Make no mistake about it; “Nemesis” #3 is Steve McNiven’s show. In the back of the issue, two process pages are given, showing the script, inked art, and final colors. For one of the pages, Millar’s script simply tells McNiven to “keep this to four panels, each one just being a love-letter [to] violence as [Nemesis] does things to these cops we’ve never seen before.” Millar clearly trusts McNiven to execute the scene with skill, energy, and some pretty screwed up visuals, and the artist does not disappoint with a page of dynamic brutality. Let the man loose and let him do his thing seems to be the approach, and it’s hard to disagree with the results.
The page that Millar left almost entirely up to McNiven on the specifics falls in a five-page sequence where Nemesis fights against nearly 100 prison guards, plowing through them with little effort. McNiven gets across the speed and ease of Nemesis’ attack through the constant rush of movement, but also by dropping out the backgrounds in favor of constant speed lines behind the action. When the setting returns, the action slows as it approaches the climax: Nemesis stabbing a nightstick through a guard’s skull. The final image of the scene — a splash of Nemesis bathed in blood, hunched over the final guard’s body — is compelling in its composition, use of shadows, and striking colors that include some surprisingly nuanced shading for the blood. Fresher, brighter stains are on the villain’s cape and mask, while his hands and arms are stained through with a darker, duller red. It makes later uses of the character in a pristine, new costume even more striking and off-putting.
The second half of the issue is less action heavy, but shows off McNiven’s character work, especially Blake Morrow as he’s forced to play Nemesis’s game after the jailbreak. His odd detachment is apparent throughout, but McNiven adds a level of sadness to his face when he’s forced to tell Nemesis three family secrets that he just learned from his wife in exchange for the safe return of his kids. While his wife is angry, he just looks sad about the state of his family and that it’s not as perfect as he expected.
Millar’s writing has a compelling quality to it, especially surrounding Nemesis. His confidence in being taken to jail evokes the Batman-esque character he’s going for, but the sheer level of sadism expressed adds an absurdity to the book. When contrasting Morrow and Nemesis, the two don’t necessarily belong in the same book with Nemesis doing his big, violent, cartoony plans as Morrow begins to deal with some serious issues in his life that he’s been ignorant of. If anything, Nemesis comes off as more stupid and ludicrous as a result.
“Nemesis” #3 contains a wonderfully violent action sequence from Steve McNiven that ranks among his best work before he does the ‘quiet’ scenes with great skill. Like many blockbusters, the writing and story are almost beside the point with the visuals and spectacle taking over. What will remain with you is Nemesis hunched over a dead body and bathed in blood, not the plot details.