Ever since Superman: Red Son came out twelve years ago, people have been waiting for another Mark Millar take on the Man of Steel. In fact, it’s considered by many to be one of the best Superman stories ever written. But for one reason or another, Millar hasn’t worked at DC since then, so fans have never had another chance to see him write another great Superman story. At least not until now. Well… sort of. While Millar’s new series Huck isn’t a Superman story, the Last Son of Krypton’s fingerprints are all over this one. Oh, and let’s just get this out of the way: this isn’t a comic about a grown up Huckleberry Finn with powers. I’m pretty sure it’s just a name.
Huck is the latest creator-owned Mark Millar story from Image Comics, created together with American Vampire artist Rafael Albuquerque. And although it’s obviously not a Superman story per se, it’s very much a commentary on the kind of all-powerful yet selfless hero that Superman represents. In this first issue, we’re introduced to our title character Huck, a big, blonde muscle man who from page one is shown to be some kind of superpowered individual. In a nearly wordless first five pages, we see Huck hop from car to car, then run through town with his superspeed, then jump off a steep cliff into the ocean — all to retrieve a gold chain a local woman lost in the garbage.
Soon after, one of the older townsfolk explains to the lucky woman (who happens to be in new in town) that Huck isn’t just the big lug who works at the local gas station who seems a little “slow.” He’s the town’s mix of the aformentioned Superman combined with Santa Claus. Showing up on the local orphanage doorstep as a baby (is he an alien? A mutant? That’s not at all dealt with in this issue. We just know he’s “special”) with a note that simply said “Please love him,” Huck has since made it his life’s mission to accomplish a good deed at least once a day. Sometimes it’s retrieving a lost gold chain, other times it’s saving someone’s life. Sometimes he just takes the whole town’s trash out just because he’s that nice of a guy.
Huck is also this particular small town’s secret; everyone who lives there seems to know about him and the amazing things that he can do, but it’s best for everyone if they keep Huck’s existence away from the outside world. After all, if you had a mix of Superman and Santa Claus that was almost exclusively there to make the lives of your local town better, would you tell everyone about it? Probably not. Why ruin a good thing?
Although Huck tends to keep his good deeds local to
Smallville his hometown, if things are bad enough he sometimes intervenes in larger world affairs — and that’s where one of the most satisfying scenes in the book comes from. In a moment ripped from recent headlines, when the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped 200 school girls in Nigeria, in the world of this story Huck intervenes, frees the girls and kicks some terrorist ass. (He flew to Africa using a plane by the way, meaning he’s not totally on the level of Superman quite yet.)
It’s actually moments like this that make this comic an above-average read. Part of the reason we love superhero comics is because we get to see people with incredible powers (and incredible morals that go with them) take care of real world problems in a way that no one in the real world possibly ever could. But usually those problems are confined to things like natural disasters and robberies and such. But when we see the African girls free and smiling and happy, it can’t help but make you happy and think “Well, how great would that have been?” Although I could have easily read ten more issues of Huck just being Mr. Super Nice Guy, the ending of this issue, which I won’t give away, suggests another course this series will take over the next five issues.
Mark Millar’s comics, especially his superhero work like Kick-Ass and The Authority, tend to lean towards being pretty damn cynical. He’s the guy who made Captain America of all people a jingoistic bully in The Ultimates, after all. But so far, Huck is devoid of the usual Millar tendency towards self-centered characters. Here, he’s channeling pure nobility and optimism with Huck, a character who does the right thing for the right reasons. He barely says a word in this first issue, and yet you can’t help but instantly like him and root for him. I can’t remember Millar writing a protagonist that’s this pure since the all-ages Superman Adventures comics and its kind of refreshing.
The art from Rafael Albuquerque is also excellent. It maybe even tops his own great work in American Vampire, which is no easy task since he’s the co-creator on that book. There’s always been a bit of a Tim Sale quality to Albuquerque’s art, but he’s really in Sale-mode in Huck — and that’s totally a good thing. The similarities to Tim Sale probably help reinforce the Clark Kent of it all, since it instantly makes you think of the excellent Superman: For All Seasons.
This book may take a turn into the darker territory that Millar usually loves to explore. Since there are still five more issues to go, anything is possible. But as of right now, just judging based on this first issue alone, I’m loving the “aw shucks” pure goodness of the title character. I want to read more about him, and I want to see him be happy, and continue to make others happy. So don’t do anything too horrible to him, please Mr. Millar? If this series ends with him being tortured or becoming evil or something, I might have to retroactively come back here and shave off a burrito or two from this review. But for right now, this is pretty good stuff.