Unsurprisingly, Mark Millar's Nemesis doesn't hold up well in the final analysis.

Nemesis, Mark Millar`s latest successful attempt to have Hollywood studios pay him for the rights to unfilmable projects, recently published its fourth and final issue, and now that the story has been resolved, it`s a good a time as any to look back at the deficiencies within that identify it so clearly as a Millar product.

First, the good: Unlike his last anti-hero themed project (Wanted), Nemesis wasn't about the adventures of a group of super-criminals who primarily concerned themselves with raping women and children.

That was pretty much it.

Although that alone makes Nemesis less completely worthless than Wanted, which is certainly a plus. Now for the bad stuff...

The problems with the comic started right away in the first issue, with a supposedly clever threat by the villain (despite his prominence in the story, you can't call Nemesis the 'anti-hero' because the story is fundamentally not about him) that gives away the twist ending. And not in a clever, 'Keep Me In Your Thoughts Forever' way where a line's true meaning can only be understood once you've gotten to the end of the story, and you wind up being impressed by the genius of the writer's ability to put the clue right in front of you without you ever getting it.

Of course, Millar is no Moore, so it's not surprising that his attempt at the same would come across as ham-fisted.

After establishing the premise - an evil Batman travels the world murdering Commissioner Gordons - the comic tries to demonstrate how clever its villain is by having him send the Commissioner Gordon a note offering the exact time of his death, along with a cryptic detail. The CG killed in the teaser, for example:

Was sent a note that no doubt cryptically referencing a train.

Now, and I have to make this absolutely clear, this information isn't secret. Nemesis operates publicly, flouting his crimes to better humiliate the world's police forces before killing their leaders. So the whole M.O. is known to all of Nemesis' potential victims. This is important to remember when the story's hero receives his own note on page 13 of a 90-odd page story.

While the time is a vitally important thing to focus on, not one character ever bothers to consider the importance of the playful description of CG's death. "Flatline Still Counts"? As I read that, only one thing popped into my head 'So, what - he's going to defeat Nemesis but be injured while doing that, and he'll flatline on the way to the hospital at that exact time, only to be resuscitated later?' It didn't really make sense as a twist, though - 'Flatline Still Counts' only makes sense as a threat of death if the CG is going to survive the encounter, which raises the question of why Nemesis would send a letter predicting his own defeat.

There's an explanation for this coming later in the series, but it actually makes the whole thing make less sense, rather than tying up loose ends the way Millar hoped it would.

Nemesis' origin is parody of Batman's - CG came after his super-rich parents who hunted poor people for sport, and he swore to avenge them, training by travelling the far east where he became a crime lord.

If his costume looks familiar, it's because he's lawsuit-level similar to Fantomex, from Warren Ellis' New X-Men.

Of course, a lawsuit would never have happened, given that both of these characters are derived from Fantomas, popular french Anti-hero of the early 20th century, and that's a Lupin III-esque can of worms that no one wants to open.

Anyhoo, the story motors along at a predictable-enough pace, with Nemesis killing tens of thousands of people and kidnapping the president of the United States, all as part of his scheme to completely destroy Washington DC's Commissioner Gordon. I'm not going to get into the details of Nemesis' plan (it's all the standard Millar 'glefully juvenile nihilism for its own sake' pablum) except to say that the fact of him surviving it is the most ridiculous aspect of the story.

Here are a few things that are required for Nemesis' plan to succeed.

When being captured by the police, not having one of them just shoot him, despite the fact that he'd recently murdered ten thousand people and kidnapped the president. Yes, the president is still in danger, but realistically, what's your better chance of finding him: killing the bad guy and the looking around the city, or trusting that the villain who claims that this is all part of his plan will give up the president's location?

When the prison transport arrives at jail, they'd have to not notice the five hundred identical white cars parked in the visitor's lot overnight. White being Nemesis' trademark colour. Also, there shouldn't be a single car parked in the visitor's lot. Considering that the entire prison has been put on lockdown for Nemesis' arrival.

While trying to escape prison, having 100 guards attempt to fight Nemesis hand-to-hand rather than simply shooting him.

