America’s Got Powers #1
There are always plenty of paneled books out there that play right into the average comic readers personal fantasies – the likes of Spiderman and Luther Strode feature teenage geeks as the guys who get superpowers, whereas other books simply make their characters act like they’re that age – but never before have I seen one quite like this. In America’s Got Powers Jonathan Ross attempts to realize a world where the ability to pit characters in fictional conflicts – having “who would win in a fight between…” style arguments – would make you cool; meaning that it’s not just one but all nerds who would make that ascendency. So it feels strange to read this book and not wish to be a part of its world; surely that can’t mean that i’m not a nerd, after all I am writing about a comic book right now aren’t I? So why did’t I want to disassociate from reality as I read this issue? Unfortunately there is no reason, rather there are reasons, plural.
The story of this mini-series is that some select San-Franciscans were given godlike powers at birth through a cheap and unexplored contrivance, only to find themselves flung into a ferocious series of fights at the behest of the banalic people when they come of age. As in The Hunger Games, a story that this one does not resemble in nearly any other way, these tussles are televised, analyzed and merchandised much like most of the current contemporary programming out there. Five billion people worldwide watch them battle to kill or be killed then run to their computers to blog about it or buy the latest line of action figures. A very suitable start for a satire then sure, but the industry is only shown and not subverted in any interesting way, the book itself seemingly doesn’t have all that much to say about it at this stage.
Now that’s fine, not everyone is Alan Moore and nor should they be, sometimes in comics as in movies you just want some action, only the book also barely delivers that. If I was a part of this world I don’t know that i’d even be tuning in each night to see the show is this is as exciting as it gets. There are hints of a conspiracy and controversial changes to the games – though of course we don’t really have anything to compare that too – that are too ambiguous for an uninvolved audience to digest and too many characters who simply saunter in without introduction. The art by Bryan Hitch further harms it, he is good during the slow, simple moments but the flow of those fight-scenes is erratic at best: who is who and what is what becomes borderline unintelligible at times during the more bombastic sections and as I couldn’t even comprehend their actions I definitely couldn’t care about any of the characters involved or their eventual fates, not that I even knew who any of them were.
The one character that we do get to know slightly, Tommy, is a perfect protagonist for this kind of story; he’s the ultimate underdog in this universe, the only boy born a Stoner – the name given to the mutants – without any kind of superpowers. His is an interesting and utterly human perspective to give us newcomers as we enter this world and also provides the potential for some nice thematic work; you don’t need powers to be powerful, etc. The scenes with him are scattershot but enjoyable enough which is why the books big shift to the battle in which he plays no part is so jarring. Perhaps i’m just another normal who hates the stoners for being better then the rest of us, because I too fear them, but the revelation that Tommy’s actually not so different, his big zero to hero moment, came as a letdown for me.
It took until this final panel for me to realize why Powers wasn’t working for me, but that big final moment made it quite clear. The book’s biggest problem is that Ross doesn’t just write for those geeks but like them; his script is more concerned with de-constructing statistics then it is constructing stories, it’s all about analyzing the powers rather than the people that wield them but that is actually where most wish fulfillment comes from. We don’t just want to do what these people do, but do it how they do it and where they do it and that is what this book seems to miss. Brian K. Vaughn recently described a first issue as a promise to the reader of everything that is to come in the series and I get the sense that Ross has tried to ram into these twenty pages every element possible, but in doing so he has missed out on the main reason any of us read these books, the story. I wish that he had just focused on following one thread through its tale, rather than trying to weave together so many at once. As it stands I don’t see enough promise in Powers to pick up the next part.