This isn’t a revolutionary thought, but at this point in his career, it’s safe to say Mark Millar thinks exclusively in elevator pitches. “What if James Bond was the product of an elite boarding school?” “What if the Avengers were dicks?” “What if Mad Men was superheroes?” Millar’s comics exist as skeletal frameworks for inevitable blockbuster adaptations and there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. Dude has a solid empire to his name and nothing any of us say is going to bring that down. The trouble comes when Millar gets up on a pulpit and uses his elevator pitch powers not for evil, per se, but certainly for rank condescension masquerading as good, as is the case with his new work Huck, described by Millar in pre-release interviews as a response to Man of Steel’s grimness. While Huck is absolutely the opposite of Man of Steel in a number of ways, it’s arguably more offensive to anyone with an idealized notion of Superman, turning a heroic god-like being who historically has been politically minded into an uber-American caricature, all brawn and aw shucks simplicity with no awareness or complexity.
As always, Millar’s commercial empire allows him to hire the best possible collaborators, so Huck isn’t just a bad comic, it’s a bad comic that could have been great had Rafael Albuquerque not had the albatross of Millar’s script around his neck. Like Starlight, Huck trades in nostalgia and Golden Age delight but without the sterile aesthetic that usually entails. Huck is at its best when Albuquerque is roaming free, depicting the titular not-Superman as a free spirit, decked out in coveralls and a huge grin, a simple man who loves his town and works to preserve its charms. The opening segment is basically wordless, introducing us to Huck’s great power without a fight or even any action, just the simple task of retrieving a lost object for someone who never even asked for the help. The sequence is simple and elegant, conveying necessary information about Huck’s powers as well as the community he is in without the bloat of most modern superhero origin stories. It’s also well-paced, speedy but relaxed, not at all in a hurry to move forward like the rest of the issue.
Immediately after, Millar sets the plot’s conflict in motion, as a sweet old lady informs her brand new tenant Diane that Huck had retrieved the object, proceeding to also explain Huck’s abilities. It’s an inorganic moment, a scene that clearly only happens in order to create the problem that ends the first issue. There is no reason for this information about Huck to be shared so soon and directly. As hard as Albuquerque works to convey it as a friendly chat, the awkwardness of it is repeated throughout the first issue, with characters revealing unnecessary information constantly and outright telling us what the next plot point will be. Millar’s theme, as always, is so absurdly clear it might as well be explicitly written out on the cover of Huck: We do not deserve heroes, because we are selfish.
To drive this point home even more, Millar goes to cartoonish lengths to prove Huck’s goodness. The middle half of the issue is basically a montage of Huck’s good deeds, which he writes out in a notebook. These deeds include tasks that he is specifically suited for, like pulling an especially stubborn stump out of a farmer’s field. Other deeds are bizarre, as though Huck were scraping the bottom of the barrel to come up with tasks, so he’s forced to settle for taking out people’s garbage, or just buying the meals of everyone in the fast food drive-thru, despite that line viewing Huck’s car-less presence as an inconvenience. Millar seems somewhat aware of how ridiculous this sequence is, because it’s preceded by Diane’s stating her belief that Huck is “slow,” which is corrected with the assertion that he’s not slow he’s special, like Superhero Game Tom Cullen, a step away from shouting “M-O-O-N spells hero!” To Diane, Huck’s simplicity must be a crutch because, again, Millar wants us to know that we are too cynical and rude to deserve a Superman. But even the good townsfolk use unfortunate phrasing to describe Huck and talk about him in ways that are condescending at best.
That eventually builds to the most condescending moment in the comic, as Huck sits alone, hashing out future good deeds until he is distracted by a news report on the Boko Haram situation. Bright blue eyes beaming as his face scrunches up, resolving to intercede despite the risk it would mean for outing himself, Huck heads to Nigeria to take care of the problem with his All-American might and kindness. And of course he triumphs, disarming the Boko Haram soldiers without a single casualty, at one point even pausing to ask the ringleader to take off his glasses before getting punched. Not only does he free the girls Boko Haram had kidnapped, he gives them candy and send them off beaming, sworn to secrecy and therefore unlikely to rat on him to the media.
Putting aside the obvious question of how Huck was even able to communicate with these girls, there is the larger, ickier question of whether these kinds of good deeds actually help. Like a lot of American interventionism, it’s a clumsy, naive act where an initial big splash is made and then the populace is left to deal with the aftereffects all on their own. It’s possible Millar will follow this benevolent act up with some horrifying repercussions, like retribution against these girls and their families and homes by Boko Haram. Maybe it will even start global conflict, as America is blamed for the waves of violence that follow.
The big complaint people had against Man of Steel was remarkably similar: it’s not that Superman choosing to deal with Zod in a permanent fashion is unforgivable, it’s how he chose to do it, executing the man in the front of shocked onlookers, then fleeing without offering a single explanation. Millar wants us to view that Superman as the wrong Superman, because he acts bluntly and without concern for those around him, but is this Superman any different? He just woke up one morning, saw a news clip about Boko Haram and followed in the suit of armchair activists everywhere, stepping out for one light protest while ignoring all the complex issues that will remain long after this specific incident has faded from memory.
Optimistically, you could argue this is what Millar is actually attempting to say, that good deeds not only never go unpunished but frequently have horrible side effects. But what follows this scene is some petty outing by Diane and an unnamed man, who concoct the world’s dumbest get rich quick scheme as they decide to sell info on Huck’s abilities to the media. How they convince the media that their claims are legitimate is not explained, it’s merely another thing that must happen in order for Millar’s simplistic plot to move forward. I don’t know how Millar thinks journalism works, but it’s not like you can just call up your favorite 24 hour news anchor, tell them you think Superman saved those Boko Haram hostages and also you’d like a few million dollars for your troubles, thanks. And that’s representative of Huck on the whole, it’s flimsy and naive and poorly thought out, a bad comic with bad mechanics and a bad, childish theme.
But you know what? We deserve this. Fuck the overarching theme of “we as a people are too petty to deserve a Superman,” let’s go microcosmic and reconfigure it as “mainstream comics culture deserves this kind of dreck.” Comic review aggregate Comic Book Round-Up not only has Huck sitting at a brain melting average score of 8.7, a ridiculous number of my peers have given this comic a perfect score. It’s easy to figure out why it succeeds, because Millar isn’t a comic book writer, he’s comics’ P.T. Barnum, able to turn literal shit into spectacle just with a tidy turn of phrase. Because comic fans hated how Man of Steel “ruined” Superman, all it took was Mark Millar explaining Huck as the antidote, a back to basics approach to the Big Blue Boy Scout that would remove all of Man of Steel’s evil grittiness from the world and also metaphorically punish the people who ruined the character. If you were a fan who was vocal in your disdain for the film, now you can end every argument about it by presenting Huck to your dazed opponent, perhaps even with a clever inscription like “Huck is the Superman we need, Man of Steel is the Superman we deserve.” Then when the movie adaptation slithers into theatres, you can bring your Man of Steel friends and force them to endure a two hour long lecture on what a real hero is like.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover