America’s Got Powers #1
Writers: Jonathan Ross & Bryan Hitch
Pencils: Bryan Hitch
Inks: Andrew Currie & Paul Neary
Colors: Paul Mounts
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover artists: Hitch (regular)/Leinil Yu (variant)
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US
The only competition-based reality show I watch with any regularity these days is The Amazing Race, and I have a serious aversion to those performance shows, such as American Idol, Insert Country Here’s Got Talent and Dancing With the Stars. As such, the title and apparent premise of America’s Got Powers didn’t appeal to me. On the other hand, Bryan Hitch’s artwork does. With that in mind, as well as Image’s track record of inventive new titles, I decided to give the first issue a look. After reading it, I find I’m of two minds. Jonathan Ross’s plot and script feels a little… formulaic. There aren’t any story developments in this debut issue that are particularly surprising (though it wasn’t exactly predictable either), and there are too many one-dimensional, cliched characters we’ve seen too many times before. However, I was also impressed with his commentary on the ugliness of Western culture, about its excesses and the ease with which people adopt prejudices and class distinctions. Hitch’s photorealistic art certainly works well with the subject matter, but it’s occasionally a bit difficult to follow.
A bizarre phenomenon in San Francisco years ago has created a unique generation of superhuman youths, and to keep them under control, scientists, public officials and media magnates developed America’s Got Powers, a reality show that pits a small group of these super-powered people against one another to vie for a spot on the world’s only super-hero team. And among the throngs working behind the scenes is Tommy Watts, the only member of this super-powered generation to be born without any super-powers. He’s spent his life being surrounded by superhuman friends and family, always feeling like a zero, but the greed and callousness of others are about change his life — and he’s unknowingly about to change the world.
I think what struck me most about this comic book after I finished reading it was what a good value it is. For the price of one of Marvel or DC’s regularly priced 22-page (or less) comics, we get 35 pages of storytelling from Ross and Hitch. There’s a lot of material here, and that makes for a strong hook for this first issue. Despite the high profile of the artist, this six-issue limited series is really something of an underdog in the industry, and offering so much comic-book content for such a standard price should help to win over some more casual readers.
If there’s one thing for which Hitch is best known in the world of genre comics, it’s conveying a widescreen scope for impossible action and incredible ideas. He certainly brings those skills to bear here. All of the action unfolds in a sports stadium, and Hitch succeeds in creating a cavernous, impossibly large backdrop. He also captures an intense tone that’s in keeping with the madness of the dangerous reality show from which the series derives its title. Sometimes, the story seems a bit scattered due to the hectic and frenetic qualities of the artwork, but I think chaos is something for which Hitch strives in the climactic act of this first issue. I also found his use of real-life models for these fictional characters — notably Doctor Who alum David Tennant standing in for a key character — to be a bit distracting. Oddly enough, using real people as “actors” in this unreal drama interferes with the sense of realism Hitch’s style brings to the mix.
Ross’s characterizations are rather ham-fisted throughout this issue. The power brokers pulling the strings behind the scenes of the reality are cartoonishly evil and callous, and the super-hero Quarterback is the epitome of every dickish jock one ever encountered in real life or in the movies. Even the central protagonist Tommy Watts is incredibly kind — and by “incredibly,” I mean not only “extremely” but “defying credibility” and “unbelievably.” Only the professor — the man trying to discover what caused the super-power phenomenon and to guide the superhuman youths toward a life of inclusion and normalcy — boasts any kind of depth.
As I was reading this comic, I couldn’t help but think of Marvel’s recently launched event title for 2012, Avengers Vs. X-Men. The “competition” to nab a coveted spot on a super-hero team that doesn’t seem serve any purpose is madly violent, random and gratuitous. People cheer for various competitors and check the odds each has to win. The Marvel crossover spectacle is just as much a reality show — just without the reality.
Ross offers a pointed and far-from-subtle commentary on the state of Western media culture that’s well deserved though a bit obvious. What I enjoyed most about this comic book, though, is how he uses the notion of a small group of super-powered teens as a launching pad for a commentary on racism and class discrimination. Ross shows the audience the super-hero reality show at the heart of this inaugural issue — and by extension, so many other actual reality shows — are about the rich and privileged looking down on little people, dangling a carrot in front of them to get them to dance and fight for their pleasure. At the same time, it also serves as a drug for the masses, to keep them dull and distracted. It’s the 21st century’s to gladiators, lions and pools of blood. 7/10
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