Max Beamis and Jorge Coelho present a new look at superpowers in our modern world, via Boom! Studios.
The outsider is one of the more popular character archtypes in comics, so the key for any writer is to find a new way to tell a story with such a character. In Polarity #1, the lead character couldn't be more aware of just how far on the outside he is. Afflicted with bipolar disorder, he finds himself becoming a minor celebrity in the fine art world, a milieu he feels no connection with. His paintings come about from his manic episodes, and now that he's medicated, he doesn't produce them so much anymore. When he decides to stop his medication, Tim finds himself becoming more and more prolific, as an artist and as a person. He cuts off all contact with other people, and effectively self-actualizes himself into a more advanced being, one with superpowers.
The transcendent quality of the story isn't readily apparent through the window dressing. The story takes place in the sections of Brooklyn that are overrun by yuppies and hipsters, and even includes a fairly detailed deconstruction of the modern "hipster" epistemology and culture. The setting takes center stage for a good long while before we get back to learning about our main character. There's plenty of distinctive flavor given to the setting, but it doesn't particularly advance the protagonist in any truly meaningful way. When Tim makes the decision to stop taking his medication is the point where the comic starts getting fun. Not only does the story take on more life at this point, but Jorge Coelho and Felipe Sobreiro are also able to get really lively with their art, using a collage aesthetic to illustrate Tim's increasingly heightened mental state. Their sense of design and pure stylishness make for a greatly eye-catching and enjoyable read. Their detailing and impact are so impactful, that they carry a lot of the storytelling, and establish a pacing that helps the reader's eye glide through a visually dynamic book. Not only that, but the sense of fashion they exhibit for their characters is remarkable well-observed.
Structurally, Polarity #1 displays one of the most clearly-delineated examples of three-act structure in comics in a very long time. The comic follows Freytag's Triangle almost slavishly, which maybe doesn't break much ground in terms of presentation, but it's an approach that works for the journey Tim embarks on. First, he wallows in his otherness, his alienation from this culture that's taken him in almost by default. Second, in flushing his medication, he takes an action that sends him into a new state of being and changes who he is in his world. His new unmedicated state leads to him isolating himself so as to empirically alter himself. From there, Tim is motivated to follow where his new status quo takes him, specifically investigate who it is he is certain is surveilling him.
This story of self-motivated transformation in Polarity #1 is a clever twist on the "superpowered commoner" trope in comics. In every story like this, there's always the inciting incident that gives the main character his or her powers. The fact that it's a self-inflicted one in this story gives it a pretty modern edge, as does the fact that the focus is on a character that undergoes a transcendentalist journey that turns him into something more. Couched in modern day issues of mental health and pharmaceuticals, Polarity #1serves as a clever look at the "superpowers in the real world" archetype, and the mystery and intrigue set up in the final pages will ensure a return for the second issue. While issue #1 is mostly internal, it promises a more outward exploration of Tim's self in the world as he now sees it. Polarity #1 is a fascinating and ultimately engaging read that sets up a lot of promise as a sort of heir apparent to Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore's Luther Strode series of comics (which Felipe Sobreiro also happens to color).
Written or Contributed by Royal Nonesuch
READ THIS ARTICLE ON THE FRONT PAGE, HUMANS!