What I’m about to say is not intended to be a backhanded compliment: Mark Millar is very good at creating concepts. All of his Millarworld series are based on rock solid elevator pitches, ideas that sing to the creative mind and make you want to sit down and read. It’s no wonder that almost all of his work is optioned by Hollywood and so much of it actually reaches production. Millar is solid ideas guy. His execution is lacking though. Huck #1 is a perfect example of both the strengths and weaknesses of Millar as a writer. It’s a great pitch that suffers tremendously in scripting, only to have a stellar artist make even its most obvious flaws look pretty okay.
Rather than start by looking at Millar’s good ideas gone awry, let’s examine Rafael Albuquerque’s (the aforementioned stellar artist) contribution. Albuquerque has revealed his unique style to be a true Swiss army knife of genre comics in the past few years. From the time traveling Ei8ht to the horrific American Vampire and now to the quaint heroics of Huck, he hits the spot everytime. This can largely be contributed to the care he places into his characters, both in design and acting. There is a certain loving touch to be found in both the leads and supporting casts of each of these comics that allows them to truly come to life. In Huck Albuquerque summons his protagonist with a mighty chin and barrel chest, a figure comparable to Frank Quitely’s Superman. Then from little old ladies to mischievous journalists he crafts a small town that will both support and challenge this instantly loveable lad.
What is truly striking about Albuquerque’s work in Huck #1 is the graceful momentum and power he brings to sequences. When Huck surfs the highway at the start of the issue there is a clear sense of motion, pulled from glowing tail lights and slick, whispering winds that reflects the silent power of interstate driving. Each scene that features speed or the power of a punch contains this sort of subtle depiction of force. They vary from one another, but the physics on display are never in doubt. Albuquerque’s work matches the tone of the comic exceedingly well as it manages to both capture the power of the scenes, while emphasizing the gentle nature of the story.
Albuquerque’s excellent execution makes Millar’s mess of a script all the more disappointing. Taken in individual scenes, there is charm aplenty to be found in Huck #1, but as a whole it hardly coheres and breaks the rules it establishes with regularity. Any attempt to apply internal logic to Huck will be ultimately futile. It is founded on the concept of keeping the superpowered Huck’s existence a secret, but an unintroduced stranger in town is told about his existence with almost no cause. Huck’s big mission in the issue certainly feels heroic, but breaks from the presentation of the character. He leaps from charming local feats to an international exploit that begs the question whether he has ever seen a television before. Each scene functions in a vacuum, but when combined they create a mess of a story.
There is also the problem of Huck himself. Millar’s presentation of a mentally handicapped, superpowered character is not overtly offensive (a near miracle considering some of his past comics), but that is also because he avoids even making Huck a character. Huck is unambiguously nice, driven by the singular trait of doing one good deed per day. All of his characterization is actually discovered in Albuquerque’s art, providing him with a sense of mischievousness and thoughtfulness. But without these facial expressions, he is a cardboard Superman. That lack of humanization speaks to a fearfulness in addressing the mentally disabled as characters. Millar is not treating Huck as an actual person, but an archetype that may be placed beyond reproach.
Huck is centered on a very charming, potentially powerful idea. It’s an idea that surfaces in Albuquerque’s designs and storytelling, showing flashes of what could have been. Ultimately though, Millar’s script isn’t capable of bringing the ideas he has into a coherent story that will inspire or awe. Huck #1 is the sort of comic that may give you cause to think, but your thoughts will linger on how much better it should have been.