So yeah, his surviving issues 2 and 3 of his comic aren't the most plausible things ever, but Nemesis only truly falls apart right at the end, where the big secret is revealed:

It seems he wasn't Evil Bruce Wayne at all! No, in a cackling speech made in the Oval Office while holding the president and CG's wife hostage, Nemesis reveals that he's just a guy who loves murdering people, and he thought it would be funny if CG thought they had some personal connection. Of course, since Nemesis' fake 'real identity' has gone public now - he announced it on television! - it makes his plan to take on a different 'true identity' when going after an Italian CG next year something of a questionable idea. Once it's been established that you're willing to lie about who you are to create a fake connection with your victim, why would any subsequent CG believe your claim?

Confronted with this revelation, CG and the president team up to kill Nemesis (President blows up, CG shoots Nemesis in the face) but CG is shot in the process, leading to the tense life-saving sequence that I predicted 13 pages into the first issue. Which brings me back to the nonsensical nature of the plot - why would Nemesis send a note predicting his own failure (and death)?

Get ready for an even bigger twist, folks... Nemesis wasn't the one planning all of this! It seems the strings were being pulled by an unnamed behind-the-scenes player who works these things out years in advance! So far in advance that CG's second-in-command had been on his payroll for eight years! 'Nemesis', the guy in the mask, was just one in a series of unbelievably rich people who pay this fixer to act out a supervillain fantasy! Now, this doesn't exactly jibe with what Nemesis himself said in the big climax - he was clearly claiming that, while he wasn't evil Bruce Wayne, it was just one guy dressing up in the costume and killing all those CGs around the world - but let's assume the string puller was the one telling the truth, even though Nemesis didn't have a reason to lie... why would this particular Billionaire agree to take part in a supervillian act that was going to end in his own death? Remember that note?

Why would he want to play a game that he was destined to lose? Now it's just possible that the fixer (whose abilities apparently border on precognition) didn't mention to Nemesis what the specific details of his notecard threat were, but since Nemesis would go on to specifically mention that notecard in his address to the nation, how could the fixer be sure that its specific details wouldn't go public, and therefore become known to Nemesis?

So the whole premise doesn't really make sense - let's move on to the big stinger at the end, the final line that's supposed to blow the mind of the audience, as well as the CG hero of the story-

This is how CG finds out about the Fixer's plan: he's handed an envelope outlining the Fixer's operation as well as describing the specific events that followed CG killing Nemesis. The twist is that the letter and bottle of wine have been waiting... Ten Years!

We're supposed to be shocked by how stunningly well-planned the whole thing was, but we can't be. Because Millar, as usual, didn't really think things through. Let's say you're the smartest police officer in the world, which of these two possibilities seems more likely:

1 - That you're up against a foe whose ability to plan for future events proves that determinism is real?

2 - That a man who could arrange the kidnapping of the president of the USA could somehow manage to switch out a letter that had been sitting in a Maitre d's desk for a decade?

Rather than shocking anyone, all the Fixer's final letter should accomplish is to let CG know that his real nemesis is a surprisingly vain man, one concerned with letting the rest of the world know just how brilliant he is - and vanity is a weakness that can be used against him.

Hell, who knows, maybe this is all part of Millar's plan, and the second volume of Nemesis will use these numerous flaws as plot points.

Having read the beginning of Kick-Ass 2, though, I somehow doubt it.


James said...

Glad to see you reviewing a few comics again. After Wanted and Kick Ass I really wasn't willing to give Millar any more chances and from what I've read that was a good call. It seems that comic companies are hiring and publishing writers who apparently dislike the superhero genre and the fans of it, and comics in general. Whats your take?

Vardulon said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment - you're not wrong about the state of comics. I was more than a little shocked that Marvel would put this thing out, even if it was under the Icon imprint.

Maybe it's obvious to blame cynicism and irony, but reading Marvel's current output it seems impossible to imagine them ever going back to something as simple as celebrating heroism.

Mike said...

Great synopsis and review, though you didn't mention perhaps the most reprehensible segment, the daughter made pregnant by the gay son. Sometimes a line is drawn, and sometimes that line is crossed.