I have a strange sort of love/hate relationship with Mark Millar’s work. His work is full of a dark cynicism that tends to be bleaker than even I can deal with, and his penchant for self-promotion (and occasionally outright lying) has become so grating that even Rich Johnston is tiring of it. I’m normally able to separate the artist from the work, but the last two pages of Wanted was so vitriolic that it was impossible for me to separate the rant from the author. That said, he’s also an unquestionably talented writer who can still write an intriguing and compelling story.
Now with MY baggage out of the way: Nemesis. The story of the world’s only super-criminal (it remains to be seen if superheroes don’t exist or if they just haven’t been mentioned yet), Nemesis answers the question “What if Batman was the Joker.” Or if Joker was Batman. One of those. He is organized, disciplined, collected, and has been working his way across Asia killing police and pulling off elaborate heists with local gangs. When he targets Blake Morrow, he makes his way to Washington, D.C., taking his time to go through the President of the United States.
Nemesis is a very good Batman study. Because we’re already familiar with Batman, Millar gets to use some shorthand, but Nemesis is erudite, poised, fearsome, and aloof. Even Nemesis’ costume — all white with that familiar Bat-nose — evokes the opposite of Bruce Wayne. I feel like we learn more about Batman by learning about Nemesis (but then I feel like all learning essentially brings us closer to understanding Batman).
All of this talk of writing is not to dismiss Steve McNiven at all, but he’s a known quantity here. Millar calls his art spectacular, and he’s right on. If you pick up one of McNiven’s books you know you’re going to get an excellent, realistic artist who can grab the drama in a conversation along with as much kick/punch/splode action the writer can throw at him. Still, his work here reaches a new high, with a strong attention to detail and a remarkably fine line that stands out from panel one.
So yeah, the story was great, but Millar still manages to interject some of his more irritating qualities into the text piece in the back. What should have been a fairly straightforward behind-the-scenes piece became a case study in Millarian contradictions. At one point he expresses his pride in the “Angelina-propelled Wanted movie” then makes a none-too-subtle (and none-too-kind) reference to her “nicking” children from other countries. He also talks about how simple the concept was (“What if this cool billionaire with all those planes, cars and gadgets, put on a mask and waged war on the forces of law and order?”) and then concludes that “sometimes we rely a little too much on the work and ideas of other people,” as if creating the anti-Batman was a stroke of originality (and hadn’t already been done).
But a book should be judged on its own merits, not the relative craziness or doublespeak of it’s creators, and Nemesis is a book I will absolutely be coming back to.