Thursday, January 14, 2010

Comics that Deserve Greater Recognition Pt4

Anyone who has spent enough time going through the backlog knows I'm a huge fan of Aaron Williams PS238 (True Story: The motivational posters in the background of the comic inspired me to make motivational posters, and thus re-activate this blog. So it's all his fault).

If you haven't checked it out yet, the premise is simple -it's a school for the superpowered kids of Earth's greatest heroes (plus a few of the villains, and super kids with no legacy, oh and that one kid who's the offspring of Heaven and Hell, and...well, you get the idea). The main character of the series is Tyler Marlocke - the son of two powerful (and rather over-achieving) superheroes who is non-powered, and is the only student at the school whom doesn't have any powers. He struggles not only with a life that amounts to constant child-endangerment, but also on discovering the multitude of secrets that comes with a student body and teaching staff loaded to the brim with secret agendas and mysterious pasts.

As with most of the other entries listed here, what is the best delight is characterization and world building Williams has done. While some of it borrows from classic comics (a few analogues here and there), the majority of the cast are wholly original concepts, and many of the analogues diverge from their templates in a way that strips them of the immediate familiarity. The world-setting itself is unique - the superheroes of the world aren't treated as rockstars or an army - the closest comparison would be that of a self-regulating trade or professional practice like lawyers or doctors, which strikes me as a far more innovative and mature outlook on the concept than what is commonly found in superhero shared universes.

Williams succeeds best at giving the kids unique and recognizable traits - these aren't adults with maturity and experience in tiny bodies, nor are they teenagers with attitudes to prove something. Instead, they are kids, experimenting and completely earnest and honest about having fun with superpowers; in love with the excitement of it all. When they make mistakes, they don't have the ability to easily brush it off. The learning experience can be painful, and the consequences when those mistakes involve superpowers can be dire, which is where the teaching staff steps in to try and prevent those types of mistakes (in the best cases) or at least try and help the children cope. However, the problem is that while the teachers are themselves experienced in dealing with superpowers, only one of them has any teaching experience, and so they are as prone to failure and misjudgements as the kids themselves.

Williams work is funny; focusing on quick wit and trying to be accessible to both kids and adults in terms of the scope of the humor presented. There's very little slapstick, but a fair amount of good visual gags to be found. Where he has trouble are in his depictions of super-combat - it lacks the smooth and clear depictions of other segements of the book, even when he gets other action scenes. Whether it is a deliberate choice to make the book more marketable to kids or some genuine troubles with framing these types of actions is uncertain, but those scenes can be hard to follow.

All said, I recommend PS238 heartily - it's a great effort at all-ages entertainment that succeeds at almost every level and deserves your support.

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