Or – “The Secret Of Jailbait Revealed!”
One of the more challenging concepts in Incorruptible for me has been the relationship between Max Damage and his partner-sidekick-paramour, the girl called jailbait. Before his change of heart, it’s pretty much spelled out that she and Max were involved in something approximating a relationship or at least that there was a sexual component to their partnership. Now that he’s on the path of the righteous man, Max is beset not just by the tyranny of evil men, but by the nudity of naughty 17-year-old girls. Their partnership is a strange and complex thing, to be sure. Now that one of his old pals has captured and maimed her, Max seems ready to go on the warpath, but what’s the real story behind Max’s teenage protegee?
Previously, on Incorruptible: Max Damage was the worst of the worst, sort of like Lex Luthor with invulnerability and Reed Richards’ haircut. At the height of the Plutonian’s heroic days, he was a dark mirror of the Apollonian hero. When Plutonian popped his cork, Max also experienced an epiphany, and has rededicated himself to heroism. Unfortunately, the world is a different place A.P. (after Plutonian) and the shattered remnants of American society aren’t firing on all cylinders yet. Teamed up with Lt. Armadale, pretty much the last cop in town, Max has been trying to do what Plutonian used to. Recently, after an argument, Jailbait ran off into the night, only to get captured by a villain called Deathgiver. DG wants Max to work for him, and has sent an incentive (one of Jailbait’s fingers) to convince Mr. Damage that he’s playing f’real. Add into the mix a woman named Annie whom Max forced to dress up as Jailbait, and things are pretty complicated overall…
This issue begins seconds after the last, with Max Damage still paralyzed by thougts of Jailbait, worries of her safety, and an unwillingness to waver from his new moral stance. When Armadale tries to convince him to hear the villain out, Max snarls, “NO deals, NO bargains!” Max gets pretty emo about it all, smashing windows in a rage until the Lieutenant convinces him that he has to go and tell Deathgiver that there is no deal… Cut to max racing through the streets and leaping into action in a straight-forward head-on attack, after telling Armadale that there’s no way that a straight-forward head-on attack would ever work, Deathgiver being such an awesome super-genius and all. “So predictable,” Deathgiver sneers, “I KNEW you’d come in this way.” Fighty fighty blam blam ensues, and M.D. wades right through his enemies’ defenses while Deathgiver taunts him about his nine-fingered partner. Regular artist Jean Diaz (indeed, the artist still listed in the solicits and on the website) isn’t on board here, leaving the art duties to Horacio Domingues. Horacio’s style isn’t bad, but it’s not as true-to-life as Diaz work, and is a bit more cartoony overall, which kind of undermines the drama a bit for me.
Deathgiver wants Max to help wipe out a gang of white supremacists, the Diamond Gang, who have taken up the Plutonian as their patron saint, believing his rampage to be racially motivated, but Max isn’t having it. He refuses to deal, driving Jailbait to utter panic and tears. Max continues his bluster, distracting the villain and his lackeys long enough for Armadale (how’d HE get in?) to free Jailbait. She panics and runs, but can’t escape as they’re on a boat and she can’t swim. A tearful Jailbait contemplates suicide as Lieutenant Armadale tries to talk her down in a very effective sequence where we realize that she’s just a kid after all, a girl in her mid-teens whose life has been completely destroyed not by Max’s villainy, but by Max’s heroism. She nearly falls, he nearly saves her, and she tells him that her name is Terri. Armadale tries to connect with her, asking if she had a dog growing up, and she remembers that her dady gave her dog away and lets go, prepared to go Gwen Stacy once and for all. At the last second, Max busts out of the ship, grabs her in her fall (how is landing in invulnerable steel-hard arms less painful than landing in the water?) and leaps to safety. Max sends Armadale to take her to the hospital, and asks where to find the Diamond Gang… Cut to the aforementioned gang running out of burning house, revealed to be the home of Annie from last issue. She rushes in to find her family fatally shot in the burning home as we fade to black.
Most of my problems with this issue come with the art. Domingues turns in a good job, but the work is at odds with the tone of the story, telling a dark and complex tale of abused teen girl in a horrible situation drawn in a very traditional comic book style. Mark Waid’s writing, as always, goes to very unexpected and emotional places, but Max Damage spends an awful lot of time ruminating and being angry in this issue before deciding to act in the way that all of us knew that he had to. The elephant in the room has finally been addressed (“What is this poor young girl doing sleeping with the world’s nastiest super-villain, anyway?”) in a meaningful way, but I’m starting to suspect that we’re setting up Annie as a longer-term replacement for Max’s partner. I’m still a tiny bit skeeved out (as I believe we’re meant to be) by Jailbait’s implied life story, but oddly would have liked to get more into her head during the climactic sequence. Incorruptible has been an odd ride so far, entertaining with characters you can invest yourself in, but Max’s absolutism in the face of Jailbait’s death makes him seem a little bit cold this issue, and combining that distance with the dissonance regarding the art gets us an issue that I mostly like, but still have problems with. All in all, Incorruptible #6 isn’t as good as previous, but is still readable and etnertaining, earning 2.5 out of 5 stars overall.
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: This issue suddenly and violently reminded me that one of the main characters is just a little girl after all. When was the last time a comic gave you that sudden epiphany, and what did it?