Set in a world like the tail end of Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme mini-series, Mark Bertolini and James Boulton’s Breakneck may not be a wholly innovative series but in its debut issue there’s plenty of reason to suspect it could turn into something great.
Literal anti-hero protagonist Ethan Shade is the sole surviving super-villain in the world after superheroes decided to execute their competition en masse. Shade has more or less survived because he’s imminently forgettable, a self-proclaimed C-lister with no aspirations outside of living. But being a consummate screw-up, Shade can’t help but get himself into the spotlight with a poorly planned robbery.
In all honesty, Breakneck’s plot is its weakest point. Part of this is because of the sudden wave of like-minded series that have popped up recently, from Rick Remender’s End League to Mark Waid’s Irredeemable and Incorruptible. Whereas Remender has a knack for turning common plots or ideas into something crazy and new, Bertolini doesn’t seem to quite have that knack for invention; similarly, Breakneck is missing the type of character development Waid has mastered. Without the noticeable competition, Breakneck’s somewhat weak plotting wouldn’t be as much of an issue, but in the debut it’s hard to miss.
But that’s okay. Everything about Breakneck indicates it’s a worthy underdog and the flaws are part of the charm. The clunky dialogue that comes out of Shade’s mouth seems purposeful, as Shade appears to be anything other than well-spoken; Shade’s holographic mentor’s speech is likewise downright charming in its weird jumps from calculated automaton to cranky, vulgar old man.
More importantly, Breakneck has some truly daring art to back it up. James Boulton’s art looks as though it’s more influenced by the current Italian New Wave that’s yielded the likes of Gipi and his textures bring to mind David Mazzucchelli in its hyper-kinetic scratchiness. There simply aren’t enough artists taking these kinds of risks in this kind of book and it makes all the difference.
Breakneck isn’t a fully formed debut but it’s got enough potential to make its flaws forgettable. With more room to breathe in upcoming issues now that the concept and character introduction is out of the way, Breakneck will likely only get better. Hop on now while you can.