The big joke floating around about Mark Millar the past few years is that his scripts are written with an elevator pitch to Hollywood in mind. What would happen if Batman was the Joker? You get Nemesis. What if a dorky teenager tried his hand at being a superhero in the real world? You get Kick-ass. What if Flash Gordon was an old man? Starlight. They’re always high concept ideas that take established heroes, villains, or archetypes and give them a fresh spin. And now MPH, Millar’s new title at Image Comics, continues the trend, asking: how could super speed plausibly work? Actually, I think the series has two pitches underlying its foundations, the second being: what if the Flash was kind of an asshole?
MPH takes place in modern day Detroit at its most desperate and destitute. Roscoe Rodriguez, one of many lower-class young people turned to crime for survival, is arrested and thrown in prison after his boss rats on him in order to sleep with his girlfriend. Fortunately for Roscoe, salvation comes in the form of a bottle of pills marked “MPH”, which accelerates his perception a hundred-fold and grants him the ability of super speed. Shortly after, Roscoe proceeds to escape from prison, ruin his employer’s life, and settle down with his friends (girl- and best-) in a beachside mansion in California, all within minutes. But that’s not nearly enough. With near limitless power and next to no responsibility, Roscoe and company intend to destroy the banks and corporations that sunk Detroit into the poverty-stricken hellhole it is today.
If based purely on the merits of its portrayal of speedsters, MPH is very entertaining. I’m starting to think that comics may be the prime medium to portray super speedy antics, not so much because of what happens in the panels themselves but between them. What you don’t see is just as valuable as what you do see here, especially in a comic where characters are going to so fast that they’re often invisible to the naked eye. Artist Duncan Fegredo is doing a fine job with sketching the action, as well as the character designs and setting. Both Detroit and its residents are a messy display of grime and grit, but they’ve also got enough of personality to make them feel tangible. Everyone’s a little cut up or bruise or grubby, and the city mirrors them with filthy streets and graffiti-stained alleyways. It’s a good, lived-in look.
There’s also a very effective power fantasy here, even in a landscape oversaturated with tights-wearing macho men of the Big Two variety. Wanna see someone run across the entire continental United States in four minutes? You can! Wanna see three people do that while playing supersonic tag on the interstate freeway? You betcha! Wanna see Roscoe get sweet revenge on his douche canoe of a boss in the most satisfying way imaginable? Done and done. Millar is clearly having as much of a blast writing this concept as I am reading it (most of issue two is devoted to Roscoe and his gang dicking about at Mach 5) but sometimes it seems like he’s having so much fun that logic goes out the window.
I know, I know. Most people would say, “Realism? This is a superhero comic, brother. Who needs realism?” And I agree, for the most part. The drugs that give Roscoe and crew their powers are never actually explained beyond their capacity to alter perception, but they’d have to do a hell of a lot more than that in order for a human being to run at super speeds and survive falls from enormous heights like Roscoe’s friend Chevy does after he takes a leap going a hundred miles an hour. But that stuff doesn’t really bother me too much. Maybe the drug also gives them a kind of invulnerability as well. Maybe there’s more to the drug than we first thought, details that will be revealed in coming installments. Millar even pokes fun at the ambiguous powers the pills bestow when Chevy asks Roscoe how they can hear each other talking if they’re traveling faster than sound and Roscoe replies “How the hell should I know? Just sit back and enjoy the ride. I guess they factored all that shit in!” Clearly this isn’t meant to be a scientifically accurate representation.
No, my problems surface when Millar mixes the mechanics of his magic pills with the mechanics of the real world. Roscoe’s ultimate revenge on his boss involves donating all his ill-gotten money into a drug charity and canceling his home, building, and life insurance policies in seconds (maybe even less than that). And it seems like he does all of this online…does the internet suddenly work at these speeds as well? How can I believe that Roscoe can cancel three life insurance policies and donate what must be hundreds of thousands of dollars in mere seconds when it takes me about a minute to load up House of Cards on Netflix? Roscoe poses for a picture on top of a car mid-race – do cameras suddenly work in this hyper-accelerated drug world? Does gravity? Do physics? For a comic that supposedly offers a look at a fantastical concept taking place in a reality similar to our own, there are plenty of scenes that would only work in a DC title.
Apparently it’s not too much of a concern for Mr. Millar. And as long as things stay within the realm of pseudo-plausibility, I’ll still be having a good time. I also hope that characters get a little more interesting in the coming issues, but for now the flashy visuals and concept are enough to distract me from our slightly dull protagonist. This may not be the ultra-realistic take on super speed that was pitched in the first place, but for now it’s fun enough that I don’t mind all that much.