COMICS: John reviews “Wanted” by Mark Millar

Some of you out there might have heard of a movie called Wanted, starring James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie. It was a breakout success, and has already been greenlit for two sequels. What you may not have heard is that Wanted is an adaptation of a comic written by Mark Millar, and his second comic-to-film property, Kick-Ass, stars Nicolas Cage and is expected to hit theaters next year. Expect more details on Kick-Ass in a later review.

It took more than a few revisions for Wanted to even see publication as a comic, and the movie bears only about 40% similarity to the source material. Wanted was originally pitched as a DC comic starring the Secret Society of Super-Villains. Presumably, much of the story remained intact when Millar took his script from DC to Top Cow Publications, but the supervillains had to be created from whole cloth instead of being established characters. Fans of DC Comics will still recognize the very close analogues to characters like Catwoman, Bizarro, Clayface and Lex Luthor, as well as Marvel Comics’ Red Skull, Captain America’s arch-nemesis. Not surprisingly, the superhero elements that made up a large portion of the story were all but completely removed from the film adaptation.

The story of Wanted is as follows: Ordinary beta-male twentysomething Wesley Gibson works long hours at a job he hates, while his barely tolerable girlfriend cheats on him with his best friend. His mother died not long ago, and he never knew his father. Suddenly Wesley is kidnapped by The Fox (think Halle Berry’s Catwoman meets Jada Pinkett-Smith’s character from The Matrix) and welcomed into The Fraternity, a secret society of the most evil supervillains ever to walk the earth. It turns out that Wesley’s father was one of the greatest among them, and with his help they killed all the world’s heroes in 1986 and have been running the world ever since. Wesley discovers that he has inherited his father’s superhuman ability to kill just about anything, and is such a precise shot that he can shoot the wings off flies (without touching the flies themselves) from across the room. The Fox and several other villains “rehabilitate” Wesley, turning him from corporate drone to hedonistic killing machine.*

The next paragraph contains SPOILERS! Skip ahead if you don’t want to know!

Wesley then lives out every revenge scenario an eleven-year-old could possibly imagine: He kills everyone who has ever so much as looked at him funny, cuts his best friend’s head off and stuffs both it and the body in his apartment’s dumpster, dumps his girlfriend (and informs her that her boy-toy is now headless in the alley) and murders an entire precint building’s worth of police officers on a whim. Since the villains rule the world, there is no need to think about the consequences of his actions. He almost feels a twinge of guilt when the one police officer begs to be spared for her kids’ sake, but this passes quickly. He battles a rival gang of super-villains for control of America, chief among them the man who supposedly killed his father. But wait! It turns out that Wesley’s dad is alive and well, and faked his own death so that his son could get to live the life he’s been leading all these years. Finally, The original Killer asks his son to put a bullet in his brain, and Wesley obliges. Wes and Fox ride their helicopter into the sunset, completely guilt-free and intent on making everyone else’s lives miserable for the sake of their own enjoyment.

I’d like to talk about the last two pages, but don’t worry. There’s nothing here to reveal the plot. Wesley provides some narration that sums up the entire theme of the book, and presmuably Millar’s reason for writing it:

There, happy now? Pleased to see the mystery resolved? … God, you’re such an asshole, and I speak from experience. It only seems like yesterday I was at your level on the Pathetic-o-meter. Why should you give a shit how my life works out? You’re killing yourself working twelve-hour days, getting fat on cheap take-out food, and your girlfriend is almost certainly fucking other guys. Just because you’ve got a plasma screen TV and a big DVD collection doesn’t mean you’re a free man, motherfucker. You’re just a well-paid slave like all the other cattle out there. Even this comic was just a fifteen-minute respite from how hard we’re working you. You used to think the world was always like this, didn’t you? The wars, the famine, the terrorism, the rigged elections. But now you know better, right? Now you know what happened to the heroes. And you know the funny thing? You know what makes me laugh now that I’m on the other side? You’re just going to close this book and buy something else to fill that big, empty void we’ve created in your life.

Is that you, Slim Shady?

Is that you, Slim Shady?

This is my face while I’m fucking you in the ass.”

Get it? He’s pointing out that you, the reader, are an incompetent and impotent waste of life. The only good people in the world are the bad ones, and anyone who tells you otherwise is just jealous of the fact that they’re not the ones screwing everybody else over so they can live like a fat cat. Naturally, this bizarro logic is my biggest problem with the book. Not the fact that evil wins, because in much of life it does, but that the realization of our ultimate dreams would be to dress in black leather and shoot anyone who looks at us funny, then go sleep on top of a pile of money with seven scandinavian supermodels. I don’t know about you, reader, but I would get bored of life pretty quickly if that was the highest plateau of civilization. But I suppose this has always been the problem with supervillainy: What do you do when you finally win? Is ruling the world really what you wanted to do, or was it the thrill of the chase and the hero/villain struggle? Take, for example, a villain like Lex Luthor. Lex would never fit into the world of Wanted, because he’s not a petty crook. He wants to rule the world because he believes he’s the right man for the job. If he ever did get rid of Superman, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his version of the world look more like Brave New World than 1984. He has no interest in making people miserable, as long as they live according to his plans. He’s ambitious, which is one thing I cannot say for the villains in Wanted. They may have all the power in the world, but they’re phenomenally boring about exercising it! Where are all the mad scientists who seek to unlock the mysteries of the universe by any means necessary? Where are the megalomaniacs who would unite the world under one banner and have unity (through tyranny) across the planet? Heck, even Hitler wouldn’t sit around and kill cops for fun if he had the world in a vise-grip. He’d expand to the stars and we’d have Nazis in space!

Despite my misgivings, there is a lot to like about Wanted. The notion of an inverted hero’s journey (a villain’s journey, if you will) is novel, and there certainly aren’t many stories of this type in the fiction landscape. If you’re sick of villains acting like anti-heroes instead of proper villains, this is the book for you. If you just want to root for the bad guy and enjoy the fun of turning a genre completely on its head, this book has plenty of charm. Also, J.G. Jones does a fantastic job of making the world of Wanted feel like a comic about supervillains in the real world: It alternates between gritty realism and fantastic over-the-top splashes of action and color. His paintings (most notably the cover) rival Alex Ross for their iconic quality.

I guess the point I’m trying to make about the story is that Wanted is like Fight Club with superheroes, plus a dash of Pinocchio, but seriously lacking in imagination. The Fraternity of Supervillains are the boys on the island, turning into jackasses because all they do is smoke and drink and carouse. Once Wesley abandoned every principle he once held in favor of reckless pursuit of anything that would give him an adrenaline hard-on, I lost all ability to identify with the character. It all just felt like an adolescent revenge fantasy disguised as a ground-breaking new type of storytelling. Then again, if I were giving this review in his world, he’d shoot me repeatedly in the crotch after raping my girlfriend in front of me and setting my dog on fire.


One Response

  1. […] read: 2008) – Even I didn’t expect this book to end up on the list, especially considering my history with it. But the more I considered the intent of this exercise, the more I was forced to confront the fact […]

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