The heart of the story in “No Mercy” #1 feels real and could very well be happening right now. Alex de Campi, Carla Speed McNeil and Jenn Manley Lee craft a story surrounding a group of teenagers on a humanitarian trip that goes disastrously wrong in a modern day take on “Lord of the Flies.” De Campi’s script is full of authentic sounding teenagers, who are as dramatic and terrible as one would assume teenagers to be, and characters that speak in emojis and texts with design work from McNeil, who uses the plugged-in nature of the kids’ lives to find interesting new ways to deliver information.
Because of the size of the cast, de Campi is unable to really dig deep on any one person before establishing a relationship or plot point on another part of the board. Her writing is usually strong in both the teen and tragedy genres, so it’s easy to forgive a lack of depth, but it does lessen the impact the inciting bus accident has on the reader. Plus, the tone of the story will almost certainly shift as the situation gets worse. These characters are entering a world they don’t understand, so any rules of that world have yet to be established outside of the trouble they are told they are in. The pieces are certainly here for a big, epic tale, but the issue itself doesn’t get there. Some mysteries are teased, like a trunk full of drugs and the strange sibling relationship between Chad and Charlene, but it all feels like a build to the next issue.
McNeil pulls off the most difficult task in a book filled with teenagers: she makes them look like teens and not shrunken adults or oversized chibis. Her style is detailed without being cluttered, with a hint of grit reminiscent of Alex Robinson. Each student’s design is true to the character, no small feat considering the title page establishes no less than 15 main cast members.
The bus accident is the real centerpiece of her work in this opening chapter. McNeil establishes a rhythm of straightforward panel sizes, most of the work existing in evenly-sized portions on the page. As the impending tragedy looms, the panels begin to shift in size, then chaotically tilt and bend across the page. McNeil crafts the tumult of the rolling death tube on a page that focuses on a central panel — a copy of “Alpha’s Captive” — tumbling wildly, before it pinwheels outward as characters are tossed about and rock across the page. It’s a clever way to maximize the illusion of movement with still images. She ends the sequence with several vertical, thin panels to show just how far down the rabbit hole the characters have gone; this is going to be a new world with new rules.
There is potential for an intense teenage survival mystery in “No Mercy” #1 and, from the title, it certainly seems to be in the plans for the creative team. As a standalone comic, this issue feels a little like prologue but will most certainly stack up well when presented with the next several issues as a whole.