Review: Huck, Book 1: All American by Mark Millar and Rafael Albuquerque

Huck_vol1-1.pngThere is a unique sweetness and optimism to Mark Millar and Rafael Albuquerque’s Huck so rarely seen in superhero comics these days. It makes for a refreshing change of tone from what we’ve become accustomed to, and besides Albuquerque stunning artwork, is what makes this otherwise fairly old-style superhero caper truly shine.

I say “old-style” because of its simplicity. Nowadays simplicity is frowned upon; character histories have got to be convoluted; plots have got to be expansive, and are generally overwrought. Huck benefits from its streamlined narrative. It’s straightforward and uncomplicated – delightfully so. Huck is an orphan, left at a stranger’s doorstep in small town America when he was a baby. He’s grown up to make a living as a gas station attendant – and has earned a reputation as the town’s do-gooder. Huck’s got superpowers – incredible strength, the ability to leap – not fly, definitely leap – tall buildings in a single bound, and he uses his powers to benefit the town, who in return, keep his abilities secret. So naturally, when a newcomer exposes his secret, the life Huck has constructed for himself falls apart very quickly.

It’s almost impossible for me to believe Huck was written by the writer responsible for the bloody and violent Nemesis and Kick-Ass, which I suppose demonstrates Mark Millar’s range. Five or six years ago, I was turned off by his output – too one-note and violent for my tastes, – but since then, following the publication of Starlight (possibly my favourite sci-fi comic ever) and Jupiter’s Legacy, Millar’s turned himself into one of my must-read writers. Which shows, I suppose, that a reader should never totally dismiss a creator’s output based on what has come before. Millar writes Huck as a dim-witted good guy; who sees the world in black and white, and struggles when the greys expose themselves. Huck’s not bright, but he’s so damn likable; he’s the friend we all need in our lives, not for the scintillating conversation, but because he can distil our troubles into a manageable form.

Albuquerque is the true star here, though. Already a megastar, his work on Huck takes the artist to a whole new level. His style of cartooning is so unique and expressive, able to capture the emotional moments as well as the blockbuster heroic moments. And he’s coloured brilliantly here by Dave McCaig, whose work adds an almost watercolour-like quality to Albuquerque’s pencils. It’s quite possibly the work of their careers, but you wouldn’t put it past them to outdo themselves; perhaps in Huck’s second volume?

A fun, rip-roaring yet poignant superhero tale. There’s not enough heart in superhero comics being published today. Hopefully Huck rubs off on some of the capes and cowls crusading in the pages of Marvel and DC and reminds the Big Two that we want more than fisticuffs and explosions.

ISBN: 9781632157294
ISBN-10: 1632157292
Format: Paperback (275mm x 168mm x 15mm)
Pages: 160
Imprint: Image Comics
Publisher: Image Comics
Publish Date: 26-Jul-2016
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Jupiter’s Legacy Volume 1 by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely

Jupiters LegacyJupiter’s Legacy explores the daunting challenge faced by superheroes in their quest to use their abilities for the betterment of mankind. It’s one thing to combat intergalactic threats – a few optic blasts, a couple earth-shattering wallops with indestructible fists – but what about the other challenges facing humankind; the ones that can’t be solved with violence? Take the Global Financial Crisis as an example. Where does a superhero’s responsibility begin and end?

In 1932, following the devastating loss of his business in the Wall Street crash, Sheldon Sampson and a select group of family and friends venture to an unmapped island west of Cape Verde, guided only by the lingering memory of Sheldon’s vivid dream. What they discover turns the group into a superheroes, henceforth dedicated to staving off the supervillain threats we’re accustomed to. Sheldon is adamant: their obligation is to mankind’s elected leaders. They’ve no right to overstep those boundaries just because of their enhancements. But there’s a growing resentment towards this outlook within their own camp, and as the story rockets forward to the current day, the focus to the generational conflict behind the scenes; the YouTube generation of heroes don’t feel the same obligation towards mankind as their predecessors, content to live out their lives as part-time superheroes, full-time sponsors for whoever’s willing to pay the money. So how will they respond when traitors within the family depose of Sheldon as their leader?

Jupiter’s Legacy Volume 1 is further evidence of Mark Millar’s renaissance; not that the quality of his work ever truly dipped, just that his stories – Kick Ass and Nemesis, specifically – were so bombastic and extravagantly violent, they often overshadowed the core narrative. That’s certainly not the case here, no doubt partly because of his collaborator, superstar artist Frank Quitely, who excels at the smaller moments, and perfectly captures the mannerisms and emotions required to layer the story with gravitas. Of course, when it comes to blockbuster action – and there’s plenty of it – Quitely is profligately dynamic, as always. These scenes are flawlessly storyboarded, and Millar wisely gives his artist the space he needs.

As Marvel and DC Comics continue to circle the superhero drain, Millar and Quitely’s Jupiter’s Legacy is a refreshing take on a well-trodden genre. It’s unfortunate that we’re in for such a long wait until its second volume, but hey, it just provides an excuse for a re-read.

My thanks to Image Comics for providing a digital copy of Jupiter’s Legacy.

Review: Starlight by Millar and Parlov

StarlightStarlight is an action-packed throwback to the cosmic swashbuckling adventures of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, but with its own unique twist.

Forty years ago, United States Air Force pilot Duke McQueen was inadvertently transported to the world of Tantalus, which is suffering under vicious tyrannical rule. Taking matters into his own hands, he single-handedly rescued the planet from its dictator, Typhon, thereby cementing himself in their lore: an eternal legend in their eyes. Duke returned home, a hero in the eyes of millions – but considered a delusional chump to people back home. Unfortunately our planet doesn’t receive intergalactic media transmissions…

Only his wife believes his stories, but at the very start of Starlight she has recently passed away, leaving Duke alone, with nothing but his fading memories, and two aloof sons. Writer Mark Millar and artist Gorlan Parlov excel at highlighting Duke’s insolation, and his status as the punchline for cruel ‘senile old man’ jokes. It’s impossible not to feel sympathy for this unrecognised hero, who doesn’t demand adulation for his exploits: just respect.

Then a rocket ship lands on his front lawn, and a twelve year old boy from Tantalus calls Duke back into action. Turns out he didn’t save the faraway planet of Tantalus when he disposed of Typhon – instead, he left their world free for the taking. But does Duke still have it in him, forty years later, to be the hero the planet needs?

Mark Millar has always excelled at those ultra-cool action-packed moments, but sometimes they’ve come at the detriment of the narrative: all flash, no meat on the story’s bones. With Starlight he takes a different approach, with a tighter focus on character, while still allowing room for those iconic moments, which are spectacularly rendered by Parlov, whose work here eclipses even that of Fury: Max. Duke McQueen is a brilliant protagonist: the archetypal fear-nothing-in-the-face-of-danger tough guy, whose only weakness is his inner turmoil, and his disenchantment with life back home. He’s backed up by some fun secondary characters, and ludicrous villains, who are just begging to be punched in the jaw.

Starlight is just fun. It’s a light-hearted space adventure story with plenty of heart. Bring on the sequel.