With a whole lot of setting up to do, the first issue of "The Illegitimates " unfortunately focuses on all the wrong things. There really isn’t much story here, and none of the title protagonists are developed outside of broad, stereotypical descriptions. Generally, a first issue serves as a preview of what’s in store and provides a sense of what the series will be like going forward. However, with "The Illegitimates" #1, it’s tough to say what’s in store for this series, because the issue says so little.
The story opens on Jack Steele, superspy extraordinaire, in a glamorous locale reaching for his martini. The reader then spends seven full pages -- seven -- sprinting through vignettes of Jack’s past exploits. In theory, this helps to introduce the women who give birth to the "Illegitimates." In execution, each woman only takes up a single page. Sharpe draws the drama and action well, but this still leaves room for nearly no dialogue and allows for interactions of only the easiest and most familiar sort. (Puns fully intended.)
Now, it’s fine if the reader never gets to know the mothers too well, since this is a series that’s meant to focus on the children. However, Andreyko and Killam decided to devote a hefty page count to these women, and it shouldn’t feel as wasted as it does. I learned nothing about them, or about Jack, that couldn’t have been conveyed more quickly and cleverly in a shorter span. The homage to spy films and their clichéd lines (“Something has come up”) is fun, but it’s not funny enough to justify this much story space on its own. To the team’s credit, though, it is great to see a Bond-esque character with sexual interests outside of skinny white ladies.
And although this first issue wasn’t very well done, it sets up relatively well for the issues to come. Steele’s children are all very different, and Sharpe does a wonderful job drawing their faces; seeing these personality types together should be interesting. However, since they’re only introduced briefly and broadly at the very end of the issue, they also ring with lazy stereotypes. The Latin dude is a male model? The Japanese dude is good with car engines? Someone decided to make the black lady the only one who’s been in jail? Let’s not. In addition, in each character’s introductory page, his or her mother looms large and sexualized center-page, while the person who is actually being discussed is relegated to the sides and corners of the page. My only reaction to this choice was -- why? Maybe the mothers will play a large role in the espionage? Even if they do, though, they won’t still be 20-something, so why are they drawn that way? If they aren’t playing a large role in the issue to come, why not instead include more information about the characters at hand? The prioritization here, as in the beginning of the issue, is confusing.
Again, this series could turn out to be very funny as it evolves. The dialogue between the members of the spyhouse is occasionally snappy, and Jack’s excessively gory and wonderfully abrupt death was really, really funny. The five protagonists may end up being wittily and wonderfully rendered despite their stereotypical elements. I honestly don’t know, because this first issue hits too hard on the easiest, least effective elements of its story.
This is what makes "The Illegitimates" #1 frustrating rather than a failure. This world has an engaging premise, five protagonists and an entire spyhouse to get to know. The creative team should have lavished some more attention on them for the series' debut.