After being floored by how great Starlight’s debut issue was (you can find Loretta’s review here if you missed it), I was really looking forward to the next Millarworld release: MPH. Drawn by Duncan Fregredo and written by Mark Millar, obviously, the series is another fresh take on the super hero genre.
The story starts with what we’re told is the first instance of super powers, an event back in 1986 that causes huge destruction and ends in the imprisonment of the gifted individual. The only clue as to how they gained their fantastic and temporary abilities is a pill bottle marked MPH. Afterwards we jump forward to modern day and join a meeting of smalltime crooks. Admittedly I was expecting to be brought into a seedy underworld with despicable characters but the main protagonist of the group, Roscoe, is actually surprisingly likeable. When things take a pretty bad turn early on it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for him. That scene in particular is even more powerful thanks to Fregredo’s art the shows off the utter despair on his face.
Speaking of the art, it’s fantastic. It’s grounded and just a little gritty which is perfect for this type of tale. There’s also a ton of detail, Millar explains at the back of the issue how he thinks the artists he’s working with are putting out career best work, helped by his new schedule of not releasing a book until half the art is done. In short: it shows. You can tell that there’s not been a crushing time limit on Fregredo, he’s clearly worked to carefully bring this world to life. Even background characters who have little or no relevance to the plot are unique and as well designed as the main cast, which also means there’s some brilliant foreshadowing at times if you pay attention. It helps to make the setting feel vibrant and alive, the characters all feel part of a bigger world. The colouring, by Peter Doherty, enhances the atmosphere of every sequence too, thanks to an incredibly diverse palette that makes every setting look wildly different to the last.
As the story progresses I found myself getting more drawn in and by the end I knew I was hooked. It’s a really well paced issue altogether and you feel like you get a good chunk of story with enough to tease you into wanting more. I genuinely want to know what happens next, which is a pretty clearcut way of saying this is an enjoyable issue.
One thing I appreciated is that MPH #1 feels like it purely sticks to the story. By that I mean there’s no flashy stuff thrown in just to show off or shock us without reason. Every page feels necessary, either for building mood or delivering the next part of the narrative. There was one sequence where I expected it’d derail the pacing temporarily but instead, since it’s clear what took place, it just jumps ahead to the aftermath meaning we get more development instead of pages spent purely on eye candy.
Millar has got a strong track record of reinterpreting super heroes in a darker more grounded world, Kick Ass, Jupiter’s Legacy and Super Crooks all had their own warped takes on the usually wholesome bright idea of super powers and costumes. MPH #1 is another great addition to that group. It’s got an engaging plot and a protagonist that’s completely flawed but still sympathetic. If this keeps up it’s going to be an awesome miniseries.