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Graphic Novel Review: Incognito by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

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Ed Brubaker continues to blow me away with his comic book writing. I first took notice of him during a four-issue series he did for Vertigo called Scene of the Crime. I loved the noir style he infused the story with. Then I caught up with some of his work on Gotham Central, about the Gotham City Police Department. But it was his runs on Sleeper, Captain America, and Daredevil that captured my little fanboy heart. However, when he started penning Criminal, he bowled me over again.

And now, Incognito.

Who would have thought about doing a series starring a super-criminal now in protective custody, trying to live without powers under another name?

Ed Brubaker, that’s who. Even though I like Brubaker’s writing, I really thought he’d overreached his abilities when I first heard about this concept. I thought the story would be corny, or it would be about a character I couldn’t empathize with.

Happily, I was wrong on both counts. Zack Overkill is a totally empathetic character even at the outset when I didn’t like him much. He is a guy whose world has gotten twisted away from him, and he’d lost his twin brother Xander. He’s gone from powerful to powerless and is stuck in a dead-end job that he hates.

Then, one day, the drugs his parole officer uses to suppress his superpowers inexplicably stop working. Zack is back, and maybe more powerful than ever. But he’s not the same man he was.

I love how Brubaker shows this part of the character, the inability to be like everyone else. He was a villain at first, then he’s become a hero. He doesn’t know why he has to go out and fight crime every night, but he can’t simply sit back and do nothing. And he doesn’t want to go back to his criminal ways. However, even Zack’s altruistic ways soon get him in trouble, and Brubaker’s story takes off like a jet.

I’m glad I picked up the graphic novel instead of trying to read the monthly issues. Waiting for each new issue to come out would have killed me. Even so, Brubaker writes a densely plotted and character-driven piece that you have to take your time with to fully enjoy. Zack grows on the page, and as he does, so does his problems.

Brubaker also blends in nostalgia for the pulps, for the larger-than-life heroes and whacked-out villains that filled those pages back in the 1930s and 1940s. And that’s fair, because those pulps often inspired the comic book heroes that followed.

As always, Sean Phillips’s art provides a searing underscore to Brubaker’s story. I just can’t imagine Brubaker writing this kind of tale without Phillips doing the layouts. The two blend so nicely it seems like they’re in each other’s minds. The colors are subdued but somehow riotous as well. They scream from the shadows and refuse to be ignored.

I loved the origin story and all the twisting reveals that Brubaker has tucked away in this one. But most of all, I loved the editorial at the end that promises more tales to come from this new world Brubaker and Phillips have created.

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About Mel Odom

  • http://www.notesfromnancy.blogspot.com NancyGail

    Sounds like The Watchmen.