In their debut issue, Paul Jenkins and Leila Leiz quickly immerse readers in the world of “Alters” — humans who spontaneously manifest supernatural powers — and introduce us to the prejudice they undergo as their powers emerge. Yet another groundbreaking comic from AfterShock Comics, “Alters”#1 features a protagonist transitioning in a much more personal way. Charlie Young’s transition from male to female will need to be approached with care, but — with a diverse creative team tackling this saga as well as the parallel conflicts she faces in both facets of her life — Jenkins and Leiz handle these complex social issues well and leave plenty of room for them to be tackled further in future storylines.
Leiz expertly opens the double narrative with a series of panels showcasing the popular view of Alters through Charlie’s eyes. They’re seen as freaks, abnormalities the world would be better without, and it’s through Jenkin’s earnest scripting that we catch a glimpse of Charlie’s feelings about her transition. She’s worried about what her family will think once she comes forward about starting hormone therapy, and now she also has to navigate the world as a newly emerged Alter, which comes with its own set of problems. Though the concept of her struggle with who she really is may seem a bit banal at first glance, it’s a refreshing and necessary narrative in the superhero genre.
As Charlie dons the name Chalice, Jenkins gives us a whole new way to consider the advantages and disadvantages of a secret identity, especially once we meet two other key players in the Alters world: a genius named Octavius who is bent on protecting Alters, and a flashy yet menacing fascist known as Matter Man. Octavius feels like your typical good guy mentor, wanting to protect and study the Alters’ talents, but his motivations aren’t clear from the brief introduction; on the other hand, Matter Man’s motives are not only explicit, but tyrannical. It’s a familiar power play, and one that will benefit the story once it’s fleshed out further. Their opposing views serve as a nice parallel for Chalice’s internal conflict and have the potential to provide an intriguing test of character in coming issues.
Tamra Bonvillain lends a gorgeous palette to Leiz’s art, deftly highlighting our antagonist with rich swaths of color; with their talents combined, the art feels reminiscent of Gabriel Rodriguez’s work on “Locke and Key.” Jenkins’ characters are consistently emotive in their care, but notably so during Charlie’s every day life. Her longing looks at her Chalice wig are downright painful, as are a few conversations between herself and her family, which provide a good scope of the conflict ahead. Charlie’s internal monologue is key at driving the story forward, and Ryane Hall’s letters nicely frame the action and drive home the sincerity of the script.
For many readers, “Alters” #1 will be the first comic about a transgender hero that they’ll ever pick up, and my only concern is that it will focus on the physicality of Charlie’s transition instead of exploring her gender identity as well as the other social and interpersonal issues transgender men and women regularly encounter. That said, there’s great potential for a truly spectacular and unique perspective here, and I know I’ll be along for the ride for better or for worse.