A review a day: <i>Power Out</i> volume 1

Yes, another first volume of a longer story. Dare I go online and continue reading? You already know the answer!!!!!!

Power Out is a nifty little comic by Nathan Schreiber, who got one of them there Xeric Awards so he could do some comics. And so we get this, which is published by Canal Press and costs a mere tenner. You can also read it online, if you must.

Schreiber's story is odd, because the main character, Justin, a 14-year-old, is not a terribly good one. Schreiber doesn't do a whole lot with him, making him as passive and apathetic as you imagine 14-year-olds to be.

So there's kind of a void in the center of the book, as Justin says barely anything, plays video games when he can, and moves through the book with a kind of bewildered clumsiness. He says, no lie, 38 words in the comic (maybe 39, but less than 40, certainly), and considering that some of Bendis' characters say that many on one page, that's quite a feat. What this means is that we, as readers, project our own thoughts onto Justin, and this is an interesting trick by Schreiber. By making Justin essentially a cipher, he turns this into a book that swirls around Justin, not about him. Given that Justin's entire existence is predicated on wanting to be left alone, the fact that he gets his wish and also leaves anyone who comes anywhere near him makes this a weird, off-kilter comic. Schreiber tells a story in which Justin's parents leave on a cruise for a week and his older sister, Carrie, goes to Cape Cod with a bunch of her friends, leaving him alone. Then a power outage hits the East Coast, and Justin simply leaves home. He has no idea where he's going or what he's going to do, and while he doesn't have adventures, per se, he does meet his cute, Spanish-speaking neighbor, ends up in the town square where a man is extolling the virtues of his town's clock pioneer, heads into the woods and has a wet dream about a neighbor whose lawn he mows, who happens to be a senior citizen (to be fair, he switches back and forth from seeing her as an old woman and a hot young thing, which confuses the hell out of him), and finally collapses in the forest.

So not a lot happens in this first volume, but Schreiber does set a lot up.

Carrie obviously tries to get through to Justin, but she can't. She is unsure of herself, as she's also still a teenager, and their relationship, which is mostly made up of awkward moments, plays out well. The girl Justin meets is interesting, as well, because it seems that the language barrier between them actually helps, because she doesn't feel awkward around him, mainly because they can't understand each other anyway, so it can't be more difficult to communicate, right? Justin says absolutely nothing to her during their scenes together, but she doesn't care in the least that he doesn't. Justin is rather awed by the girl, and Schreiber does a nice job showing how intimidated he is but also how desperate he is to talk to her. It captures the most awkward phase of puberty quite well. Justin wants to interact with people, he just doesn't know how. So the power outage is almost perfect for him - he can wander around and meet people, but he doesn't feel trapped by them. Even if he doesn't talk to anyone, he still discovers some things about himself.

Schreiber's line work is deceptively simple, as we see late in the book.

When the book begins, it's very straight-forward and unstylized, but Schreiber is only doing that to set the book in as bland a suburban setting as possible - the setting mirrors Justin's ennui (although perhaps "ennui" is too artful to describe Justin) quite well. As we move through the book, Schreiber's art gets more expressive, until Justin's journey through a beautifully rendered forest that is a powerful contrast to the dull suburbs. It's absolutely gorgeous, and says more about the liberating aspects of the power outage than words can say - in just one day, Justin has already become a bit more primal and connected to his world instead of playing his Wii all the time. I'm curious to see where Schreiber is going with his character (and, again, I could find out, but I choose to wait until another chunk gets published).

Power Out is an intriguing concept that is deeper than it first appears. The fact that Justin is a giant space in the center of the book is an odd way to go, but works for now, as we're unsure what to make of him and are as confused about the power outage as he is. As an introduction to the story, this works quite well. It's a bit disappointing that it's only an introduction, but it's certainly an intriguing way to go!

Tomorrow: Wow, a great place to finish this round of reviews.

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