Propaganda on Incognito. The Brubaker and Phillips team do it again
by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Marvel / Icon
This is the follow up series from Brubaker and Phillips to their critical and sort-of commercial success of Criminal, which was itself a follow up to their sort of hit series from Wildstorm; Sleeper. Not that these are in any way direct follow ups, merely that they have a certain thematic connection and the art of Sean Phillips all over them. But given that Sleeper and Criminal were great series, that Brubaker writes a lovely noir line and that Phillips’ art does dark and brooding so well, the thematic link is a welcome one.
Incognito sticks solidly to the model of Criminal and Sleeper, but carries Brubaker’s fascination with the seedier side of life to it’s natural conclusion within a super-powered world. Whereas Sleeper was about a superpower who was so caught up in the lies and deceit of his sleeper agent status that not even he knew who the good guys were anymore and Criminal was about a (slightly) noble hood who was at least trying to do something right, Incognito is a straight out look at supervillains.
Specifically Zack Overkill, who, along with his twin brother, seems to have been a very effective and particularly nasty super criminal. But along the way, something went wrong; Zack’s twin brother died, Zack turned evidence against his crime boss, the rather ominously named Black Death (whom we’re due to meet next issue) and he got himself into a probation program that comes complete with Federal government approved power removing pills.
And that’s where we come in. Actually, that’s not quite true. We came in a while ago with the Incognito teaser pages released by Marvel to trail the series. As teasers they do a brilliant job, so if you’ll forgive the intrusion, I thought you’d like a look as well:
(Pages from the Incognito teasers that Marvel sent out a while back. A perfect introduction to the series. Art by Sean Phillips.)
Those teasers pretty much nail the entire theme of the book; Zack’s been powerless for years and gets through each day of his newly normal existence with a grinding, soul destroying numbness that must be akin to that phantom pain that amputees complain of. The nagging itch that you just can’t scratch, the memory of being more than this. After years of being above all of these little people, he now finds himself amongst them, ignored, alone, deeply depressed, barely tolerating his fellow workers and his obnoxious new handler. It’s a surprise he didn’t turn to more drugs earlier. But when he finally does there’s an unexpected side effect. Suddenly his powers are back, the federal pills neutralised by the illegal pills. A weight lifts, he can do whatever he wants again. Provided he doesn’t get caught.
Throughout Incognito Brubaker drops in interesting asides and observations, some of which we’ll no doubt be coming back to: The mysterious Prof Zeppelin and his part in the government’s covering up of any super activity (Tornados hitting downtown – natural disasters as explanation for post battle devastation), The Black Death waiting in his cell and Doc Lester’s continued monitoring of one of his “projects”. And he does it well, hooking you in to the story, but teasing you enough to keep your interest up. I read this just after reading Bendis’ Dark Avengers issue 1 and, although they’re poles apart in content, they share that first issue problem; how to keep interest and excitement going even though the first issue’s only ever going to be a setup for the story. Bendis fails over in Avengers, but Brubaker pulls it off here. I’ll be sticking around to find out more.
The most obvious thing throughout the book is how comfortable writer and artist are with both the subject and each other. Brubaker and Phillips are developing into quite a team. I was never all that keen on Phillips’ work when I first saw it in Hellblazer but over the past few years, buoyed up by some quality writing from Brubaker, he’s doing the best work of his career.
Richard Bruton is still taking his tablets