Comic Review – “Incognito #1”

The reprint of this issue has slid on the schedule from Wednesday, Feb. 4 to Wednesday, Feb. 11, placing it on the same day as issue 2. The Diamond retailer codes to bring to your local comic store guy to ensure you get your copies are NOV088098 and NOV082429 respectively.

General Information

Title: Incognito #1

Author: Ed Brubaker

Illustrator(s): Sean Phillips (art) and Val Staples (color)

Cover Date: December 2008

Cover Price: $3.50 US


Zack Overkill was a supervillain. He and his twin brother used to rampage at the command of Black Death. Now, his twin is dead, and Zack voluntarily joined the Witness Protection Program. The government keeps him doped up on drugs that remove his powers. He finds his new life so depressing that he hits rock bottom, and starts taking more conventional drugs as well. An unexpected side effect is that the street drugs cancel out the government issue drugs, and Zack starts making different kinds of decisions after that.

High Point

The internal monologue in general is great. It not only reveals the character’s thoughts, but moves along very nicely. This issue has 23 pages of ad free content, but it manages to be both an unusually fast and an unusually satisfying read in that time. The opening monologue sets up a lot of the tone of the character and the comic. The images depict Zack as a man in a mask beating down muggers and saving a damsel in distress in a dark alley, just like a marauding hero would. The monologue tells a different story (especially if you the actual issue, which is less family friendly than this site, and includes another word of dialogue between the last two words quoted here): “I knew I was making a mistake before I threw the first punch. Hell, I knew I was making a mistake when I felt the impact of the gravel crunching under my shoes… But there was no stopping by then. And I have to admit… sometimes making a mistake just feels so good.”

Low Point

The creative team making this are also doing other things, with each other, and with collaborators not involved in this. Therefore, there’s no reasonable way to expect this to maintain a monthly schedule indefinitely. We’ll just have to settle for a series of miniseries with gaps in between that will probably feel much longer than they actually are.

The Scores

This is an original take on the genre. This team brought noir to comics with “Criminal,” but left the sci-fi and fantasy elements behind in the process, creating a great series that doesn’t fit in as a review on this site. With “Incognito,” they’ve started walking the line, adding superpowers to a noir-toned world of their own creation. There’s a sense of a complete and fleshed out world with its own continuity behind this one, and we’re just barely scratching the surface. I’ve read a lot of comics in my day, but I’ve never read one with this particular feel. If this issue is any indication, I’m on board, hook line and sinker, for life. I give it 6 out of 6.

The artwork works better than it should. If I look at it one panel at a time, I see off model points, I see stiff character poses, and I see all the little things that usually detract from my enjoyment of the art. In this story, with this tone to the script, and this gritty edge, these imperfections work. The more precise and detailed pencillers, such as David Finch, Ethan van Sciver or Gary Frank, just wouldn’t work as well on this title. The little imperfections just enrich this particular tale in a massively enjoyable way. I haven’t seen a lot of Sean Phillips’ work elsewhere (apart from individual pages in group issues like “Ultimate Civil War Spider-Ham” or “Ultimate Spider-Man Super Special”) so I don’t know if this is his usual style, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the imperfections were deliberate simply because the title works better with them than without them. Add in Staples’ scene-defining colour schemes, and you’ve got a great package. The panels where the blood blends so smoothly with the gloves are just incredible for their metaphorical readings, for example. I give it 6 out of 6.

The story is engrossing from panel one. If you don’t already know the concept, it appears to be a Batman-like hero, hitting the criminals hard and fast. The internal monologue breaks up that notion, and the reader soon learns that the guy beating up muggers is guilty of far worse than any mugging. We learn some of what brought him to this point, and I can’t wait for the rest of Zack’s story, both in his future and his past. I give it 6 out of 6.

The characterization of those around Zack is sparse. We’ve got glimpses of a seemingly typical mad scientist, and the stereotypical good cop/bad cop personalities in his handlers. The reader sees them with all the depth and perception with which Zack allows himself to see them. What we do get is a great picture of Zack, and that’s really the point. I give it 5 out of 6.

The emotional response is spectacular. As I said, this grabbed me in panel one, and I’m getting anxious for the next issue. Sadly, I have to wait until February 11 for that. I give it 6 out of 6.

The flow is great. The monologue helps us track the non-linear timeframes because it follows a somewhat linear train of thought. When an issue forces the reader to read at a particular pace, that’s a good sign. Normally when I’m rereading for review, I slow down at certain points to study panels or text more closely, for quoting and the like. I tried that here. It didn’t work. Not only did I read continuously from start to finish once again, but every time I went to look back at the issue to check out specific scenes and dialogue, I ended up reading from that point to the end of the book again. That’s a book that controls the pace of the reader. I give it 6 out of 6.

Overall, this is a book I heartily recommend to anyone in possession of photo I.D. that will allow them to buy it. If you can, get two copies, so you can loan one to friends to read. Given the nature of the opening, try not to tell them the premise before they open it, and just get them to read it cold for maximum impact. I give it 6 out of 6.

In total, Incognito #1 receives 41 out of 42. Future issues will likely be reviewed as the highest priority in whatever week they come out, superceeding whatever event or Buffy comics hit the same day. Odds are these issues will be read and reviewed before I even read the rest of my weekly stacks.

Additional Notes and Comments

John Siuntres spoke with Brubaker about this and other projects in his Word Balloon podcast a few weeks ago. It’s not family friendly, but it’s definitely funny and informative. They also talk about the surprisingly strong sales of the first issue. It sold out at Diamond the day it came out. To realize how significant that is, it came out in the batch of comics solicited for December 31, 2008, but delayed to January 2 in most markets due to holiday shipping. Many of the titles hitting that week (and the one before) don’t sell out with retailers until holidays pass and consumer traffic resumes the following week. That is usually the point where they decide to order more and run down Diamond’s stocks. Check out the two page preview available here to get a feel for the tone of the series. (These exact pages don’t appear in the issue, so nothing’s spoiled if you’ve already read the rest of this review.)