It’s fair to say that Incognito hasn’t quite managed to live up to the promise shown by a thrilling first couple of issues – never really seeming quite sure what sort of story it was trying to tell, nor what its tone should be, nor how much of the wider backstory and world that Brubaker has clearly come up with should be thrown in together at once (a lesson it could perhaps learn from its Icon stablemate Powers, which eked out the major players in its superhero world in a careful manner for a good year or two). It’s led to a preceding couple of issues in which an almost bewildering array of characters have shown up and backstory been explained, but where very little of the “here and now” plot has actually felt like it’s progressed in a compelling manner.
This final issue makes clear that pacing, really, has been the problem all along – because this is probably the best issue since the first, but it also works its way through as much actual story as the previous four or five issues managed put together. It’s as if Brubaker spent so long dithering on where he was going with the book that he suddenly realised he only had an issue left to actually go there (indeed, his admission in the closing notes that the delay and extended page count were due to simply not being able to reach the end of the story quickly enough would seem to testify to this). As such, while being filled with twists and turns aplenty, the final chapter almost leaves a reader of the previous five issues feeling a little cheated – it turns out we weren’t really reading a noir drama filled with uncomfortable moral decisions. We weren’t even reading a complete character arc (I’d made the assumption that Zack Overkill’s tale would be relatively self-contained).
It turns out, in fact, that these six issues are an origin story. Brubaker’s introduced us to a creator-owned, open-plan ongoing setup involving a morally ambiguous but essentially root-for-able Punisher-esque anti-hero. And there’s nothing wrong with that, certainly not as it plays out here – it just doesn’t feel like the point (and I mean that in two senses of the word) we originally thought we were heading for. Incognito initially promised to do something new, but you can see the obvious influences seeping out from every page – and again, that doesn’t make it a bad comic (it’s so well-crafted, particularly visually, that it’s impossible to say that), just a little bit of a letdown. Although perhaps my expectations were unfair – Brubaker filled the series’ backmatter with essays on classic pulp for a reason, so perhaps he can’t be blamed for revealing that he was actually setting up a pulp hero of his own all along – but the book’s style in those early issues certainly didn’t suggest that in any obvious way. The mini as a whole is merely a flawed, rather than failed experiment – and a cautiously positive introduction to the future adventures of Overkill – but I can’t escape the feeling that it could have been rather more special.