Matt Tries Huck Without Hucksterism

November 21, 2015

Okay, guys. I’ve been doing this for a little while now and everyone’s been very kind, so I’m going to let you all in on one of my darkest secrets.

Lean close, because I don’t want to say this too loud:

<whisper>I kinda enjoy Mark Millar comics.</whisper>

Wait, wait! Let me explain!


One thing I’ve noticed as I write these pieces is that I seem to have a special soft spot for breezy, low-effort comics–the sequential art equivalent of a dumb action movie. Mark Millar excels at those.

Whether using Marvel IP or his own creations, Millar is very good at throwing together a story that features a reasonably clever base idea, a couple of good setpieces, and dialog that reads like someone trying to write “snappy patter”. They are very rarely worthy of greater reflection or deeper analysis (or even, in fact, thinking about two hours after you’ve finished them), but they’re generally entertaining in the moment, especially if you’ve gotten them on the cheap. You brace yourself for the inevitable cringe-worthy problematic moment, you hope he sticks the landing, and you breeze through the whole thing in one go.

What I find less enjoyable is Millar’s hucksterish, Stan-Lee-of-the-FUTURE persona. The endless self-puffery, the conviction that some half-baked high concept is a brilliant idea … all of that gets incredibly tiresome.

So for his new book, Huck, I decided to try something new: I read it as close to in-a-vacuum as I possibly could. If I read any pre-release material three months back, I don’t remember it; if I saw people discussing this on social media I didn’t notice (or realize it); and for the love of god I certainly didn’t read any interviews with Millar himself.

And then I read the first issue.

Now I wonder if Millar views his pre-release hype as an essential part of the experience of his books, because reading this cold I certainly felt like I was missing some essential information. (Also, the idea of a 1980s-Marvel-style caption box reading “See Mighty Mark’s June 2 interview with Bleeding Cool, Millarites! – Ed.” really appeals to me.)

Summarizing a Mark Millar book, it makes sense to start with the x+y high concept, so I’d say that Huck appears to be “What if Superman were Forrest Gump,” or maybe vice-versa. With typical Millar briskness, this first issue establishes this high concept, the current status quo (Huck helps people; the small town keeps his actions secret), the potential complication (a newcomer to the town), and even hits the requisite overbaked/problematic note (“Well, I wouldn’t say slow,” Plot Exposition Lady says to Potential Complication Lady, “He’s quiet for sure, but there’s a wisdom there, too. We prefer the word special.” Somewhere in spacetime, even The Stand-era “M-O-O-N, that spells SPECIAL” Stephen King thinks “Maybe dial it back a notch, Mark?”).

We get the first escalation (Huck moves from small good deeds to a large-scale superhero event), and the complication (SPOILER: Complication Lady and her companion do, in fact, complicate things). Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnd that’s about it.

No one is clearly defined as a character. Why does Huck help people? Because he’s simple and kind. How “special” is he? Smart enough to write detailed lists of good deeds and to execute fairly complicated plans, and to hold basic conversations, that’s clear. Why is Plot Complication Lady in town? Unclear. Why do she and her companion complicate the plot? “Money,” somehow, although how they expect to profit is beyond me.

(Also, who is her companion? It seems to be someone that she lives with, but if there’s any indication who he is (husband? father? grandfather? random stranger?), what he wants (aside from money), what he does (why has no one in town exposited to him about Huck?), or even if he’s actually a he (we only see him in sickly TV light, and never clearly) … well, I missed it.)

Rafael Albuquerque seems just as baffled as I am by some of these things, because while his artwork is gorgeous and easy to follow, he seems to occasionally be fudging on some details.

For example, the town, its cars, the townspeople’s fashions, and Huck’s generally look all appear to be drawn and colored in some kind of 1950s Americana Norman Rockwell style, to the point where I spent the first half of the book thinking it was a period piece. This makes the terrorist attack by Boko Haram  midway through the book more than a little jarring.

Or the unclarity around Plot Complication Lady’s companion: while some of the obscurity I mentioned earlier is due to the art, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the art was unclear because Albuquerque wasn’t quite sure what to do, and so was fudging like Liefeld dodging feet.

Some of this will be squared away in the later issues of the limited series, of course–this is shaping up to be another brisk-but-kinda-dumb self-contained read from Millar–but I’m also curious to know if reading some of Millar’s hype/interviews wouldn’t’ve backfilled me on necessary info. Not curious enough to slog through them to find out, but curious.

Thanks for letting me get this off my chest. I hope you don’t hate me now.



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2 comments on “Matt Tries Huck Without Hucksterism

  1. Matt,

    No, we don’t hate you. How could we? (serious tone here: I’ve been loving your contribution to the site. Thanks.)

    As to Millar. My opinion of his was far different a couple of months ago. I decided, a few years back, to finally read some of his work, since he’s viewed as “important” in the comics scene…or something. I read his “Enemy of the State” arc, with JRJr. Hated the living crap out of it (what is living crap anyway?) In fact, I mentioned this to our hosts — through email or comments, I can’t remember — and Jeff explained how one might have thought that was the bee’s knees when it was initially published, following Rucka’s run. Anyway. Hated that.

    But when I read “Old Man Logan,” around the same time, I found that to be enjoyable. I think I’m just a sucker for those “Dark Knight” types of stories. After reading this and Enemy of the State, though, I figured I was done with Millar.

    Until about a month ago, when I took KINGSMAN and STARLIGHT out from the local library (through interlibrary loan, a service Graeme has championed on the podcast, and the department within which I work at my day job). Both of these I found to be “breezy, low-effort comics–the sequential art equivalent of a dumb action movie,” as you state above. They didn’t tax my brain overmuch, but I thoroughly enjoyed them. I think a lot of this can be attributed to the caliber of artists with whom Millar pairs himself — very smart, on his part, I’d say.

    I was surprised, though, at how enjoyable I found them. So much so, that I wrote a bit about both of those titles over at my site. For anyone interested (shameless plug):

    Anyway. Seems like HUCK might be another one of those breezy, Mark Millar books I will check out when it’s collected and hits libraries.