Need for Speed-MPH #1: Mark Millar Loves to Subvert Superhero Tropes

MPH #1mph-01
Written by: Mark Millar
Art: Duncan Fegredo
Colors: Peter Doherty
Published by Image Comics

Mark Millar seems to live, just to subvert superhero tropes. Kick-Ass and Nemesis were both comic books that wanted to deconstruct the motivations of people who become superheroes and supervillains, depicting egotism and boredom as motivations alongside greed or altruism. MPH is sort of another book in this vein, with a person suddenly gaining access to super-speed. Guess what happens? Crime spree and, we can only assume a quest for revenge.

In 1986, the world’s first superhuman has a disastrous entrance on the world stage that ends with a high-speed crash into a mall. He’s apprehended and thirty years go by. In contemporary Detroit, Roscoe Rodriguez is sent by his boss, “Samurai Hal,” to sell twenty pounds of Cocaine and is arrested as part of a sting. He’s later told that his boss had set him up to be arrested so that Hal could move in on Roscoe’s girlfriend. Check your bingo boxes, everybody: we’ve just found our first classic revenge trope. Despondent, Roscoe takes a pill from a dealer that initially puts him into a seizure but then dramatically slows down time. He makes a break for it, leaving behind a bunch of bewildered people. The issue ends with the man we saw in the beginning, Mr. Springfield, sitting in an opulent cell of some kind, offering to explain to a federal agent “what this is all about.”

mph-02It’s sort of refreshing to read a Millar book that isn’t just body counts and blood spatter. It’s not that the characters aren’t morally suspect; they are drug dealers, after all. Still, they’re sort of refreshingly decent people. For the first half of the book, Roscoe is all sunshine and optimism even as he’s being sent to prison. Finding a super-speed pill off of a sketchy drug dealer while in prison is the lemonade that comes after lemons. The revenge and money premise isn’t original, but it works for the story. At the very least, I’m interested in seeing how the drug got into the prison. Duncan Fegredo’s artwork is nice, crisp, and clean to look at, a shift away from some of the other gritty artists that Millar has paired with on prior comic books.

Millar is going to need to explain how exactly the super-speed is supposed to function, because there are two very different depictions going on in this book. Mr. Springfield’s test run has him lose control at an incredible speed, plowing through buildings and trees while somehow not being pureed or cut into ribbons. Fine, there’s a comic book science explanation at work here somewhere. Later in the issue, Roscoe is again moving at super-speed, but there’s no indication that he’s going to lose control, and he seems to have perfect sensory perception of how fast he’s going. It could be that the first go was a beta run and then the formula got perfected. Still, Millar will need to reconcile these two different visions or it has a major logical inconsistency on its hands.

In interviews, Millar has mentioned that he sent this comic to President Obama and senators in Washington. By setting the comic in Detroit, Millar hopes to highlight the growing gap between rich and poor. Detroit is certainly a city in which the working-class have largely been abandoned by big business. While this issue only touches on the Detroit setting with allusions to what the city used to be, the possibility of grounding the series in social commentary is an exciting one. If it delivers on its promises, this could be a book worth reading.

– Zeb Larson

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