Pulp Corner: Incognito
Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips are one of the most consistent writer and artist teams in modern day comic books. They benefit from doing creator owned titles that aren’t meant to go on forever. They have a definitive story in mind and they get tell that story and build the world using building blocks of their own. They’ve had slam dunks which each series they’ve worked on. I’ve had the pleasure of reading them all except for Incognito; which I needed to rectify immediately. The title is made up of 2 two different miniseries, a 6 issue and 5 issue respectively.
As I dove in the first thing that came to mind was how much the world of this book was similar to their previous work, Sleeper. The idea that the events we are witnessing are based in the real world where super powered beings exist in a very small number, maybe only a handful. The story follows Zack Overkill a former super powered person who worked for a criminal named Black Death in the past. Zack and his brother Xander became targets that lead to Xander’s death. Fearing it was his own organization that was trying to kill them Zack turned informant against them and was placed into witness protection by SOS, a group that hides super power involvement from the population at large. He’s been forced to take drugs so his powers are gone and made to live a shitty pedestrian life by comparison.
When we first meet Zack he is a broken man, pushing paper as a file clerk feeling sad and sorry for what he’s become. He starts experimenting with illegal drugs to numb the dullness of his daily routine. However he soon finds out that it tampers with his gatekeeping drugs and allows him access to his powers again. As soon as he realizes this he shakes the dust off and dons a mask again, patrolling the streets. Once word hits, SOS does their best to contain him and shut him up but Black Death also wants him dead.
Enter Zoe Zeppelin, the daughter of Professor Zeppelin (a Doc Savage type) one of the SOS founders. Who surprise, looks just like Miss Misery from Sleeper and Jo from Fatale. Criminal proved Phillips was capable of drawing different looking leading ladies; I wonder why this one seems to be his particular default setting. She rescues Zack and together they learn about the origin of his super powers as well as his connection to the golden age hero, Lazarus (aka The Shadow ) and take on The Black Death’s organization. Brubaker is a master of pacing here. First introducing you slowly to the world and giving you ample time to acclimate. Than he uses the back half of the story to give gives you smart layered reveals.
In the second collection entitled Bad Influences we are introduced to a third party, Level 9 who has an SOS operative named Simon Slaughter within its ranks. Slaughter was once an undercover agent who’s since given in and accepted his rise through the ranks of Level 9. Now working for SOS, Zack is sent to retrieve him. Meanwhile, someone is going around dressed like yesteryear hero Lazarus committing horrible crimes.
This particular story in a broader sense smacks of Sleeper, which is a shame because Sleeper is the better book. More intricately set up and paced, Incognito isn’t without merit; it separates itself by using more pulp conventions and logic. Science plays a huge role throughout the series but not grounded scientific science; we’re talking whacky mad scientist type science. That’s the best way to compare the two. If Sleeper leans more on the espionage tent pole, Incognito is pulp through and through.
I picked up the deluxe hardcover that collected both miniseries originally released by Marvel’s creator owned Icon line. Image now has the rights to both Criminal and Incognito and will be putting out new editions. In fact, Marvel’s versions have already gone out of print. I had wanted to read them now in one large format rather than having to wait an indefinite amount of time for Image to put them back out. I think out of all the Brubaker/Phillips collaborations this may be their weakest, but it’s easily still worth your time and money. The price is worth it alone for Sean Phillps glorious black and white covers and all the bonus sketches of old pulp characters.
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