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Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s ‘Nemesis’ Is Bloody, Stunning [Review]

For all of the original Comics Code line items that Mark Millar flagrantly gives the middle finger, there’s one “modern, edgy comics” trope he doesn’t fall into: moral ambiguity. For better or worse, characters in Mark Millar comics are either strong, selfless, yet rough hardasses or purely evil rough hardasses. Nowhere is that more true than with Millar and McNiven’s “Nemesis,” which launches its first issue today via Marvel Comics’ creator-owned Icon imprint.

The book starts with a Japanese supercop getting his remains graphically routed through the wheeling system of a bullet train (titled the “Otomo” by McNiven in a nod to “Akira”) and then goes from there, introducing its two main characters via broad strokes – the titular Nemesis is the world’s only supervillain, an evil Batman, while the protagonist is an honest, religious and idealistic super-cop in Washington D.C. Nemesis calls out the cop, the cop freaks out, then you get a gigantic action sequence to up the tension (and allow Steve McNiven to let loose) and end on a cliffhanger accompanied by a one-liner. In short: it’s a Mark Millar comic, concerned more with the images it presents rather than any implications it might make. The only authentic emotional response to a Mark Millar comic is a fist-pump while you scream an expletive out loud.

There’s nothing wrong with that, though, and “Nemesis” thankfully jettisons (at least in the first issue) all the uncomfortable racial and sexual subtext of “Kick-Ass.” It desperately wants to entertain you, whether ironically or unironically, and in my case, at least, it succeeded. Millar’s commented before that he writes his stories as set-pieces and images first — he’ll come up with a cool concept or splash page, or maybe a few of them, and then extrapolate the details of a story around them. It’s an approach that’s in tune with the final product, and “Nemesis” is no exception, eliminating a peaks-and-valleys approach for a series of ever-escalating peaks.

The thing is, this image-based approach requires an obvious external variable — the artist. All of Mark Millar’s cool image ideas turn to crap if the artist isn’t capable of realizing them, and Steve McNiven is one of the best artists in the industry, especially with superhero material – his storytelling, figure work and composition are all excellent and extremely pleasing. Before “Nemesis,” however, he was largely known for the clean linework and complex rendering that “Civil War” and “Old Man Logan” had, courtesy of the inks and colors of Dexter Vines and Morry Hollowell respectively.

This book appears to be either self-inked or shot from McNiven’s pencils. Instead of the rendered style of Morry Hollowell that’s complemented McNiven so well in the past, the colors for “Nemesis” are by the very talented Dave McCaig, and the result just doesn’t work as well — the first time I saw the unlettered preview, I thought that the pages might be from color flats, but this is apparently the final look. I can certainly understand the desire to switch things up in the face of grittier and darker material, but the end result just looked somehow incomplete to me. This is a relatively minor quibble for what’s otherwise a gorgeously drawn comic, and definitely McNiven’s strongest work yet.

So as a result: It’s a great Bruckheimer-movie action comic, a fast-paced, bloody, visually stunning thing. Chances are, you already know if you’re in the target audience for this. If you are: you’ll probably think it’s a whole lot of fun. If not, you’ll probably find it childish and pointless. For Millar and McNiven, though, I think it’s safe to say “Nemesis” is a huge success.

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