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Review Group - Incognito: Bad Influences #1

Written by John Snow on Sunday, November 07 2010 and posted in Reviews

guitarsmashley had the pick for new comics shipping October 27th and he selected Incognito: Bad Influences #1 by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Val Staples.

banner_OHredThe Review Group is a collection of posters who get together and review a new comic each week. Our threads can be found in The Outhouse's News Stand forum and is open for anyone and everyone to participate.

It's been 24 weeks since the Review Group covered a comic that we gave a comic a score over an 8.  It's been so long, will the Review Group know a good comic when they see it?

1027-ibi1_coverReview by Eli Katz

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips cover familiar territory in INCOGNITO: BAD INFLUENCES #1. A super-powered mole, Simon Slaughter, has turned native and become a top-ranking member of Level Nine, a fanatical terrorist group that he was supposed to infiltrate and undermine. Several agents have been sent to make contact with Slaughter and bring him back to the good guys. But all of these agents have failed to return. Authorities decide that Zack Overkill, the conflicted antihero from the first INCOGNITO miniseries, should be sent to meet Slaughter. Zack is still regarded by many as a criminal figure, and therefore may have better chance of contacting Level Nine than legitimate heroes. Zack's hardly thrilled by the order and senses that this may be a suicide mission.

The setup in this opening issue is fast and efficient. This is a bullshit-free book, with no unnecessary double-page spreads. Brubaker and Philips open up with a bang and blend exposition and action with incredible competence. There isn't a boring panel in the book. But there sure are a lot of familiar ones. Indeed, this story has clear similarities with SLEEPER -- Brubaker and Phillips' outstanding series about a super-powered mole with mixed loyalties. But Bru is not only recycling his own ideas here, but he is also borrowing generously from Joseph Conrad. BAD INFLUENCES is essentially a retelling of HEART OF DARKNESS, where Zack is the Marlow figure and Simon Slaughter is the lunatic Mr. Kurtz. As well, this book finds much inspiration from pulpy 1930s adventure stories that the first INCOGNITO series drew upon. Almost every character, for example, has a cheesy alliterative name, like Simon Slaughter or Zoe Zeppelin.

So, is this a problem? Is the book too derivative for its own good? To be honest, I'm not sure. It will all depend on how Brubaker develops this story in subsequent issues. Will he twist and turn and rework all these clichés in exciting ways? Or has he incorporated too many clichés here and made it impossible for himself to produce anything of originality? We'll see, I guess.

But despite the many clichés, the pacing of the story is so fast and the art is so sharp that BAD INFLUENCES #1 is definitely worth checking out.

STORY: 8/10
ART 8.5/10

Review by john lewis hawk

Doo hickeys and freedom Kegel exercisers.

Anyways, very solid introduction issue as Brubaker and Phillips get right into Zack Overkill's new life of meaningless sex, hating neighbors, and hating the job even more than the neighbors. The story's pretty interesting with the highlights being the villains Bru created (you can never go wrong with Nazi and Red Menace villains). Phillips's art has improved too. Overall, great start to what should be a great mini-series.

And G.I. Gorilla must show up again.


Review by starlord

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips together gives me the same feeling I've only felt a few times before: Chris Claremont and John Byrne, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, George Perez and Marv Wolfman, George Perez and Steve Englehart, George Perez and just about anybody but I digress.

Acutually I haven't read volume 1 yet but it's in my personal list of must reads. After reading this I moved it up to the top of that list. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a comic as much as this. Both art and dialogue come together here in such a perfectly symbiotic way that it transcends the average comic book. I can't imagine if you enjoyed the first volume you could not like the beginning of this one. I hate having to choose after a near perfect pick like this.

Story: 9.5
Art: 9.5
My Score: 9.5

Review by Jude Terror

So this is crime noir with superpowers, eh? This is my first read of Incognito, so I'm not familiar with the characters. Therefore, I was disappointed to find that there was no recap page - just a note telling readers to pick up the first trade. This annoyed me a little bit, because this is a small indy book, and I think the creators should be happy new readers are picking it up and show a little courtesy.

That being said, I did enjoy the issue for the most part. The characters were laid out and the story set up in a way I could follow. This book is a sharp contrast from another Icon book we recently reviewed, Millar's Nemesis. Where Nemesis was all concept, no real substance, this book had substance but kind of a generic concept. The concept, "crime book with superpowers and an unlikeable, villainish protaganist," sounds good on paper to hipsters, but in reality is kind of a mishmash of a bunch of other concepts that hipsters are into, like a hipster comic long island iced tea. But despite that, it's well written and looks nice, and I'll probably stick with it for a few issues to see if it picks up.

As far as new, non-superhero books I've been trying lately, Casanova and Morning Glories blow this out of the water, but I really don't mean to come off like I dislike it. It's better than average, but bland at the same time. Maybe I'm missing something.


