Douglas Wolk: I hate to keep picking on Mark Millar–although maybe I should, since a guest poster on Firedoglake thought I was defending the parts of Kick-Ass that bugged me most–but Nemesis #1 kept reminding me of that old Onion headline, “Marilyn Manson Now Going Door-to-Door Trying to Shock People.” It’s the first issue of Millar’s new creator-owned “superheroes, what’re you gonna do, man” series–released just as the Kick-Ass movie opens, and drawn by his Civil War/”Old Man Logan” partner Steve McNiven. The premise is that a criminal mastermind with a particular hatred for cops sets his sights on Washington, D.C.’s action-movie-hero chief of police. Things blow up (including a tank labeled “petrol”). Planes crash. Heads are blown off. The President is brought to kneel. And so forth.
Evan Narcisse: The petrol tank is totally hilarious and kinda puts a B-movie, Roger Corman type of gloss on a supposedly horrific scene. It’s a huge glaring mistake in a scene that needs to grip you. And the President kneeling thing feels like a reference back to the scene in Superman II. That’s key because it’s so typical of what informs Millar’s writing now: he knows we (and Kevin Smith) know the reference and he knows that we know what a big Superman nerd he is. So, to call back to that is a double dog-whistle. But, outside of the reference-fu, it’s kinda a “huh?!” moment in the book, in so much as it’s a very unsophisticated beat of a guy who’s supposed to be clever.
DW: He’s totally a big Superman nerd–Evan, you and I talked earlier about how we both really liked Millar’s long-ago run on Superman Adventures, a kiddie-aimed book that he wrote like it was the only Superman comic that mattered. The difference is that he wrote Superman Adventures with a palpable sense of affection for the characters and the audience.
EN: Agreed. Nemesis reads like the work of someone who’s figured out the formula for affection. “One part Oprah + two parts explosion, add in some petrol…”
DW: The bit that made me wince most, though, is Millar’s afterword, where he makes noises about how Nemesis “doesn’t star anyone you’ve ever seen in a movie and you have no childhood affiliation to the character.” This is only a few months after he pitched it as “What if Batman was the Joker?” (That led to someone setting up the awesomely evil MarkMillarIdeas Twitter account…)
EN: For something so gory, it’s odd how bloodless the whole thing feels. The issue’s supercop feels fake almost from the minute you meet him. The mention of stress counsellors at the crime scene, the folksy, no-cussing demeanor, being described as Oprah’s favorite cop… all of that feels like rather cynically programmed dog whistles meant to engineer a reaction on the reader’s part. This is the guy you’re supposed to like, or least be intrigued by, and he feels like a plot automaton.
DW: Absolutely. This is a comic book as a movie pitch–the wad of expository dialogue that gets thrown at the hero on his first appearance (“the way you reorganized Washington D.C. has been copied by every police force in the country”) doesn’t tell us a lot about the character, but it might make him more attractive to whoever’s supposed to play him in Nemesis the Motion Picture.
I mean, Millar has to know that: the villain and the hero are introduced in captions as “Player One” and “Player Two.” But knowing that you’re perpetrating a cliché doesn’t mean you’ve earned it.
EN: Maybe it’s because I’m Techland’s resident video game guy, but I also read “Player One” and “Player Two” as video game references. “Hey, these two guys are playing a game, see? And this will eventually become a game, yeah? So, ‘Player One’ and ‘Player Two!’ Genius!”
DW: And Nemesis is just as much an uninteresting cardboard cutout. He is eeeeeevil for the sake of being eeeeeevil. The Joker gets away with it because he has an aesthetic to his madness; Nemesis is… a guy who tries to kill as many people as possible to humiliate police chiefs? What? AND HE HAS HENCHMEN.
Oh, here’s a game for you: without looking, can you guess how many panels in this issue don’t occupy an entire horizontal tier?
EN: Man, you don’t play, huh, Wolk? Um, I’m guessing five non-widescreen panels?
DW: Two. Side-by-side, on a single page. Otherwise it is WIDESCREEN DO YOU SEE. IT IS LIKE A MOVIE. A MOVIE. This is yet another comic book that exists to generate IP to turn into a movie. I am so, so, so sick of those.
EN: The text page is just… man. I mean, maybe he’s being sincere with the thank-yous and what not but the Hollywood name-dropping and hints of studio cock-teasing is just a turn-off. Bleah.
You know what would’ve been classy? Take one of those four pages of self-serving ads (which he admittedly probably brought with his own studio option money) and use it to pimp a deserving, unheralded work. Hell, it could even be another Marvel book. The lens flare from Millar’s ego really blinds me here. And, while that’s been nothing new, the difference here is that it’s been contained to the Internet up until now.
DW: Can we maybe talk a little about McNiven’s contributions? I have to say, I do like the design of Nemesis… that’s something, anyway…
EN: I generally like McNiven and really like him here. There’s a slightly more gritty feel to the art (reminds me of Leinil Francis Yu) and the “set design” of the comic is very spare. Makes things feel more kinetic. Another thing about McNiven I like is his sense of character design and the way he draws emotion. He’s not a guy who only knows how to draw steely-eyed muscle boys. The President looks like a jowly, well-fed politician, as he should.
DW: It’s true. What McNiven doesn’t show us a lot of, interestingly, is characters interacting with each other; I assume that has something to do with how photo-referenced a lot of his characters look, but I rarely got the sense that they were fully occupying the same space.
EN: Going back to the story for a bit, it’s again too hilarious that after a plane crash that’s probably already killed hundreds, there’s a mom with an infant IN FRONT OF THE “PETROL” TANKER. You mighta had some doubts about Ol’ Nemesis’s eeeevilness before, but just throw in a mommy and a baby.
DW: You know what movie this comic is like? I just realized: Showgirls!