Wednesday, 24 February 2010

A to Z: I is for Incognito

And now I'm done venting on a comic that isn't nearly as bad as I make out (Pixie, not JLA. That legitimately pissed me off. Pixie is actually a very flawed title that has some decent stuff going for it once you've gotten past all the stuff that pissed me off) it's time to continue A to Z. Before that though I want to thank all the people who contacted me about A Crisis On Infinite Blogs, which is being worked on (occasionally) as we speak and will hopefully exist. With that, let's get past these italics and into the actual letter!

If there's one thing in this realm of heroic comics I don't understand it's the use of those bloody masks that every hero and their mother wears. I'm assured they're called Domino Masks, but as an X-fan I automatically associate the word Domino with a certain X-lady with a diamond over her eyes. And even that aesthetic touch on her would be a smarter and more effective disguise than a bleedin' Domino Mask (note: no it wouldn't). I mean there's the Clark Kent argument that something obscuring your eye area can alter how you appear to people, but C'MON, these are just poor. I'm surprised that all heroes and villains that use these didn't have all their loved ones slaughtered long ago and their identities ousted BECAUSE THEY SHOULDN'T WORK.

Why am I talking about these crappy superhero accessories? Because the series I'm about to talk about (recommended by the wonderful Ryan K Lindsay, of Stinkbrown and now Weekly Crisis fame) has another bleeding character that uses one of those godforsaken tropes on our unfortunate main character. But for once, just this once, it works. Because fuck it, it fits the pulp setting and that's something, right?

Oh, and the comics about a former villain in a stylish tale of heroism and crime. By Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. And you need to read it. Because it's Incognito. And it's BRILLIANT.

Another wraparound cover? Oh realm of comics, you do spoil me so!

By now you're acclimatised to the template I attempt to follow here (unless you're new here in what case WHAT THE FUCK?! I CAN GET NEW READERS?!) so I can jump straight into a misguided attempt to explain the comic's plot to you in my incoherent manner. Incognito is the tale of a world where Pulp heroes have existed for AAAAAAAGES,and more specifically of Zack Overkill, former twin villain and at the beginning of our story in the witness protection program and on power-blocking drugs following the death of his brother and giving testimony about The Black Death, a creepy ass motherflipper of a criminal with an origin rooted in a weird meteor thing that made him and two others the first super-powered heroes back in the 1930s.

*inhale* That make any sense? No? Ah well. CONTINUE!

Anyway, after finding himself bored to all sorts of levels of shit Zack starts to experiment in illegal drugs, which interfere with the power-blocking drugs and return his super strength. Taking this as an opportunity to finally experience joy again by going out in a Domino mask (ugh) and being a vigilante (because villainous stuff would REALLY fuck with his parole ya see). Then as per the norm in this sort of tale shit hits the fan and it is discovered by Black Death and his compatriots that Zack is still alive and a manhunt begins. There's also some other stuff to do with a woman with a fucked-up costume fetish, a sub-plot to do with Zack's sole friend and confidant in his new life, and a plot about a lovely filthy woman who never ages and used to shack up with Zack's twin (which is all very weird but very captivating).
These captions and images are going to be hard. I mean I can't show or say too much without spoiling the comic in some way. So just look at them and enjoy the writing and pretty, pretty art.

And that's all there really is to say about this plot-wise (because I'm awful at this). It's not simple in the slightest to an idiot like me but it does everything perfectly and keeps ya coming back to read it again and again. Something that helps this greatly is the tone, which treads a careful line between bitterly dark and tongue in cheek. I suppose that technically makes this a black comedy but I think that'd be a bit much of a push towards 'funny' over 'tongue in cheek'. I mean it's got stuff in it that'll make you smirk and it has an edge of satire to how some elements of the story play out, but it's never in spite of the comic's dignity and that's what really matters, isn't it?

I'm losing track of what I'm saying now (isn't that always the way?) so let's talk about the immensely awesome creative team involved in this. Because that's what you kids like right? Me sucking on the genitals of my Gods? RIGHT?
Propping up a wall at a party. Zack is more like the readership than anyone will ever truly admit.

Ed Brubaker is Ed Brubaker. You know him. The guy who does the rarely anything less than brilliant Captain America, the critically loved Criminal series, Catwoman, some AWESOME Batman material, Books of Doom and my personal favourite of his recent materials, X-Men: Deadly Genesis (mostly because it led to one of the only good Uncanny X-Men stories EVER, Rise & Fall of the Shi'ar Empire). If you can honestly say you haven't read anything by him then you're either missing out big-time or a crazed republican who's only reading this to see if I suddenly break into a teabag related rant. Which I won't, because my tea is usually of the iced variety from Liptons... Wait, what? *ahem* Uh.... derailed myself here. Just gonna go get some Liptons Iced Tea...