Review by Stephen Day

The first issue of the return of Incognito -- YES!!!!!

This was more of a set up issue to get readers up to speed on where Zack's life currently stands than anything else (it was page 19 when the plot finally began), but it was excellent at doing this and the twists that his life has taken since the last time we saw him are all engaging. I loved the psych evaluation scenes, everything having to do with Zack and Zoe's relationship and the obvious hatred that Van Chance and Zack have for one another.

The plot itself is also interesting, it should be fun to see Zack twist and turn morally as he infiltrates Level Nine in his search for Simon Slaughter. It was that choice of morality between being a hero or a villain that Zack found himself in that made the first Incognito such a great read. Its comforting to know that this aspect hasn't been forgotten, because its a big factor that makes Incognito what it is.

9 out of 10

Review by guitarsmashley

This was a pretty decent comic but it did feel a lot like sleeper and that may just be because of the topic and creative team. There is no way to separate Brubaker and Philips from what is their best work together especially when delving into the world of the super criminal underworld and conspiracy theory. I still don't remember exactly how the previous volume ended but, so what. This one begins with a bit of a kick and then it's all a bunch of nothing, Philips art looks great, so much better than shitty marvel zombies and on par with sleeper. The story is still just ok and I don't have the strongest desire to check out the next issue but might...really the hardest part is not remembering what happened in the previous volume which isn't a major complaint but it tells you how much I cared about it. Either way this was book was still pretty good but also a bit of meh.


Review by Royal Nonesuch

Narratively, this issue did a lot of set-up and catch up. It really ran down most of what you need to know from the first volume, and lets us into Zack's head so we can see how it all affected him. It's a nice, meandering story that shows us the typical day in the life of our main character.

Sean Phillips is the real star here. He draws the issue with some classic comic book storytelling layouts, which provides a great sense of pacing and storytelling. It's a joy to look at, and the story is served so well by it.

Also, as an aside, Brubaker mentions Winter's Bone in the back matter, which is a nice little movie I saw this past summer but it didn't really find much of an audience. That has nothing to do with anything, but I was glad to see it.

Review by Punchy

Story - When there's a new Brubaker/Phillips comic on the shelves, it's an event. It doesn't matter whether it's Criminal or Incognito or Sleeper or Little Lulu, this creative team is one of the most fertile and exciting in comics, and has been for the last 7 years. When it comes to these two, you expect quality.

And the first chapter of Incognito: Bad Influences certainly doesn't skimp on the quality, this is top-notch stuff, and I already can't wait for the next instalment.

Incognito has always been superheroes at their darkest, at their most noir, it's so dark that it's almost not even superheroes. Brubaker is playing a lot here with notions of heroism, and in the world of Incognito, the line between good and bad is a very murky one. Zack Overkill may now be working for 'Good Guys', but he sees very little difference between his work for S.O.S. and what he did before as a 'villain' with the Black Death. Zack Himself has remained largely unchanged by his switch of allegiances, he is still filled to the brim with disdain for non-powered people, and he hates his secret identity, it seems that regardless which side he is on, his life still sucks. These parallels with the first series are interesting, but Zack's neverending pessimism, and frankly, his whining, do serve to make him quite an unlikeable protagonist. But that's just one of the things that sets Incognito apart.

The murky line between good and evil theme continues with Zack's new mission, to go after an S.O.S. Agent who went undercover in an Evil Organisation and went native. Yes there are shades of Sleeper here, with allegiance upon allegiance being played opposite eachother, but obviously Brubaker knows the similarities, seeing as he wrote both stories, and I'm willing to bet things will go in quite a different direction.

Another aspect of Incognito I love that gets a good outing here is the fact that it's rooted in the world of the old Pulp magazines, and full of nods and homages to them. This is played somewhat for laughs with characters like 'GI Gorilla' and 'The Nuclear Nazis', but we also get a more detailed exploration of what the Shadow-analogue Lazarus was actually like, and we see the correlation between the Pulp world, and the present world, in the story of Ignatius Beekman. I love the sort of secret, hidden world Brubaker has built into this story, mainly teased through subtle hints in the first story, and then expanded upon in Jess Nevins' fake articles. Now thankfully it seems that Bru will be exploring the Pulpy past more in Bad Influences, and that can only be a good thing. Noir is all about the past catching up with you, and unfortunately for Zack, what's catching up with him are things he didn't even do!

Incognito is plain and simple, just good comics, so reader may gripe that we're getting this instead of Criminal, but to me, a Brubaker/Phillips joint is the same quality regardless of genre, and rest assured, this is quality.

Art - It seems kind of silly to do these as separate sections, because there's such a strong relationship between Ed Brubaker's words and Sean Phillips' pencils, it's hard to really get one without the other. It's the perfect fit for this kind of story, and we even get some nudity!

Best Line - 'Only thing we're sure of is you're not a clone', not the most snappy of lines, but it really threw me for a loop, what the hell is Zack if he's not a clone?


