Monday, February 16, 2009

Incognito #2

Marvel Comics/Icon, 23 pages, $ 3.50

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Val Staples

I may have been a little harsh in my review of Incognito #1; not in terms of where I found fault with the story, but rather because I didn’t give it enough credit for the things it does well. I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t like the book—quite the opposite, in fact.

It’s true that Incognito is among the best comics serials in the market in terms of the pure craft that goes into panel-to-panel, page-to-page storytelling. It’s also true that there’s a set-up that’s intellectually intriguing. I love the Harvey Pekar thing that Mr. Brubaker points out on the editorial page, for instance: Zack, the protagonist of Incognito, is a former super-villain who has joined the witness-protection program and is now working as a file clerk—just like Harvey Pekar, the creator of prominent independent comic American Splendor. I’m not sure this says anything profound about the relationship between commercial and indie comics (though maybe it does about their creators, who knows), but it’s certainly a great little nugget.

I’m increasingly curious where the plot is going, as well, now that a few more complications are thrown into the mix. With Zack getting a co-conspirator and the big bad villain showing up on screen for the first time, among other things, the story is finally gaining traction, and things don’t look half as trite anymore as they did last month. And, of course, I love how visceral Incognito is: the grit, the bleakness, the violence, the sex, the power rush—it does a hell of a job with all that.

I can absolutely appreciate the book on those terms, and I do.

Where Incognito still falls short for me, though, is in the empathy department. I don’t mean to say the story should make me feel for its characters—it doesn’t need to do that, and I don’t think it wants to be that kind of story. But if I’m supposed to care about what’s happening to any of them, it certainly should be able to make me feel with them and see things through their eyes. And that’s not happening here. There’s nothing in the story that moves or surprises me, that resonates with me or gives me insight into what makes any of these characters tick. The narrative very much stays on the surface; it doesn’t allow the reader to peek inside Zack or the rest of the cast. As a result, I can’t say I care a great deal about what’s going on with any of them.

Incognito serves the brain, and it serves the guts, and it serves them better than almost every other serial genre comic in publication right now. In terms of empathy and genuine emotion, however, it’s a total dead zone, and that’s a shame.

Grade: B-

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