Review: “Supercrooks”

Johnny Bolt's luck runs out pretty fast at the beginning of "Supercrooks".

Johnny Bolt’s luck runs out pretty fast at the beginning of “Supercrooks”.

“Supercrooks” has a lot going for it. It has a first rate high-concept story by Mark Millar and Nacho Vigalondo: villains go to Europe to commit crimes where there are no superheroes to speak of. It has a great bad guy, with whom trifling would be an inconceivably bad idea. It has fantastic art by Leinil Francis Yu, and Millar’s characteristically flashy dialogue. So, why did “Supercrooks” leave me so cold?

Millar’s script is rushed in terms of plot and characterization, skimming the surface of his characters only long enough to recognize them as the story zips along, but we never get a good idea of who these criminals are, except maybe in broad distinctions. Millar is capable of developing fun and original stories, but “Supercrooks” begins feeling like the abridged version of a better book about halfway through. We never get to know much about the main players, other than small splashes here or there, and not every one of them gets an opportunity to shine in this super-villain take on a heist movie (a la “Ocean’s Eleven” or “The Italian Job”).

The story opens with Johnny Bolt and his colleagues being brought to justice by the hero the Gladiator after Johnny attempts to steal some pricy jewels to pay for his wedding. We flash forward five years later where an old time villain named Carmine (aka the Heat) has gotten himself into a heap of trouble with a casino owner named the Salamander. When it’s discovered that Carmine has attempted to steal millions from the casino, the Salamander orders Carmine to repay him $100 Million or Carmine is swimming with the fishes. Having no other avenues, Carmine reaches out to Johnny, who has just been released from the clink and is attempting a reconciliation with his former flame Kasey, the woman he left at the altar.

This first chapter exemplifies Millar’s strengths at creating pleasing mainstream fun that unfolds like an entertaining summer blockbuster. Humor and charm are effortlessly instilled in every scene and you feel like you’re on board for an enjoyable ride. When the Gladiator takes out Johnny’s thugs he only has the leader to take care of. In the following exchange Johnny fruitlessly attempts to hold the Gladiator back:

Johnny Bolt: Get back, I’ve got electric powers!
The Gladiator punches Johnny in the face, knocking him out.
Gladiator: Do I look like I give a shit?
The Gladiator hands the villains over to the police.
Gladiator: Be careful with the one in the back… apparently he’s got electric powers.

Yu’s design for the Gladiator is over the top, with stars and bright red, yellow and blue colors so that it is clear that this guy is a superhero. Yu adds nice mechanical details to the hero’s gauntlets and boots as though the artist wants to show us precisely how the costume fits together. The scene with the Salamander is also characteristic of Millar’s ability to develop a villain quickly with a scene of utter brutality to clue readers in that this villain is a high-stakes player.

Millar's design for the Gladiator is over the top.

Millar’s design for the Gladiator is over the top.

Millar and Yu introduce Johnny’s posse in the following chapter, a group he’s gathered to pull off a heist in Spain to acquire the money necessary to get Carmine out of trouble. That’s the clever high-concept of “Supercrooks”. As Johnny puts it to Kasey, “Let’s find a country that doesn’t have superheroes and pull the biggest job of our careers.” The following chapter does a solid job of acquainting us with Johnny’s buddies: the Ghost, TK McCabe, Forecast, brothers Roddy and Sammy Diesel, and a final mystery man to round out the team. With the exception of the Ghost, who didn’t seem fleshed out at all, these quick sequences are successful in finding distinguishing traits for each of the cast.

For some reason, the second act then begins to rush by at breakneck speed and the book loses its footing. What needed to occur is for the book’s villain, a man who is unfortunately known as the Bastard, to meet Johnny face-to-face to establish some sort of conflict between the two men. There’s a great flashback scene in which the Bastard eliminates everyone close to another criminal who decided to steal from the villain. It’s repulsive and effective because the villain is established as one terrible scoundrel. The problem is that Millar and Vigalondo have created a character whose power is so immense that putting him in the same room with the men trying to steal his fortune would have immediately ended the story. Also, if the idea was to commit a crime where there are no superheros, would the logical next step be to steal from the most powerful (and unforgiving) supervillain?

“Supercrooks” is another great work by Yu, whose style is one of the most distinctive and dynamic in comics. There are a number of stretches where there isn’t any action, but Yu’s character work is appealing and he regularly uses interesting and varying angles even in the conversational scenes. When called upon for some of the more gruesome elements of the story, Yu does so expertly. Jaws are removed from faces, limbs are separated at an unfathomable rate, and heads explode dizzyingly. The acts are grotesque, but Yu’s style prevents them from being nauseating. Colorist Sunny Gho, a frequent collaborator of Yu’s, brings a real-world style to the coloring of “Supercrooks”.

Millar and Vigalondo have a great idea with “Supercrooks” and there is plenty to enjoy from beginning to end. But we don’t get a good feel for who any of these characters are or why they are helping one another out. It’s just up to the readers to believe that these villains will risk life and limb (and much more) on behalf of Carmine because he’s been such an amazing mentor. There was a quick scene with TK McCabe in which he attempts to use his powers to get home to take care of his child and ensure that his wife doesn’t lose her job. It’s one of the truer moments in the book that doesn’t require the character to prove himself a badass.

If “Supercrooks” is adapted into a film, which would not be a surprise, then I can see the writer and director fixing the story by filling in some of the holes that exist in its structure and characterization. As it stands, “Supercrooks” feels incomplete.

Grade: B-

Supercrooks
Written by: Mark Millar, Nacho Vigalondo
Art: Leinil Francis Yu
Inks: Gerry Alanguilan
Colors: Sunny Gho
Letters: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Icon
Original Publication Date: March 2012
Pages: 128 pages

You can find this book at one of the following recommended retailers:
CheapGraphicNovels.com
comiXology.com
InStockTrades.com

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