Incognito by Ed Brubaker

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A friend recommended me this book when it first came out. I, per the normal, put it off and about the time I IMG_2427wanted to read it I realized that there was a sequel out there as well. So I went ahead and got both of them to read together. I do not normally do this, but my friend said it was really good, so I took him at his word.

IMG_2425Ed Brubaker is a comic book writer from Maryland who has won multiple Eisner and Harvey Awards. He has worked for basically every big publisher out there and has worked on some of the most famous titles under these publishers. Some of his more famous works include Fatale, Criminal, and Captain America, but Incognito is definitely my favorite. But I will confess I have not read much of Brubaker other than his work on Captain America. I really need to check out Fatale and Criminal as I think both of these books look very interesting as they are both the noir genre. Ed is certainly one of the great talents out there in comics and this will not be the last book of his I read.

In Incognito the story follows a super villain named Zack Overkill who is now in witness protection, placed there by the SOS (which is a S.H.I.E.L.D. like organization in this universe). He works a normal day job and tries to keep a low profile so the Black Death organization that he use to work for does not hunt him down and kill him for turning on them. Eventually he grows tired of the normal life and begins dawning his costume and running around town helping people. Eventually the Black Death catches wind of this and they send a few henchmen to take IMG_2430care of the traitor. From there Zack is fighting for his life as he delves deeper into his origin,IMG_2426 which he is shocked to find out the truth.

From there the story picks up in the sequel Bad Influences. Zack is still his charming self but now he works for the secret organization the SOS. They want him to go deep undercover and convince the other side that he is now working for them once again to bring back in a rogue undercover SOS agent. Not really having a choice Zack accepts the mission and is thrown into a whirlwind of emotions along with so many old acquaintances. At the end Zack’s worst fears are come to life and he is once again left confused and struggling to understand the truth.

This was really a great story! Brubaker certainly took an old idea and put an entirely new spin on it. He seems to have gotten away from theIMG_2429 traditional superhero genre as many of his current works are mostly in the noir genre. I have not seen many comics that try and tackle this genre but it is certainly interesting. Along those same lines there is a lengthy forward written by Joe Hill (Steven King’s son, author of Heart Shaped Box) that is really great. Without giving too much away he certainly puts a lot of the ideas in the story into perspective as well as proposing some interesting questions.

I really liked the characters in this story. They are very unique and very deep for a superhero graphic novel. Zack Overkill is a very cool character and on some level I think he is in line with Deadpool. Obviously I am not talking in terms of popularity, as Deadpool is super popular, but I think both are very similar in terms of their actions, habits, and overall character. They are both anti-heroes although again Zack is IMG_2432much deeper than that. He was once a villain and one of the worst, which is interesting to see how his old friends react to him when he meets them years later. Zack also has almost no moral compass, which I can totally relate too! I think it is interesting to see how much Zack changes from the first trade to the second, not only that but how he struggles to be who he thinks he should be vs what he is used to be. That is a very interesting concept that is often overlooked in comics and graphic novels. There is some very deep character developments in this story that I would say more closely resmbles a novel in this aspect. Again major props to Brubaker as many of these deeper ideas are often left out when it comes to the superhero stories.

The overall genre of this story is somewhat strange. It is a Noir superhero genre which I have not really seen before. For those that are not familiar Noir is a style that incorporates the sort of black and white, long trench coat and hat, detective smoking a cigarette in the shadowsIMG_2433 under a street light with a heavy fog, think Dick Tracey sort of. It was a style that was popularized by Dashiell Hammett with his novel The Maltese Falcon from the 40’s and 50’s. What is interesting about this story is that it is most characterized as noir but there is certainly new and advanced technology used in the story. So it is this hybrid mishmash of genres, some science fiction, superhero, and noir. I have never seen anything like this book that incorporates all these different genres, not only that but really an awesome awesome story. There is also a write-up at the end of the book that talks more in-depth about the noir genre and a few other things that is pretty interesting.

The ending of this one almost certainly insinuate that there will be a third book in the series. I say that, but if you just read the first trade it does not make it seem like there is a sequel out there. I guess there is always more story to tell and this universe is certainly very interesting IMG_2434and warranted exploring, but when you read the first trade it seems like everything is wrapped up nice and neat. Kudos to Brubaker for, to me, taking a story that seemed to be wrapped up and create more depth and continue to explore the fascinating characters and this very unique universe.

Sean Phillips and Brubaker have worked together on a few different books. His style is very unique and very dark. I am not sure if this style is more of the coloring or if it is more the penciler. There seems to be more shadows and black used in this style which certainly adds to the noir genre. I think this artwork certainly fits the story and the two playoff IMG_2435of each other extremely well creating a fantastic end product. Again the trio of Brubaker, Phillips, and the colorist Val Staples have all worked together on a few other books. This is certainly one of the best threesomes (mind out of the gutter) that create not only superb stories, but very unique and superb artwork. Again, I would like to see which aspect adds what to the artwork. Phillips style is more traditional, and looking at his other work, I think most of the stylistic tones may be from the the colorist, Val. Either way it is certainly great. The page layouts in the book are average to above average, nothing too crazy. I did notice that there is a lack of full page spalshes, which I felt was a IMG_2436little dissapointing. I did absolutely love the cover art though. This is where you can really fully take in the artwork. What is really cool is that they are mostly done in gray scale or black and white, then they choose a few things to add color to. This creates a very cool and unique image. Pretty awesome.

I loved this book and it is popular but I think is somewhat under the radar and underappreciated in my opinion. Both trades have been out for a few years but I still don’t think they have gotten the praise it deserved. The story is excellent, there are some great characters that are easily relatable and struggle with very real problems despite having superpowers. The artwork is stylized yet adds to the seriousness and the depth of the story. Phillips, Staples, and Brubaker are a great trio that have knocked this one out of the park. This is a great read, and if you have not checked this one out you IMG_2437need to. And I am sure in the near future the third trade will be coming out, can’t wait.

Manik.

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