There’s something thrilling about a writer who doesn’t hesitate to put her characters through hell and let them be unlikable in the process. Reading No Mercy is like watching writer Alex de Campi teach a master class on it.
The comic tells the story of a group of Princeton freshmen-to-be who are on their way to do humanitarian work in Central America when their bus drops off a cliff. Not everyone survives and things between the remaining kids are strained, to say the least. De Campi has an incredible ear for the way young people communicate–sometimes they react only in emoji–and the dialogue feels alive and human. For instance, in this issue, Kira–annoyed that Gina won’t share their limited resources–accuses her of being a Basic Bitch and Gina acts as if she’s never been more insulted. The moment is petty and nasty and a spot on portrayal of what real people do in a situation when they feel lost and frightened. And the kids should be frightened.
At Special Edition NYC, de Campi promised every issue would end with a cliffhanger. Usually, she doesn’t mean that literally, but this issue actually left Tiffani hanging off the side of a cliff. The other kids aren’t much better off. Nervous, quietly angry Charlene is setting off into the wilderness with her abusive brother who may or may not try to kill her as pay back for her trying to blow him up an issue prior. Arrogant, well-travelled man-boy Travis has realized he has no idea where he’s going and allowed Basic Bitch Gina to drink from a tainted water source. Kira, Anthony and Troy might get macheted to death.
Sadly, readers won’t learn which kids–if any–survive until Issue #5 hits stores in November. While those looking to catch up can pick up the trade paperback in September, I suggest seekin out the single issues instead. The back material is half the fun. While the running contest for best all-emoji recap and letters section never fail to please, the best part is De Campi’s travelogues. She lived overseas from 1992-2007 (which she calls “The Rebel Years”) and each issue finds her recalling an experience during that time. The one about her time in the Philippines is especially strong.
This month’s story is somewhat closer to home, in Ragged Island, Maine where two brothers mysteriously disappeared from without a trace. The tone of these stories is filled not so much with nostalgia, but the clarity and perspective given by time. They’re a perfect counterpoint to the crackling energy and immediacy of the stranded teens. No Mercy can be a challenging read, but it’s absolutely worth it.
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over every detail of America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture and celebrity obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to. You can find her risking her life by reading comic books while walking down the crowded streets of New York City, having inappropriate emotional reactions at her iPad screen while riding the subway or occasionally letting her love of a band convince her to stand for hours on end in one of the city’s many purgatorial concert spaces. You can follow her on Twitter to read her insightful social commentary or more likely complain about how cold it is at @MarisaCarpico.