Writer/artist/colorist/letterer Jimmie Robinson is a one-man wrecking crew with talent to spare, but in the past your humble critic here has felt like a number of his projects start off well enough, but seem to get sidetracked along the way and fizzle out a bit before — or, perhaps more accurately, instead of — reaching their full potential. With his new Shadowline series Power Lines (published by Image Comics — and full disclosure compels me to inform you that I purchased a copy even though I was also furnished with a digital “freebie,” so hey, the book must be pretty good, right?), my earnest hope is that he’ll buck this trend and give us a series — however long it may last — that exploits its solid-as-hell premise to its fullest, and wraps things up in a satisfactory manner when the time comes.
Ya know what, though? I’m in no real rush for that to happen, because Power Lines #1 was some seriously good stuff, and this is a story that I’d really like to see take its time developing its characters, fleshing out the nature of their abilities (yes, there are super-powers involved here), and tying together its mythological and contemporary elements into a truly cohesive whole.
Plus, goddamnit, at a time when cops are shooting black kids for no other reason than “he seemed kinda scary to me and his pants were hanging low” (and grand juries are acquitting them for it) and the front-runners for America’s major-party presidential nominations are either tweeting bogus, racist “black-on-black crime” statistics that they got from (I’m not making this up) Nazi websites or trying to back-track on their comments referring to urban youth as “super-predators,” a book about a low-level “gang banger”-type who goes by the street “handle” of “D-Trick” trying to navigate a difficult path through both adolescence and his new quasi-magical abilities strikes me as being an important one, as well.
Toss in the fact that the one other person he encounters who appears to be similarly “blessed” is a racist 48-year-old white widow straight out of Fox “News” central casting, and you begin to see how things could get very interesting very quickly around these parts.
Shadowline is plugging this one as being “a bold step forward for diversity in comics,” and while Marvel is getting all kinds of credit for the new Ta-Nehisi Coates-written Black Panther series that’s hitting the shelves next week, it should be noted that Robinson has been pounding away in the trenches for a long time and is more than “qualified” to tackle issues of race, class, prejudice, the urban/suburban divide, and related issues given that he’s a veteran, “fifty-something,” black creator in a depressingly monochromatic industry. When “D-Trick” and his Oakland-based “crew” hit the all-white suburbs (ostensibly on a “tagging” mission, although one of them appears to have some petty theft on his mind, as well) there’s a palpable sense of tension even before the pigs show up, but the shit doesn’t start to really hit the fan until our protagonist flies away when confronted by the bullies in blue. Things don’t get any easier for him the next day, either, when that racist lady we just mentioned, one Sarah Bellingham, uses an app to track her stolen phone and ventures into Oaktown (do they still call it that?) with her more level-headed ex-Marine son, Kevin, to retrieve her purloined property — only to get “zapped” by a surge of mystical energy herself.
The idea of lines of magical power criss-crossing the globe is a common one in many cultures (the Brits call them “ley lines,” for instance, while the Chinese refer to them as “dragon lines”), but this being California and all, it’s the Native American take on these titular “power lines” that’s at the fore, and a mysterious Shamanistic character, who seems to be able to view events from both afar and up close, is waiting in the wings throughout this issue. So far he appears to be operating strictly in an observer’s role, but you just know that sharing ancient wisdom is his real gig, and Robinson’s challenge with this so-far-nameless guy going forward will be to both impart some sense of accuracy and authenticity with him as well as to eschew the “info-dumping” that such characters are so often relegated to. Sure, he’s got a lotta ‘splainin to dooooooo, but let’s hope he does so in a way that doesn’t involve four or five pages of text-heavy “listen, and I’ll tell you a story”-style flashback narration.
I must confess that I’m already beyond intrigued as to how all these disparate elements are going to coalesce into a singular narrative, and that’s a sure sign that a first issue has done its job. A recent interview on the Image website where Robinson states that his goal with Sarah is to create a real, honest, multi-faceted character who just happens to have some deep-rooted flaws — and, crucially, to explain how and why she came by her “Make America Great Again” mindset — has me eager for more, as well, and shows a welcome (and frankly necessary) willingness on his part to use Power Lines as a tool for dialogue rather than diatribe that a lot of creators, as well as plenty of readers, would do well to take note of. His clean, realistic, unassuming art style further roots these proceedings in a “real world” we can all relate to, and the end result is a fresh and relevant piece of work dealing with weighty themes, weighty truths, and weighty characters in a way that is more concerned with forging an understanding — and hopefully contributing to a resolution — than it is with merely clobbering you over the head with its point of view.
Which isn’t to say that this book doesn’t have a point of view, though. It clearly does. And while this debut installment could certainly have done with some tighter editing (Kevin is accidentally referred to as Sarah’s “son-in-law” in one panel and information is repeated in two consecutive panels on the second-to-last page), the story here is one that comics — as well as the wider world beyond them — both needs to hear and to understand. Jimmie Robinson seems willing and eager to meet his readership on their “home turf” to start that conversation and to acknowledge the beliefs and opinions of those who disagree with him. That’s both gutsy and mature. And so is the series he’s created here.