The Mercenary: The Definitive Editions:Vol.1 The Cult Of The Sacred Fire (Mercenary The Definitive Editions) by Vincente Segrelles (book review).

According to the hype, ‘The Mercenary 1: The Cult Of The Sacred Fire’ is something of a classic which is why we have this anniversary edition forty years after the first printing. It’s a superior reproduction made from scans of the original paintings and a very lovely book it is, too, with hard covers and big pages featuring fine pictures. Vincente Segrelles is a talented artist, though I do find his stuff more static than is usual in graphic novels. On the other hand, I’m more familiar with American comics and they probably did things differently in Europe forty years ago.

The setting is around 1000AD in the massive mountainous area of Central Asia, crossed by the Himalayas. A land of legends. Here, tall peaks protrude above the cloud layer and in one remote valley ‘insulated by its exceptional geographic location’, the dinosaurs survived above the clouds and have been tamed by man. Hence, the flying dragons with saddle and rider on the cover. This concept may have been inspired by the plateau in Conan Doyle’s ‘The Lost World’. That plateau, however, was in a hot region of South America, not a cold region of Asia. Oh well.

Vincente Segrelles is an artist and the primary aim of the strip is to provide him with the opportunity to do some nice paintings. The story is episodic because he admits he made it up as he went along. The concepts are as old as Edgar Rice Burroughs but, because it was birthed in Post-Franco Spain, an era of liberation, he was able to draw lots of beautiful topless ladies which he likes. I don’t mind it neither but there’s no real reason for most of them to be baring their breasts. I guess this is another old tradition of fantasy art.

The book reminded me of Jack Kirby’s work, not because of the art which is completely different but for the stilted dialogue. It was translated from the Spanish by Mary McKee, so I’m not sure who to blame. On page 8, imperilled on a wounded ‘dragon’ our hero says: ‘If she dies now, we’re toast.’ On page 21 he says: ‘Alcohol? What a bunch of lushes!’ This is very contemporary slang for a thousand years ago in the Himalayas. Our hero is a bit of a puritan because the first lovely lady he rescues wants to thank him physically and he declines. Naturally, she then tells her husband that he raped her and the plot thickens.

The dialogue is a kind of half-way house between Kirby and James Michener, solid exposition without flair. I would compare this to ‘The Trigan Empire’ hardback editions. You get it for the art. I don’t think Segrelles’ art is as pretty as that of Don Lawrence but it’s accomplished. Bearing in mind the mad price you would have to pay now for ‘The Trigan Empire’, this might be worth buying and saving for your pension plan.

There’s a lot of extra material with more art and an essay by Vincent Segrelles about his life. He’s clearly a fellow who worked hard and earnestly to get on in his chosen profession and I don’t want to denigrate his book but he should have got someone else to do the script, if not the plot. On the other hand, the original was translated into several languages and sold zillions of copies so what do I know?

If I had to sum it up in one word I’d say ‘worthy.’ A good artbook if you want one and no doubt a nice bit of nostalgia if you liked the original but have lost it in the vicissitudes of life.

Eamonn Murphy

December 2017

(pub: NBM. 64 page hardback. Price: $17.99 (US), £15.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-68112-124-6)

check out website: www.nbmpub.com/fantasysf/mercenary/mercenary_home.html

Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories now and then. Website: https://eamonnmurphywriter298729969.wordpress.com/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.