Alasdair Stuart writes for Bleeding Cool;
America’s Got Powers by Jonathan Ross and Bryan Hitch is a comic entirely about fighting. It’s also a very, very clever comic about fighting.
The set up is pretty standard; a crystal lands in San Francisco and instantly every woman within a certain radius falls pregnant. The children, once mature, exhibit superpowers of extraordinary strength and these superpowers are tested as they compete for a place on America’s superteam via a reality TV show. So far, so generic. Outside, you can almost hear the tattered capes of the never ending stream of cold, nihilistic superhero titles waiting to welcome another to the miserable fold.
Except Ross’ script uses this as the jumping off point rather than the premise. Initially we see behind the scenes on the show from the point of Tommy Watts, the only child not to be born with powers. Tommy’s old brother was the show’s first fatality the year before and he works a dead end job in the merchandise stall at the AGP arena. Just as, superficially, the show is a lazy riff on reality TV this plays like a lazy riff on ‘scrappy outsider makes good’. You can almost hear Clerks by Love Among Freaks playing as he careens into the stall, gives discounts for kids and is generally an endearing, scrappy little punk of a main character.
Tommy’s not fighting to be noticed he’s fighting to stay exactly where he is and the final few pages show us exactly how little chance he has of that.
Then we see the show from the point of Professor Syell, it’s creator with the somewhat familiar face. Syell is where Ross’ script really shine as he shifts from bad guy to hero to machivavellian pseudo-Moses all in the space of an issue. This plot strand is fascinating because we not only see the arena from Syell’s point of view but we see how the world has already moved on from that. Ross’ script has a couple of beautiful lines nested inside it that tell you a lot more at the end of the issue than they did at the start and Syell’s confrontation with his bosses looks set to be an axis the entire series is going to revolve around. If Tommy’s fighting for anonymity, Syell’s fighting for Tommy’s future and the only way he can secure that may be to destroy his anonymity once and for all. The two men meet for barely a full page but their relationship is already fascinating to watch.
Then there’s the actual violence.
This book is brutal and the ‘game’ is where Hitch is given an opportunity to cut loose. The increasingly frantic action unpacks the plot twice, and by the time the book ends we’ve not only seen a genuinely disturbing fight scene but also been shown exactly how the world is and how it’s just changed. This is violence as a means of expressing character and progressing plot rather than as empty spectacle and it’s all the more powerful for that. No one feels safe here and hopefully that sense of danger will carry through the rest of the series.
America’s Got Powers is a book about fighting in every single way. It’s hero fights to be ignored, it’s other hero fights to save the future at the expense of the present and it’s other characters just fight. Blood, sweat and big ideas all get thrown around and everyone leaves it all on the page, all out on the mat, exactly as it should be. After all, you need to come back fresh for round two.
America’s Got Powers is published by Image Comics on the 10th of April.