ADVANCE REVIEW! America's Got Powers #1 will go on sale Wednesday, April 11, 2012.
Death Tournaments are where it's at. More than vampires, zombies, barely-clothed Starfires or redheaded ingénues; Death Tournaments are the biggest thing in popular culture right now. So helpfully, jumping straight into the zeitgeist comes a new Image series from writer Jonathan Ross and artist Bryan Hitch — America's Got Powers. Because if there's one thing which is almost as popular as Death Tournaments? Death Tournaments judged by snarky commentators as part of a condescending reality TV show. Ross has hit gold with this concept.
A six-issue miniseries, America's Got Powers skips over the basic concept of superheroes with an admirable disinterest, explaining that it's all got something to do with a crystal or whatever, and HEY! Time for some reality TV shows and fighting. Aware that he's writing a comic for Brian Hitch, Ross leaps pretty quickly into the main event, and chooses to introduce the premise front-and-center. It goes like this: as every child in San Francisco has gained super-powers, the government (and the head of programming for a prestigious TV channel) have decided that they may as well pit all the children in a head-to-head battle for the right to join a corporate superhero team. Win the finals of the tournament, and Uncle Sam pays for your costume and bragging rights as you help save the World from threats/protect America's corporate interests. It's a simple concept, one which grows off the back of classic comic stories like Contest of Champions, but one which hasn't been used so prominently for quite some time.
This first issue takes elements of Morning Glories, Kick-Ass and The Ultimates to form an uncannily believable central story which grabs a group of semi-realistic teenage characters and puts them in a bizarre futuristic battleground. We're immediately made aware that this event is dubious in nature and worrying — not particularly shocking — and that the competitors aren't the All-American Heroes they may appear to be. Which, again, not so shocking. America's Got Powers is fairly upfront about the stock ideas which it uses, which means there aren't as many shocks or twists as you might expect. As soon as we meet our hero, who is the only boy in San Fran without a power, the reader knows what the surprise ending is going to be. As soon as we see that the first challenge in the competition is going to be a fight against robots, we know what's going to happen. The book doesn't have any surprises up its sleeves. And that means it has to rely instead of making the story fun and brash.
In that, it succeeds with some flair. Hitch is the perfect artist for this sort of title, with his grandstanding attention to storytelling taking most of the attention throughout this first issue. His character work is as detailed as ever, but his ability to sequence a fight remains unparalleled. The chaos and devastation of the battle is a sight to behold, with things somehow growing in magnitude with every turn of the page. Hitch nails this issue in the same way he nailed The Ultimates, and does structured madness in a way nobody else can. However, the pacing sometimes lets him down. There are some visual jokes scattered in the fight — Ross is a comedian, so you'd expect a decent joke or two — but the flailing limbs and crashing arena tend to drown them out. There's one particular joke which gets smothered towards the end featuring a character called Nitro, which falls flat. It's a shame, but a side-effect of the purposefully chaotic storyboarding from Hitch. Things are dynamic and exhilarating, but that also means the comic reads a little too quickly for the dialogue to keep up with.
Overall, however, Ross manages to keep control over the story. There are quick snaps of Starship Troopers-style satire mixed in with the action and characterization, and the flashiness of the issue bears a marked resemblance to the way reality TV is presented. Although the creative team decide not to use existing celebrities in the comic, you could just imagine Ryan Seacrest watching the fights with that carefully-studied, excited indifference he tends to maintain, and the set-up/execution of the first "episode" is brilliantly paced by Ross. The dialogue at times tends to feel a little similar to something from Kick-Ass (which I choose to view as a criticism), but overall he manages to paint some convincing characterisation onto his stock cast. As an opening issue, it also manages to breeze readers straight into the World without any inconvenience or decompression. There's an awful lot going on in the book — massive fight-scenes, backstage wrangling, bickering competitors, intricate world-building, and all sorts of jokes and nods to satire. America's Got Power is a slightly scrappy book, but that somehow gives it a sense of charm which powers it through some of the more obvious plot twists and surprises. It's a highly promising start for a mini.
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favorite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. Never forget! He writes The Book of Monsters, a webcomic which updates every Sunday with a new story, monster, and artist. Join in!