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The Mercenary: The Cult of the Sacret Fire & The Formula. by V. Segrelles. New York: NBM, 1983, 1985. 1v. (unpaged). $12.95. ISBN 0-918348-27-7.

The Mercenary 2: The Trials [and] The Sacrifice. by V. Segrelles. New York: NBM, 1984, 1986, 1988. 1v. (unpaged). $13.95. ISBN 0-918348-49-8.

The Mercenary 3: The Fortress. by V. Segrelles. Translated by Michael Koch. New York: NBM, 1991. 1v. (unpaged). n.p. ISBN 1-56163-024-1.

Science fantasy

Adults, teens; nudity, violence

These three books present several adventures of the Mercenary, a handsome, scarred fighter who travels through the skies of his mountaintop world on dragonback. (Dragons in this world are basically just giant pterodactyls.) There is a lower world shrouded in mist; no one goes there because they can't breathe down there.

Book 1:

  • In "The Cult of the Sacred Fire," the Mercenary rescues the kidnapped wife of a wealthy man. She wants to have sex with the Mercenary, but he refuses, so when she's delivered home she claims that he raped her. Chased, he falls into the lower valleys of the world, where he almost suffocates before he is rescued by an old man who gives him an herbal extract to enable him to breathe normally. It turns out that the the daughter of the chief of this society is being held captive in a cage hanging from an unseeable place within the mists. The demand: 1,000 skins of alcohol. The Mercenary agrees to rescue the girl, and when he does he discovers a gigantic balloon occupied by women who escaped harem captivity from another culture. They need the alcohol for fuel... and they're not inclined to let the chief's daughter go.
  • "The Formula" introduces an enemy that will plague the Mercenary through the subsequent books: Claust the Alchemist. In exchange for a beautiful suit of armor, Claust hires the Mercenary to accompany him to a secret monastery in a dangerous place. They survive several traps and monsters and arrive at the monastery, where Claust has been buying alchemical formulae with drugs. But the monastery has learned how to make the drugs itself and no longer will deal with Claust. In revenge, Claust knocks out the leader and steals his amulet for the civilization-altering formula it supposedly contains. The Mercenary, disgusted with Claust, refuses to go with him, and offers to help the monks retrieve the amulet. He joins the monks' champion, female Nan-Tay, in the search.

Book 2:

  • In "The Trials," the Mercenary wishes to join the monks. He must undergo a series of trials to test his fighting ability, his bravery, his willpower, and his loyalty. After he succeeds, he and Nan-Tay must face one hundred dragon-mounted warriors.
  • "The Sacrifice" is a young boy, the son of the chief of government security. The boy has been given to a cult to sacrifice to their god. Although the Mercenary rescues him, he learns that the father of the boy already handed over the city's power to Claust in exchange for the boy's safety. Claust is also planning to destroy the crater in which the monastery sits. The good guys' one chance is to detonate explosives in a weak point of the crater's subterranean rock wall--but whoever lights the explosives is going to die....

Book 3:

  • After failing to destroy the monastery, Claust concentrated on building an impregnable fortress. With Nan-Tay acting as spy, the monks and the Mercenary have discerned a weakness in the fortress. The Mercenary commands a small boat loaded with special guns to attack the fortress. However, Nan-Tay is discovered, and she's tied up right where the boat is going to be firing.

Typical male-fantasy swords-and-sorcery (using low-level chemistry/alchemy instead of magic) where women are all beautiful and are either helpless victims, mistresses, or amazons, and where all the politicking and "plotwork" is done by the men. The story, heavy on combat and strategy and light on most everything else, is not terribly interesting. The Mercenary treats his flying dragon mounts with a cavalier attitude that borders on the ridiculous; he's not exactly the typical mercenary whose steadiest friend is his horse!

The art, though very realistic and quite beautiful in "landscape" shots, is strangely stiff when it comes to depicting people. The problem stems from several things: hardly any motion indicators around anything, a frequent use of full-frontal portraits (people stare in the direction of the camera a lot) and bland head shots, and the lack of "sequential art" in the art. By this I mean that each panel seems to be a painting unto itself, with only thematic relation to the previous and subsequent ones--the people pose rather than "act," and they don't change position in such a way from panel to panel to suggest that they physically moved in between panels. Another good example comes from the first book: an arrow streaks toward its subject but takes four panels to arrive at its target; there's no sense of motion across these panels, except in the first; the arrow seemingly hangs in the air. Note below how all the excitement has been drained out of this sequence by this approach:

 Copyright 1983, 1985, V. Segrelles.

There are a number of such sequences in the first book. It's clear that Segrelles is one of those artists better suited to illustration than sequential art.

The naked women are pure eye candy; their nakedness serves no genuine plot purpose (except once when Nan-Tay and the Merc are in a cell together, and Nan-Tay has the Merc pretend to try to rape her to get their cell guard to open the door to join in the fun). As a result, their presence is anomalous, distracting, and, frankly, pretty childish. Note that the Merc never strips down to total nakedness; love these double standards.

The lettering in half of the second book and all of the third book is terrible, very amateurish and messy.

Also in the third book, a funny thing: someone apparently took offense to the bare-breasted Nan-Tay and superimposed black ink "mesh" breast covers over her chest. They're so outrageously fake-looking that I thought for a moment that the previous owner of this book (I bought the set used) had drawn them in. It looks like they had the letterer do it--the ink lines seem to be of the same size as those in the lettering. Geez! I mean, why do this to book 3 if the first two were cheerfully naughty? (And compared to the nudity in the first two books, the third book is easily the tamest.) And if you must do something like this, why do it in such a cursory and ugly manner?

I assume Segrelles is at least moderately popular; besides these three books, he's written five more Mercenary (the last in 1999), and several art-only books exist. Without having seen them, I'd say that if you like Segrelles's style, get the art books over The Mercenary. Otherwise, these books might be of interest to people intrigued by nonmagical swords-and-sorcery, and to folks who haven't yet had their quota of pointless naked women for the day.

<0918348277/rationalmagic">Buy Book 1

<0918348498/rationalmagic">Buy Book 2

<1561630241/rationalmagic">Buy Book 3

Copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild


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