Thursday, July 31, 2008

Review: Wanted

The movie “Wanted” is released in Australian cinemas today and it is based on the comic book series of the same name, published by Image Comics in 2003, so I thought it’d be appropriate to write up a review about the six-issue series since I fell in love with it when I first read it.

The comic book medium is, by and large, populated by superhero titles. Yes, there are the odd comic books that don’t feature superheroes and may have different themes: romance, Westerns, sci-fi, horror, thrillers, etc etc. But superhero comic books make up the vast majority of the comics scene.

We all know Superman, Batman, Spider-man. And the one common theme in most superhero comics are that the good guys will always come out on top. No matter how desperate a situation, no matter how bad it gets, the superheroes always find a way to win. Mostly anyway.

So what happens when the supervillains win? We’ve been treated to supervillain-centric comics such as Barry Kitson’s Empire before. And both Marvel and DC comics have released limited series focused solely on supervillains like Dr Doom, Darkseid and the like.

Wanted is a different kettle of fish, however. Writer Mark Millar, one of my favourites, takes the concept to a whole new level. In the world of Wanted, not only do the supervillains triumph over the heroes, but their victory is so absolute that no one is the wiser that superheroes ever existed in the first place!

The supervillains rule the world of Wanted. In this world, the villains decided a long time ago that they should get together and fight the superheroes as a team. Such a simple concept…why didn’t anyone before Mark Millar think of such a concept before?

So superheroes were eradicated and the villains formed “The Fraternity”, a worldwide organisation consisting of all the remaining supervillains who ruled the world and could get away with anything. They could steal, kill, plunder, rape, destroy and pretty much do anything…and get away with it!

It’s a massive world, but like in all good stories, us readers would need to look at that world through someone’s eyes. Enter Wesley Gibson, the main character of Wanted. We first find out that Wesley is a complete loser. He works in a dead-end job and has the same sandwich for lunch everyday: a sesame-crusted salmon over sourdough with mustard greens and wasabi mayonnaise. As Wesley explains, he chooses that particular “unique” sandwich just to prove that he’s different from everyone else. What. A. LOSER!

From the very first panel of the series, an immaculate splash page of Wesley’s best friend about to have his way with Wesley’s girlfriend, you can already tell that Wesley is a bonafide loser.

Doesn’t Wesley’s girlfriend look like Roxanne “Freefall” Spaulding from Image Comics’ Gen 13 series? Why, the resemblance is uncanny!

In fact, the whole world seems to be populated by characters that look disturbingly similar, or even ALIKE some of the other comic book characters we know! But more on that later in the review.

Wesley is a hypochondriac and puts up with his female boss who calls him an “asshole” at least thrice a day. But he has absolutely no backbone and as much as he hates his boss, he puts up with her snide comments such as this one:

But the fun doesn’t stop there for Wesley. Oh no. When he goes home from work, the same bunch of Hispanic gang members follow him, taunting him all the way until he gets home. And he gets home to a cheating girlfriend…just how much of a loser is this guy?

Even though Wesley is portrayed as the ultimate hard-luck wanker in just the very first issue of the series, we actually emphatise with him and have sympathy for him. That’s just how strong Mark Millar’s writing is.

How many of us work under shitty bosses or colleagues but have to put up with them because we’re afraid to lose our jobs? How many of us have been the victims of pack-bullying, or have found out that our girlfriends or boyfriends are cheating behind our backs…with our best friends or worse, a family member? (JERRY! JERRY! JERRY!)

And how many of us just try to convince ourselves that despite all this that’s happening right under our noses, that the world may still turn out to be a better place tomorrow?

Millar’s writing is also infused with a lot of dark but hilariously laugh-out-loud humour. Take the panels above for instance. A website for small white dicks? Wesley being hounded by what it seems like every extra who was in Spike Lee’s movies? Wesley wishing that that his best friend’s penis disintegrates after fucking his girlfriend? The hits and one-liners keep coming!

But let’s leave Wesley behind for just one moment and explore the world of supervillains. Unknown to Wesley, his father, who Wesley believes was an airline pilot, turns out to be the greatest super assassin the world had ever seen: The Killer.

Imagine having the superpower of just being able to stop someone from breathing. No fancy X-ray vision, no heat vision, no super strength, no flight…if you just want someone dead, you pull out a gun or knife or whatever and bang…they’re dead! Not a great superpower if you’re living in a civilised world (unless you’re a serial killer of course), but in this world of supervillains, what an awesome power to have.

The Killer was one of the most feared individuals in The Fraternity and just as he’s about to copulate with some prostitutes, a couple of gunshots ring out and they’re dead. Realising that someone was making a play for his life, the Killer jumps out the window and chases after his would-be assassins.

