[18 March 2010]
PopMatters Comics Editor
Remember Charles Bronson?
Think back I’m sure you will. Charles Bronson was ‘70s cool. Charles Bronson would walk into a room filled with pimps and terrorists and urban scum of all kinds and he would simply bloodbath them. Charles Bronson would ride bikes onto boats, and crash cars off of bridges and dust off his shoulder and pull out his uzi. Charles Bronson was an essay in kineticism, arguably the basis for urban superheroes like the Punisher.
The formula presented by every Charles Bronson movie was endearingly simple, and made each film infinitely watchable: that thought and action should not mix. Intellectual complexity had no place in action sequences, drama and adrenaline simply did not mix. If the recent issue of Nemesis: The Imposters (the first of four) were nothing more than Charles Bronson, the limited series would worth every penny. Writer Ivan Brandon and artist Cliff Richards however, exceed all expectations.
Strictly speaking, Nemesis: The Imposters is an update of a classic ‘80s character. The current limited series is a quasi-sequel (advanced from the same characterization and history) to the 2009 limited series Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape. Both limiteds are clearly an attempt to integrate Thomas Andrew Tresser (the eponymous Nemesis) with the large amount of continuity generated by publisher DC since 2005’s 52. But one of the issue’s (and promisingly perhaps the limiteds) singular strengths is the immediate reader immersion in narrative. An understanding of Brother Eye, the post-2005 OMAC, “Batman R.I.P.”, and “Battle for the Cowl” would help, but this backstory certainly isn’t necessary.
Brandon’s Nemesis monologues over Richards’ crisp panel breakdowns. ‘It think it’s Monday. I’ve been wrong before about when things happened. There are three things that matter right now. The man beside me is bleeding to death. I’m on a highway and everyone on it seems to want me to die’. And the monologue finally crescendos when a pursuit car just pulled alongside Nemesis’ vehicle flips wildly out of control. ‘I forget what the third thing is’.
The credible management of the continuity backstory is due in part to Brandon’s skillful storytelling. Brandon’s in media res opening is a highly successful gambit. Primal emotions are tapped. There’s the need for escape. The adrenaline-fueled freneticism balances exactly the right amount of immediate danger, with a distant cognition that backstory can be filled in once story tension has been relaxed somewhat.
But Brandon’s opening is also a framing device, that point that the story will return to right at the very end of the issue. At this later point, only long after the various psychologies and backstory elements have been properly explicated, the ‘man bleeding to death beside me’ will be discovered to be the Joker.
So why use the framing device at all?
Simply put, without the opening pages, without the highly disciplined kintecism that can fairly be compared to the magnificent Highway Chase from Matrix: Reloaded, Nemesis himself would lack narrative integrity. Nemesis, Brandon convinces us with his terse monologues, is all about psychological exhaustion. Nemesis is a man at the very end of his tether. The lack of memory, and the pure trauma of having survived torture at the hand of Brother Eye clearly makes for captivating comics. And Brandon’s The Imposters is all about the evolution of this sensation of being pushed onto the back foot, about this interminable resilience in the face of an enduring lack of resources.
And the surprise ending? The final page of the first issue sets up a conflict that was only alluded to in the phenomenal “Hearts in Darkness”, the closing issue of “Batman R. I. P.”.
With everything that does happen in this one issue, both in terms of character and DC-continuity development, it becomes incredibly hard to not buy the remaining issues. The pure joy of just wanting to read the story should be at the heart of all comics.