Like a sprinter running a forty-yard dash, Mark Millar and Duncan Fegredo’s “MPH” #1 moves in a pretty linear, straightforward manner. Unlike a sprint, though, it’s not a fast and furious frenzy as the title might imply; instead, it’s an entertainingly simple story with a seemingly simple plot, uncluttered with any major subplots or hidden meaning. There’s no need for speed here; Millar goes slow and deliberately, focusing on the story of a drug runner who’s set up to take a fall, and how a mysterious drug with the label “MPH” on the bottle ironically gives him the means to walk out of jail, at least figuratively.
Millar doesn’t try to establish any kind of mystery; the issue opens up in the literal wake of a superhuman with apparent super-speed, and the wreckage left behind because of it, with the revelation of the drug that caused it all revealed within the first few pages. Fegredo uses perspective to good effect, by first following the disastrous path before panning back to examine it from above, and then reverting to a traditional ground level view once the speedster is stopped. There’s no wow, no pizzazz, but it’s effective; Fegredo’s pencils and inks are clean and attractive, and tell Millar’s story without anything in the way of fancy enhancement.
The largely-unseen character who appears first is not the comic’s main protagonist; it’s instead the story of Roscoe, who lives a life of crime in the employ of a Detroit drug lord, but does so with the noble if misguided intent of providing a comfortable life for his girlfriend. Millar paints him as a pretty earnest and likeable guy save for his occupation, and ultimately he becomes a victim that makes him the underdog worth rooting for. When Roscoe falls under the influence of MPH, his character is even further explored; initially unaware of his new speed powers, he tries to get his head around his surroundings that are now seemingly frozen in time. The idea of an easy escape comes to him, sure, but his among his first thoughts are what happened to the guards and his fellow prisoners. He’s not without ill deeds, but he’s certainly one of the nicest bad guys in comics at the moment.
Millar’s scripting is as straightforward as his storyline; the dialogue is plenty accessible and doesn’t require readers to be fluent in urban cityspeak or stereotyped prison jargon. The prison, in fact, doesn’t seem all that much worse than a playground full of sixth graders, if only by removal of a lot of the more violent prison occurrences and showing the effects by implication rather than directly. It might seem a bit sanitized, but it works fine, as the story isn’t about what happens to Roscoe in prison as much as is how he gets out of it. Millar uses similar omissions to bypass events that aren’t important to the story, like whatever might have happened between Roscoe’s bust and subsequent incarceration, and the story moves along better because of it.
“MPH” #1 doesn’t push any storytelling boundaries or make the reader think too hard, so in that regard accomplishes the same kind of thing “Fast and Furious” does, by delivering something fun that’s not trying to be philosophical.