The Scene of the Crime is the Story in Gillen and Francia’s ‘Mercury Heat’ [Review]
Doing a police procedural in a fantasy setting isn't an entirely new idea in comics. Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood launched the genre into a fresh orbit last year with The Fuse. Before that, Top 10 and Powers mashed it up with superhero universes. Just last week, the first issue of Si Spurrier and Jeff Stokely's The Spire dragged it into a Jim Henson-esque fantasy world.
Now, with Mercury Heat, Kieron Gillen and Omar Francia have transported the murder mystery far enough into the future that Murder She Wrote is studied as one of the classics, and far enough from Earth to reach the solar system's smallest, hottest planet. This first issue doesn't quite reveal how Mercury Heat is going to stack up against the competition, but it does introduce a fascinating, dense setting.
It's probably worth mentioning that Mercury Heat actually predates a couple of the comics mentioned above, at least in its inception. Avatar first announced the comic, as The Heat, all the way back in 2009. In the years since, the comic has cycled through a few different artists, the way Spinal Tap gets through drummers, before settling on Omar Francia.
Francia's art crackles with the trademark ugliness of an Avatar comic. When the violence begins, heads implode and blood gushes in the house style, and every character looks like they've stepped out of a Paul Verhoeven movie – Starship Troopers armor, Showgirls physiques, and some creepy dudes who'd risk losing a beauty contest to Kuato from Total Recall. It's not the prettiest art you'll see this week, but it suits the comic's cast perfectly.
Our hero, Luiza Bora, is stubborn, prone to violence, and by far the most likable character in the book. Also inhabiting these pages are matriarchal AI Grapevine, playing the authority figure role (I'll be surprised if she never pulls the local equivalent of taking Bora off the case for being too much of a maverick), plus a procession of the aforementioned creepers, who comment on Luiza's appearance until she applies a well-earned knee to their genitals.
The real star, though, is the setting. A Mercury colony that needs to constantly outrun the (very slow) sunrise is a smart enough conceit, but the issue is a constant conveyor belt of ideas: a freelancer society, where jobs are seemingly assigned on a daily basis; a new class system constructed out of personality-profile castes; body modifications that can dial down pain while reinforced knuckles punch through steel. Each idea lingers for a couple of seconds – in most cases, delivered by the comic's 'Tag' captions – before being overtaken by the next.
It's no coincidence that I've failed to mention Luiza's first whodunnit here. We don't get many details of the murder. It's actually the least compelling mystery of Mercury Heat #1, lagging far behind the intrigues of the world itself.
Mercury Heat #1 is on sale now. Mercury Heat #2 is due in stores and online August 14.