I’m sure you’re familiar with Mark Millar and Duncan Fegredo’s MPH, a series that, according to the writer, melds the traditional Millar formula of “Take Popular Pop Culture Artifact And Scrape Off Serial Numbers, Maybe Add Super Powers If There Aren’t Any Already” to the kind of intense realism that comes from him visiting Detroit to see urban collapse for himself and get him so passionate about the topic that he mailed copies for the first issue to everyone in the U.S. Senate as well as President Obama.
You might even be thinking about picking the book up, thinking “Well, I’m sure this has to be something special if he’s proud enough to make that kind of grandiose gesture.” Well, in order to ensure that you know what you’re getting yourself into should you pick the book up, here’s a conversation between two characters in the second issue:
“I know he’s smart, but it’s not just jobs we’re missing now. Half the street lights don’t even work. What kind of city can’t afford to light its own streets? It’s all going to hell, girl. I’m telling you. America is fucked.”
“Oh, America’s doing fine, Chevy. I’ve seen it on TV. It’s just us who’ve been left behind.”
Yes, that’s right: one of the characters from Detroit is called Chevy. Another is called “Baseball,” because—well, I don’t know. It’s American? Or he’d watched The Wire and noticed that one of the characters was called Bubbles and thought maybe it was something similar? It’s not important, because Mark Millar is telling you how bad things are in the city, y’all. Like, he’s literally telling you, with characters offering laughably heavy exposition that not only doesn’t read like anything any real person would ever say, but of course makes the characters sound like every other character Mark Millar has written regardless of culture, location or any other factor that could possibly differentiate them.
The problem with MPH, then, is that it’s like every other Mark Millar comic despite all the hype. I shouldn’t be surprised—I’m not, not really—but I think I wanted this one to be different, at least, if not better. All of Millar’s early press for the series suggested that he was conscious that he was going to be reaching into an area that doesn’t conform to his traditional narrative of morally dubious leads finding power and subsequently moral redemption by going up against even bigger bastards (traditionally rich white men, although it’s not as if Millar’s known for demographic diversity) in some kind of overly-simplified climactic showdown tailor-made for the inevitable movie adaptation, but going by the first couple issues, MPH is on track to turn out to be just that.
On the one hand, I find myself wanting to absolve Millar from any blame in this. I mean, he’s a canny populist, knowing enough to pick up enough language and symbolism from contemporary trends to dress up his generi-story without letting them overwhelm or complicate What The Reader Wants; that’s what he’s always been, so surely the fault is mine in expecting anything more?
And yet, I find myself feeling as if it’s irresponsible, somehow, to not offer anything more given that what Millar’s doing with MPH isn’t just stealing a serious, real situation that a lot of people are living in, but—considering the publicity-generation of interviews or, you know, sending a copy to politicians—attempting to speak for, and represent the people in this kind of situation. There’s some kind of responsibility to do more than just “your usual” in a circumstance like that, surely? Especially for someone who describes themselves as a “leftie” whenever asked about their political views?
The lack of effort in rising to the challenge of actually trying to represent those you claim to represent in this comic is its most damning feature. We’re all used to Millar wasting the talents of his artists—you need to look no further than his current
Stardust (I meant Starlight, of course; thanks, Ryan) for more proof of that, although Fegredo’s work here isn’t quite as eye-catching—but this is careless, cravenness on a whole new scale, it feels like. It’s a crappy comic book, sure, but it also manages to be a crappy comic book that makes you feel a little more disappointed in those involved with it after you’ve finished. It’s like the comic equivalent of Facebook manipulating your emotions in the name of science, except science is so very far away.