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Review: Breakneck #1

| March 3, 2011 | 1 Comment

It’s a shame that superheroes are so intrinsically linked with the creative output of Marvel and DC that great indy output within the genre can often be overlooked.  Under the shadow of the Batmans and Spider-Mans of the world, some believe there’s not really anything new to say.  I’d disagree, and would suggest that the superhero genre remains a fruitful – perhaps evergreen – source of inspiration for comics creators, its rich history offering a variety of approaches and interpretations, and a broad range of stories.

A fine recent example of this comes in the shape of Breakneck, an intriguing curio from writer Mark Bertolini and artist James Boulton.  The first issue sets up a character study, introducing us into the world of cut-rate supervillain  Ethan Shade.  Bertolini does a commendable job of not only letting us  get to know Shade in concise and efficient fashion, but manages to make us like him, too.  The plot set-up is that the world’s costumed heroes got sick of all the villains, and so decided to massacre them all, forgetting about Ethan Shade because he was beneath their notice.  Seeking to retire, Shade plans one last bankjob, but it goes disastrously wrong, resulting in the death of one superhero and every other superhero coming gunning for him.  The success of this story hinges on us getting behind  Shade as an underdog, and through his narration and rotten luck, that aim is achieved.

The hook of this comic is to really put us into the mindset of a supervillain, and a crappy one at that.  We get a sense of deeply-rooted feelings of inadequacy carried around by Shade, with a notion that it’s what might drive someone like him into the villain game: an impressive metahuman ability combined with a lack of confidence to do any good with it.  Tragically, becoming a villain only added to his low self-worth, snubbed and belittled as he was by his Cult of Intelligence teammates.  Meanwhile, from Shade’s perspective, superheroes are this vaguely menacing, rarely-seen but seemingly omnipotent force hanging over his head like a storm cloud.  And I imagine that if we got a Batman story from the perspective of The Riddler, that’s how we might see the hero too.

James Boulton’s art is tricky, as it is both an asset and a flaw in the book.  The scratchy, abstract art gives Breakneck a look and feel unlike any other superhero comic out there.  As mentioned earlier, the book’s success depends on us getting inside Ethan Shade’s head, and I think the art does well in reflecting that – everything is a little off-kilter and skewed, coming at us in jagged flashes and invoking a kind of skittery paranoia.  On the first page we have a panel where Shade is running, and the buildings practically look like they’re chasing after him.

However, the downside is that there are sometimes issues with clarity.  I wasn’t immediately aware that the Ghostwalker had been killed until the narration said as much, for example.  And we don’t get a distinct sense of Ethan Shade’s look, either.  Though, of course, that could be an artistic decision: making him unidentifiable, the kind of figure that’s instantly forgettable and would be lost in a crowd.  Overall, though, I’d say the art is a plus, given how unique an aesthetic it gives the story.

One final note: when I initially read Breakneck #1 at, it was missing its final four pages, so I didn’t know exactly how the story ended (though I was later able to read those missing pages and get a sense of the whole story).  But and 215 Ink were able to resolve the problem, and now the full comic is available on the site.  This shows a benefit of digital comics – the ability to customise and fix any errors, and thus maintain a degree of control over your product even after it is made available for public consumption.

Breakneck #1 is an impressive debut, and sets the stage for a compelling story to unfold.  With Mark Bertolini’s witty, confident writing and James Boulton’s distinct, atmospheric  artwork, this is a comic that has more than enough to set it apart within the superhero crowd.


BreakNeck #1

Author – Mark Bertolini
Artist – James Boulton
Cover – James Boulton
Letterer – Matt Brown
Publisher – 215ink
Price: $3.99 print/ $1.99 digital

Synopsis– Ethan Shade was one of the most inept, third-string supervillains on Earth. But now he may be the last supervillain on Earth. During a month long war, the world’s superheroes banded together and wiped out the villains with the exception of Shade, who quickly went into hiding, fearing for his life. But he soon realized that no one was looking for him. No one was hunting him. No one seemed to know he even existed, and Shade was more than happy to let that continue.

He planned to take down one last bank, pick up a major score, and then leave the country. But the robbery doesn’t quite go as planned, and at the end, Shade had accidentally murdered a popular local superhero, and goes on the run, the target of the world’s largest manhunt.
Under the direction of the holographic version of his old mentor, the diabolical supervillain Doctor Winter, Shade tries to escape from the long arm of justice, but seeing as he’s pretty terrible atbeing a villain, things don’t go according to plan. As he races for his life, and accidentally compounds his crimes over and over again, Shade realizes that he’s at the centre of a web of deception orchestrated by the world’s smartest evil genius, and must try to turn things around for himself before it’s too late.


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