Sunday, October 18, 2015

APOLOGIES, MARK MILLAR: a Kingsman comic review

Millar is one of those name creators, whose following has garnered him a fair bit of autonomy.  As a comic writer, he’s worked with artists such as John Romita, Jr., Leinil Francis Yu, JG Jones, Dave Johnson, and Frank Quitely, had work published by Marvel & DC, as well as other, smaller publishers, and seen a number of his books translated to film.  The guy’s a success, and I’ve not read much of it.  So, a few years back, I decided to check out some of his work—and though I enjoyed his “Old Man Logan” storyline, I had a lot of trouble with another Wolverine story he wrote, which you can find if you search the site, but I don’t feel the need to heap on here again.  Suffice to say, after reading these books, I felt no need to check out anything more from Millar.  I was done. 

Am I glad I moved past that personal decree and read Kingsman: The Secret Service. 

The big draw here, for me, was the artist, Dave Gibbons.  He has worked on some of my favorite comics—writing the World’s Finest mini that was drawn by Steve Rude, as well as drawing the Martha Washington series with Frank Miller, as well as Watchmen …’nuff said there—and I will check out anything he’s involved with.  Gibbons never disappoints. 

Kingsman is a story in the vein of James Bond, revolving around an agency of British super-spies (focusing on Jack London, the agency’s best in the field).  London’s sister is on the dole, living with a worthless piece of trash who has no right being a father-figure to either of her children, the older David, better known as “Eggsy,” who’s working age, or his far younger brother.  Rarely there for her, having long moved past enabling her, in his mind, and believing she needs to take some responsibility for her life, London is still willing to get his nephew out of jail, through his high-level governmental association, whenever he does something stupid.  But, this time, as he helps Eggsy, London decides to give him a chance to get out of his current living situation and make something of himself and recommends him as a new recruit for the spy agency. 

As Eggsy begins his training, his uncle is hip-deep in a rash of kidnappings of pop cultural icons such as Mark Hamill and Rowdy Roddy Piper.  Clues are being unearthed, but they make no sense.  Not until one final piece is revealed.  At which point, uncle and nephew start to close in on the twenty-something technological wunderkind who has been using his money and telecommunications expertise to devise a plan that will save all his pop culture heroes while almost eighty percent of the world’s population is killed through a subliminal signal delivered through their cell phones.  And then, London, a thirty-year veteran of the spy agency, is taken out, his nephew now left on his own to complete the mission—one that is doubly hampered by Eggsy’s discovery of moles within the spy agency. 

Spoiler:  good guys win. 

Millar & Gibbons play with an intricate balance of seriousness and satirical comedy in the tone of the book and manage to pull it off amazingly well.  Much of this is familiar—the cool gadgets, the global threat, the calm, cool approach of the spies who rarely flinch in combat—but Millar & Gibbons put a nice spin on it through the dichotomy of the younger generation, epitomized by Eggsy, and the older, as characterized by the experienced members of the agency.  Through the training episodes, the creators play up this generational gap, offering the readers a traditional solution to a problem posed to Eggsy, only to have him upend expectations when he finds a far different, but plausible escape from his predicaments.  This, more than anything, is what makes Kingsman such an enjoyable story.  Tack on some emotional growth for the protagonist, Eggsy, pathos in the form of London’s death (which his nephew experiences almost as his own, through the video-link they had at the time), and some genuine drama during the final battle when Eggsy must confront a former spy and find a way to outmaneuver an opponent familiar with all of his training and gadgets…or, at least, most of is gadgets, as we find out, and you have an engaging and entertaining read. 

Gibbons’s art is top-notch, as always—clean, crisp lines with fully realized backgrounds and easily read pages.  Millar plays fair with his readers, feinting nicely within the narrative to reveal solutions that, though unexpected, work with the information already available on the page.  I never felt like there was a cheat or a “wrestlemania” moment (where the protagonist wills himself, or herself, to overcome his opponent, despite having been completely outmatched the entirety of her, or his, altercation).  Certainly, some of the emotional growth and character beats were a bit too quickly achieved, but the creators work within a limited space, so we can forgive them that. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this, which surprised me.  Not a book that might reward future re-reads, but it’s certainly one that will entertain you when you’re looking for something fun and light to read.  Now I’m looking forward to checking out the movie.  I expect it does translate well. 


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