Today, Ryan M. and Michael are discussing Huck 5, originally released March 16, 2016.
Ryan M.: One of those maxims that you hear all the time in writing classes is that conflict reveals character. Until a character is tested, you really can’t know who they are. It’s in times of turmoil that people show what they value and what they’re willing to sacrifice. By the same token, the unchallenged winner is under no obligation to show their cards. It’s easy to be invulnerable in victory. Unfortunately, lack of emotional openness does not inspire engagement.
In Huck 5, Huck and his mother spend the issue locked in the same glass cell where Anna spent her captivity. Professor Orlov is given the opportunity to gloat with his prisoners and then later with the politicians that dared to threaten his funding. He also reveals his two robot henchmen and leaves XV (formerly known as Tom) to watch over Huck. Huck ultimately works with his mother and breaks down an unbreakable wall with the sheer force of his determination, with a strong assist from his fists.
In Huck’s mind, things are pretty simple. You should be kind to others and help them when you can. It’s an endearing attitude and one that is easy to root for. Of course, anyone who wants to hurt Huck will be less than good, but I need more than that to combat my antagonist apathy. Professor Orlov and his minions are so blankly evil that their scenes drag. Since Huck is trapped, most of the action of the issue is led by Orlov, and his fairly generic evil bad guy behavior doesn’t encourage reader connection.
There is something disappointing about the reveal that Tom, Huck’s “brother” is a robot. It begs questions that I’m not sure writer Mark Millar is interested in answering. For example, why would Professor Orlov choose to model his AIs after extras from the Dukes of Hazard?
The pigtails and plaid shirt tied at XVI’s midriff are costume-like and feel out of place, especially for a robot spy. The character designs for XV and XVI read like parodies of the backwoods of the American South. The campiness of the robots doesn’t play into Rafael Alberqueque’s usual moody aesthetic. His use of shadow and almost a watercolor effect to his coloring adds depth to a character like Orlov, but in the first panel above, XVI looks like a pouty doll. Perhaps her character will get more shading in the future, but this issue offers little to know about her beyond the shape of her boob tattoo.
Within the story, the style of these characters makes for a strange choice for Professor Orlov, whose behavior shows a distaste for anything plebeian. Also, it feels a little silly to have designed your spies to infiltrate America in such an obvious way. Maybe it’s for the scenario in which Huck is a sucker for a pair of Daisy Dukes? As it stands, it’s a pretty disappointing.
Things don’t get much clearer when is comes to XV. There are clear physical resemblances between XV and Huck that the AI explanation doesn’t really begin to address. There is also XV’s speech about his indifference to death. According to XV, he was only built to track Huck. So, Orlov’s plan for finding Huck was to crate a bunch of Dukes of Hazard knock offs to hang out in bars and watch TV news? There is a timeless element to the series, but modern technology would seem to make this kind of espionage ineffectual or a waste of time.
XV’s rejection of Huck’s offer of help is another moment that fails to engage me emotionally. So, the big lug of an AI doesn’t care whether he lives or dies. Okay, but what does he care about? The issue fails to show us what makes him tick. It’s understandable that previous issues couldn’t offer any insight since XV was still undercover. But now that his allegiance is revealed, we still don’t get past his loose “good ol’ boy” attitude. He does react to Huck’s escape, but it’s not clear whether anything matters to a guy who thinks of himself as equivalent to a toaster.
Michael, what did you think? Am I being too hard on the villains in this issue? I didn’t delve too deeply into the interplay between Huck and his mother. Did you find their first real on-page interactions satisfying? Also, is it weird to call a woman you just met “Mom” or is that what you do when your mother only left you behind because she was on the run from Soviet scientists?
Michael: I think in most long lost mother/son type stories calling Anna “Mom” might seem silly and forced, but not in Huck. The reason I don’t bat an eye at Huck calling her “Mom” is the same reason that Huck is such a likable hero: his uncompromising sincerity. Huck is a Superman story by another name, where Mark Millar proves that heroes don’t have to be flawed and compromised but instead be decent people. I can’t not read Huck as Millar’s Superman story.
Ryan I agree with you that the villains of Huck 5 are pretty cliched, but I’d argue that it might be intentional on Millar’s part. Millar’s work has never been averse to crafting parody caricatures of both the fictional and real variety. I think the “Dukes of Hazard robots” are a part of that parody — specifically the dumb redneck stereotype that is accurate for a decent percentage of America. Rafael Albuquerque’s design of Professor Orlov is very “mad scientist” in nature. When I look at Orlov however, I see two very specific mad scientists: Batman’s Hugo Strange and Weapon X’s “The Professor” — both of whom were equipped with the windowless, soulless glasses that Orlov has.
Continuing with the Superman narrative (as I will do until this series ends), Orlov and his unrefined villainous ilk are the corporate machine of Huck: Millar’s DC Comics — more specifically modern DC Comics. For my money, Orlov is to DC as Anna is to Siegel & Schuster. Years after her harrowing escape Anna finds herself once again captured by Orlov, with the life she created at his mercy. DC’s poor treatment of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster is comic book history at this point, but Millar literalizes this by having Orlov imprison Anna. He tells her that her son is going to become everything he wants him to be — a slave to the machine. But the beautiful thing is that Huck is unflinching, uncompromising in his decency.
The “Superman decency” of it all also forgives any leaps of superhero logic that Huck 5 makes, for me. As “Tom” so expositorily establishes: Anna’s power is to compel people to believe/do things while Huck’s power is to find things. Physical odds be damned, Huck realizes that he can break out of his prison if his mother makes him truly believe he can. That’s a great little bit of “I think I can” enabled by parental encouragement that I’m absolutely ok with.
Huck’s interaction with his mother Anna is just as idyllic, which is why it works. After years of wondering, Huck finally gets the approval from the mother that he’s so desperately needed. How many of us have searched for that completely genuine affirmation from a mother or father? It’s a great symbol of belief that lets us know that we can actually achieve the what we set our minds to.
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