Saturday, 7 April 2012

Why Should I Read... Nemesis?

A conversation, poorly transcribed.

PL: So what are you going to cover next for "Why Should I Read...", Chris?
Chris: I wanted to do a really ambitious piece. I didn't want to do one book, but cover the entire work of one of the most famous and influential writers in comic book history, Alan Moore.
PL: Wow, that's a monster. How will you do it?
Chris: Well, I figured maybe I'd focus on his most well known works, those that have been optioned for movies. Try to make it accessible for people. Watchmen, V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, maybe From Hell. How does that sound?
PL: Sounds good. Will look forward to it.

Later, at home, amidst mountains of graphic novels...

Nemesis: Hey Chris? Remember your plan? The Alan Moore plan?
Chris: Yes, Nemesis?

So that's Nemesis. A book created by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven, that feels like it could be a life in it's own right. Let's be clear; when Nemesis leapt out at me for this article, I was perusing some of the best graphic novels of all time. Yet somehow, it reached past those other books and yelled out to be talked about.

I am not giving away any more than the blurb on the back of the jacket if I tell you that the premise broached by Nemesis is essentially "What if Batman was a bad guy?". Now, if you are a comic book reader (I'm assuming you at least have a passing interest) stop and ponder that for a moment. All that intelligence, dedication, technology and resource pointed at you, wishing you harm. There's a host of reasons that Batman terrifies criminals. Nemesis allows you to feel their fear, to let you understand why a special kind of lunatic aimed right at you is a special kind of terrifying.

Millar does 'what if' writing wonderfully, and takes on a lot of old comic book staples to do it. All the trademark character profiles from the tired rinse and repeats of the laziest comic book storytelling are right there. Millar takes them all and makes them fresh again, with new dimensions and perspectives that border on genius in their simplicity. This might sound like a contradiction, and it is (sort of) because the new twists Millar puts on these characters are obvious, because they're realistic. So much so in fact, that the result becomes fantastic.

McNiven's art work puts a polished edge to the book, gives it the blockbuster movie feel that is so rightly deserves. It is slick and stylised, and acutely sharp. If a comic could be HD, this one certainly is. The storyline is designed to shock, even in this age of over-exposure and resultant desensitisation. The artwork is clean and honest in order to match up to this, without crossing the line in to unnecessary vulgarity. The fact that Millar and McNiven are no strangers to each other shows in their paralleled work, at a level only attained by true master craftsmen.

Then ultimately, there is Nemesis. A character who, as with many central characters in fictional writing today, is something of a vessel. Not quite empty enough to be unsatisfactory, but enough so that the reader finds it easy to transpose either their own self image or the image of another. Recently this technique has received a lot of criticism because when used unskilfully, it is lazy, and manipulative. Not so here, as the Nemesis character is openly and wonderfully written, that I find myself relishing the opportunity to place myself or others in his cowl.

Nemesis is a modern book. It would be easy for me to make comparisons to a lot of pop culture. Movies like Se7en and Saw (before the franchise became terrible!) sprang to mind while reading. There are the aforementioned Batman comparisons, which are alluded to in its self promotion. It may feel a little too polished for those seeking a gritty independent read. Some people could be put off by the über violence and constant swearing, because this is no golden age book. But I can't help but love this book, it feels so deliciously naughty.

Nemesis is your good looking, confident, over-the-top friend, who says hello by punching you in the balls, swears way too much and is a little too quick to get angry. He doesn't have a proper job but always has money, and no matter how much he offends the girl, he somehow still manages to get her in to bed. He's not a role model, he's not even 'basically a good guy', but by God, you'd hand over your left nut to be him... just for a day.

Chris Boyle is planning his route to the hospital.

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