This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Incognito
My local comic shop recently got the hardcover edition of Incognito in, and it last all of ten minutes on the table where it was in line for pricing as I picked it up and read what amounted to half the first issue before scooping it up before it ever actually made it to the shelf.
Written by Ed Brubaker, with art by Sean Phillips and colours by Val Staples, the hardcover collects both Incognito and the sequel Incognito: Bad Influences within its 360-odd pages as well an essay, a series cover gallery and some interesting process pieces. If you’ve read any of Brubaker and Phillips other work together, such as Criminal, Fatale or Kill Or Be Killed, then you probably have an idea what you’re in for. If you don’t… well, let’s just say you’re in for a very compelling story that you’ll probably want to read multiple times.
If you want to read the series’ synopsis, it’s below. If you don’t… well, skip the next paragraph, I guess. Either way, you’ll find the core premise of the comic below.
What if you were an ex-super villain hiding out in Witness Protection… but all you could think about were the days when the rules didn’t apply to you? Could you be a humdrum office clerk after being the best at years of leaving destruction in your wake? And what if you couldn’t stand it? What would you do then?
This story is steeped in the pulp fiction of the 30’s and 40’s, stories that undeniably inspired the superhero fiction of today. Brubaker takes those early influences and fills out a world that has descended from them; there’s a very clear path in Incognito back to characters like the Shadow and the Spider (or rather Brubaker’s version thereof), and it gives the reader the sense that we’re barely scratching the surface with the characters and history revealed through the course of the hardcover’s 360-odd pages.
I was immediately taken in by the story as we learned more about Zack Overkill and how he went from a heavy hitting super villain to a lowly file clerk barely noticed by his coworkers. We see flashes of his mandated psychiatric appointments, the oh-so-real struggles he’s facing in a life that he’s not accustomed too. If you remove the super powered aspect from the opening part of the story, you can see a man struggling with his mental health amidst an unfulfilling life of boredom and depression. Is it any wonder that he eventually turns to drugs in order to find an escape?
Zach Overkill is an oddly likable guy despite never hiding (at least from us) what kind of man he used to be; whether this story is about his trying to find redemption, or a larger tale about whether a leopard can truly change its spots is one of the best parts about this book. Brubaker asks you not whether you can change for the better after making a horrible series of life choices, but whether others can accept your change. Whether they truly believe it, or if once they’ve labelled you a villain then that’s how they will always see you.
I should have expected good stuff from this book, but I wasn’t quite prepared with just how good it would be.
In a story that can be so much to so many, we’re left asking ourselves who we really are; are you really the person you think you are, or are you just a product of what this world has made you?
Join us next week where there will doubtless be another movie, series, comic or comic related thing discussed that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.