Incognito graphic novel review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Icon - 0-7851-3979-6
  • Volume No.: 1
  • Release date: 2009
  • UPC: 9780785139799
  • Contains adult content?: yes
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: Crime, Superhero

Once Zack Overkill, domestic terrorist working for an organisation named Black Death, Jack Andersen is now in a government witness protection programme, although hardly complying with the rehabilitation aspects. He takes the prescribed drugs to dampen his super powers, because not doing so would show up on his compulsory urine tests, but looking around for a way of avoiding them he’s provided with a substance that re-activates those powers while still ensuring he passes his drug test. By accident he stumbles into a role as a night time protector. Still, he’s got to be careful as his new supervising officer will take any opportunity to throw him behind bars. What he hasn’t taken into account is the possibility of the people he snitched on discovering his new identity.

When Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips began Incognito they had track records, and had begun Criminal, but their reputation as producers of the best crime comics around was only just developing. Perhaps that’s why this remains a halfway house like their earlier Sleeper, a crime story in essence, but with super powers for a market that hadn’t fully grown beyond superheroes in 2007. Otherwise, though, much of the plot could easily slot into Criminal. Jack fits precisely into Brubaker’s repertoire of losers who mistake cunning for intelligence, never knows to leave well enough alone, only has a very limited set of solutions to any given problem, and mistakes a break for weakness. Naturally enough when trouble erupts all Jack is capable of is digging himself in deeper.

There were still a few rough edges to Sleeper, but by Incognito Phillips is the artist who would go on to win awards. He was over ten years into his career and there’s a precision to his storytelling which now has an absolute clarity. His large areas of black ink create a darkness long before Val Staples emphasises it with dark colours, and that sets the mood throughout of dark deeds occupying dark panels.

As Incognito continues the super powered aspects take a greater prominence, with a background to Jack’s world revealed, but while conceived to generate some clever twists they reduce Incognito from an excellent crime story to one that’s certainly better than average, yet an awkward fusion of what Brubaker really wants to do and what he considered commercial in 2007. The seams are well hidden, and this received Eisner Award nominations, but the collaborations between Brubaker and Phillips are ever-improving, and they’ve left Incognito behind despite it building their audience. By the end much has changed, and Bad Influences picks up from the ending. If preferred both are combined in the Incognito Classified Edition hardback.