It isn’t easy to pull off a good twist. When they’re accomplished well, they feel unexpected yet completely natural, and cast the preceding story in a new light, often rendering it more satisfying and complex in retrospect (think The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense). However, when they’re done badly, they can feel forced, illogical, and can often detract from the positive qualities of the story for which they provide the climax.
Unfortunately, Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Nemesis falls into the latter camp. Without giving too much away, the closing pages of the book serve to heavily undermine the four issues that lead up to them, effectively destroying the book’s core concept, its character relationships and its (already stretched) plausibility for the sake of a nonsensical epilogue that sacrifices many of the book’s more enjoyable elements in a vain attempt to be ultra-cool and ultra-clever.
It’s a bit of a shame, because up until that point, Nemesis is a diverting enough romp–even if it still isn’t the most intellectually stimulating or imaginative read.
The basic concept (what if Batman was a super-villain?) is an enjoyable idea, and Millar has some fun inverting some of the conventions of Batman stories. I’m thinking particularly of the origin of Matthew Anderson, which hits all of the notes of the Bruce Wayne version but in an entirely different key. It’s fun to see the writer imbue a character who has Batman’s resources with the chaotic, psychotic spirit of the Joker, playing him off against straight-laced good-guy Blake Morrow over the course of four action-packed issues.
Talking of action, artist Steve McNiven turns in some pretty good blockbuster-movie-style action sequences involving big explosions, mass carnage, and planes, trains and automobiles. His work is as detailed as ever, and the book utilises a technique in which the final art seems to have been coloured directly from his pencils, giving him greater control over the finished product than he might have had when paired with an inker.
Unfortunately, Dave McCaig’s colouring lets things down slightly. Perhaps he had difficulties with colouring straight from McNiven’s pencils, but there are certain pages that feel a little washed-out or not clearly-enough defined, and there are other colouring choices that just don’t seem to create the effect McCaig was aiming for. For example, the book’s older characters–including Morrow–frequently look like zombies, with greenish flesh tones and sunken features that are accentuated by the colourist’s choices.
However, these problems don’t completely detract from the strengths of McNiven’s work. Most notably, the artist’s character design for Nemesis is bold and distinctive, and again plays up the parallels with Batman by giving the character a striking white cape and cowl.
However, the flipside of these constant references to Batman is the sense that Millar and McNiven’s book wears its influences a little too overtly on its sleeve. In particular, there’s a strong sense that the book has been heavily influenced by Christopher Nolan’s most recent Batman movie, The Dark Knight.
Not only do we get a chaotic villain with an unclear past who revels in waging war on a city with his elaborate destructive schemes, but we also see specific moments from The Dark Knight recreated in the world of Nemesis.
For example, halfway through the book, the villain is unexpectedly captured by the police, only to break out of captivity in a bloody and meticulously-planned escape sequence–just like the Joker in that movie. At the beginning of the comic, we see Nemesis misdirect his opponents by leading them to a room full of explosives rather than the person that they’re trying to save–just like the Joker in that movie. And at one point, Millar and McNiven even have the gall to stage a scene in which Nemesis’s getaway car is destroyed in a highway chase sequence, only to have him “unexpectedly” burst out of it on a big-wheeled motorbike that’s not unlike The Dark Knight‘s Batpod.
It’s one thing to be inspired by or influenced by a particular movie, but including so many ‘homages’ begins to feel symptomatic of a lack of imagination by the time you’re halfway through the story.
Another problem that I had with the book is one that seems to be common to a lot of Millar’s titles, especially lately. Namely, the sense that certain plot points, scenes, or pieces of dialogue are included for pure shock value. Whether it’s the extreme bloodiness of Nemesis killing 100 prison guards, the constant peppering of dialogue with swear-words, or over-the-top plot contrivances–such as the forced impregnation of Morrow’s daughter with her gay brother’s sperm, along with an explosive device that would collapse her womb if an abortion was attempted–there’s often a sense that hollow shocks are substituted for genuine intrigue or imagination.
Finally, the book struggles to keep its action on the right side of plausible, with many of Nemesis’s feats only feeling as though they could be achieved by a non-superpowered human being if the reader comes up with his or her own convoluted explanation for how he could pull them off. And, as mentioned earlier, the twist at the end of the story calls the advanced abilities of ‘Matthew Anderson’ even further into question.
In the end, however, the biggest surprise of Nemesis isn’t the big twist of the final pages. It’s the fact that the creative team behind the successful and well-received Civil War miniseries and “Old Man Logan” Wolverine storyline have responded to the infinite freedom and unlimited possibilities that are on offer in the creator-owned realm by producing their most derivative, unimaginative and unsatisfying collaboration. Who would have seen that coming?
Millar & McNiven’s Nemesis hardcover is available from Titan Books in the UK and Marvel/Icon in the US.
Along with all four issues of the original series, this hardcover edition also contains a few extras, which include variant covers, script-to-pencil-to-page breakdowns, and an afterword by Mark Millar. Sadly, there’s nothing here that wasn’t available in the original issues.