Let’s be absolutely clear about one thing shall we? Mark Millar is a huckster. He’s not a comic book creator. He’s not an ideas man. He’s not, by any stretch of the imagination, a decent writer. No, what he is, is a brilliant huckster. A grand salesman in the oldest tradition. You can see him standing on an upturned crate, yelling at passers by, “What if Batman was The Joker?” or, “What if masked vigilantes existed in the real world?” Sure, you’d stop by once in a while and listen to what he has to say because, he’s a very good salesman, but then if you had any sense, you’d take one look at what he was offering, and you’d walk away. Because guys, the shit he’s selling isn’t worth a dime.
I thought I’d finally come back around to Mark Millar when he launched Starlight, and I genuinely enjoyed his Incredibles meets Starman styled first issue, but the ridiculously decompressed storytelling, and woeful cookie-cutter characters, spouting the most on-the-nose dialogue imaginable, put me right off in issue two.
Now, this month comes issue four of Huck, his new series with artist Rafael Albuquerque (American Vampire), and I have read all four of them. The basic premise of this series being, What if Superman was maybe a bit simple? If that sounds patronising, if that sounds like it might be one of the most reductive ideas in comics, then you’d be totally right. Huck is a charming and simple gas station attendant in small town America, who does good deeds for all the townsfolk, until he is outed by a newcomer, and the press, politicians, and shady characters from his past muscle their way in. How do we know he’s charming and simple? Because the characters talk about it all the time. How do we know he does good deeds? Because the characters talk about it all the time. Pages are filled with that same, Millar-esque surface-level depth characters and dialogue, and in the end it all really amounts to nothing. The whole comic feels like a rushed afterthought, something put together to get it done and out of the way as quickly as possible; no wonder then, that a film adaptation was on the cards even before issue one hit the stands (in the press release, Millar claims he’d like Channing Tatum to star).
Perhaps this is just Millar’s method – chuck an idea for a movie into a six issue comic proposal, sell the rights, rush the book out so that when the mediocre film does make it to screens there’s a tie-in book that can be sold, and that beloved ‘based on the bestselling graphic novel’ can be plastered all over the movie posters. And that’s the crux of Millar – he is not a writer. He’s a salesman, and a very good one. That presents a problem when it comes to reading his books, because in essence they’re not books. Huck is a storyboard, a film treatment, a plot synopsis. Millar barely has his eye on the page when he’s writing this, he’s got one eye on Channing Tatum, and another on the next comic-to-film adaptation. To put it into context – it took me less than twenty minutes to read all four issues, and I was taking my time.
If Huck has anything redeeming about it, it’s the art of Rafael Albuquerque. Best known for his work on the very good American Vampire, he brings his all to Huck. Several sequences, especially in the first two issues are told without words, and Millar allows Albuquerque to show off his considerable talents. These wordless sequences are stunning to look at, and tell a much better story than Millar manages on any other page. The art here is so good that it almost makes a couple of the issues worth picking up. Almost.
What’s so disheartening about all of this is that Huck is a hit. A massive hit. And it’s going to have a movie made, which will be a massive hit. The simple fact is that this book does not deserve your money. Mark Millar does not deserve your money. The folk who deserve your money are the people who care about their books; books like Rachel Rising, or We Can Never Go Home, or Beast Wagon. Those are the people who write comics so they can keep writing comics. They’re not writing film pitches. Those books are not Hollywood calling cards. They are not afterthoughts. They are works of art.
Huck is barely redeemable. It is a forgettable, careless book by a writer who couldn’t give a toss what he puts out so long as someone somewhere is adapting it. This is not what comic books should be, and I recommend you avoid it, at all costs.