“Powers & Abilities”
Writer: Will Pfeifer
Publisher: DC Comics
Jerry, a bottom-rung retail clerk in a generic midwestern town, finds a device that turns him into one of several super-powered characters. His first attempt at heroism meets with disaster, leaving him bloody and broken by the side of a rural road.
There was nothing remarkable about the debut issue of HERO. The art and storytelling were both solid, but nothing jumped out at me. Writer Will Pfiefer’s first chapter closely mirrored Sam Raimi’s Spider-man movie: young, white kid gets super-powers and must figure out what to do with them. We even got the obligatory “first stab at heroism” bit, where the would-be-hero makes-ass-of-self. The twist was that this failed outing left Jerry wrapped around a guardrail suffering massive injuries. Kano’s visual depiction of this scene was gut wrenching. One of the most startling cliffhangers I’ve seen in a long time.
So I was let down by the opening of issue two when Jerry, in the guise of alter ego “Afterburner”, simply taps the HERO device and reverts to his former, schlep self - miraculously unharmed! What happens when Jerry next uses the HERO device? Is Afterburner still a shattered wreck? Pfiefer later addresses this, but evades the issue. Apparently HERO contains a variety of characters, each with their own distinct powers, costume and name – though all are bland knock-offs of existing DC heroes. Every subsequent use of HERO results in a random selection, like some half-assed juke box. That’s cool, but what happens if Jerry uses up all the heroes in HERO? Sorry for the next guy who gets it “Dude, this thing’s busted”.
Each week I pick up one or two comics based solely on the strength of their cover art -- most of the time, however, I put the book back on the shelf because the interior art or writing turns me off (i.e. Captain America). John Van Fleet’s cover to HERO #2 is so evocative and haunting that it is worth the price of purchase alone. More importantly, it actually ties into the story, which is rather unique these days.
And what is up with artists going by a single name? I see these dudes in art school and I think: “what pretentious turds, get over yourselves”. Kano, however, is a very good storyteller, so I can forgive the pompous name thing. Though his super-hero designs are nothing to scream about, his settings and backgrounds are awesome. When Jerry decides to visit the bad side of town, where all the really serious crimes seem to occur, we are as shocked as he by the urban blight. Otherwise, my only complaint with Kano is that his characters are drawn a little too “cartoony” for the gritty tone of Pfiefer’s script. His hookers and drug dealers aren’t nearly as skeevy as I would expect; but that’s just a minor nit in an otherwise superior art job.
I still don’t know what the HERO device is, where it comes from or what its limitations are. But I’m willing to forgive that for another month or so. Pfiefer is telling a compelling story, he’s introduced a lot new ideas, but he leaves me with more questions than answers. Jerry is, unfortunately, kind of passive; he's more reactive than proactive. It makes him a weaker character than I’d like yet Pfiefer has given him a distinct voice and I care what happens to him. I had the similar issues with Vertigo's "Y The Last Man", and it turned out to be one of the best new comics of last year, so I am hopeful. Pfiefer has generated a lot of momentum so far. I hope that he not only sustains it, but also closes out this arc in a meaningful way. Don’t take the cheap way out, that’s all I ask.
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