Mark Millar’s fortunes in comics and movies over the past few years have been through the roof. With “Wanted” and “Kick-Ass” both being successful comics and then turned into big-ticket films, plus many other high-profile comic projects such as “Civil War,” Millar’s been in a position to pick and choose his projects. Likewise, Steve McNiven has had his share of big projects, like the already-mentioned “Civil War” as well as “Wolverine: Old Man Logan.” They’re definitely two of the more in-demand creators in comics right now. I’m saying all of this, because you’d never have guessed it based on the first issue of their new mini-series, “Nemesis.”
The basic idea behind “Nemesis,” where someone as smart and brilliant as Batman becomes a super-villain instead of a super-hero, could have been turned into a good comic. Millar’s script, though, feels stale from start to finish. Aside from an early death of a hostage in the first few pages, there’s nothing here that stands out from any other super-hero comic. Sure, Millar’s characters all swear, but bad words in a comic is hardly cause to even blink these days. “Nemesis” is a curiously muted comic from Millar, though. His trademark shock-value moments (which love or hate seem to always show up in his comics these days) are missing here, or at least I hope he hadn’t thought they were in this. It’s a predictable and surprisingly boring comic, moving through the paces at a plodding speed with nothing out of the ordinary. I wish I could say it was because Millar had tried to trade in over-the-top antics for subtlety, but that’s not even present. It’s just old hat, almost like someone else was trying to figure out what made Millar’s comics popular and then throwing most of the tricks out without bothering to replace them with anything else.
McNiven’s art is unfortunately some of the least interesting work I’ve seen of his, and he’s someone I’ve kept an eye on since he took over “Meridian” at CrossGen Comics following Joshua Middleton. A lot of the detail and richness is missing from his art; while I’m not against a more stripped-down style of art, this is lacking any sort of oomph or wow factor. Part of it might be due to his being paired with Dave McCaig. I normally love McCaig’s color choices, but here everything looks muted and slightly dull. Characters and objects fade into the backgrounds, and there’s a lack of energy. Even something as simple as two exploding planes in the air look like afterthoughts, a pair of oddly shaped cotton balls hovering in the air instead of an exciting, dramatic moment. I’m not sure why McNiven and McCaig are both so off their games here, but it’s an unsatisfactory moment. (Also, as some tips to any artists trying to draw a story set in Washington D.C.: the Washington Monument is not 1000 feet tall, you cannot see it from most parts of the city outside of the National Mall, and there are no skyscrapers. If a story is going to be set in a real location instead of a made-up city, there’s no longer an excuse to not use basic photo references.)
Even the cliffhanger ending of “Nemesis” #1 is uninteresting. It’s the sort of moment that we’ve seen in countless issues of “Avengers,” “Justice League of America,” “X-Men,” “Batman,” “Captain America,” and probably even “Firestorm.” You should never get to the end of a comic and find yourself thinking, “That’s it?” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what you’ll get. Even our supposedly crafty and clever hero (we’re told he is such because that’s why Nemesis wants to spar with him) uses such a tired and cliched way to stop people holding up a convenience store that it makes you wonder if the bad guy is targeting the wrong man. I’m not a fan of Millar when his comics turn into a series of increasingly ludicrous moments, but I actually found myself yearning for something crazy in “Nemesis” #1. In-your-face Millar, as it turns out, is preferable to boring Millar.