There are some comics that can't be reviewed for what they are, but for what they mean. Some comics are important not for the way that they present their material, or their aesthetic qualities, but for the information they convey and the affect that they can have.
The Power Within is a bit of an extension of Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" project, a wonderful initiative to encourage GLBT teens to not let harassment, bullying and depression make their lives miserable. You're probably familiar with it — Dan's video has received over 1.5 million hits on youtube and was featured in an incredibly moving Google ad that literally moves me to tears every time I see it. The honesty and emotion of the people featured in those videos jumps of the screen at me every time I see it. There is so much joy in these peoples' lives, and it's so incredibly tragic to imagine that some of these people might have ended their lives because some asshole 12-year-old decided to make their lives miserable as a way of getting back at their dad or something.
It's been an extremely effective campaign from all reports, and has given hope to so many people who feel they are GLBT but lacked the ability to realize that they are part of a larger world in which they could find love and acceptance and happiness in their lives.
Now Seattle-area publisher Northwest Press has published a comic that is dedicated to the proposition that "it gets better." The Power Within is the story of an eighth-grade boy named Shannon who is treated like an outsider. He's confused and lost in school, with few friends and surrounded by many bullies. When Shannon makes a foolish decision after a bullying situation, he is humiliated in school and considers making the ultimate decision. Thankfully, he makes the right decision and moves on with his life.
This is not a maudlin or preachy comic; instead The Power Within effectively puts readers inside the head of a young teenager who's struggling to find his own unique way in the world. In some ways it doesn't even matter if Shannon is gay; what's more important is that he is a depressed outsider who feels hated by everyone around him.
He's subject to bullying, but the bullying could just as much been because he's a creative kid, or a brain, or handicapped, or even if he's just depressed because his parents are getting divorced. What's important is that Shannon feels like an outsider, like someone who will never be an insider. Because of this, he's become the victim of bullying, and that bullying helps to lead a tremendous level of self-hatred in him.
It's important in the context of the story to notice that Shannon tries to find some sort of love, albeit in an awkward and embarrassing way that seems quite typical of the way that a 13-year-old boy might think. He's humiliated when he tries to become close to another boy who fights for his honor, and it's that rejection that finally pushes Shannon over the edge and causes him to give up hope.
Please, if you know anyone young who feels like an outsider and is the victim of bullying, get them a copy of this comic. It might be one of the most important things you do for them.
For more information on The Power Within, visit The Northwest Press website.
Jason Sacks has been obsessed with comics for longer than he'd like to remember. He considers himself a student of comics history and loves delving into obscure corners of this crazy artform. Jason has been writing for this site for about seven years and has also been published in a number of fan publications, including the late, lamented Amazing Heroes and The Flash Companion. He lives in north Seattle with his wife and three kids.