“Blake Morrow, March 12th at midnight, Flatline still counts”
There are a couple of comic book writers with a reputation for being edgy. Garth Ennis is the obvious one, and it’s no secret that I’m a massive fan. Another one is Mark Millar – who I’ve heard referred to on a number of occasions as “the poor man’s Garth Ennis” – which I don’t think is entirely fair. He often doesn’t have the same depth as Ennis, whose gonzo stories – at their best – are saying something timely and relevant beyond swearing and gore. Millar also doesn’t seem as concerned with making his stories as heartfelt, because even at his most outrageous, Ennis’ work can be surprisingly touching. But Millar has his strengths. He can craft an action sequence, and with the right artist they can be outstanding. And his writing can be very funny. The story I’ve seen him catch a bunch of criticism for is Nemesis – which raises the question; what if Batman was evil? Or, as Millar himself puts it, “What if Batman was a total c*nt?”
Ok so it’s a little more complicated than that. In this world, there are no superpowers and there’s just one supervillian; Nemesis. This is where the Batman comparison comes in. Nemesis is super rich, like Bruce Wayne. He also has all the weapons, gadgets, vehicles, and skills that you’d expect. The only difference is that he uses them to kill people as he enacts a reign of terror across the world. His targets are all police officers and he dispatches them in suitably over-the-top ways. After making his way through most of Asia, his next target is Chief Inspector Blake Morrow in Washington, a poster-boy for the police profession. He’s Nemesis’ big score. And Morrow is convinced he knows who Nemesis is; a ghost from his past.
After the first few pages, you can tell that subtlety is not going to be on the agenda. One of the first things Nemesis does is hijack Air Force One, crash it into the centre of Washington, and kidnap the president. And it gets crazier from there. It is a story which relies on its spectacle, and on that front it doesn’t let up. Nemesis soon proves himself as an equal to the caped crusader (with his costume being the exact of opposite of Batman’s) as he guns down officers, blows them up, and generally dispatches them in gruesome ways. He kills people by the tens of thousands and escapes from seemingly inescapable situations. He has all the money in the world, which is basically equivalent to a superpower when there’s no one around to stop him. And he uses this power to torment Morrow, doing really horrible things to him and his family. And I mean, some of them are downright abhorrent. You’re not going to be rooting for this guy.
I was unsure about this book, even as I was reading it. By issue three (out of four) I still wasn’t sure how I’d rate it. At first I found McNiven’s super-detailed art is immensely off-putting. I don’t need to see every line and wrinkle on a person’s face – it’s like one of those exaggerated faces they use of Finn now and then in Adventure Time. But somewhere, it clicked. I don’t know how to explain it. I think it was the action sequence in the picture above. It’s ridiculous and gory, and completely shows the downside of the art. But it works. I like it. I actually really enjoy it. At this point, I understood exactly what the comic was aiming for, what they wanted me to feel. And as it races to it’s ludicrous conclusion in the Oval Office, I was smiling like crazy.
I felt disgusted after reading this, but in the same way as I do after watching a gruesome b-movie. My used copy of the trade paperback smelled like someone had fished it out of an ashtray, which made the experience of reading it feel all the more sordid. But it’s only four issues and will barely take an hour to read. It’s not a smart take-down on superheroes that it might think it is (The Boys isn’t always smart but it’s critiques are far better) but if you want an entertaining action-packed story, you could do worse. Personally, I loved it.
Reviewed by Jack