... What? A to Z? Really? Okay. Yeah, Ed Brubaker is someone you really should have heard of with a great body of works and some stuff I genuinely love, with this particular title as one of the best he's ever done. Capable of depth and touches beyond what you'd find on the first read through, he has talents that make nearly every single one of his works worth reading twice. His writing of characters is particularly strong here, with everyone having a distinct and notable voice throughout, something that runs across every title of his I've read.

Sean Phillips is another name you should really know, and not just for his frequent collaborations with Brubaker on titles such as this and the Criminal series. No, you should also know him for a decent body of work across 2000AD and Judge Dredd Megazine, WildC.A.T.S. and of course Marvel Zombies 1 & 2. In fact Sean Phillips is the reason I'm reading comics again, alongside Robert Kirkman (but if pressed I'll always mention Phillips first). Yes that's right, if you go back a year and some you'd find me reading a friend's copy of Marvel Zombies and being absolutely FLOORED by the visuals. It made me want to read more comics, with Marvel Zombie 2 only heightening that want. Without Sean Phillips I would literally not be here today, with some iced tea, writing about how much I love Sean Phillips for pulling me into a world so amazing that I want to be more and more integrated into it every day. This man, as some might say, is the shit. Any praise he gets is well deserved and I will gladly read anything he puts out, and (probably) enjoy it immensely. This is no exception, with art so tantalisingly gorgeous that I actually have to just stop and look at some panels and pages and take it all in. There are many an artist this talented, but only this one who I owe so much to.
No I'm not providing context for this image. Because without it it's infinitely more amazing than the already entertaining reason for him being in a Santa suit.

Of course the talent isn't limited to the comic itself. No, Incognito also happens to feature some excellent articles on pulp heroes by the exceedingly articulate Jess Nevins, whom some of you may well know for doing the unofficial annotations for Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. These articles bring up some classic characters that are worth reading him delve into at length, especially when two of them are Doc Savage and FU MANCHU. They're as notable a part of this series as the actual comic itself and whet the appetite somewhat for his forthcoming Encyclopaedia of Pulp Heroes.

I'm trying to speak as to the quality of this comic but honestly if I say too much I ruin the experience, as can be the case with a lot of plot-heavy comics like this. Rest assured that it's a quality experience and worth the attention of every single one of you and more, as it feels like a truly unique experience that can't be captured anywhere else by anyone else. It has atmosphere up the caboose and every element of the comic comes together almost perfectly. Zack is a very different protagonist/anti-hero sort who you genuinely feel attached too no matter what is revealed about him, his past or anything he does over the course of the story. In fact they continue to add layers to the character that make him the sort of complex character that so many other comics lack. The supporting cast is diverse and captivating and maintain their own elements that make each cast member worth keeping an eye on throughout, as they all show the sort of elements so crucial to decent character work that people should come to expect from comics nowadays (yet are so often denied by the lesser comic books out there).
... Yeah this is basically how all women talk to me too. In fact the only real difference here is that Zack is employed and ripped his car door of his hinges. And isn't fat and bloated.... Okay actually it's VERY different but shut up.

If I've managed to convince you to check out this series in any way then I implore you to get the issues for the bonus Jess Nevins content (which is sadly lacking from the tpb), though if you really prefer to buy trades (as I tend to) you still get some small bonus content in the form of an introduction by Bill Hader. You can probably track down the issues from either your Local Comic Shop or at various online sites, and of course the tpb is on amazon and readily available for you to order once I've finished typing this sentence.

Now I'm off to hide in a corner over my inability to write these articles with any sense of competence and drink more iced tea. Because that's what happens at 1am. I hide and drink tea.

And that's I. What's J?... Oh wait you know it's Robert Kirkman's Jubilee. Shut up.


  1. Excellent, choice, if I do say so myself. If anyone reads this article and does not race out to buy Incognito then I'll be a monkey's uncle (which is just an awesome saying).

    The series is one of the best things I have read in years. It really just sung out to me, so I'll forever love it so.

    Can't wait for Kirkman's Jubilee, I never read it before.

  2. Brubaker's great at this sort of gritty noir-y stuff (Criminal, Sleeper), even when he's writing superheroes (like here). I haven't checked this out yet but I'll get around to it now.

  3. I am not usually draw to comics outside of the film world, but this article gives me a buying itch that needs to be scratched.