Wait, hang on a minute, he JUMPS out the window and gives chase? But this is a man without any sort of real superpowers! He can’t fly, he doesn’t have superstrength…how does he give chase by jumping out the window?

Ah, he runs across the outside walls of the building towards the direction of his assassins. Just check out these boots that the Killer is wearing:

Do they remind you of a certain friendly neighbourhood hero? At least the movie version of the costume, and in Venom-black too. As good as the series is on its own in terms of art and storyline, little “cameos” like these allow readers to keep going back and reading the story again, seeing if they can spot something new that’s a shout-out to rest of the comic book medium!

The Killer finally catches up to the would-be assassins, only to find out that they’re actually decoys.

And just like that, the Killer is snuffed out.

But it wouldn’t be the same world without the Killer, so one of the head members of The Fraternity, Professor Solomon Seltzer, sends The Fox to recruit Wesley Gibson into the Fraternity to fill his father’s shoes.

It is revealed that Wesley has his father’s DNA and “superpower” of killing but Wesley needs some convincing. The Fox gives Wesley a gun and asks Wesley for a demonstration of his abilities. Wesley refuses initially as he had never fired a gun before, but with another gun pointed to his head, he has no choice but to comply.

The Professor and the Fox give Wesley 24 hours to choose between returning to his pathetic old life or join them and live it up. It’s not a really hard choice to make…if you could get away with anything and everything without fear of reprimand, punishment or consequences, wouldn’t you take that option too?

Don’t we all wish we could just drop everything and give a big “Fuck you” to anyone who’s ever given us grief, just like Wesley has done above?

Thus begins Wesley Gibson’s training to be the new Killer. More of Millar’s trademark dark humour in the training sequences and you can see from the panels below:

I won’t spoil too much of the rest of the plot for readers…go pick up Wanted and start reading it today! It’s well worth the price of comic book admission!

So far, I’ve just raved on and on about how wonderful Millar’s writing is. Let’s not forget that part of the reason why Wanted was as brilliant as it is was because of the artist, JG Jones.

Jones mainly does covers and his covers are absolutely beautiful…check out some of the covers from the 52 series from DC comics! He has only done interior art for three series thus far: Marvel Boy, Wanted and most recently, Final Crisis. Why Jones doesn’t do more interior art is beyond me…maybe he just doesn’t have the time for it!

Jones’ art is extremely detailed and photo-realistic. Whether it’s drawing a massive technological death trap or that sex scene splash page in the very first page of the series, or even exploding heads with brains flying all over the place, he makes it seem as if you’re seeing a movie freeze frame instead of just comic book art.

His art is so photorealistic that when you look at the main characters in Wanted, they seem really familiar. Perchance you’ve seen them before somewhere? Like on the cover of a magazine or on TV or in a movie theatre somewhere perhaps?

Why, wouldn’t it have been fab if Marshall Mathers the third, Halle Berry and Tommy Lee Jones had played those characters in the movie? Unfortunately, we’re stuck with va-va-voom Angelina Jolie and Academy-Award winning Morgan Freeman who doesn’t even play The Killer. Bah!

Remember somewhere at the start of this review I said that Wanted was populated by characters that resembled comic book characters we knew? Not sure if Jones deliberately added them into the backgrounds on his own or was told to do so by Millar. Regardless, it’s just enjoyable spotting some familiar characters in the world of Wanted! Here are just some of the characters I spotted.

Why, isn’t that Magneto, with an albeit different colour scheme, in the left side of the top panel? And he’s got the Shocker joining him in the same panel! And in the panel below, we see the Abomination and Tarantula. Four Marvel supervillains in the space of two panels!

But it doesn’t stop there! We see the decrepit Vulture in the panel above. And who’s that on the far right? Is that…Japanese mutant hero Sunfire? But isn’t he a hero? Ah well.

See if you can spot the following characters in the panel above: Poison Ivy, Grendel, Hatemonger, Ghost Rider, Mr Freeze. And more of that irreverent Millar humour…Wesley’s induction ceremony involves the burning of a Marvel comic? Haha!

The Vulture makes another appearance in the panel above.

And isn’t that Whirlwind in the top left, accompanying Wesley and other members of the Fraternity in one of their raids in an alternate world?

We’ve got Iron Man (in one of his old armours) and Scarlet Witch hiding in the background of this panel. So this explains Tony Stark’s actions in the last 18 months in the comic book world: he’s actually a villain! :p We also see the Wasp in her mutated form in the comic books.

And isn’t that Scott Steiner (formerly from WCW and WWE) on the right? Who knew that the Big Bad Booty Daddy was a supervillain? Holla if you hear me!

