I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy Mercy, the sixth volume of adults-only comic Sunstone, as much as I did. After all, in Volume 5, writer-artist Stjepan Šejić concluded the unconventional romance of computer programmer (and fledgling dominatrix) Ally and writer submissive Lisa. With a happy ending *wink* secured for these friends-turned-lovers, how could Šejić possibly recapture the magic with any follow-up? Especially since the Croatian comics creator had promised future books in the series would shift the focus to other supporting members of the Sunstone cast. Would readers still care?
Picking up Sunstone: Mercy (technically Sunstone Vol. 6), I wasn’t as enthusiastic as I was with the previous books. As far as I knew, the part spin-off, part-prequel, part-sequel would centre on Ally’s best friend Alan, a male dom with a disastrous romantic history that made him wary of ever trying to incorporate BDSM into his relationships again. As likeable as Alan is – he’s a hundred and fifty shades removed from Christian Grey – and as curious as I was for Šejić’s take on the far more common male dom-female sub dynamic, I was also disinterested in seeing a straight romance unfold on the page, screen etc. for the six billionth time. Mercy sounded like it would be a return to the representation norm, although with kinky flavour and appealing characters to keep the boredom at bay.
The great news is that LGBT content isn’t neglected at all in Sunstone: Mercy. The book isn’t only about Alan. Rather, this particular story arc (which will reportedly unfold over a couple of volumes) explores exactly how Sunstone’s primary male character finally finds love with Anne, a bisexual tattoo artist and another key supporting player from the original series. The thing is, by the time their paths cross properly, both Alan and Anne are romantically jaded, weighed down by a ton of emotional baggage from failed relationships.
That baggage is exactly what Mercy rummages through, and Part 1 leaps back several years before the events of Sunstone to Alan and Anne’s simultaneously unfolding college days. Although touched on in the first Sunstone arc, the reader gets to re-experience in-depth Alan and Ally’s initial meeting and bonding over their secret interest in BDSM. While their unusual sexual-experimentation-centred friendship develops, metalhead Anne has realised she is into women and begins dating Laura, a concert-going lesbian who fangirls over Anne’s favourite act.
For the record, Anne and Laura’s relationship is not a copy-paste of Ally and Lisa’s. With older Laura emotionally guarded, and ever-experimenting Anne experiencing a lot of firsts, there is a very different dynamic between the two. As for Alan and Ally, if you’ve read the original Sunstone, you know the drama that’s coming, but the series has always been less about plot twists and more about accompanying funny, dorky, relatable characters on their journey to well-deserved and hard-earned happiness.
Stjepan Šejić is an extremely verbose writer, but he has a master’s grasp of balancing sass, sexiness and soul. I was surprised how often I laughed out loud while reading Mercy. Out of interest, the humour comes chiefly from two sources: Alan and Ally’s self-conscious first steps into BDSM and the smart-mouthed interactions between odd-couple BFFs Anne and Cassie (another returnee from Sunstone Volumes 1 through 5).
Sunstone Volume 6 is the perfect R-rated romantic comedy, with the expressiveness of Šejić’s artwork supporting the seamless gear shifts between goofiness and raunchiness. Be careful where you read this one though: Mercy has no shortage of panels that will probably leave you squirming in your seat or hunched over.
You can technically read the entirety of Mercy on DeviantArt right now for free. As with earlier volumes in the series, Šejić has released them online in unedited, but partially censored form. If you want to experience the story in all its high-res glory, though, Sunstone: Mercy Part 1 will be out from 20 March as a trade paperback, published by Top Cow and Image. With my doubts resoundingly squashed, I’ll be getting the book and eagerly following the Alan-Anne arc to its end, however many volumes it takes.
P.S. If you’re struggling to wait until Sunstone: Mercy hits stores next week, Top Cow has released two other sex-positive romances over the past year to keep you occupied.
Set in the same universe as Sunstone, Swing comes from writers (and married couple) Matt Hawkins and Jenni Cheung. With Volume 1 drawn by Blood Stain’s Linda Šejić, Swing presents a frustrated couple exploring the prospect of an open marriage and is arguably hotter than Sunstone. Swing Volume 2 is out next month.
Meanwhile, if it’s Sunstone’s tender love story you enjoy most, Sugar is a sweet treat. Personally, I prefer it to Swing. Combining a Pretty Woman-esque script by Hawkins and Cheung with manga-leaning art by Yishan Li, Sugar looks at two hurt people who enter into a sugar daddy-sugar baby arrangement.
Both Swing and Sugar are tonally far more serious than Sunstone but are quite effective at scratching the “romance for mature audiences” itch regardless.
Last Updated: March 11, 2019