Mark Millar is the master of reinvention. After reinventing Earth mightiest heroes The Avengers into America’s mightiest military branch in The Ultimates, he went on to give the world his own version of the Justice League (Jupiter’s Legacy), James Bond (The Secret Service), Flash Gordon (Starlight), Doc Brown and Marty (Chrononauts), and too many other to enumerate all here. One of the best of these has been Superior, his reinvention of Superman (with element of Shazam thrown in for good measure). Like Millar’s Red Son (which reinvented Superman as a socialist Soviet stooge), it is one of the defining Superman stories of the past fifteen years.
Huck sees Millar return to that familiar archetype. Whereas part of the hook in Superior was that the protagonist was physically handicapped, Huck is heavily implied to be mentally handicapped. Though his low intellect is never explicitly stated in this first issue, the simplicity of his lifestyle and the simplicity of his moral framework are employed as a shorthand for an overall mental simplicity. While such humility and helpfulness might sound indistinguishable from the mild-mannered but otherwise genius farmboy from Smallville, the Forrest Gump vibe, as ephemerally as it’s presented, is definitely Millar’s intention.
Despite pulling from the same well for both characters, after only a single issue Huck could hardly be further from Superior, despite both having the mind of a child in the body of a demigod. Superior was flashy and explosive, befitting its big city setting, and eventually proved to be about cosmic forces bestowing simultaneously the ultimate blessing and temptation in a grand battle for a single soul. It’s hard to imagine Huck moving in such a direction. Named for Twain’s orphan bumpkin, Huck (also an orphan like his namesake and Kal-El) seems less to do with the eternal battle between good and evil and more so with the ordinary good and evil we all see everyday.
Towards this end, Huck uses his great powers not to save the world but to help a friend remove a stubborn stump and take out his neighbors’ trash. Yes, he also liberates several hundred enslaved schoolgirls from militants in Africa, but this too sadly reflects the book’s roots in reality. And by the issue’s end he’s confronted by exploitation of another kind, albeit one closer to home.
Between the Rockwellian setting and the naif protagonist, Huck has a bit less for readers to identify with than the more urbane Superior. Moreover, Millar’s choice to conflate his intellectual inferiority with his moral superiority could come across as somewhat cynical. There is never any doubt that the reader is intended to find inspiration in the moral certainty and fortitude of Clark Kent; such is probably Millar’s intent for Huck as well, but he risks depicting Huck’s inherent goodness as a product of his handicap, a trade-off mutually exclusive with a higher intelligence quotient.
I am not particularly enamored by Albuquerque’s art, though I can absolutely respect his ability as a story-teller. The first several pages contain no dialogue or narration whatsoever, yet there in never a question as to what’s happening. Alburquerque is certainly minimalist, but he never goes below that minimum, always depicting just enough to convey clearly the atmosphere of the surroundings or the emotion of the characters.
Given Millar’s pedigree, I was certainly expecting more of Huck. But also being familiar with his bibliography, I’m aware that most of his #1 issues start the story off slow, only building steam and truly ramping up as the series progresses. If not for that fact it’s unlikely I’d give Huck #2 a try, but Millar has built up at least that much good will by now.