Mercy: Shake the World Review

Written by: J.M. DeMatteis

Art by: Paul Johnson

Publisher: Dover Publications

To be fair, Mercy: Shake the World isn’t really a new release. While this new version is being published by Dover Publications, the original graphic novl was published in 1993 by Vertigo. J.M. DeMatteis is also certainly no stranger to comic fans as he’s dabbled around in just about every comic character’s world just as Paul Johnson is remembered fondly for his work on Hellraiser issues and The Invisibles

That being said, Mercy: Shake the World is a pretty damn good graphic novel to get a re-release in the wake of comics starting to earn a bigger place in our normal stream of media.

Mercy: Shake the World is about a man who’s hospitalized after suffering a stroke. While there, and while still struggling to find consciousness, he ends up traveling through time and space while watching a strange entity hold power over people’s lives. This entity is an ethereal women who seems to bring peace and light to those she helps and the narrator watches these scenes unfold within his own mind as his body lays motionless inside the hospital.

The narrator watches this woman help out a lonely, elderly woman in Brooklyn, a Native boy in South America, and an always fighting family in London. But just what is she? And why is the narrator a witness to the things she does? And more importantly, why does she do these things?

Mercy is certainly not going to be for everyone but it’s a great title for people who are tired of the traditional comic fare and want something a little bit more unique and a little bit more abstract. The story is surprisingly coherent given the subject matter (as well as the constantly changing setting) but the story kicks in quickly and is excellently paced.

J.M. DeMatteis writes extremely well and it’s rather remarkable to see the way he presents these diverse situations while still making them dependent on the narrator. Because of this, the story gets a bit of a biased edge in regards to the various problems, especially because DeMatteis establishes a somewhat pessimistic voice for the narrator from the beginning. It’s a wholly interesting point of view that allows some wiggle room for the way events can be perceived.

Sadly, Mercy tends to suffer from becoming confusing at times. With a story so abstract it’s not surprising that it would happen but it definitely loses some impact during certain events because it’s hard to pinpoint which set of characters is being featured at a certain time. And with each set of people having a very different story, it can get very confusing very quickly, especially when you add in the fact that no characters have actual names.

What really pulls this story together though is the absolutely stellar art by Paul Johnson. His art is painstakingly realistic at times and a blurred dream other times. It’s gorgeous in every aspect. And while the realistic artwork is wonderful to look at (especially the South American portions, the colors are great) it shines during the abstract portions.

Johnson’s artwork can be both dreamy and nightmarish during these moments and it does a great job at invoking the appropriate emotion it’s attached to. He’s just as good at portraying physical manifestations of happiness and hope as he is at portraying manifestations of loneliness and anger. Without these physical manifestations the story would be much harder to follow and it helps illustrate the larger message of the graphic novel; that emotions and bad thoughts can weigh us down and are essentially feeding off our humanity.

Johnson is also no stranger to detail or color and he makes some small panels look just as good as some two-page spreads. And when Johnson does get his hands on some full page panels the effect is stunning. Especially full page drawings of Mercy herself (the female entity previously mentioned). These pages are breath-taking and Johnson gives Mercy an ethereal fluidity that makes her look like she’s both a living being and the very essence of the world itself.

This version of Mercy includes a cool set of concept art and creative notes between DeMatteis and Johnson that make for a nice little extra. I’m often interested in discovering just how stuff came into conception and it was interesting to see DeMatteis giving Johnson notes on just how he imagined Mercy to be as well as how he wanted the art to tell part of the story itself and stylistically blend into each other to make for a less rigid story. Johnson has a page in which he describes his process for creating the art style for this title and there’s a nice afterword by Art Young.

If you already own Mercy there’s not that much of a draw to explore it again under this new publisher, especially over 20 years after its original release. However, Mercy is a fine graphic novel for those who missed its initial release, are just getting into comics, or want to expand their taste in graphic novels.