Writers: Mark Millar & Nacho Vigalondo
Pencils: Leinil Yu
Inks: Gerry Alanguilan
Colors: Sunny Gho
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Leinil Yu (regular)/Dave Gibbons (variant)
Editor: Nicole Boose
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment/Icon imprint/Millarworld
Price: $2.99 US
The quickest way to describe this latest creator-owned, super-hero genre effort from writer Mark Millar is as Ocean’s 11 meets Wanted. The pace and tone of the writing make something abundantly clear: Millar is crafting comics designed for adaptation into other media, and specifically into movies. Supercrooks has a fairly simple premise at its core: why would the Penguin and Toyman continue to commit crimes in Gotham City and Metropolis and the like when they’re bound to attract the attention of the men who keep tossing them in jail? It’s a solid foundation for a story about super-villains, but then again, it’s a little obvious. Then again, subtlety hasn’t exactly been something in which Millar has been interested in recent years, opting instead for bombastic, in-your-face genre storytelling that boasts a broader appeal. The first issue of Supercrooks is a good comic book, but it’s also a little bit… ordinary despite its effort to do something a little different within a world of super-heroes and super-villains.
Johnny Bolt’s a super-powered criminal with electricity powers whose track record is… well, horrible. He keeps getting tossed in a Supermax prison for superhuman offenders, and upon his eventual release, he undertakes another job only to be busted (literally and figuratively) by a super-hero. Now Johnny’s out again after serving a five-year stint for a botched jewelry-store heist (on what was supposed to be his wedding day, no less), but when he drops in on his old squeeze, they happen upon an old friend who’s in a boatload of trouble with meta-mobsters from Vegas. The only thing that can save him is a $100-million score, and Johnny realizes if they were to do such a job, they couldn’t afford any super-hero interference. One epiphany later, Johnny realizes the answer to a hero-free heist is to pull it where there are no heroes.
Leinil Yu was an excellent choice as a partner on this title, as his gritty style is well suited for a story about criminals. And it always looks its best when inked by Gerry Alanguilan. Sometimes, Millar’s artistic partners on these Millarworld projects opt to ink their own pencils, and in some cases, their work is better served by taking on an inking partner. Yu’s work is solid. The superhuman costume designs are fairly archetypal, serving the subject matter well. For the most part, though, the characters are in civilian clothes. Johnny Bolt’s lightning tie is a bit cheesy, but it fits with his personality, always looking for attention (which runs contrary to his idea at the end of the issue). Yu’s work in this issue at times reminds me of Sean (Criminal) Phillips’ art, and given the focus on Phillips’ work lately and the subject matter of Supercrooks, it’s easy to see why Yu might have taken some cues, consciously or not, from the other artist’s style. My one qualm with the art was a bit of confusion in the middle of the comic. When the Vegas boss introduced, he looks a lot like Johnny as he surveys the wall of video surveillance. Yu needed to distinguish his design more from the central protagonist’s.
Millar’s story is obviously manipulative, but it’s also effective in that regard. The reader sees the villains (the “supercrooks,” not the Vegas crowd) in a romanticized way because the heroes are presented as such dicks. The super-heroes we meet or learn about are merciless, vulgar and needlessly violent, not unlike the brutal super-mobsters in the Vegas scenes. Johnny Bolt and his friends seem likeable in contrast. As a result, Millar gets the audience to ignore the fact Johnny and company victimize and terrorize regular people, because in their own crowd, they’re loyal to each… and they boast an undeniable charm. It’s a testament to Millar’s scripting that he’s able to create such an illusion.
More interesting than the central premise is the characterization for a couple of key figures. Johnny’s clearly a smart guy, not to mention powerful, but he’s a failure. It points to a self-destructive side, confirmed by his actions on his wedding day. The same self-destructive behaviour is found in the Heat, the elderly crook who pushes a solid scam in Vegas too far. It’s suggested he’s motivated by greed, but it seems like something else is driving him. He’s an addict, perhaps, disregarding the predictable consequences. He does what feels good in the moment, not what’s smart in the long run.
One of the tenets of Millar’s creator-owned writing in recent years has been to focus on the logical faults in the conventions of the super-hero genre. Not only does the core concept fall into that category, but so does the aged former crook’s Vegas scam. Millar both deconstructs the genre through these efforts while simultaneously revelling in it. It’s not a bad approach for a comic-book series, but for several, it might not be the best of choices. Millar runs the risk of coming off as a one-trick pony. With Kick-Ass, the pony jumps over a hurdle. With Nemesis, the pony jumps over a puddle. Now he’s got the pony jumping over a bale of hay. Sure, the pony’s jumping over different things, but all we’re really seeing is the same little jump. But another way to look at it is as Millar’s signature, just as Neil Gaiman’s signature is writing stories about magical worlds hidden within or above the real world. 7/10
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