With the entire Before Watchmen controversy casting DC in a bad sort of light, and Alan Moore's grudge against his Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons for going along with it creating an uncomfortable feeling around the whole project, it's easy to forget that Gibbons is a really damn good artist. Seeing his particular style of uniquely realistic rendering brings to mind the weight he brought to Watchmen – something he can even bring to Mark Millar's typically irreverent kind of scripting, as seen in The Secret Service #1.
We open with Mark Hamill. The actual Mark Hamill. Luke Skywalker has been kidnapped by a band of terrorists who have apparently been kidnapping sci-fi icons for mysterious (and probably "humorous") reasons. Then a guy who looks somewhat like Archer from the British Secret Service tries to rescue him, looking pretty badass and competent until the snowmobile stunt off a cliff goes awry and ends in "hilarious" accidental tragedy. Right off the bat, it's one of those things that's just on the wrong side of the fine line between clever and "clever." It's mildly amusing in its unexpectedness, but it feels like we're building to a big joke that's not going to be all that funny. Your mileage may vary. Humor's subjective and all o' that.
However, once we get into the meat of the story – namely, into the family life of Jack London of the Fraud Office – we start to see the weight Gibbons' artwork and legacy bring to the table. Seems his sister Sharon is a bit of a deadbeat mom to his teenaged nephew Gary, living with an overbearing (and likely abusive) stepfather-figure, while enjoying making a toddler roll joints for him and his friends. Gary, naturally, is a delinquent wastrel malcontent, who gets caught stealing cars on drugs, leading Sharon to call Jack to use his pull to keep Gary from going to prison for it. Of course, the Fraud Office seems to be a cover for the Secret Service, and by the end of the issue, it looks like Uncle Jack's gonna recruit Gary into the fold to shape him up.
Millar may be a bit cloying and kind of obnoxious when it comes to attempting comedy, but when he digs into messed up characters in shitty situations, it feels all too real – and Gibbons' is just great at realism in art as well. It's in the eyes he draws, but when he needs a detailed expression on the face of a character like Sharon, who looks every bit the age she's supposed to be, he excels at creating those moments, too. His people are differently shaped, differently experienced, and he's one of those artists who makes us realize just how much we miss those simple, elegant basics in a lot of comic art today. The raw tonnage of screwed-up characters Gibbons rendered in Watchmen so memorably informs the screwed-up characters of The Secret Service, although this is very modern and definitely doesn't look exactly like the old stuff. But there's just enough of it invoked here to deliver the necessary emotional beats to truly flesh out Millar's story.
If you like Millar's brand of humor, you'll likely enjoy The Secret Service #1. If you like his dramatic chops, you might be willing to put up with the humor-esque parts to enjoy what Gibbons helps him achieve here, although the whole Mark Hamill thing brings some dread to the notion of where he's going with this. This is the guy who wrote Civil War, after all. He can be impressive or he can be annoying. It's a bit too early to tell which one this is going to turn out to be.