Taran Killam, Marc Andreyko, Kevin Sharpe
I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath for my thoughts on The Illegitimates, a miniseries conceived by Taran Killam (of Saturday Night Live fame) and Marc Andreyko (of Batwoman fame), and drawn by Kevin Sharpe (of Army of Darkness fame). I have to say, I sort of lost interest in it after Issue #3. Not because it isn’t a fine spy comic, because it is. But that’s all it really is: fine.
The Illegitimates is the story of a spy agency in trouble. Olympus’ best man, Jack Steele, has just been murdered by his arch nemesis, Marcus Dannikor—a maniac with world domination plans. And that maniac has access and the ability to control the minds of the world’s leaders. So Olympus turns to the only people who have a chance to stop Dannikor: the children Steele sired on his many missions over the decades.
So, it turns out that this whole thing was orchestrated by a jilted lover of Jack Steele, jealous that her love for the secret agent was never enough for him. Worse, Miss Heatherpence was encouraged to terminate her pregnancy with Steele’s child because, supposedly, any child he had would be a potential target to his many enemies. When Heatherpence learned that he had fathered several children and that Olympus had been protecting and training them since birth, she was understandably upset.
Heatherpence then poisons Steele just enough that he’s off his game when he has the final showdown with Dannikor in the pages of Issue #1. Her actions set the events into motion that lead to the gathering of her late lover’s children. They convene to battle the man who she allowed to unleash his mad scheme of global domination upon the world’s leaders. And then, because we’re on the train to Crazy Town, she decides that bringing along all the mothers of those illegitimate children to be killed in outer space is just good company. It was laid on a little thick, really.
It sort of nullified the villainy of Dannikor, who was thought to be this mastermind who used his genius to dispatch his enemy even as he used mind control to reduce the leaders of the world to mindless barbarians. It also robbed him of his final battle with Jack Steele. Sure, he got to witness the man’s head explode rather gruesomely, but it had nothing to do with Dannikor’s own ingenuity. He simply was in the right place at the right time. It doesn’t really matter what his grand scheme is or how close he got to accomplishing it before the Illegitimates stepped in, Miss Heatherpence’s jealous rage stole any thunder he might have had.
And it was such a wonderfully overzealous scheme, too. Dannikor had developed some pretty incredible mind control technology, a successful test that earned him 320 million Euros that were simply removed from the bank by mind-controlled citizens and given to him. I mean, yeah, his next test blows a few heads off, but he figures it all out by the last issue, just in time for Steele’s offspring to swoop in and save the day. The whole thing just screams for an arch nemesis to thwart his every move. Instead, he just gets the barely competent (despite all the secret training) Illegitimates to finish him off. He’s kind of a laughable villain (funny sad, not funny ha-ha, as a writer like Killam might have been able to pull off had he not went with the crazy ex-lover plot instead), but I’d hoped for better.
The actual Illegitimates are pretty standard characters. You have the tough-as-nails solo type (Saalinge), the Asian getaway driver (Kiken), the brilliant and beautiful secretary type (Charlie), the sharpshooting redneck (Vin), and the handsome but not too bright mama’s boy (Leandros). Vin and Kiken don’t get along at first, Saalinge is always “better off alone,” and all three guys try to prove that they’re too tough to be swept up by Olympus only to come running back when their mothers are kidnapped. (Even the one who doesn’t get along with his mother because she’s involved with the Yakuza.) All pretty standard, predictable fare—especially within this genre. They even have a big build-up as to who the traitor amongst them might be, another staple for secretive team books like this one; obviously the woman they had to break out of prison in order to recruit her is the prime suspect. Boy, are they all surprised at how it actually turns out.
Out of the whole bunch, Saalinge is the only one who gets any kind of character treatment and it’s primarily through word of mouth. We see her kick butt, but mostly she gets assisted a lot by Leandros. I think we’re supposed to feel moved by her learning to trust someone else instead of always “going it alone,” but even that story has been done to death. I would have hoped that a comedian’s perspective on a spy comic would approach it in a new way, but I didn’t find much of the story very engaging. If you’ve seen a lot of James Bond movies, like I have, you’ve seen most of this before.
Maybe I’m not being fair. This is Killam’s first venture into comics, and maybe the familiarity of the story felt safe to him. After all, I did say earlier that this was a fine spy comic. It had everything one would expect from it. Anyone who picks it up can say, “yep, that’s a spy comic.” But that person would also probably forget it soon after. However, he did have Marc Andreyko on the project with him, so I’d have hoped for some kind of push toward originality. But considering that Andreyko has taken Batwoman, a title that I’d previously loved every inch of, and turned it into something that sits in my pile of comics for close to a week before I actually read it, I may have got into this series with stars in my eyes hoping for something amazing and finding something that was simply fine.
Kevin Sharpe’s art is great. It’s exciting and bold throughout, which matches the tone of the comic nicely. If anything, it’s almost neutralized by the story. I’d have liked to see some variety beyond the exotic locales and the shocked/angry expressions of the cast. I think, like music, comics with range make for a more dynamic experience. There was little downtime for characterization beyond reacting to every new development. It was, like everything about The Illegitimates, fine, but could stand just a little more creativity.