Monday, January 22, 2007

The best superhero comic on the market

I've been reading PS238 for at least 12 issues now, and it is a shining example of what a superhero comic should aspire to be. It offers a compelling and engaging story, fluidly illustrated, and consistently fresh. I'm not a fan of Aaron Williams' other work, but he has established a high level of enjoyment with PS238.

Most of the story focuses on Tyler, a normal boy in a school for super powered children. His parents enrolled him in the school because they have ultra-human abilities of their own, and they expect or want Tyler to develop similar abilities. He has teamed up with a Batman-style vigilante named Revenant, masquerading as an aspiring but bumbling Robin-type called Moon Shadow. Aside from his own adventures, there are many colorful side characters fleshing out the world of Tyler and PS238, including Zodon, an evil genius who has been programmed to have his swearwords edited with cleaner replacements.

In many ways, PS238 is a more "realistic" mash of the X-Men and Teen Titans, dealing with real problems, both adult and youthful in nature, and in the context of the notion that these young people have fantastic powers. Some of them have to work harder at being normal, others have to deal with the fact that their super power isn't actually that unique (i.e. the flying muscle combo). At the school, the children learn how to control and harness their talents, while also dealing with the everyday issues of being little kids.

What makes it all the more amazing is not only are the majority of characters children, a demographic I generally despise, but the comic can be read by old and young alike. Usually youth-friendly comics are nauseating or feature substandard storytelling and/or art, but PS238 rises above that. In fact, more mainstream (and even indie) comics that try to go dark and mature more often than not end up childish and even moronic, but PS238 is an all-ages title that is smart, sometimes funny, and sometimes mature. Not mature with nudity and blood (although there's not necessarily anything wrong with that), but mature as in dealing with subjects that sometimes require a wise mind and a tempered view to reflect on the scope and themes presented.

If I have any criticisms with the book, they are slight. Aaron Williams has not been able to keep up with the monthly schedule, but then again, Marvel Comics has often had delays, and they're a massive, old publisher with many hired hands. Aaron Williams is a small time (although relatively well-known) creator working with a small time publisher.

I don't mind the art at all (in fact I like it), although the cartoonish nature of the look could understandably turn off those who like their superheroes ripped like Stallone as Rambo. The comic also drops subtle jabs at the stylistic and bellicose clich├ęs of the genre, but not to the point where it becomes painfully self-aware and cynically too cool for itself.

PS238 is one of the most complete comics on the market today, and it blows away its competition. No matter how edgy or politically aware the mainstream superhero titles try to be, the can not top strong storytelling and a balanced approach. PS238 is at the top of the bunch.

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