Sporting a cover image that is simple yet sure to grab attention on the shelves, Mark Millar and JG Jones' WANTED trade paperback had been on my "to buy" list for some time. I finally plopped down the cash for the book this week with high expectations, as Millar had accomplished the near-impossible several years ago by piquing my interest in the Authority, as well as producing some interesting work with DC's Superman: Red Son and Marvel's Ultimates. After reading WANTED, I have to say that, while the premise is quite fascinating, the story itself was yet another case of shock value substituting for good writing.
WANTED collects issues 1 - 6 of Millar and Jones' series, plus a great pin-up and sketch gallery. Let's get the basics out of the way first: Wesley Gibson is the ultimate loser - he has a dead-end job, a cheating girlfriend, and no backbone. This drudgery is interrupted when Wesley is surprised by the information that he has just inherited the legacy of his deceased deadbeat dad, the rapid-firing supervillain The Killer. He is even more surprised by this information because no one is aware that superhumans even exist! Over the following months, under the tutelage of arch-criminals Professor Solomon Seltzer and The Fox, Wesley learns of the shadowy history of superhumans on Earth and is transformed into a killing machine in the mold of his father, while slowly coming to the realization that things aren't quite what they seem to be. Rumor has it that Millar pitched this idea to DC Comics as a story of the son of either Deathstroke or Deadshot, and I can believe it, as almost every character contained within is an analogue of some DC character (with a few Marvels thrown in for good measure).
Jones' art is excellent - seriously: WOW! It couldn't be better. His skill with faces, physiques, action sequences, and layouts are all on good display here. My favorite aspect of the art, however, is the backgrounds, which often consist of glimpses of thinly-disguised DC and Marvel villains. It's much like the "spot-the-hero game" readers could play with Alan Moore and Gene Ha's Top Ten.
As for the story... it started out quite well; in fact, the first 2 issues really had my attention. But it quickly slides into a mess of blood, guts, cursing, sex, and general amoral behavior, and while this story IS indeed about super-villains, I don't feel that the gruesome details were necessary to make that point. In some ways, these elements undo a lot of what Millar was trying to accomplish by showing Wesley's growth from weakling into warrior. For example, you can have heroes, and you can have anti-heroes, and while villainy may not a noble profession, you can't help but root for Wesley to leave his dreary life behind and accept his destiny. But when the writer then dives so deeply into the nature of that character, to the point that the anti-hero is no longer just a victim of circumstance, but revealed to be a mass murderer, terrorist, thug, thief, elitist, and serial rapist (and what's more: just for the thrill of it), there's nothing left for me to root for. In fact, as I neared the end of the book, I was hoping that it would conclude with Wesley taking a bullet to the brain, as that's the only way I could see this story ending on a high note: you live by the sword, you die by the sword. As for the ending, by the time I reached the final chapter, I realized that Millar had pulled a fast one, where the events depicted in the beginning of the story were not quite as they appeared. While he did leave himself some leeway for this, he took great liberties with the introductory narrative, to where the ending was essentially a cheat, pure and simple. If that was the plan all along, then chapters 2 through 5 seem pretty unnecessary, upon reflection. In spite of all of this, I will give Millar a thumbs up for the way in which he blurs the line between fantasy and reality. The supervillain community has indeed pulled a fast one on the general public, and it's something that could conceivably be based in our own reality, depending on how much you trust in conspiracy theories.
In conclusion, if that rumor involving DC is true, I think they may have missed out on a good thing here. If this story would have been anchored in the DC Universe (even as an Elseworlds), with some tighter editorial control and toning down of the shock value, it might have been much better.