Sunday, December 04, 2022

Vicente Segrelles: The Mercenary


This 40th anniversary edition features better reproductions than ever and all-new scans of the original paintings overseen by the master himself, presented in handsome, large, quarterbound collectors editions.

In a lost and long forgotten valley high up in the mountains, The Mercenary has been contracted to save a woman from the mysterious and powerful Cult of the Sacred Fire.

"A great valley lost in the upper reaches of the mountains had remained isolated from the evolution of the planet. This rough, steep and arid area had evolved its own fauna.

Vicente Segrelles was born in Barcelona (Spain) on September 9, 1940 during the postwar period after the Spanish Civil War.

His childhood lapsed in a peculiar atmosphere: his father loved paintings and inventions, and his uncle, José Segrelles, had international prestige as illustrator and watercolorist. This atmosphere influenced his innate passion to drawing, to which he dedicated any free moment, and just inclined him towards illustration.

In 1980, attracted by comics, Segrelles created THE MERCENARY, a character who reported him world-wide reputation and was even praised by film director Federico Fellini. Painted in oils and published in 14 countries, THE MERCENARY was a beautiful fantasy comic-book in full colour that evidenced all Sheriff Pathis experience and hobbies.

Segrelles gained popularity in Europe for his painted comic book epic The Mercenary (El Mercenario), started in 1980. Segrelles was also the cover artist for the Italian science fiction magazine Urania from 1988 to 1991.

The great reptiles had not disappeared - natural selection had them evolve into great winged creatures. As for man, an unrelenting barrange of clouds had isolated him from the lower regions. A whole different civilisation had thus developed."

Exotic cults, mounted dinosaurs, and daring rescues feature in this fully-painted escapade from France. The Mercenary, a solitary warrior who lives by his fists in the Land of Eternal Clouds, becomes ensnared by the Cult of the Sacred Fire after he rescues a ransomed damsel.

The cult’s origin is as mysterious as its intentions. This is a visually sumptuous work: Segrelles depicts everything from craggy mountaintops to a woman’s startled eye with the same lush detail.

This clashes, occasionally, with the rather stiff translated dialogue—especially discomfiting are the multiple exclamations of “we’re toast!”—and the extremely compressed nature of the story. This is an epic adventure squeezed into a mere 50 pages, and it shows. Regardless, Segrelle’s talent as an artist makes it a worthwhile jaunt.  

Each volume is complemented with articles at the back about the history and the making of this series over its gloried, decades-long history.

An unusual feature for a comic book, every panel is painted in oil, a time-consuming technique.THE MERCENARY tells the story of a mysterious and anonymous mercenary from a hidden valley called The Country of the Clouds.

In this secluded region, the human race develops a culture different from the rest of the world, all while confronting flying dragons, reptilian giants, monsters, Amazons, and other characters familiar from the world of heroic fantasy.

Although the setting resembles the medieval milieu of classic fantasy tales, it is actually a science fiction story.

Magic is due to advanced technology and aliens, while giants and monsters are natural fauna or the results of radiation.

The Mercenary is hired to rescue the kidnapped wife of a local ruler, and discovers the truth about the people who live on the mountain above the clouds.
Book 1:

In "The Cult of the Sacred Fire," the Mercenary rescues the kidnapped wife of a wealthy man.

She wants to have sex with the Mercenary, but he refuses, so when she's delivered home she claims that he raped her.

Chased, he falls into the lower valleys of the world, where he almost suffocates before he is rescued by an old man who gives him an herbal extract to enable him to breathe normally.

It turns out that the the daughter of the chief of this society is being held captive in a cage hanging from an unseeable place within the mists.

The demand: 1,000 skins of alcohol. The Mercenary agrees to rescue the girl, and when he does he discovers a gigantic balloon occupied by women who escaped harem captivity from another culture.

They need the alcohol for fuel... and they're not inclined to let the chief's daughter go.

"The Formula" introduces an enemy that will plague the Mercenary through the subsequent books: Claust the Alchemist.

In exchange for a beautiful suit of armor, Claust hires the Mercenary to accompany him to a secret monastery in a dangerous place.

They survive several traps and monsters and arrive at the monastery, where Claust has been buying alchemical formulae with drugs.

