“Powr Mastrs” Volume 2 is certainly not for everyone. If you don’t like a certain degree of aesthetic primitivism in your comic book panels, or if you don’t like dreamlike narrative development that implies more than explains, then you will probably turn away from “Powr Mastrs” in disgust. Of course, the explicit sexuality and male nudity may be more than enough to repel a certain percentage of potential readers, but I suspect than anyone capable of getting offended at those images probably won’t be able to get past the first few “crudely-drawn” pages anyway.
This is a PictureBox comic, after all — home of Gary Panter art books and former Fort Thunder artists galore. So it doesn’t look anything like your average issue of “Ms. Marvel” or “Nightwing.” It looks, on first glance, like an amateurish attempt at some kind of Tolkeinesque fantasy world, with tarantula men and elves, blue princesses and submarines. “Powr Mastrs” openly rejects traditional comic book page layouts and storytelling techniques, striving for something more primal and confrontational. I don’t think this is an ugly comic — in fact, I think it’s beautiful in its own way — but it challenges the accepted notion of comic book beauty on every single page.
“Powr Mastrs” is the work of Paper Rad artist C.F. (aka Chris Forgues), and in this second of a planned six volumes, C.F. further develops the oddball fantasy world which he begat over a year ago in the first volume. Volume 2 is difficult to summarize, and a plot summary would do little to evoke the subtle discord inherent in every sequence, but let me take a stab at it anyway: Mosfet Warlock, scientist/wizard-type, has created a bunch of deviant humanoids who he keeps in a “comfortable prison” called Plex Knowe Crypt. The strange inhabitants of the “Crypt,” like Cool George Herc (he of the severely mis-proportioned body), have initiated a plan to breed a “super warrior” who will overthrow Mosfet Warlock. Then there’s a subplot involving Steven (who wears what looks to be the clothing of Ronald McDonald) bashing things with his “lariat.” And a fight between Tetradyne Cola and a tarantula man known as Darman Orry. And really, there’s a whole bunch of other stuff going on too, all seemingly linked together in ways we don’t yet understand.
So how can this comic, which sounds ridiculous and looks amateurish, be any good?
Because even though it seems to embrace the trappings of the fantasy genre, it pushes it in new directions. For every D&D cliche, C.F. provides a new twist, an unsettling one. Not unsettling because of some gruesome horror, but because the narrative follows a rhythm to which we are unaccustomed. It feels like an alien version of a familiar story, and that kind of approach can be thrilling.
Plus, it operates on the level of poetry. To paraphrase T. S. Eliot, “Powr Mastrs” suggests rather than states. The plot details made explicit are undermined by the relentlessly sincere absurdity of the entire comic. Narrative bits tell the reader what’s going on, but the images are so odd, the characterizations so unusual, that the parts that normally would make sense don’t make the conventional kind of sense that we’re used to.
I’m not saying that “Powr Mastrs” Volume 2 is good just because it’s different. I’m saying it’s good because C.F. has smashed the preconceptions about what an “art comic” should be and what a fantasy comic should be, and he’s done it in a way that makes for exciting reading. It might take a couple of reads through the 104 pages of story to fall into its rhythms, but once you immerse yourself in C.F.’s wonderfully odd world, you will see the beauty beneath its apparently ugly faÃ§ade.