Scribbler’s Saga #19 – Mania

Posted: March 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

I’m probably doing a bit of disservice to people I know and with whom I share productivity time in reviewing Alex Studios’ independent series Mania now instead waiting for a few more issues. But, Issues 1 & 2 are all that’s available to read for the moment. Here goes. 

The series, proposed as a six-issue miniseries, follows the doings of two superheroes in a future California city, New Renard, where implanted augmented reality chips (ARC) have linked people together the way those Google Glasses were supposed to a few years ago. However, if a citizen experiences psychological, emotional or possibly spiritual difficulties the interaction of troubled mind and ARC chip can create a spandex-hero or spandex-villain. At the level of concept, sign me up, which I have contributing to the successful Kickstarter to make Issue 3 a reality.

But, then I read the first two issues and my ardor based on what is actually on the page has cooled some. It is still a brilliant concept filled with visually striking art and lots of potential still lurking just beneath the surface. But, it hasn’t figured out how to introduce characters, present the reader with the awesome world building that jumps off the page and tell a three-act story about fearless and mentally damaged heroes chasing a canister of DNA, all in a proposed six issues. I hope Alex Studios extends this miniseries out to at least Issue 8 to give their story elements some breathing room.

Issue 1, The Shift, follows the spandex-hero Jumpstart as he rescues a female citizen from one of New Renard’s robotic cops about to go haywire and make a lethal wrongful arrest. The blond long haired hipster in a woolen beanie rips up the cop and appropriates the still-active cop brain segment trying to teach the officer not to draw down on innocent women on the street, while a supermanic spandex-villainess robs a bank nearby using enough explosives to level whole city blocks.

Issue 2, The Light, introduces us to Iris, aka Dr. Tessa Ignatius, a supermaniac who harbors resentment towards the ultimate Big Bad, Fahrenheit Corporation, the inventor of the ARC chip, for stealing her hyper-efficient fusion reactor technology. She is, for lack of a better word, mugged on the subway by Prism, a former lesbian lover who works for Fahrenheit Inc. as a agent working to control the occasional and random appearance of supermaniacs. A fight and escape ensues.

A common element of both issues so far is that both Jumpstart and Iris start to have conversations with a voice on the other end of video phone calls. The mysterious voice is very worried that Lady Midna, a supermanic spandex-villainess with a penchant for mind control and dressing up as a clown (the Joker just called, he wants his metaphor back) just stole a canister of DNA labeled JAN. He demands both heroes start working to make things right working together, even though they don’t know it, yet.

So here we are at the end of Issue 2 hoping something picks up for the as yet unpublished Issue 3. I won’t go so far as to start bad mouthing this series (I’m committed through Issue 3 because of the Kickstarter), nor will I ever confuse a still-great concept with a reading experience that like many before it needs a few issues to hit its stride. But, so far the concept and Player Pitch (superpowers as a result of mental illness) are holding my interest more than the narrative.

We have seen two supermaniacs, Jumpstart and Iris, so far. But, while we do get some sense of Iris’ past with a mention that Fahrenheit Inc. has stolen her fusion reactor technology and the nasty lesbian spat behind an armored spider-bot mecha with Prism, I’m not sure I could tell you what Iris’ superpower actually is. Given that it’s traditional to assign superhero codenames based on powers, I’ll assume that she has light manipulation powers, but maybe we’ll get more clarity as the story progresses.

I know even less about Jumpstart. He leaps from tall buildings to save the woman in the red dress. He rips up the cop about to create the future world equivalent of an unlawful police shooting. But, I have zero understanding of what he does other than fly and display super-strength, powers that pretty much everybody everywhere has. I would guess that a guy named Jumpstart has some kind of electro-mechanical powers that helps him fly/fall with attitude, rip up officer-bots, and restart broken machines and hearts suffering cardiac events. We’ll see as the creators tell us the story.

The two villains presented in these two issues have been given more attention. I may joke about Lady Midna getting a call from the Joker over his appropriated villain metaphor, but psycho crime clowns have become one of the great comic book villain motifs. But, I found myself enjoying her presence despite that we only really see her robbing the bank to get the JAN canister and can’t stick around to use massive amounts of exposition to clue the reader into her raison d’être.

Similarly, I learned more about Prism through her fight with Iris than I did about Iris herself. I got to feel the annoyance of having to confront a former lover who has chosen the side of freedom over the conformity offered by the Fahrenheit Corporation. And that Prism will have to face superiors with a temporary failure.

I can’t reiterate enough that so far the Mania world is something that I want to see thrive once the need to introduce new characters gives way to telling a fun story where heroes chase a McGuffin (the JAN canister) for three acts. Once I get a handle on Jumpstart and Iris and how they will interact with the evil in charge of everything Fahrenheit Corporation that wants JAN to control all future advances in seamlessly connected biotechnology, this literary franchise should take off. Possibly, with an, as yet, unplanned second book.

Right now, Mania, is a tour de force of world building and innovative coolness that just needs to get busy with telling a story. Fingers crossed…

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