Monday, 29 December 2014

Polarity Review (Max Bemis, Jorge Coelho)

Hold. The. Phone. 

A Boom comic that’s not total poop? That’s unexpected! Polarity’s about a bipolar artist but it’s full of things I liked and didn’t like that I’m gonna sound a bit bipolar myself in this review as I go from one end of the spectrum to the other! 

Tim is a bipolar Brooklyn hipster artist whose work is the toast of the art scene. Then his hipster girlfriend Alexis informs him that his new work - the work he’s produced while he’s been taking his prescribed medication - is boring and that he’s losing his edge as an artist. This sends Tim in a tizzy, he flushes his meds down the loo, starts using street drugs and booze again, and begins creating art in a frenzy, believing the idiotic Alexis that art comes from unhinged, inebriated chaos. 

That’s when Tim discovers from his therapist Dr Mays that the paranoia he feels is valid - there ARE people watching his every move. Even Dr Mays is watching him too! In fact Tim has unknowingly been a part of a secret high-level programme which studies certain bipolar people who develop superpowers during manic episodes! And, kinda like the Hulk, the more manic Tim gets, the more powerful he becomes! 

While I liked parts of Polarity, it does have a number of problems. First and foremost is Max Bemis’ writing style which packs the pages with multiple bulging panels of text. It’s not the worst thing to see in a comic but I do wish Bemis would trim down the script a bit. But then you encounter the convoluted - and then some! - plot and you realise why Bemis has to write so much. 

I had to re-read several sections of the book because so much of this story didn’t make sense. Secret organisation studying people with bipolarity? Bipolar people get superpowers - how? How come Tim has been bipolar for years but only just now begun to manifest powers? On one level I can understand why having superheroes dependent on medication would give this organisation a degree of control over them but what if the superheroes decided to give up on the medication and just go nuts by themselves? Mental superheroes don’t make a lot of sense! 

Then again this whole book could be one long delusion by Tim and that’s why a lot of the questions above don’t add up. He HAS gone manic and is imagining everything in the story - he doesn’t have superpowers, he’s just in the midst of a particularly powerful breakdown. The ending especially hints at that possibility. But I’m going to ignore the idea that this is all in Tim’s head and take it as really happening - that’s a more fun interpretation anyway, plus it would be enormously banal if “it was all a dream”.

When Tim discovers he has superpowers he decides to use them for good like Spider-Man would. And, like Spidey, there’s a scene where he crawls up an alley wall (there’s no limit on his powers, he can do anything) and he beats up a gang of muggers - both very clichéd superhero moments. But then later he does other things that are different like when he goes back to his old school and smacks the bottom of a jock bullying a kid Tim identifies with(!?), then reveals a hipster pop star called Juicebox is a hypocrite in the middle of a concert. 

Even that scene though feels a bit simplistic. Tim manages to get onstage, in a mask, to reveal Juicebox’s bullshit (because he’s manifested psychic powers) who then instantly breaks down and confirms everything he’s just said. Why didn’t she just say “None of that is true - this masked weirdo is crazy, get him off the stage!” I mean, why not? It was a matter of he said/she said - he didn’t have any evidence! 

I thought the bipolar side to Tim was insightful in parts and felt real which makes sense as Bemis himself is bipolar (he’s also part of a band called Say Anything though I’ve never heard of them or their music before). I liked the romance Tim had with Lily - yeah, I can appreciate emotions and junk sometimes, I’m not totally inhuman! 

And I just like the idea of a superhero smoking crack to power up before going to fight a crazy in a giant robot suit - never seen Captain America do that! There is a Dark Horse comic called Buzzkill which has a similar idea though where the hero gets his powers from alcohol but he’s trying to get clean - it’s not a bad comic but not without its flaws either. 

Jorge Coelho’s art is pretty strong. I liked the swirling images of the manic sequences, I think he acquitted himself well in the superhero fight scenes, and I really enjoyed his character designs, especially those of the hipsters. It all looked very convincing, and the overall look of the comic is very pleasing. 

Polarity is a mixed bag, perhaps appropriately so given the subject matter! It is overwritten for the most part with Bemis’ script sometimes swamping the reader and stymying the already-treacherous-to-navigate plot still further, and it does fall into the generic pitfalls of superhero comics towards the end with the bland, overdone action. 

But, despite its flaws, I enjoyed parts of Polarity quite a bit. It’s an unusual book that takes a different approach to the superhero story and it somewhat successfully fuses elements from indie and mainstream comics into one. It’s not a bad effort from Bemis/Coelho and Polarity is certainly one of the most interesting comics I’ve read from Boom, ever!


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