Dreams, surrealism, compassion, time and space. Woodcut infused images, muted colors, deliberate in feel.
This is not a description of the T.A.R.D.I.S. from Doctor Who. These are just few of the adjectives that describe Mercy: Shake the World, the graphic novel by J.M. DeMatteis with art by Paul Johnson.
Mercy: Shake the World takes us on a trip through one man’s consciousness as our story begins with the unnamed protagonist in a coma as a result of a stroke. Time in this void doesn’t exist for him and he cannot feel the corporeal touches of his wife or of the hospital bed under his body. He bemoans the fact that he cannot hear the soothing voice of his wife but he imagines she is whispering her love and adoration for him on a daily basis, something he pities her for doing. His consciousness follows a woman he refers to as Mercy. She is his every being, he knows her anywhere, and he knows where she is at all times.
On his trips with Mercy, we see her influence on people who are chased by their own desperation and hatred: an unhappy family in London, a terrified Indian boy in a South American jungle, and a lonely old woman in Brooklyn. The more he follows Mercy, the more he begins to understand his own self, his desires, his dreams. At its core, Mercy: Shake the World is about compassion and the healing of one’s self.
Mercy: Shake the World was originally published under DC’s mature reader imprint, Vertigo. The original publication, however, was not archived in the back catalog and the rights returned to the creators. Johnson, who had not previously collaborated with DeMatteis, was becoming known for his horror stories and wanted to move away from that genre and stretch his repertoire. DeMatteis, whose previous work included Moonshadow and Blood, was known for pushing the boundaries of the mainstream comic world. The collaboration between the two seemed natural.
The muting of the coloring complements the story line perfectly, the etherealness of the protagonist’s dreams along with the vividity of Mercy, which contrasts nicely with the unnamed narrator’s conception of her. The first few pages have a grainy, almost woodcut feel to them, which emphasizes the lack of solidity in the narrator’s story. The art as a whole is reminiscent of Edvard Munch or Salvador Dali.
The philosophical bent of Mercy: Shake the World will appeal most of all to fans of major stream of consciousness writers like Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot), or James Joyce, he of every high school or college student’s worst nightmare: Ulysses.
(Be forewarned: the book is listed as 113 pages, but only 60-odd pages are the graphic novel itself. The remainder is devoted to concept art, prose, and an afterword.)
Mercy: Shake the World
by J.M. DeMatteis
Art by Paul Johnson
Dover Publications, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: Mature