Subway Shorts – Incognegro: Renaissance 1

10 years after the critically acclaimed Vertigo graphic novel hit, we get a prequel, detailing the first time reporter Zane Pinchback went undercover to get a story in 1920s Harlem, in Incognegro: Renaissance.

Incognegro: Renaissance 1
Written by Mat Johnson 
Art by Warren Pleece

The 2008 Vertigo graphic novel Incognegro was a really amazing book about a black reporter from New York City who travels to Mississippi to when his brother is charged with the murder of a white woman. Because of his light skin, the reporter, Zane Pinchback, has been able to go undercover as a white man to investigate lynchings. This new story, published by Dark Horse, is a prequel to the original, set a decade prior to the Mississippi case. Pinchback is a young reporter trying to make a name for himself with the New Holland Herald.

Unlike the world-weary reporter he had become in the 1930s, here Pinchback is just trying to find his way in Harlem. He tags along with his friend Carl to a party thrown by a popular white author, Arna Van Horne, who just wrote a book about Harlem. He’s “fascinated” by African Americans, according to Carl, opening the door for the pair to waltz into his house and partake in the festivities. The party is filled with high society, drinks are flowing and everyone is having a good time until Xavier, Van Horne’s research assistant, is found dead in a bathtub upstairs.

Because Xavier is a black man, and because he made a scene earlier in the evening, the police have little interest in investigating his death as anything more than a suicide. Carl convinces Zane to use his light skin to his advantage and talk to the police and others to tell Xavier’s story. But as Zane goes to talk to a woman who led Xavier away from the party earlier in the evening, things take a turn for the worse.

The first issue of Incognegro: Renaissance is a great reintroduction to Zane and Carl and sets up what I hope will be a story as compelling as the original. Writer Mat Johnson set the stage for the five-issue miniseries with the fantastic party scene and provides allows for new readers and anyone who loved the original. While I enjoyed being able to read the original in one sitting, Johnson managed to pique my interest enough that I’m very much looking forward to seeing where the story goes from here.