“Power Up” #1 is a good debut issue that introduces a fun “first contact” story revolving around a mysterious incident that gives strange powers to four Earthlings, though writer Kate Leth focuses mainly on two: pet store employee Amiee and a fish named Silas. It’s an entertaining concept abetted by artist Matt Cummings that has a lot of potential but still doesn’t quite get off the ground in this opening chapter.
Leth paints Amie as a 23-year-old who is doing her best to get by, unexceptional enough to be a surprising candidate for the power with which she is imbued. After the incident, she is attacked — or approached — by a strange creature in a suit that is dispatched by Silas when he becomes a whale that shoots lasers from his eyes, leaving the store a mess. As Amie discusses the incident on the news, other strangers discover that they may have similar experiences to share.
As mentioned above, there is a lot of potential in this concept. Amie is a likeable protagonist; one of the main characters is a fish that transforms into a superwhale; according to the cover, one of them will be a man who dresses in drag; and another will be a woman with incredible strength. However, the book falls short as an introduction as Amie, the point of view character for readers, spends most of the fight screaming that she doesn’t understand what’s happening, only to have her foe dispatched in a way that doesn’t yet make any sense. The villain speaks in scratches, smears and odd symbols, leaving readers at a loss for why anything has happened. The opening tells that a prophecy foretold an age of peace led by these four but then gives readers violence that did not previously exist in the world.
Cummings has a fun, minimal style, mixing the extreme moments of shoujo manga that Bryan Lee O’Malley has adopted previously. The simplicity, though, hurts the storytelling in places as the fight becomes a series of odd shapes and tight panels that try their best to convey an odd situation but wind up simply being odd visuals. The wrap of the battle is confusing, as it doesn’t clearly display what is happening. It’s possible this is the point but, as a reading experience, it winds up frustrating. The most fun moments of the book are the furthest from its conceit; watching the characters bounce off of one another in the real world is much more entertaining than the supernatural elements that take up the middle of the book.
The tone of the series is reaching for the fun, anything-goes style of the writer’s work on the “Adventure Time” comic series but winds up a little too unfocused to be a satisfying experience. This is the first part of a six issue tale, so readers only have 16% of a story at the moment. Readers are still in the dark on how the inciting incident has fully affected anyone other than the fish, which is funny but not very accessible for readers. Leth is an entertaining writer and Cummings’ art provides a light, fun bounce to the story, but “Power Up” still has some work to do before it steps up to “can’t miss” territory.