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Incognito: Bad Influences #1 – Overkill Can Be Good [Review]

When last we saw Zack Overkill, the ex-super science villain turned reluctant vigilante hero of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips’ Incognito, he was heading off into the sunset in a flying car, the day saved, his life continuing to turn around for the better. But in the opening of the first issue of Incognito: Bad Influences, the second volume of the pulp superhero series published under Marvel’s Icon imprint, Zack’s life hasn’t settled comfortably into the whole happy ending that had him fighting for truth and justice.

He’s still getting into fights because he likes getting a chance to throw his super strength around, still quick to turn to violence, and still not completely trusted by his partners in the government organization SOS. In short, Zack’s not much happier with his life now than when he was in witness protection and taking drugs to suppress his superpowers. But on the bright side for us, Incognito: Bad Influences is still a great read that’s a welcome return to a well written, beautifully drawn and colored series.

Incognito remains a world with a unique feeling to it, a modern day superhero universe descended from pulp heroes of the 30s rather than the Golden Age superheroes that laid the groundwork for the shared Marvel and DC universes of today. The good guys use flying machines, ray guns and super science, and the bad guys include Nazi holdovers, nefarious East Asian mystics, gorilla men and the organized science villain syndicates from the last book that Zack used to be a part of.

Zack’s also got a connection to one of the first great heroes of the early days of superheroism, Lazarus, the Returned Man, in that he’s actually a clone Lazarus had stored away for a potential mind transfer if his body were ever fatally wounded. Instead, he fell into the wrong hands and was raised by a villain known as the Black Death, and there are some who’d like to see Zack redeem himself by following in Lazarus’ heroic footsteps. But Zack hates his origin, would rather forget about it and stop living in another man’s shadow.

It’s one of the several topics of discussion that come up over the course of Zack’s unproductive meetings with the therapist that’s been assigned to help him adjust to a life in which killing whomever he feels like is now a no-no. Zack still feels like a frustrated outsider being forced to make sense of a world of ordinary people he can’t stand, but in a way that puts enough new twists on it that it doesn’t feel like simply a rehash of the first series.


This is a textbook example of when to set one’s Facebook Relationship Status to “It’s Complicated”

Bad Influences actually feels more similar to Sleeper, the Wildstorm superhero double agent spy thriller produced by Brubaker and Phillips, than it does to Incognito volume one. Like Sleeper‘s Holden Carver, Zack’s found himself in a purely sexual relationship with his main female partner at SOS, and is starting to find it frustrating. Also like Carver, Zack’s asked to appear to go rogue in order to infiltrate a group of super criminals. Zack’s mission is to go in and retrieve another SOS operative who had infiltrated the group before but now seems to have gone from double agent to defector. That’s a lot of similarities with a story I’ve already heard, but given that I loved the first volume of Incognito and loved Sleeper I’m willing to have faith that Bad Influences will end up working as its own story.

Phillips’ art, with colors by Val Staples, continues to perfectly set the atmosphere to the story just as it did the first time around. And once again Jess Nevins returns to provide backmatter on the history of pulp heroes. Everything I loved about this book the first time around is back again, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

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