‘Huck’ Vol. 1 Review: A superhero we can finally look up to

The tale of an unassuming hero from a podunk town, Huck serves as a much needed reminder that the greatest power one can possess is empathy.

The modern depiction of superheroes is one of non-stop violence and galaxy-wide conflicts. Far too often, the superhero stories of today traffic in the theme of moral ambiguity where the threats its villains bring to the world are so great that the do-gooders often concede their moral superiority in order to win.

Whether it’s the revelation that Captain America is a Hydra Agent or Superman snapping the neck of General Zod in Zack Snyder’s 2013 film Man of Steel, it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate the heroes from their villains.

It makes you nostalgic for the days when a comic book hero saved cats from trees, walked old ladies across the street and returned stolen purses.

Whatever happened to truth, justice and the American way?

Enter Huck.

Created by writer Mark Millar and artist Rafael Albuquerue’s, Huck is a much needed reminder of what truly makes a superhero “super.”

(Warning: Some spoilers below)

With broad shoulders, a strong jawline and one small curl of bangs swooped over his forehead, the series’ eponymous hero is clearly an homage to Superman. Just like the Son of Krypton, Huck was orphaned as an infant and raised in a small rural town in the U.S.. However, Huck has no spandex costume to hide behind. He never left his home town to pursue a college degree like Clark Kent. Instead, Huck works as a gas station attendant and, on his off hours, is determined to commit a daily act of good. The beneficiaries of Huck’s altruistic acts are the townspeople who have helped raise him into the quiet and respectful young man that he is.

Whether taking the trash out for the entire town, helping old John Clancy clean out his barn or diving deep into the ocean to find a lost gold chain, Huck’s most impressive superpower is his civic-mindedness and empathy for others.

This is not to say Huck is without the sort of powers one would expect from a superhero comic book. Accompanying his super strength, speed, durability and stamina, Huck has the ability to track down anything or anyone.

What is so refreshing about Huck is how uncomplicated of a hero he is. His acts of heroism are not meant to fill some spiritual void left in him by the death of his parents like Batman. Nor is he motivated to be a hero because he once failed to understand the responsibility of his gifts like Spiderman.

“Huck just likes making people happy,” says Mrs. Taylor, an elderly woman who lives in town.

It was inevitable that one day the horrors of the 21st century would make their way onto Huck’s radar. In a ripped-from-today’s-headlines sequence, Huck sees a television news report about Nigeria’s militant Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapping over 200 hundred schoolgirls. Without a moment’s hesitation, Huck is seen on the next flight to Africa.

While some could object to the injection of a tragic real life event in Huck, writer Mark Millar wisely understands the wish-fulfillment factor inherent in superhero stories. How often, when being bombarded with stories of natural disasters, terrorism, war, famine and pollution, do we wish someone or something who wields great power could intervene and end the suffering once and for all?

Huck of course saves the day. In return for saving them, Huck asks the Nigerian schoolgirls just one favor – don’t tell anyone it was him who saved them.

No good deed goes unpunished, however. The world is captivated by the mysterious figure who rescued the schoolgirls and Diane, a woman who recently discovered the truth about Huck from Mrs. Taylor, sees dollar signs in informing the media know about her town’s best kept secret.

Huck does a tremendous job in subverting its readers’ expectations of which direction the story’s twists will take it. When the media shows up outside Huck’s house – a moment beautifully captured by artist Rafael Albuquerue – we know the character will be caught up in a whirlwind of attention and fame. Though we expect his simple-minded disposition will be taken advantage of by a sensationalist news reporter or greedy politician – a mayor tries but is unsuccessful – Millar understands that Huck is cut from a very different cloth than the modern superheroes we are familiar with.

Huck is the personification of altruism. He is as incorruptible as he is indestructible.

This is not to say Huck’s gullibility can’t get him into trouble. With the whole world knowing about him and his powers, the character’s elusive and mysterious past catches up to him as a man claiming to be his long lost brother finds our hero and tells him their mother – Anna – is alive. Desperately wanting to meet his mother and to understand his past, Huck is led straight into the arms of those who have the power to harm him.

Throughout the series, flashbacks are given to provide Anna’s backstory. Pregnant with Huck while living in the Soviet Union, Anna was on the run from the nefarious scientist Professor Orlov and Russian soldiers. Gifted with the ability to make those she touches do what she says, Anna and her unborn child Huck were seen as the perfect weapons for the Soviet Union to win the Cold War with.

As Huck reaches its third act, the superhero story inevitably sees its protagonist settle his conflict with punches. The fight against Orlov and his forces feels high-stakes though. Millar and Albuquerque have carefully crafted a hero worth caring about. After all, who else has the power – and more importantly the want – to literally make the world a better place? 

Creating some of the most commercially successful superhero properties that are awash in various shades of moral gray – Marvel’s original Civil War miniseries, The Ultimates and Kick Ass – Millar’s take on a hero with a heart of gold is a pleasant and welcomed surprise from the writer.

Finely walking a sentimental tightrope without ever falling into schmaltz, Millar’s script is wisely constructed. Unlike the aforementioned Man of Steel by director Zack Snyder, Millar never puts his hero into a position where he has to abandon his values in order to save the day.

The artwork by Albuquerque is flawless and contains several iconic panels. There’s a slight Normal Rockwell quality to his work which helps to capture the old fashioned American charm of Huck’s rural hometown. Whether drawing quiet moments like Huck writing out a list of potential good deeds to perform, or a violent brawl between the hero and a cyborg, Albuquerque’s art is always charming and kinetic. Coupled with David McCaig’s coloring, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better looking comic book around.

Huck is a highly recommended read for those who have grown tired of the bleak depiction of superheroes. You won’t find this hero brooding in a cave on his off-time. He won’t be sparring with teammates while waiting for the next cataclysmic battle to occur.

No. Not at all.

Huck understands time is precious and that there are many good deeds to perform.

Now that’s a superhero to look up to.

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