Sunday Slugfest: Incorruptible #1

A comic review article by: Thom Young, Chris Kiser, Danny Djeljosevic
Jason Sacks:

This is a cool bit of world building.

This comic takes place on the same world as Mark Waid's Irredeemable, a series in which the Plutonian, a previously exemplary hero, has suddenly turned evil. Now Waid's new series, Incorruptible, depicts one of the most vicious villains in the world, Max Damage, suddenly turning good.

It's a clever turnabout, and an interesting inversion of reader expectations. We've all read many hero stories in which large groups of villains gather to fight against the heroes. Heck, Marvel's Dark Reign storyline is pretty much all based on that idea--but why should groups of villains all gather together? Why would one villain condone or support the evil activities of another villain?

Furthermore, in Waid's growing BOOM! universe, it doesn't make a lick of sense for villains to remain villains when confronted with the immeasurably evil actions of the Plutonian--a creature of vast destructive powers who kills millions of people in volume one of the collected Irredeemable. Any person, no matter how degraded or awful, would be horrified by the evil that the Plutonian represents.

Thus, it's quite intriguing to see Max Damage change sides. Max's compelling words reveal his motivations:
"We were all playing a game until the Plutonian went and turned the board upside-down. The world's most powerful man has turned berserk. He's killed most of the super-heroes. . . . Somebody's got to step up."
It's a simple and straightforward statement, but it's also a sentiment that goes right to the heart of these super-hero comics that we all know and love so much. When confronted with the ultimate in evil, can any man stand by and allow it to continue--even if the man in question has a very long line of felonies to his name and is number two on the FBI's Most Wanted list?

As a fan of Irredeemable, I really enjoyed this alternate visit into the world that Mark Waid has created. Much like the best issues of a mega-crossover event, this issue provides an alternative view into the affect of the storyline--allowing readers to see how others are reacting to the cataclysmic events depicted in the main story.

Also like the best issues of a mega-crossover event, this issue sows the seeds of events that will likely pay off in a major way in the eventual final chapters of the main story. In other words, this comic is kind of the epitome of the quality of work of which Waid is capable when he does his best. Incorruptible manages to work as both an intriguing hero/villain story while also working as a commentary on classic comic clichés.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed with Jean Diaz's art. Peter Krause has been delivering compelling visuals in Irredeemable by using a classic superhero style to deliver some shocking visuals. However, Diaz's art doesn't have quite the same level of classic visuals that Krause delivers; though it's competent and reasonably professional, I never felt myself fully pulled into the story in the way I wanted to be.

Further, I found the visual of Max to be somewhat non-compelling. Part of the thrill of a comic like this is in seeing analogues turned inside out, but Max Damage doesn't wear a spandex costume--favoring a pedestrian outfit of jeans and t-shirt. While such an outfit might help the readers to identify with Max, it also serves to distance the character from the commentary that Max implicitly delivers.

Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the first issue of Incorruptible on several levels. It's satisfying and fun to see Waid expand the world he's created by bringing in additional complex characters. This new series should be a fun and terrific companion to Irredeemable.

Chris Kiser:

A spin-off of Mark Waid’s Irredeemable, Incorruptible is at a comparative disadvantage right off the bat. Whereas the first series enjoyed the benefits of an instant hook premise--a “super-man” gone bad--this companion piece, in which a super villain switches sides and starts fighting crime, doesn’t come with the same automatic draw.

The difference between the two is the degree to which they present a ready-made central conflict. With Irredeemable, it is easy for readers to feel like they have a stake in the story before engaging in even a single page. That the world’s most powerful hero has gone rogue and embarked on a mass-murdering rampage is a situation that begs resolution from the get-go.

Not so with Incorruptible. The notion of a criminal turned straight isn’t in and of itself a problem in need of solving. Rather than giving us an unwanted destabilization of the status quo, this book begins with a sort of ending--the kind of positive outcome we may have hoped for all along (all of which means that the story itself is left to do the heavy lifting--which, in many ways, is a good thing).

One of the chief complaints I’ve had with Irredeemable is its tendency to rely on pure shock value instead of plot to hold the attention of its readership. Without such a shocking core concept, Incorruptible is unable to rely on a shortcut like this.

So far, Waid seems up to the task. All the story beats are aligned in this first issue to deliver the maximum impact. The reader will likely already know from advance solicitations that Max Danger, the protagonist of the series, has reformed--but the manner by which this fact is revealed in the narrative is stirring nonetheless.

