Written by: Mark Millar
Art by: Duncan Fegredo
Colored by: Peter Doherty
Lettered by: Peter Doherty
Published by: Image
Cover Price: $2.99
Note: This is a review of the digital version which can be found on Comixology.
Warning! This review contains quite a few spoilers!
Mark Millar is actually one of my favorite people in the comic industry. He seems to love the fans and always seems to be having a good time. I met him in Columbus, Ohio at a comic convention years ago during a nasty rainy, snowy weekend. The fire alarm kept going off and the convention, and the fire department kept evacuating us out into the rain and snow. Despite this, Mark Millar stayed in good spirits, continuing to sign autographes, draw sketches (my wife asked him to draw Batman, and he did it without hesitation), and tell hilarious stories.
The strange part? I find a lot of his comics to be hit or miss for me, but I still genuinely consider myself a huge fan of Mark Millar as a creator and person. So when he puts out a new book, I will typically check out the first few issues or so. Sometimes I like them, sometimes I don’t. But I always try and give them a fair shot of winning me over.
Recently, he announced he would be building a universe under Image, so I figured I would give the books a fair shot. And I am glad I did. Starlight and MPH are the first two releases under this banner, and both are excellent.
Summary (contains spoilers): The story starts back in 1986. We get some narration about the disaster that was Mr. Springfield, the world’s first and only superhuman. He had super speed, and when he tried to slow down, he ended up causing mass destruction across several states. When the police catch up to him, they find a bottle of pills marked MPH. The man doesn’t even have a scratch on him. The narration ends with the teaser, “And so the world’s first and only superhuman was drugged, interrogated, and locked up in solitary by the United States Army. It was almost thirty years before the next one appeared and started a global crime wave.”
I do have to say that was one of the coolest openings to a comic series I have ever read. I knew immediately that we were in for a hell of a story here.
We jump forward to Detroit in the year 2014. We meet a wanna be drug lord named Samurai Hal. He hires a guy named Roscoe to do a drop off for him. Twenty pounds of coke to a new buyer. Samurai Hal believes that you can still make good money in Detroit despite the city being bankrupt:
Roscoe agrees with Samurai Hal’s view. He heads off to meet the buyer and ends up telling him how he sees himself. He doesn’t want to be a career criminal…he just wants to do some jobs, make some quick money, and move on to start a legitimate business. The buyer turns out to be an undercover cop…
Roscoe ends up getting 15 years, but he’s pretty sure he can scam the system down to 5. His girlfriend and best friend try to convince him to turn on Hal and cut a deal, but Roscoe refuses to screw over a friend. He’s already working on his new life plan.
After a few months in prison, he finds out that he had been set up by Samurai Hal. With Roscoe in jail, Samurai Hal was free to move in on his girlfriend. Roscoe is so pissed off, he ends up getting in a fight with another prisoner, which throws off his “get out in five years” plan. Another prisoner offers to give him a release. A new drug called MPH. Roscoe feels like he’s at rock bottom and takes it.
The entire world seems to freeze around him. Roscoe doesn’t take a lot of time to consider this. He just walks right out of prison. Taking the rest of the MPH with him.
The issue ends with a quick glimpse at Mr. Springfield’s life in 2014. He basically lives in the world’s most comfortable cell. He calls in an Agent Cutler, deciding after thirty years, it’s time he “explain[s] what this is all about.”
Review: MPH, must like Millar’s recently released Starlight, is pretty much right in my wheelhouse. Both series take a look at comic book tropes with a fresh set of eyes and vision. I hesitate to use the term “deconstructionist” because I don’t think it really fits here. When I think deconstructionist, I think of books like Watchmen, which really aren’t quite to my taste. They are way too grim and depressing, and seem to rip apart the comic industry in a way that feels mocking to me. MPH and Starlight deal with serious and dark themes, but still seem to have a real heart at their core. They also show a lot of love and affection for comics.
MPH builds strongly on ideas and themes that I’ve seen in comics by Warren Ellis, Kurt Busiek, and even Millar himself. Take the real world, add some sci-fi elements to it (in this case, a pill that gives someone super speed) and see how that would impact the world. This story wouldn’t be out of place in a series like Astro City, but Millar still gives it plenty of his own spin.
I like that the main character’s personality seemed fully formed before he got powers. This wasn’t someone corrupted or saved by becoming superpowered, this was an already complex character with his own strengths and flaws. I love that for Roscoe, everything is a plan. “I got fifteen years in prison. But with good behavior, and volunteering in the prison chapel, and sitting through rehab (even though I’m not an addict), I can cut it down to five.” I am real curious to see how his story plays out now that he’s got superpowers on top of all that.
Really, all the characters were well developed here. Even in just a quick page at the end, we get a real sense of who Mr Springfield is, and you are damn curious where this MPH came from.
You know, after twenty years of reading comics, I never considered that it is kind of hard to portray super speed in a comic book. We are already looking at frozen moments in time in each panel. So when Roscoe was exploring the prison, Duncan Fegredo had a challenge on his hands in order to portray that well. I can’t say how exactly, but the dialogue and art worked together perfect to pull off this illusion:
Before I close out this review, I want to give a huge shout out to Image. Image continues to put out a wide variety of comics. I am not interested in every book Image puts out, but I always admire that they seem to their creators the freedom to try everything. There really is something for everyone coming out of Image. Sure, sometimes this will lead to a book not working or just not selling, but I would rather see unique ideas than the relatively safe offerings Marvel and DC put out. Even Valiant, which I enjoy quite a bit, doesn’t have anywhere near the variety that Image does.
And for the most part, most of their titles are standalone, so you can enjoy it without having to worry about crossovers and dozens and dozens of issues of back issues to invest in. And for the most part, Image books are still 3 bucks. All in all, Image is basically the perfect comic company right now.
Back to MPH. Just everything about this comic really worked for me. Compelling characters and a relatively simple setup with a ton of storytelling potential. The art fit the tone of the story perfect. From the destruction in the beginning of the comic caused by an out of control speedster to the frozen time in the prison, you can’t help but feel engaged. I think Millar has a hit on his hands here.
Final Score: 9.0: Another strong debut from Image. Definitely worth checking out…and while you are at it, also buy Starlight!
Tags: Astro City, Duncan Fegredo, Image, kurt busiek, mark millar, MPH, Starlight