Review by Victorian Squid

This first issue is pretty much all exposition, ironic after the snarky lack of recap on the inside cover. This is a comic that tells you stuff instead of showing it, through the heavy-handed dual narratives that switch narrators in the middle of the issue without any clear delineation, even a differently-colored caption box.

That was actually one of my least favorites devices used--my initial reading of the comic was interrupted and I had to skip ahead to figure out I was reading narrative captions by Zoe Zeppelin instead of Zack after the break because I couldn't reconcile narration and narrator. This left me shaking my head at how an attempt to be clever could backfire like that on a writer--I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time but I'm not sure why.

In the initial miniseries, Zack goes from a powerful thug who uses his powers to take whatever he wants to a nobody in a dead end job and his reaction to that created an inner conflict that was interesting to explore--here in the sequel, he gets the excitement back and no longer has to slave away in an office but whines about having to do things like pay his rent with the gov't money he receives, or buying groceries. The interesting internal conflict has been replaced by mundane moaning about his new life, complete with screwing the boss. Compared to the first volume of the title, this exploration of Zack's interior life comes up lacking substance and depth.

The parts showing Lazarus and Zack's connection to him are the most interesting things I:BI #1 has going for it, but the confrontation with IG is merely a method to put Zack's credibility in doubt and set up his undercover op. The IG story doesn't even make sense, as the explosives he uses are suspected to come from one of Lazarus' old bases--it's highly unlikely IG as a lowly stool pigeon would be given access or even knowledge of Lazarus' secret hideouts or tech. I just don't see it, and it just seems like an easy means to an end.

Sean Phillips artwork looks good here, if a little static with many basically repetitive panel compositions. There's nothing very impressive or memorable, but it serves to illustrate the exposition-heavy issue well.

I had the feeling I'd read a lot of this issue before so when I got to Jess Nevin's article on pulp history I wasn't that surprised it also gave me a sense of deja vu. I've read about the Phantom Detective elsewhere and found the article weak and a lot less informative than even the wiki page for said pulp hero. The legacy of the longest running pulp character is so underplayed by Nevins he neglects to even mention, for instance, that two early Batman editors, Jack Schiff and Mort Wesinger, may have been inspired by their earlier days on the pulps to adapt PD's red beacon in the sky to the bat-signal used by Batman, or even that the exploits of the Phantom Detective have been reprinted over the last several years by Adventure House as well as earlier reprints of the material. The PD has a strong fanbase in the pulp community, in fact in 2006 the first new story using the character in 50 years was written. The PD inspired no one, Jess? Really?

I found this to be a very disappointing return to Incognito.


Review by 48THRiLLS

I thought this was a solid start to Brubaker's mistress from Criminal. I really enjoyed the first Incognito story and I am sure that this will be just as good as the aforementioned. If I had a complaint it would be that it muddled a little too much at the beginning (to probably get new readers up to speed) and took a bit to get to the real plot but now that we are past that I am guessing #2 will be just as strong as anything Bru and Phillips have done together. I did really like all the villains they showed in his flashback, I hope they revisit some of em. I am gonna score this a little lower than I would have liked considering most stuff by these two get 10's but a average comic by these guys is still better than most.

ART - 9

Review by John Snow

There's only one fault I can find with Incognito.

It's not Criminal.

That minor nitpick aside, pretty much anything Brubaker, Phillips and Staples do together has been one of my favorite comics over the past couple of years. If they want to pulp it up with Incognito for a while that's okay by me.

There was a lot of 'where are they now' to this issue, but it still did a great job of setting up the current series. If the transition to Sleeper style layouts on that last page didn't give you a nerd boner, you should probably stick to your Reader's Digest subscription and Lifetime movie marathons.

Story: 8
Art: 10
Overall: 9

That gives Incognito: Bad Influences #1 a group score of 8.17.  Finally!

For what McKegan calls "all the geeky, bitchy arguing about comics you'd expect from a comic message board condensed into absolute awesomeness", check out our Incognito thread and post your own review in The News Stand forum.

starlord had the pick for November 3rd and he picked Superboy #1 from DC Comics.  You can check out our current discussion for it here. Warning, thread is NSFH. (not safe for hipsters)

Kerny has the pick for November 10th and he has selected American Vampire #8 from Vertigo/DC Comics.  Look for the new thread in The News Stand forum on Wednesday morning to join in on the fun and post your own review!.

1110-americanvampire8_coverAmerican Vampire #8


1935, Las Vegas. Who are the Vassals of the Morningstar? What do they want with Skinner Sweet? And who do they consider to be "the most dangerous vampire in the world"? Don't miss the penultimate chapter of "Devil in the Sand," and see why critics are going crazy for this can't-miss new Vertigo series.

Vertigo | 32pg. | Color | $3.99 US | Mature Readers

Written or Contributed by: John Snow

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