Wanted graphic novel review

Paul W. Smith reviews the book the film was based on ... and finds it a lot gorier than the movie version

Okay, own up! Who has always secretly wanted to be a supervillian? To have all that power to conquer worlds and teach those heroes a lesson or two? Certainly actors have always relished the idea of playing a Bond villain, or challenging the integrity or a webslinger of a caper crusader.

The premise of Mark Millar’s Wanted is simple enough: what if the bad guys all ganged up together against the good guys and wiped them all out once and for all? In this reality, the villainous Council of 5 achieved their goal in 1986 and took over rule of the five continents, their crimes unchallenged and the world becomews their playground for their murderous, lustful games. So enter our hero, Wesley Gibson, the traditional weak-willed, unconfident victimised youth in a deadend job and a passionless relationship. Someone who’s about to leave his world disembowelled, he’s the forgotten son of the ruthless killer, who was recently assassinated by enemies unknown. Having just surfaced as a movie, I wonder if either Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy had ever read the original tale since their celludoid adventutre has been scrubbed down with domestos to keep it more sanitised for the wider audience. This is no Tomb Raider meets Atonement, that’s for sure.

With help of his father’s former colleague and lover, the gun-toting Fox, he’s trained up to become a cold-blooded killer and take on the mighty criminal fraternity led by Australia’s head honcho, Mr Rictus. This is Mark Millar in the same sewer territory more associated with Garth Ennis. It’s an attempt to reverse the usual focus on heroes by choosing to have the bad guys centre stage. Whether he could be more subtle that is a matter of personal taste, but you know this is no kiddie fodder when you encounter villaims such as Shithead, who’s capable of making his body diarrhea-soft or constipation-hard, or a simple-minded strongman named Fuckwit. An inspired if somewhat perverse mirror of the clean-cut superhero world.

Wesley Gibson makes an engaging central figure who undergoes the 360 degree transformation. His internal dialogue reflects that where he passive acceptace of his unhappy existence at the start has been twisted, warped and transformed into the taunt-filled, foul-mouthed aggressor at the end. Not so much a celebration of heroic life – more like a dissection. JG Jones knows how to pace the action and populate a world with a believable environment turned into a battleground between the bad, the ugly and the abominable. Not surprising that both collaborators have recently been in status-changing comic events – Millar with Marvel’s Civil War and Jones with DC’s Final Crisis.

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With all the blood-soaked carnage, it’s no surprise that a movie would be just around the corner, albeit in a more sanitised form. Then again, it does claim to be just the inspiration for the movie. So despite the cover based on the poster design, don’t expect the book to be the film. The script explodes with wit and imagination and Wanted could indeed be on your most-wanted list. At the same time, knowing how much Millar still loves his superheroes, there’s a nagging feeling that this is more a cathartic exercise venting his own frustations of the conventions of the comic medium. It’s not exactly a revolution but it’s a 48-hour uprising that leaves your senses a little battered and bruised. (Though there won’t be any long-term damage.)