Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Incognito

In the world of comics there are a few dynamic duo's.  Dudes, (Or should I say "epic bros"?) who, whenever they get together on a project, bring out the best in one another, and raise the bar.  No, I'm not talking about Batman and Robin, or whoever else, I'm talking about comic creators who, whenever they work together, bring the thunder.  In this particular situation, I'm talking about the creative team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.

I've dipped my cup into the Brubaker/Phillips punch bowl before and enjoyed the flavor, and have been hounded by other comics readers to get my ass on the Incognito ride.  So I did.  And you should too.

Incognito stars, of all things, a dude named Zack Overkill.  Zack was once a super villain, and is now in the witness protection program because he ratted out his old boss, an evil, powerful and connected man by the awesome name of The Black Death.  The problem is that Zack, who formerly never played by the rules, is now forced to live out his life as a member of the 9 to 5 rat race.  As Zack goes about his duties as a file clerk, he pines for his old days of terror, death and destruction.  As Zack sinks into depression, he starts in on the drug abuse, and soon enough he realizes that the recreational drugs in his system have messed with the drugs that for the past few years have blocked him from using his super-abilities.

With his super strength back, Zack once again dons a mask, and goes around town tearing it up like the good ol' days.  The difference is that this time he's more of a vigilante than a villain.  It doesn't take long, before The Black Death's organization discovers that Overkill is still alive, and assassins are sent to finish him off.  Now, Zack finds himself allied with his old enemies, the good guys; A tenuous allegiance at best.

If I had to point to one aspect of this graphic novel that stands out above all else, I'd point to the noir feel that Brubaker achieves with his writing, and is aided and abetted by Phillips' art.  With Incognito it isn't just the visual style, there's a darkness to the characters, the dialog and the settings that fully delivers the noir feel to the title.  There's a level of seediness, grit and sexiness that you don't often find in any kind of story these days, but Brubaker and Phillips drag it up from the depths and give it a home here, to great success.

In terms of writing, Brubaker is one of the best working in the comics medium.  His characters are engaging, and his plots are full of all the things I love: twists, back-stabs, and double crosses.  I couldn't ask for much more.

Phillips has an art style that is all his own, and stands out as unique and instantly recognizable.  For my money, he's the perfect guy for super-powered crime story.  Each panel is brimming with atmosphere, giving the reader a great sense of setting.  On top of that, he can draw some pretty great super-powered battles too.  Want to feel like you are being cornered in a dark alley?  Phillips can deliver.  Want to see what happens when a guy with super strength punches someone in the face?  Yeah, he can handle that too.

Though I feel like overall, the writing and art in Incognito is more polished and sharper than my previous Brubaker/Phillips reading experience, Sleeper, I think I enjoyed the story more with the original.  That said, Incognito is still great stuff, and definitely worth checking out.  This is a great title for someone trying to bridge the gap between superheros and creator owned indie-style comics.

Grade: B

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