Incognito: Bad Influences #1

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel Comics

One of my absolute favorite comics last year was Incognito, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s mini-series about a super-villain forced to live in a witness protection program. There were twists and turns galore, and in general just getting into the mind of Zack Overkill was a surprisingly interesting experience. Brubaker and Phillips have now returned to Zack with Incognito: Bad Influences, and now that the first issue is out? It’s not at all what I had expected from these creators.

Incognito: Bad Influences #1 picks up a year after the previous mini-series, with Zack now signed up with the "good guys" from the SOS in exchange for keeping his powers. But even getting to use them to beat up the bad guys, having a casual relationship with Zoe Zeppelin, and having a new secret identity, life is less than thrilling. And so, itching for something different, that chance inadvertently presents itself when a surprise attack opens up a new chance for Zack to go undercover with the bad guys in search of a missing mole. It sounds good in theory, but the actual execution? It doesn’t quite live up to the original Incognito mini-series.

Part of the problem could be that this is all set-up for the rest of the mini-series, showing us how Zack’s new life is unsatisfactory to him, adding in a "will he/won’t he" question for when he tries to infiltrate the super-villain organization. After all, Zack’s going legit was hardly under the best of circumstances or even entirely willing, so you can see where Brubaker is trying to lead the audience. (And to his credit, I don’t think there’s a simple answer waiting for us.) And presumably, Brubaker is heading in a different direction than he and Phillips did in Sleeper, their other comic about an undercover mole in a super-villain group. But so far, this still feels slightly unsatisfactory. So watching Zack chafe at the good guy lifestyle might be necessary for the rest of the mini-series, but it’s also slightly boring. The "something different" factor from Incognito is, at least temporarily, missing in action. Brubaker still writes a good standard superhero, but at the end of the day it’s just good rather than great, and it’s great that readers have come to expect with Incognito.

The art from Phillips is likewise good, but that’s about it. Phillips isn’t doing anything out of the ordinary here; no playing with form or structure here like in some of his other titles; it’s very straight-forward and to the point. That said, even when sticking to a no-gimmick storytelling structure there’s still things to praise. I love how Phillips draws average, ordinary looking people as his characters. They’ve got slightly goofy and cartoonish faces, and they just seem every-day and human. Scenes with Zack lounging in bed with Zoe are great because they sell the scene as two people having a disagreement, not two larger-than-life demi-gods. Phillips also occasionally breaks out an especially good mood piece, like the one glimpse we see of Lazarus, the Returned Man as a hooded figure over a neon sign landscape. It’s very pulp adventure in its style, and I love how well it turns out there.

Incognito: Bad Influences #1 isn’t bad, but it is disappointing, and I think that was a real obstacle in front of this new mini-series the second it was announced. Incognito did well in part because of its different point of view and style; trying to replicate that again, especially after the conclusion of the first mini-series, was going to be difficult at best. It could still easily pull up and enter the heights of the original mini-series, but getting something that’s just good instead of great the second time around is still ultimately a bit of a let-down.

Purchase Links: | Powell’s Books

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