Incognegro: Renaissance #1
Written by Mat Johnson
Art by Warren Pleece
Letters by Clem Robins
Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: February 7, 2018
Cover Price: $3.99
Of all the things I have written for this site, none have ever made me hesitate so much or so often. In today’s racially charged climate, it takes little to pit people against one another. Regardless of your position or stance in the political arena, this fact cannot be ignored. And while this comic book series is set almost a hundred years ago, it seems even more relevant today than it did even ten years ago. Incognegro: Renaissance #1 is, first and foremost, a murder mystery. But it being set in 1920’s New York serves to show the reader far more than just a homicide.
New York of yesteryear was not as openly diverse as it is today. For while people of all races and creeds can peacefully coexist as neighbors now, it was a far different Big Apple a century ago. Some might say it was not as black and white as some people try to say it was, but anyone who denies that segregation was prevalent need only use any search engine online to see the signs, the laws, the photos of how many white people in America sought to exploit and demean anyone not of their color, or in many cases, specifically African-American citizens. But this comic book explores that in a not-so-subtle fashion.
The premise of the story is the murder of a party guest at a book release event in Manhattan. Having served as a guide to author Arna Van Horn, local author Xavier Harris finds himself angry at having assisted in the plundering of his neighborhood’s resources for the profit of a man who can only be described as parasitic. The story is dialogue heavy and drives the plot quickly, all the while informing the reader of a myriad of facts and providing backstory in plentiful amounts.
When Xavier decides to confront the prima donna author, he is at first rebuked and then quickly removed from the party. The soirée continues until suddenly the guests are drenched with water from above. Upon investigation, a body is found! But when police realize it is a black man, their interest dissolves and no amount of coaxing can establish an interest in investigating the death. Newspaper reporter Zane Pinchback, on the scene for the party, finds himself in a difficult spot. For his light complexion causes the white police officers to confide in him some terrible things that spur him to seek justice where no one else seems to care.
This story is one of racism, dereliction of duty, murder, and discovery. The pages contain so much rancor embedded within the bigotry of the white police. Honestly, it was quite painful to read, the hate that existed then (and sadly, now) that came so natural and without remorse. Scribe Mat Johnson and artist Warren Pleece have created a look back to a not so nice time in America’s past. But as George Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It might be that we all need a refresher in just that: the events of the recent past seem to imply we do.
There is nothing refreshing about this. It’s a hard comic to stomach knowing how close to the truth this landscape actually was. But it is a great story set in a less than great time. I will read the rest of the tale, for the writing is impeccable and the concept enlightening. I urge you all to check this out, it might open your eyes a tad.
After a black writer is found dead at a scandalous interracial party in 1920s New York, Harlem’s cub reporter Zane Pinchback is the only one determined to solve the murder. Zane must go ”incognegro” for the first time–using his light appearance to pass as a white man–to find the true killer, in this prequel miniseries to the critically acclaimed Vertigo graphic novel, now available in a special new 10th Anniversary Edition.
With a cryptic manuscript as his only clue and a mysterious and beautiful woman as the murder’s only witness, Zane finds himself on the hunt through the dark and dangerous streets of ”roaring twenties” Harlem in search for justice.
A page-turning thriller of racial divide, Incognegro: Renaissance explores segregation, secrets, and self-image as our race-bending protagonist penetrates a world where he feels stranger than ever before.