Tuesday, 24 February 2015

MPH Review (Mark Millar, Duncan Fegredo)

In the mid-1980s, the US government caught a superhuman - the fastest man alive. They lock him up and do nothing else. Fast forward to Detroit in 2014 where we meet Roscoe, a two-bit coke hustler with the dream of putting together enough cash to start a legit life with his girl Rosa. Except he gets set up and sent to the slammer for 15 years.

Inside, he discovers a drug - MPH - that makes you move lightning-quick. Together with Rosa, his best friend Chevy, and Rosa’s troubled little brother Baseball, the four decide to start robbing banks and live the privileged lifestyle they’ve never had in a city that’s filed for bankruptcy.

One of several problems with MPH is the underwhelming and underdeveloped story. The derivative nature of it is simply “what would you do if you were The Flash and poor?”, followed up with several scenes of Roscoe and friends living it up in the unimaginative way everyone has of being rich, ie. living in luxury mansions, drinking expensive wine, driving expensive cars. And how the hell does Roscoe find the MPH in the first place? Some nobody prison dealer happens to have this drug and Roscoe’s the first person to try it?! Then later a ridiculously contrived “villain” reveals himself at the end and some time travel nonsense rounds out the story.

MPH is barely a narrative and more of a potential movie concept. And this is the thing with Mark Millar: the guy comes up with sellable ideas for movies and turns them into a comic while peddling the rights to studios because Millar’s only about the movies these days (MPH’s movie rights were sold before the first issue was published). Other readers have noticed this before - that his comics are essentially movie storyboards - and that’s definitely the feeling with MPH more so than most of his books.

I think it’s fine that Millar is doing his best to avoid getting screwed over by having his intellectual property owned by others, which is what happened to comics creators of old who didn’t have outlets like Image for their work (see Siegel & Shuster, Bill Finger, etc.). And Millar and his artists owning the rights for their comics and the subsequent movie deals/merch is great. More power to them. Comics don’t pay well for most creators, so Millar wanting to see him and his friends getting paid now and forever is laudable.

It’s just gotten a bit too business-y at this point. MPH is much too cynically put-together. Millar’s mind threw together things he thinks will have wide appeal and the resulting mess is this book. Irresponsible bankers who caused the recent financial crisis having their money stolen? Check. The poor getting a break for a change? Check. Superpowers/loose superhero story aping the increasingly popular Flash? Check. It’s superficially interesting and, once you get past the surface you discover there’s nothing else there.

It’s also utterly banal to watch one-dimensional idiots vapidly indulging in riches and superpowers. Roscoe with his stupid “vision board”, Chevy with his shallow wants, Baseball with his drugs, and Rosa with her blandness - these are who we’re supposed to be rooting for?! Then, once we’re past the stealing stuff for fun phase, we’re into the most forced confrontational fight ever and end with what I’m convinced is wish-fulfilment for Millar. Without giving too much away it involves how attractive twenty-ish women fall for plain forty-something men (Millar is 46 at the time of writing).

Like many of Millar’s recent books, he’s been blessed with a brilliant artist in Duncan Fegredo to make his movie pitches look awesome. And while Fegredo has produced exceptional work in Mike Mignola’s Hellboy series, his work on MPH is less than inspiring. Perhaps it’s the lack of fantasy subject matter allowing for artistic flourishes, replaced with the ordinary backdrops he’s forced to illustrate but Fegredo’s artwork isn’t as attention-grabbing here as it usually is. It looks more like Bryan Hitch-lite.

MPH is a very poor pseudo-story, rushed in its telling, boring and badly written. Almost no attempt is made to explore our non-characters in this go-nowhere tale before it’s over and a mega-heavy expositional finale fills in the story gaps. Millar is churning out the potential movie hits, I mean “comics”, at an accelerated pace these days but he seems to aiming for quantity over quality. MPH is just the latest in a long line of sub-standard Millarworld books.


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