But the monastery has learned how to make the drugs itself and no longer will deal with Claust.

In revenge, Claust knocks out the leader and steals his amulet for the civilization-altering formula it supposedly contains.

The Mercenary, disgusted with Claust, refuses to go with him, and offers to help the monks retrieve the amulet. He joins the monks' champion, female Nan-Tay, in the search. 


Book 2:   The Formula
In "The Trials," the Mercenary wishes to join the monks. He must undergo a series of trials to test his fighting ability, his bravery, his willpower, and his loyalty. After he succeeds, he and Nan-Tay must face one hundred dragon-mounted warriors.
"The Sacrifice" is a young boy, the son of the chief of government security. The boy has been given to a cult to sacrifice to their god.

Although the Mercenary rescues him, he learns that the father of the boy already handed over the city's power to Claust in exchange for the boy's safety.

Claust is also planning to destroy the crater in which the monastery sits. The good guys' one chance is to detonate explosives in a weak point of the crater's subterranean rock wall--but whoever lights the explosives is going to die....

Book 3: The Fortress.


After failing to destroy the monastery, Claust concentrated on building an impregnable fortress. With Nan-Tay acting as spy, the monks and the Mercenary have discerned a weakness in the fortress.

The Mercenary commands a small boat loaded with special guns to attack the fortress. However, Nan-Tay is discovered, and she's tied up right where the boat is going to be firing.

The initial pages seem influenced by Arzach as the mercenary serenely heads between mountains toward a distant tower saddled on a flying dinosaur.

It’s an effective homage that also comprehensively establishes the scene.
Vicente Segrelles sets his stories in a mist-shrouded area high in the Himalayas lost to time, where giant saurians are a constant danger, yet man also exists amid complex minaret towers and vast bridges spanning even vaster chasms.

The Mercenary has no other name, but his warrior’s skills and ingenuity ensure employment wherever he finds himself. Here it’s on two rescue missions of women held for ransom.


We met Claust in The Formula, an alchemist in need of a bodyguard, and feared by the Monks of the Crater, who we see in the opening sequence discussing how to infiltrate his fortress within which he hoards a vast arms cache.

The mere threat of this enables him to intimidate neighbouring states. The monks believe, however, that they’ve found a weakness in Claust’s defences, and now all they need is someone foolish enough to risk their life to exploit that.

The Mercenary’s odds are slightly bettered by virtue of the monks having developed a form of cannon.

The Mercenary may fly, and the structures occupied may be ornate and strange, but remove the fantasy trappings and he occupies a world roughly comparable to Earth’s middle ages, with the clothing and decorations reflecting this.
Something Vicente Segrelles is excellent at is establishing just how much difference a suit of armour makes, and dealing in scale. Claust’s fortress, for instance is a massive structure, and therefore extremely intimidating when compared to the dwellings of ordinary people.

There are a few exceptions, but Segrelles almost always avoids lettered sound effects in his art, which gives a feeling of quiet and serenity.

It’s entirely appropriate when the Mercenary is riding his dragon across the skies, but the lack of sound works against him on occasions such as the foundry scene on the sample art, where it’s equally calm. And in a strange coincidence, the way Segrelles draws the Mercenary in the final panel makes him resemble Dave Gibbons.

What can it mean? While we’ve been used to great sky scenes over previous Mercenary volumes, Segrelles here provides equally impressive art showing a great wooden boat sailing at night, and then into the fog.

Every panel being an individual, carefully considered painting means there’s little sense of movement, but Segrelles is aware of this and constructs his story requiring as little movement as possible.

If the setting is medieval, then the ending is pure James Bond, and even after just five stories (the opening two volumes combined two apiece) there’s a certain predictability about who’s going to survive to see another day.
It’s still grand adventure, though, and both fans of quality painting and fantasy are still going to find much to enjoy in The Fortress. The Black Globe contains the Mercenary’s next adventure.

1 comment:

  1. That looks great. I see each book sells for about 20-30 euros, which probably is well deserved considering the visual quality of the art. Though in the current climate it unfortunately is out of reach for most.

    The art and story somewhat reminds me of Heavy Metal.