dave_littler (dave_littler) wrote,

Comic Books You Should be Reading - Incognito

Ed Brubaker is a comic book writer who I’ve come to enjoy a great deal lately. He has this amazing skill for meshing two different styles of writing in a seamless and natural-seeming way. Previously, he took the fairly forgettable Marvel character, Iron Fist, and managed to breathe new life into him with his ongoing “Immortal Iron Fist” book, which managed to capture the feel of a good Kung-Fu action movie in a super-hero book and make it work brilliantly. More recently, he has taken this same approach with a series entitled “Incognito”, which is basically a crime noire story set in a super-heroic universe.

The main character of the story is a former super-villain named Zack Overkill. Once one of the most feared and brutal super-villains on Earth, and a high-end enforcer in an international super-criminal syndicate called The Black Death, he was eventually incapacitated and captured by the government. They offered him a chance to turn state’s evidence on his old bosses; give them real names, secret weaknesses, hidden bases, doomsday weapons... everything that he feds would need to shut this organization down and put the head of the crime ring behind bars. Zack agreed, and was subsequently put into Witness Protection, where he was given a fake identity as an anonymous office drone, drugged to the gills to deny him access to his immense super-strength and durability. His former comrades were led to believe he had been killed, and so Zack disappeared into the faceless crowd that he once towered over like a mad god.

Years pass. Zack finds himself, if not happy, then at least comfortable and secure in this life. He meets weekly with his govenment handler, who makes sure Zack is behaving himself and taking his drugs to keep him meek and mild-mannered. But Zack is going nuts. It’s an empty, meaningless life, with no chance for personal advancement and no ability to form personal relationships with anyone, because his entire identity is a lie and he dares not tell anyone anything about himself. To take the edge off, he begins taking recreational drugs. Nothing too heavy, but enough to help him relax. But then a funny thing happens. Some reaction between these drugs, his own body chemistry and the drugs the government is giving him. And he realizes that his powers are coming back. And stronger than ever.

But what’s he going to do with this? He can’t return to a life of crime; the government would squash him like a bug, and if his former criminal buddies learned what he would done, they would do worse. But he can’t NOT do something with this power...! And so he does the only thing he can think of: He puts on a mask, sneaks out late at night, and finds some criminals to beat the shit out of. No cops will come and stop him, and the thugs he’s dealing with don’t have the connections to alert anyone that matters to what he’s doing.

And once again, Zack feels alive. He feels free. He’s living an elabourate triple-identity, he’s lording his power over those weaker than himself, and he’s getting away with it. But then, the wrong people start to put two and two together, and things begin to unravel for him, as he finds himself dragged, against his will, back into a criminal conspiracy which he’d thought he was free from, and which is a good deal more complicated than he’d ever imagined.

And that’s the first issue.

The art style is amazing; dark and gritty, without any of the bright colours and flashy explosions so common to super-hero series. Not that I have any problem with that style, mind you, but it speaks to the absolutely wonderful TONE of this series that it has such a perfectly-suited style, both visually and tonally. It looks like a 1930s crime drama, which is intentional. This is a world in which super heroes and villains exist, and everyone knows they exist, but nobody knows much about them. Was it really an airplane crash that destroyed that building, like they say on the news? Or was it a super-hero battle? Was it really a gas explosion outside of that bank, like the police are saying? Or was it a super-villain pulling a heist? Everything is tense and low-key; a world of elabourate webs of lies, espionage and cloak-and-dagger intrigue.

The first story has just recently come to an end, and a collected trade paperback of it can now be pre-ordered; it will be in stores quite soon. Brubaker is taking a short break from the series, returning to his also-excellent straight-crime-story series, “Criminal”, but promises to return to Incognito soon. I would strongly suggest that anyone who thinks that this sort of thing might be up their alley give it a look and get in on the ground floor with this series.

Have some pages from the first issue.


Tags: comic books, pulp adventures

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