Just as you might expect from the first issue of a high concept series, Incorruptible clearly lays its thesis out on the table. When Max makes a major decision regarding the millions of dollars he has made from a life of crime, there can be no doubt about the tone this comic will take. Max Danger is not the reluctant shades-of-gray hero that Mark Millar might write; he’s legitimately concerned with doing what is right.

The visual style employed here is similar to that of Irredeemable. Jean Diaz utilizes a simple, iconic superhero art style--like something from the school of Dan Jurgens--and this choice of aesthetics helps the characters and settings feel familiar, even if most of them are brand new.

The main weakness of this book is in the introduction of Max’s former accomplice/girlfriend, Jailbait. Sadly, the character is just what her name would suggest--an underage temptress who acts and looks like she’s in her twenties.

No doubt, Jailbait’s presence is meant to highlight just how bad a dude Max was. However, standards of decency prevent her from being depicted as the youngster she really is. The result is an unfortunate compromise that neither has its intended effect nor escapes the realm of inappropriateness. Waid can’t have it both ways, and it would be better down the line for him to decide to minimize the importance of this character.

For fans of Irredeemable who had concerns over the viability of a shared universe series, this book is at least worth a look. Incorruptible isn’t going to re-engineer the modern superhero comic, but Waid clearly knows how all the pieces are supposed to fit together.

Danny Djeljosevic:

Mark Waid’s Irredeemable really should be the last word on Superman analogues. Once someone uses Superman to evaluate what happens when Superman becomes the opposite, the literary exercise is over--Superman analogues are done--and who better to cap it off than Waid, for whom Superman is his The Man Who Killed Don Quixote?

With Incorruptible, Waid evaluates similar themes by depicting a supervillain becoming a superhero--an equally simple-yet-powerful concept. In this case, the supervillain is Batman, according to all the signifiers that Waid and Jean Diaz have put into the book:
  • The unethical sex with the sidekick (named Jailbait, a hilarious name for a villain);

  • The police liaison;

  • The secret lair;

  • The cool car; and

  • The ultrapowerful, caped adversary.
It’s all fine and appropriate, especially because Waid and Diaz spare Max Damage a costume in favor of a leather jacket and fingerless gloves. If he wasn’t cool enough, he also has a white streak in his slicked-back black hair. That Waid jettisons a good deal of these trappings by the end of the first issue suggests that this book might evolve into something different as Max turns into a full-fledged superhero--eventually changing his name to Max Daring?

The biggest flaw in Incorruptible #1 is that we have no idea who Max Damage is. When he first appears (ignoring the FBI wanted poster on the inside front cover), he protects the cops, disarms the bad guys, and acts the hero--surprising everyone but the reader who already knew the premise from the promotional copy.

Any evidence of Max as a villain comes either at the beginning as his henchmen talk about him or at the end as he destroys his lair, his money, and his cool car. Without the words to tell us he used to be a bad guy, I’d have thought he was taking a flamethrower to Jailbait’s vault of cash.

As far as persona goes, it seems that Max, like most superheroes post-origin story, has arrived fully formed as a no-nonsense Catholic Batman. Perhaps if Jailbait hangs around she’ll be able to spice things up, because as of now I only see Max Damage making lots of declarative statements.

These problems might have been a bit more acceptable if Diaz’s art was not so wildly inconsistent. While there are some effective panels and figures (though the aforementioned “flamethrower” episode is really sold by the colorist’s work), Diaz can’t seem to keep characters looking consistent. For instance, the police lieutenant is sporting a beard during the opening fight scene, but in the next scene he emerges clean-shaven from the trunk of Max’s car. Maybe the Max Damage-mobile has a shaving kit in the trunk--in which case maybe my Batman comparison isn’t too far off.

Ultimately, I can’t help but feel that Incorruptible treads territory that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips just traveled with Incognito just a few months ago with their science-criminal-turned-vigilante, Zach Overkill. Then there’s Marvel's Thunderbolts (a.k.a. "The Justice League of Bastards").

Granted, Waid’s take on the idea is a bit more heroic than those darker comic book series, but just because it’s closer to a straightforward superhero comic doesn’t mean it should lack nuance. Then again, these complaints are a lot to pin on a first issue, so prove me wrong, Incorruptible #2.

Community Discussion