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“Power Lines #1” is in many ways, a classic super-hero origin story. But this series, which is written, illustrated, colored, lettered and edited by Jimmie Robinson, also feels like a totally fresh, unique and of-the-moment story. Robinson has constructed an superb premiere issue that delivers exactly what we expect from super-hero comic debuts; namely a sympathetic main character, an intriguing central concept, and a central mystery established in a compelling way. But it’s also very timely in its themes and what it chooses to focus on, namely the issue of race relations in America.
Power Lines follows D-Trick, a guy just trying to survive his neighbourhood. One night he and his crew head into an upscale white suburb to tag some buildings, and there an ancient magic inexplicably grants him super powers. The wrinkle is those powers can only be used within that white community.
That’s a premise rife with possibilities. There’s no denying that race relations in America is going to be a hot button issue, particularly when someone confronts it head on, as Robinson does here. There’s a distinct relevance to the issue, a desire to be completely contemporary, to depict this time in our culture when some people of color simply aren’t going to stand silent for systemic racism while at the same instant some Americans of greater privilege feel more threatened than ever. Or maybe one thing causes the other. Or maybe it’s a vicious circle.
I don’t want to suggest that this is solely some kind of social justice comic. There’s no denying that component, but as I said in the opening, it does feel extremely familiar in terms of its super-hero narrative. This is a straight-up super-hero origin story, and it ticks all the standard boxes in that regard. I don’t think this is a failing on Robinson’s part, though. I think he has deliberately hit all the classic origin beats because his protagonist is very much not your typical rookie super-hero type. This is a young black man from a disadvantaged neighbourhood, and that is not your typical super-hero at all. And once you include the brilliant idea that his powers activate in a place where he is going to have a decidedly hard time being accepted, it becomes all the more important that the issue remind you of other super-hero origins you may read in your life.
Then there’s the backstory behind the “power lines” of the title, which derive from Native American belief systems. Yet another corner of society that’s unusual to see represented in hero comics, and it also adds to the fresh feel of the issue while providing a compelling hook for the reader to come back for issue 2.
Robinson’s art is really nice throughout. There’s a sketchy minimalism to the work that allows him to use shadow and indistinct backgrounds to great effect, highlighting expressive close-ups of faces in the foreground or setting mood and atmosphere. The layouts communicate the action strikingly well, and there’s an old-school silver age vibe to his use of speed lines and sound and power effects that is charming. Not everyone is going to love his sketchy style, perhaps, but I dug the immediacy of his work. I felt like I was reading something that was drawn five minutes ago, rough and unpolished, but no less artfully done. And that perfectly matches the ultra-contemporary feel they’re going for here.
“Power Lines #1” is a great premiere issue, one that takes the classic tropes of super-hero origin stories and applies them to hugely relevant issues of our time and allows for a protagonist from a too-often ignored slice of society to take centre stage. That’s why I’m giving the issue a 9/10 rating.