By Zak Edwards
April 22, 2009 - 00:27
Fans of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ award-winning Criminal series have had a bittersweet 2009. On one hand, they get to see the creative team tackle another project together, but one the other, Criminal is now on hold. While some are just as sold on Incognito as they are Criminal, this book is the exact same thing as their other project. Whether or not this is a good thing is a question I personally waited until a few issues in to tackle, but I am still unsure. Drawing very heavily on the pulp stories of the thirties and forties America, Brubaker and Phillips are creating stories which simultaneously mimic and modernize the genre. The problem is, the difference between the mystery pulps of the thirties, which later became what is generally referred to as noir, and the vigilante pulp stories of the same era are almost identical, making Incognito not so much of an entirely different project as almost a spin-off.
This was my problem with the first two issues, the whole thing felt like a little more science fiction version of Criminal, and swapping characters and situations only very slightly, Criminal fans would still be reading that series instead of something “all-new.” Of course, Criminal is a well-crafted series which has garnered critical praise for very good reason and the quality of Incognito is much the same as that series, so dwelling on the title is perhaps a non-issue. Incognito is doing with the vigilante genre what Criminal was doing with the crime genre. Taking super heroes and making them into bad people has been a popular craze since Watchmen hit the stands, almost to a point of becoming a cliche itself, but Incognito feels so distant from the conventions of the super hero, the series feels less like an attempt at the bandwagon and more original. Some of the distancing is fairly superficial, like the hero isn’t wearing tights so much as a very retro style of striped shirt and thief mask, which also creates a nostalgic look for the book despite its more contemporary setting. But even with scenes like this issue’s fight between the anti-hero and a couple of super powered villains, the violence and gruesome outcome distances the story from the usual super hero antics. This distancing allows for the book to occupy a fairly unique position within the super hero genre, undermining some conventions through the direct recognition and immediate challenging of them. In this way, Incognito has the same mission as Criminal while doing much of what Watchmen accomplished twenty years ago, and comparisons to these series only serve to reinforce Brubaker’s series as being more than a copycat or cliche.
Sean Phillips’ art is dark and much of his settings and character designs mimic Brubaker’s simultaneous homage and undermining. The previous example of the hero’s costume is a prime example, looking classic while challenging the ‘capes and tights’ look of contemporary costumed vigilante books. The world these characters inhabit is dark and dirty, just like the pulps from which the setting is ripped from. Even the cover reflects this concept very well. A classic sort of super hero type image, a blonde woman in a short skirt and leather shirt and boots with a gun is surrounded by a hazy, bleak, black and white world. She is washed out herself, being an unnatural white colour and neutral expression to the violence and damage she may be causing to this world around her. She does not give an air of being a hero, but a part of the problem, despite occupying an on-the-surface feeling of being a hero. Overall, Phillips and Brubaker are working in such close proximity, the art and words blend to a point of becoming indistinguishable.
8.5/10 Identical to Criminal in so many ways, and that is a good thing.
Last Updated: May 19, 2020 - 12:25
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