No Mercy #1 Review – Teenage Drama and American Exceptionalism

No Mercy #1 is the pretty straightfoward story of a group of American high schoolers, who go to Mataguey, a city in some Central American country (it’s never named.) to build houses and boost their resumes.Then everything can could go wrong for the group does, and the trip soon spirals into far darker territories than the students could have possibly imagined. 

No Mercy #1 is written by Alex de Campi (Grindhouse Doors Opens at Midnight) with art from Carla Speed McNeil (Finder) and colors by Jenn Manley Lee (A Wrinkle in Time)

So high schoolers on an international field trip? isn’t that a little boring?

Nope, Alex de Campi uses the innate drama of the teenage existence to create story tension even before the outside bad things start happening around the middle of No Mercy #1. She balances the ridiculousness of some of these teenagers (the “freegan” Travis) while still making some of them sympathetic.

The tour group is 15 strong, and it’s hard to give all of these characters panel time, but De Campi uses this first issue to give readers a flavor of their personalities through an extended bus ride on traffic filled Central American highways. However, it can be a little much to process the various characters on a first read, especially ones who don’t say much.

Which characters stood out to you?

So far, I really latched onto Darlene and the fun dynamic between Lily and Tiffani. World traveler Travis and his attempts to woo the seemingly superficial Gina were good for comedy purposes, and hopefully these two characters will be fleshed out as the series progresses. I think that De Campi’s strategy of splitting the huge cast of characters into smaller groups was a good way to develop relationships before the plot starts getting crazy.

Artist Carla Speed McNeil gives each character a distinct set of language and outfit to enhance the personality that comes out in their dialogue. For example, Lily has a vibrant headband to show that she is more self-aware and possibly a better leader than her peers.

What’s the art like?

Carla Speed McNeil’s panel layouts in No Mercy #1 really dictate the tone and rhythm of the story going forward. She uses a leisurely six panel grid to allow for conversations to break out among the kids on the bus ride before completely changing gears with her structure and raise the plot’s stakes. This shift is jarring as the comic goes from a fun road trip story/look at those annoying Americans satire into something a little more dire.

Colorist Jenn Manley Lee matches this change as she makes her a palette a level darker midway through the issue. This contrasts with the bright colors of the bus (complete with a cheesy “Bienvenidos”) and two page splash of the group photo.

Should I read this comic?

Personally, I loved this comic because I enjoy character-driven teenage, coming of age stories (like Ultimate Spider-Man and Runaways) with quick, witty dialogue. De Campi and McNeil do deliver a nice dose of humor with their characters’ foibles (and occasional snark) and use the occasional funny line to poke at American exceptionalism and privilege.

No Mercy #1 is not a preachy comic in this regard. However, some readers might be annoyed by some of the characters’ tics, like a character who is on Twitter 24/7 and reacts in Emojis. Overall, No Mercy #1 is a riveting and surprisingly realistic blend of coming of age and fish out of water road trip tale with a group dynamic that has potential for both conflict and comedy.

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