Mirka Andolfo’s Mercy #5, ironically titled “Everything Will Be Okay,” is the penultimate issue of a series that blurs the lines of horror, drama, and dark thrillers. Each subsequent issue has upped the stakes, with new twists at the turn of every page. Issue #5 lives up to that promise while simultaneously providing revelations to long-standing questions harkening back to the very first issue. The lines between humans, monsters, heroes, and villains are blurred, leaving the audience with ambivalence for who to root for, who to jeer, but mostly, uncertainty regarding our feeling towards each character.
If nothing else, the issue can be defined with two words: emotional turmoil.
Image comics describes the issue as follows:
Lady Hellaine’s elaborate plan takes shape, but the dark heroine created by Mirka Andolfo has not yet dealt with the consequences of her actions and with the hazy memories that more and more often emerge from her conscience. Is it really possible that the only answer for all her troubles is…love?
As I tiptoe around spoiler territory, I can’t help but preface this review thusly: I defy you to read this issue without it having a sharp reaction. Whether that’s good or bad is dependent on your interpretation of the story at hand. Granted, Mirka Andolfo is the true puppet master of the series, but the wool is pulled over our eyes with narrative aplomb. It’s as if each character has been infused with their own force of will bursting from the page.
Rather than feel like shallow characters with little in the way of depth, they each act – and react – with definite goals and personalities guiding their decisions. Simple as it may seem, many stories fail to hit the proverbial nail on the head when it comes to rich characterization. Mercy #5 avoids such failings. The characters are so strong that I found myself scrutinizing their choices with surgical precision. Why would he/she do that? What will they do next? Was it him/her all along?
The story is the very definition of an ensemble piece. Even five issues deep, it remains nebulous as to who our protagonists and antagonists genuinely are. But therein lies the beauty of the series: No one is a moral compass. Black and white give way to shades of gray. Any previous notions you may have had are subverted within these pages. Lady Hellaine is undoubtedly a monster, a dark creature from another realm lacking empathy or emotion… or so we thought. Her memories are taking hold. She struggles with her emotions, her decisions, and most prominently, her deadly actions. Humanity is seeping its way into her consciousness. And that juxtaposition is the cornerstone of this issue. Hellaine might literally tear someone to shreds on one page and long for a love lost in another, even if they are one and the same.
Meanwhile, our initial thoughts of other characters have come under question. Rory is finally beginning to question her unwavering piety. We rejoice in her ability to finally see the light, but can’t help but want her adamant devotion to be rewarded. Gregor is as frustrating as they come. We all know someone in real life like this. Every decision is foolish — never well thought out or calculated. Yet, we pity his ignorance as he becomes a tool for Lady Hellaine to use against his mother.
Finally, we have Mr. Goodwill. A void seems to be cracking at the seams, but rather than give in to thoughts of past love, he is a font of pure unadulterated rage. The seemingly calm and collected ally of Lady Hellaine is the embodiment of the worst in all of us. Remember the “emotional turmoil” point from earlier? This issue has it in droves.
As rewarding as the plot may be, the visuals in Mercy #5 steal the show. As you turn to the third page, a brilliant splash page reminds readers what we’re in for. We witness the lifeless body of a pregnant young woman wrapped in a parasitic womb. It is both remarkable and revolting in one fell swoop. The issue is visually striking, with strong imagery that frankly might now sit well with every reader but is sure to elicit a strong response.
All the tools are put to use. One page might frame a scene perfectly to capture a cinematic quality. On another, the timing of a panel coincides with dialogue with acute precision. Other times, a blur effect captures motion and action. In any given graphic novel, every panel must encapsulate an idea, several even to make up for the lack of fluid movement. But the benefit is the time it gives a reader to soak in page/frame.
The best example I can give is when Gregor lies naked in Lady Hellaine’s bosom. What seemingly should be a sensual, private moment is anything but. Why? Context. Gregor is lying in the maw of the beast. The moment isn’t so pretty knowing what stirs beneath the surface. He isn’t lying in bed with the women of his dreams, he’s knocking at death’s door, and doing so with a smile and an erection.
For all the nuance and perspective the issue brings, it won’t appeal to the average comic reader. For one, Mercy #5 can’t be appreciated as a one-off. All the characterizations, revelations, plot twists, and satisfying comeuppance means nothing to the new reader who picks up issue #5. More so than say, your average Spider-Man comic, there isn’t widely known lore to fill in most of the blanks. We all know Peter Parker’s origins, his relationships, his abilities, and his major story arcs. You won’t get the same effect when trying to understand who or what Lady Hellaine is.
Within that same vein, the story is dark and nuanced. There isn’t some bombastic superhero battle on top of a famous monument. Even the overt action doesn’t come into play until later in the issue. Some readers might even be bored by the issue. But for the initiated, the emotional conflict at play makes a world of difference. There’s a lot to unpack in Mirka Andolfo’s Mercy #5, but only for series veterans.
Overall, Mirka Andolfo’s Mercy #5 is the best issue of the series thus far. All the conflict, character arcs, intertwining storylines, and turmoil are coming to fruition. Four issues of buildup have led to this, the kickoff to the end, and fans won’t be disappointed. And yet, I still feel torn, but I have a feeling that was Andolfo’s intention all along.