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Powr Mastrs Vol. 1
posted November 3, 2007
PictureBox Inc., soft cover, 120 pages, October 2007, $18
9780978972288 (ISBN13), 0978972287 (ISBN10)
The first 120 pages that make up the first volume in the unknown-number-of-volumes series by Chris Forgues (CF) called Powr Mastrs
do what all sprawling story-driven comics do: ease us into the narrative, introduce a bunch of characters, and most importantly give us an idea of how those characters function in the world in which they're placed. Whereas many fantasies communicate freedom at first touch, a child's notion of being able to arrange life and career and family in a way that suits your granted-by-God, reinforced by prophecy ability to select a course of self-determination that is muddied by none of those hindrances, the Known New China depicted here seems dominated by vaguely dissatisfying rules and rigid expectations in terms of give-and-take within relationships. People snipe at each other, they may not give as good as they get, they may find themselves dressed down when someone reminds them of this imbalance, some of the characters are outright broken. Even a forthcoming celebration called transmutation night functions in the story as basically an indication that its pleasures are not to replicated until then. I loved it; my heart immediately went out to all of the characters a bit broken and out of step; theses are feelings that the English schoolmaster type of fantasy never manages to stir.
I've read this book only once since receiving it, and want to read it at least one or two more times through. I'd be lying to you if I said I thought this a totally accessible comic book story, although I can see where people might decide that for themselves. For me, there's something about the consistency of the visual presentation that discombobulated me. I'm guessing that this is scanned pencil work, slightly altered, although I could see one or both of those things not being true. Some pictures are hazier than others, less detailed or even less sharply realized. It's unsettling, and while it throws the reader's attention more deeply into some scenes that might have been pushed past simply because the drawing is so sharp and lovely, at times I had a hard time making sure I paid close attention to certain scenes for the lack of refinement in some art. It could be that CF is subverting the effect of a kind of baroque presentation that such work routinely provides, what can become a crutch to the imagination for its limited palette, or it could be psychological reinforcement for the shifts in powers that came as each relationship become delineated. Or it could just be an uneven approach to art. I'm not certain, but the possibility speaks well that there is a world here worth discovering, and that there's more than a first impression to be had.
As for now, you can enjoy that initial meeting: Forgue's costume designs, for one, or the humor that drives several scenes, or even the way characters charm or work in non-primary emotional colors. (There's a chapter called "Pico's Cabinet" that consists of little more than a conversation between a character and the book's readers, that proves utterly disarming). I'm not certain how many people will be able to find an immersion experience waiting for them as the story continues, or that for most people this won't qualify under charming and even stiff rather than affecting and moving art. I don't even know that you can yet tell this is a story of quality and worth waiting for. Still, Power Mastrs
's first volume creeps close enough to the sensation of fantasies from moments of half-remembered sleep, a kind of pageant with madness as its backdrop, that I can hardly wait for the next one.