and Toby, whose lean and apparently meek stature belies something to be interpreted as highly dangerous.  The tense squabbling between Toby and Jarreau hits its stride immediately when Toby saves Jarreau from a poisonous jungle red with a mere switchblade.

Symons had me right off the bat as Harper and his band, in search of a mythical artifact called the Koji Ra, are confronted by cannibals in the jungle.  In a hilarious plot twist, it turns out Harper is friends with the man-eating tribe and has brought a reel-to-reel copy of the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup and a projection screen for the entire collective to watch.  I enjoyed a good rip when the cannibals ask Harper if he's brought popcorn as well. 

Already, Symons' cheeky style of humor indicates The Mercenary Sea is going to undo and redo the classic ethos of black and white hero yarns, updating it just enough to tickle the funny bones of skeptical modern audiences.  To think of a time when scoring a print of the Fay Wray King Kong outside of American shores was as costly and subversive as stowing illegal arms; Symons nails this nuance with punctuated zest. 

As Harper has more than a few encounters in just this first issue, including a handful of pissed-off pirates and the Chinese army, you get the impression Symons is out to not only keep pace with Indiana Jones' period-based salute to the golden age of action, but to one-up it.  His dialogue is sharp and already we get the sense Harper is well-traveled with both friends and enemies in the deepest corners of the world few people ever get to see.

Mathew Reynolds' artwork is stellar from the standpoint of pop art that begins with a Roy Lichtenstein foundation, then toughened up with a little abstracting from the Frank Miller school.  Again bridging the old to the new.  The Mercenary Sea is an instant grab that I'm looking forward to keeping up with.

                         Listenin' to:  Kyng - Burn the Serum

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