The first issue of “Millar & McNiven’s Nemesis” was insultingly dumb, but at least it had the absurd feel of unfettered comics. It wasn’t so much a movie pitch in comics form — although it is apparently that — as it was a declaration of the madness of old-fashioned comic book illogic. The characters: archetypal. The situations: explosive.
Issue #2 attempts to “explain” things, and that’s where the story goes not only off the rails, but careening into the lava traps of exposition, where anything worthwhile is burned away, and what’s left is the charred remains of what might once have been a story. Or an attempt at one.
Unlike the first issue, this isn’t even gleefully ridiculous. It’s just block-headed and abrupt. I wouldn’t call issue #1 elegant, but this one is page after page of inelegance, corrupt ideas, and it suffers from something so many other Mark Millar comics have avoided: it’s boring.
It’s not boring because its slowly paced, or because it doesn’t conform to my idea of what a self-proclaimed evil Batman comic should be about. It’s boring because half of the issue is directly lifted from other stories, and the other half is full of explanations of things that we aren’t mean to care about. At its essence, “Nemesis” is a cat and mouse game between the super-crook and the super-cop, but this issue feels tired and stale. Its twists are not twists and its turns are not turns. It’s just a comic filled with things that happen. And we’re maybe supposed to care because some of those things are violent? I don’t.
The issue opens with the origin story of Nemesis. His mom and dad had been operating a hunting club involving teenage runaways. It might make you think of Grant Morrison’s “Invisibles,” probably because that’s where it’s from. Later in the issue, Nemesis’ car sheds its outer layer to reveal a wide-tired motorcycle. This scene’s from a little movie called “The Dark Knight.” It’s pretty famous.
You could argue that Millar is recombining these pop culture references and playing off their intersections — and the juxtaposition of these things with other genre archetypes — but he doesn’t do anything with the samples he takes. He just sticks them together here, like an unimaginative collage.
Steve McNiven, whose art looks more angular and craggy in this series than it has in the past — even “Old Man Logan,” with its excessive linework, felt smooth — handles himself nicely in this issue. He uses the widescreen page layouts effectively. If this issue has any charms, and it does, they belong to a few images drawn by McNiven: the antiseptic lair of Nemesis, the arrogant posing, the steam floating off the laser blade as Nemesis climbs out of the water. Dave McCaig’s colors don’t work particularly well on some of the wrinklier inhabitants of Nemesis’s world — too many sickly oranges and greens for my taste — but he provides subtle shading on the white-clad title character.
This isn’t Millar or McNiven’s best work, and with two more issues to go, I suspect it won’t have time to turn itself around.