Mirka Andolfo is a creator that many people outside of the comic business probably don’t know a great deal about. I personally didn’t become aware of her work until I saw the covers for, and read the buzz around, her series Unnatural. I fully admit that I never picked an issue up, mainly because what I read about the series didn’t really strike my fancy, but since then I have looked into her other work and discovered that she actually has a pretty eclectic back catalogue of comic work and some pretty solid indie cred. She has written stories for children and adults, as well as provided the pencil art on a number of titles for both DC and Marvel. She also has published a number of works in Italy, most noticeably her aforementioned work ContraNatura (the original Italian version of Unnatural).
Still, a lot of people have written and drawn for Marvel and DC, and a big hit in another country doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to enjoy picking up her other books. Andolfo’s children’s work isn’t something I know, and her artwork for the big two, while very good, isn’t anything that jumped out at me at the time (no doubt due in part that some of it was inked and coloured by other artists).
So here’s the challenge: take an author I know little about, whose books I’ve never read and am generally ignorant about, and see if I can read, understand, and enjoy her newest series Mercy. Yep, it was a totally cold read challenge for me. I took the risk, so you didn’t have to. Let’s see how it panned out.
Here’s the blurb:
When the placid mining village of Woodsburgh is disturbed by a series of brutal murders, the settlement is in turmoil. And as the first snow covers the chaos in a white blanket, a mysterious woman in black arrives, eliciting a totally different kind of unrest. But who is Lady Hellaine, really? And what’s her secret agenda?
Acclaimed UNNATURAL creator MIRKA ANDOLFO presents a sensual Victorian gothic horror about otherness, damnation, redemption, and what it means to be a monster in a horror tale perfect for fans of Penny Dreadful, Crimson Peak, The Alienist, Parasol Protectorate, and Dark Shadows.
Full disclosure, I have no familiarity with Penny Dreadful, Crimson Peak, The Alienist, Parasol Protectorate, or Dark Shadows, so now I am double-blind going into this.
Alright, so now that I have spent half my article talking about how little I know about this author, genre, and comic, did I actually think this comic was worth it? Was I able to overcome my ignorance about all those elements and actually enjoy what I was reading? Does this book have any value to the casual reader, ignorant of all the same things that I am?
The answer, in short, is yes.
Mercy is good, really good. This book is so good I want to go back and read other works by Andolfo. The story is interesting and tense, with genuine moments of suspense and fear for characters’ wellbeing. It also has a very rich and diverse cast of characters, with a real focus on developing interesting female protagonists. A common trap that books like this can fall into is to have a single, female lead, and then every other character is a man. This book takes time to really flesh out its female characters and makes me want to learn more about them.
The art is Mercy is also quite good, with a soft, ethereal feel in some places, and a disturbing, nightmarish feel in others. Fans of body horror will find a lot of love in this here (I actually dislike body horror myself, but still found the art beautiful and compelling).
Is Mercy perfect? No. There are some places where the dialogue seems a bit stilted, and with only 6 issues in this mini, the number of characters does make it a bit daunting to keep track of everyone (especially since the Diamond shutdown put a huge gap between issues 1 and 2), but all those issues are minor, and I only bring them up as part of my full disclosure on the book.
I also want to give major props to the subplot in Mercy involving a young orphan girl named Rory. In the hands of a less talented author, it would have been very easy to make her a typical orphan waif a’ la Charles Dickens, but instead, Rory is easily the most interesting and unique character in issue 1. By issue 2 her arc has taken such a wild turn that it leaves the reader, and the Lady Hellaine, reeling with surprise and I honestly find her arc to be the most interesting so far.
If I can give you any advice, and I feel like we’ve grown closer over the course of this article so I can, it’s to not be afraid to grab different books off the shelf. Just because you don’t know anything about a title, snagging a single copy not only helps out your LCS (and encourages them to take a chance on ordering a more diverse set of books each week) but also might lead you to discover an interesting new story or a great new creator you never really knew about before.
I also want to encourage you to speak to the staff at the comic shop. A good comic shop employee will be able to help fill you in on details, suggest appropriate titles, and steer you towards new titles coming out that are in your range of interests. The more you get to know them, the better they will be able to help, so let them know who you are and what you want to read.
As the new comic rivers begin to really flow the next few weeks, wander down to the indie side of the comic rack, snag a new title, and see if there’s something new for you there. It’s worth a shot.