By Paul Jenkins, Leila Leiz & Tamra Bovillain
On Wednesday, AfterShock released its latest comic, Alters. To date, the publisher has launched a variety of series covering a variety of genres from war to science-fiction to horror. They have a covered a range of tones as well. Writer Paul Jenkins’ previous project Replica was a goofy science-fiction yarn, while Marguerite Bennett’s Insexts is a literate feminist mashup of lesbian romance and Victorian horror. Alters shares elements from both titles. Like Replica, there is a breezy tone which embraces the four-color outrageousness of superheroes. Meanwhile, as in Insexts, Jenkins has deeper themes in mind, using the series to explore social issues. The results are a promising first issue that capably introduces a new world to readers.
In the narrative of Alters, super powered beings, aka Alters, have only recently emerged. The first was a man named Octavian who gained mental abilities similar to a supercomputer. In the beginning, he was viewed with awe, held up as a potential savior of humanity. Than more Alters appeared and the problems began. Eventually a ruthless killer by the name of Matter Man began throwing around his weight. With the ability to level entire cities, the publics’ formerly sunny view of Alters immediately soured. Into these circumstances steps a new heroine who adopts the name Chalice.
Chalice is a young woman with unusually strong powers. On paper she is a familiar type: the quiet loner trying to come to grips with her shifting circumstances. In public she puts on a brave face, spritely sparring with Octavian when he attempts to recruit her. Chalice has an appealingly gleeful personality which is very much in vogue for young heroines these days. Yet, her story is a bit more complicated.
Chalice’s secret identity is Charles a young man living in Cleveland. Charles lives with his parents, helping them care for his brother, Teddy, who has Cerebral Palsy. Charles is also transsexual, a fact that he hides from his family out of fear for their reactions. Still, he has little doubt about his feelings, having already secretly started hormone therapy. He knows that he needs to tell them soon, yet, cannot work up the courage. Charlie is a good guy, especially in his attention to Teddy. However, he is only truly comfortable when he dons a wig and becomes Chalice. The trope of the superhero having to hide their true self from their loved ones is an old device, but by linking it to the growing awareness of transsexual issues, Jenkins gives it a contemporary twist. Charlie/Chalice may share some genes with Peter Parker/Spider-Man but the execution allows the character to have a distinct voice. In addition, Jenkins’ use of Matter Man evokes the anxieties associated with groups such as ISIS. For example, Matter Man reinforces a televised ultimatum with an execution. By raising issues such as these, Jenkins suggests that he has something in mind for Alters deeper than a fun romp.
Art for the issue is provided by Leila Leiz. Leiz has a clean, jaunty style which matches the personality of the heroine. Indeed, her best work for the book is conveying Chalice’s bubbly charisma; the final page is particularly charming. She is also good at conveying the contrast of Charlie’s repressed, everyday life with Chalice’s empowerment.
All in all, this was a promising debut. Alters has the potential to be not only an important comic, but a fun one as well.