We also see the Jabba the Hutt-esque Shit-head in the panel above, with a nice little character description. Shit-head is like Clayface, except that he’s made of poop. I love the Shit-head character…he’s involved in some of the funniest moments in the series which I’ll elaborate on later.

We see Bulldozer from the Wrecking Crew in the top panel and the Shocker makes another appearance. And why does that look like Elektra in the passenger-side seat of the truck?

More villains than you can shake a hat at! Here we see Gorilla Grodd, Terrax, Reverse Flash, the Scarlet Witch, the Green Goblin, someone who looks very much like Darkhawk, Kang the Conqueror and Hatemonger. And check out that guy who’s been split in half by the panel on the extreme right. Is that a Predator? He must have been sick of hunting Aliens and decided to join The Fraternity!

As I was saying above, Shit-head is involved with some of the funniest moments in Wanted…two in particular. Shit-head is sent by his boss to kill the Professor in order to upset the status quo of the ruling heads of The Fraternity. Shit-head disguises himself, a la Clayface, as the Professor’s driver, and then attacks him.

Once Shit-head has smothered The Professor with what must be tons of poop, he reports in to his boss and delivers possibly the funniest line in the series…and certainly my favourite line:

Sheer brilliance! Shit-head and his cronies then make a play on the lives of Wesley and The Fox, but when your superpower is killing, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you don’t ambush The Killer properly, you’ll just wind up dead. Bullets seem to have no effect on Shit-head though, so Wesley needs to resort to other means to kill Shit-head…

And the end result?

You can even make out the shape of Shithead’s head in the bowl! Ewwwwww.

The one thing that is really pleasing about this series is how many comic book in-jokes that Millar drops in the series. He actually references DC Comics’ Justice League of America so many times that one wonders whether he was actually getting royalties (or subpoenas) from DC for parodying their characters!

Take Fuckwit for example. Fuckwit is EXACTLY like Bizarro. But Millar has a simpler explanation of who Fuckwit is, without having to explain why Bizarro speaks the way he does:

The Justice League references don’t stop there however. As the Professor tells Wesley how The Fraternity beat the world’s superheroes, he regales him of stories of what happened to some JLA-esque characters after the supervillain triumph:

No prizes for guessing who the “camp podgy joke” is…think Adam West’s character in the TV series! And the menopausal warrior princess can only be one other character. And check out The Professor’s arch-foe, with the distinctive S-curl in his hair. Who could that character, who needs help in the shitter, be I wonder?

The above panel is a nice tribute to those famous five words from the TV series, movies and comics. With a nice little swear word in the same panel.

So we’ve seen Superman in a wheelchair needing assistance to defecate. What about Batman though? Millar certainly hasn’t forgotten about him, paying homage to Batman’s origins with this neat little twist in the panel below:

And Batman is referenced multiple times in the series:

Haha! If one could just picture “Tubby” as Adam West, it’d make this scene that much funnier! And isn’t that Phoenix and Reverse Flash we see in the background?

If one was in any doubt as to the identity of “Tubby”, let’s have The Emperor call him “The Detective” and spell it out to those of us who haven’t yet been convinced. And let’s have Mr Rictus refer to the other guy in the death trap as “Tubby’s” old “teen sidekick” and refer to The Emperor as his “chum”!

Corny jokes and silly nylon tights. Cmon, sure you MUST believe now that that IS the Batman?! By the way, the answer to the question delivered in the top left panel is “Puzzler”. As in the name of the villain who’s got his mitts on the death trap lever. Yes, they couldn’t get The Riddler, so had to make do with The Puzzler instead.

Can’t get campier than that comment by Mr Rictus!

A reference to Green Lantern in the panel above. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Lantern make ten foot dildos though…that would have been funny to see! I wonder how the ladies in the DC Universe would have reacted if they saw that the Green Lantern was able to make oversized sex toys with his power ring?

There are many other jokes in the series that references comic books and readers, not just JLA characters. Take the following panel for example:

Talk about breaking the fourth wall! Of course no one reads the funnies anymore. Why are we picking up this books still then? :D

Millar really scored a home run in the way he ended the series though. With the bad guys dispatched (hang on…they’re ALL bad guys. Ok, the really REALLY bad guys then), Millar could have gone with the Hollywood-esque happy ending. He could have written the ending in such a way that it would be open to a sequel being published.

But Millar chose to end the series in his own unique fashion. He broke the fourth wall again and made a comment about comic book readers. Now, I know that Millar has taken a lot of flak for his comments and readers said that his last couple of panels in Wanted insulted them.

But all Mark was trying to do was to be ironic. If you can’t laugh at yourself, well, then you’re taking life too seriously.

Here are the last couple of panels of Wanted. Judge for yourself what Millar’s intent was.

If only we could just drop everything and yell out at the top of our lungs:


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