Incognegro: Renaissance #5
Mat Johnson (Writer), Warren Pleece (Artist), Clem Robins (Letters)
Dark Horse Comics Inc.
4 July, 2018
Published on the 10th anniversary of Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s award-winning Incognegro, the new limited 5-issue series, Incognegro: Renaissance, has come to its conclusion. Set in the 1920s, Renaissance acts as a prequel detailing protagonist Zane Pinchback’s first steps into becoming the much-lauded reporter known as Incognegro.
Throughout Renaissance, cub reporter Pinchback has been on a mission—to find the person(s) behind the murder of Harlem writer Xavier Mignon at a mixed-race book launch party. Alongside Pinchback is the beautiful actress Bette Mignon, who is determined to get justice for her beloved cousin. Bette feels partly responsible for Xavier’s death, as she had invited him to the party that would lead to his ultimate demise.
Their mission has not been an easy one. Pinchback and Bette are the only ones who believe that Xavier was murdered. Pinchback’s job as a reporter has opened up some doors for him but he has only recently learned how to use his ability to pass as a white man to get to the truth. Additionally, Bette has her reputation to protect—she is a white-passing woman of colour set to make waves on Broadway. If her secret comes out, her career could well be over. Between them, they have only Xavier’s manuscript as their sole clue to his murder and a determination to see justice served.
This series seemed to be headed towards a grandiose ending but what we get is actually a bit … safe. Everything is wrapped up a little too neatly. The suspense that has been so painfully wrought over the last four issues fizzles out. The characters, particularly Pinchback, sail through the hurdles presented to them with an ease that is disingenuous to the reader.
The only real point of suspense comes three pages in when Bette is handed a note threatening to reveal her race if she doesn’t hand over Xavier’s manuscript. She has been invited to a restaurant where people of colour are not allowed; the killer is trying to isolate her from people who know her secret and want to protect her. But the killer hasn’t counted on Pinchback.
To ensure that Pinchback can be the perfect backup for Bette, she disguises him as someone nobody would pay attention to. Thus, Pinchback manages to occupy the same space where Bette is meeting the killer while still being unobtrusive. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but wonder how precisely Bette thought this plan would work. Pinchback has had no theatrical training and is still inexperienced at passing as a white man; he is yet to become the hardened reporter covering lynchings that we encountered in the original Incognegro. Despite Bette and Pinchback’s close relationship, she is putting a great deal of faith in the acting skills of a man who seemingly has none. I know it sounds like nitpicking, but it was one of those moments that felt completely out of place, something that hasn’t happened while reading this series.
The actual wrapping up of the plot is predictable. The identity of the killer had been hinted at, if not his method, in earlier issues and I was really hoping for the story to throw us a googly. The motivation for Xavier’s murder is surprisingly simplistic; it almost feels like an afterthought on the writer’s part. This is unfortunate, because the story was building up to be so much more.
I think my expectations for this series got the better of me. There are a lot of positives to take away. I love that Bette gets a much larger role in this issue. Pinchback is meant to be our hero, but Bette shows true courage here, which is refreshing considering the lack of female characters in the original graphic novel. This series has shown a marked improvement on the original with its inclusivity. Having Bette do the heavy-lifting was a particularly enjoyable reading experience but also made sense textually—after all, Xavier was her cousin and confidante, whereas he was simply a mystery for Pinchback. It is good to see Bette play a significant role in taking down her cousin’s killer.
For me, the most powerful pages were those involving Arna Van Horn, the author who Pinchback and Bette are convinced stole Xavier’s writing. Not only does Van Horn’s snivelling, desperate attempts to regain the narrative show him up as a fraud, but it also makes a strong statement about white communities profiting off art created by people of colour.
In a year when the origins of #MeToo, one of the most powerful social media movements of the decade, has been hotly debated for its initial exclusion of women of colour, particularly Tarana Burke, the woman of colour who created the hashtag in the first place, Resistance makes apt points about the ease with which people of colour’s creations are ignored till they can be co-opted by white people for a cause of their own.
Which brings me back to the denouement of the story. As I’ve said, I found it too easily concluded but, I have to acknowledge that an overwrought and depressing ending, like the one we had in the original graphic novel, might have been just too painful a read in 2018. There is so much racial tension and violence in the US right now that a tragic finale would have been almost too much to bear. At a time like this, we need good things and we need happy endings. No matter how quickly this issue was wrapped up, the fact that Xavier died in the first issue does not change. But at least he gets justice, more than can be said about the real-life Xaviers in the US whose families may never see justice done.
So, yes, even though I wanted a suspense-filled, exciting finale, Renaissance gave us the ending we deserved in a time when the darkness surrounding our reality seems to have no end. For all the Xaviers out there, we hope you get your Renaissance ending.