In case Mark Millar didn’t already have a tight grip on the nexus of Hollywood comic book films, his new five issue miniseries MPH is already getting its own movie – (and just one week after Fox bought the rights to Millar and Leinil Francis Yu’s Superior). Unfortunately this new series from the mastermind of Kick Ass elicits but a shrug. What seemed edgy and brash in the first issue is now routine and old-hat. In many ways, MPH zooms by exactly as you’d imagine: After escaping prison in the first issue when discovering a drug that grants super-speed, Roscoe heads out with an optimistic but dangerous outlook on life. Roscoe, his girl Rosa, and pals Chevy and Baseball mount a super-speed-fuelled crime spree, robbing over 40 banks and later dropping millions in cash on the citizens of Detroit. We’re introduced to a villain named Mr. Springfield, a detainee been locked-up in his own private prison for thirty years, and Baseball somehow travels to the past. Like many Millar properties, the foundation of MPH is built on a comic book trope re imagined. If Nemesis is his version of Batman, and Superior is his version of Captain Marvel, than MPH is his take on super hero speedsters.
This isn’t to say that MPH is all bad. There are some interesting ideas floating around here. Setting the series in modern-day Detroit is a wise desicion. If there is one city in the US that is in desperate need of some real-life heroics, it’s Detroit; The city is running out of money – and the problem which has been building for decades has reached the point where immediate action is necessary just to keep the city running. The main character aspires to escape a lifetime of abject poverty and does whatever he needs to do in order to survive. Like Millar does so often, he plays with moral ambiguities here and the series is rife with socio-political relevance. MPH is basically a rags-to-riches story, about a small time criminal who has unthinkable power dropped onto his lap. The problem is, there isn’t any real stakes – at least not yet. We know Roscoe will eventually run out of pills, but until than, there is nothing and nobody that poses an immediate threat. Perhaps now that we get the introduction to Mr. Springfield, things will change.
Millar’s best trait as a writer is his awareness that comics are a visual medium, and the art itself is worth the cover price alone. Duncan Fegredo who is best known for his work on Hellboy, provides fantastic detail on every panel, especially with his visually unique sketches of super-speed and slow-motion.
MPH is post-modern surgery into the superhero myth, driving a scalpel into the warped logic of local thugs who masquerade as civic do-gooders in a city that has been battered by the economic downturn. With two issues left, we can only hope MPH will end with a bang.