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Superpowers as an Industry: Power Broker #1 (review)

Writer: Todd Vicino
Artist: Jon Kutzer

Independently published, 2018

Power Broker #1’s cover gives readers the impression of a standard superhero comic. It features a pair of of characters clad in skin-tight and color-coordinated costumes. Both are floating in the air while arcs of electricity illuminate the background. This cover, as attractive and exciting as it looks, is misleading. Because Power Broker is not your run of the mill superhero story. If you can even call it that.

The story of Power Broker is set in a fictional western metropolis called Potentia. There is no date mentioned in this first issue. But one can assume far future as a setting. It is a time when science has progressed enough to allow genetic super manipulation. With access to the right technology and resources, a person can get any super power they want. It can be super strength, energy projection, or enhanced durability. It can even be a terrifying combination of multiple abilities.

This is where Power Broker starts to emancipate itself from the common ruck of superhero stories. We are still at the first issue, so the story could go in more familiar territory. But it eschews stories of superheroes and supervillains. Instead, it focuses on how profitable super powers are, through an a la carte business model.

You won’t see the characters using their powers to stop or commit crimes, at least not intentionally. Rather, the focus is to show people being addicted to the possession of power itself, with unsavory consequences. Power Brokerages are not only expensive, they are also heavily regulated. So an underground market of fly by night power brokers have blossomed. These illegal power brokers offer affordable but highly unstable services.

To reign in the resulting rise of illegal power brokerages, the government created the Central Brokering Agency (CBA). This is a regulatory agency with extensive oversight over power brokerages, with its own super-powered agents that serve as inspectors and, if needed, enforcers capable of dealing with illegal power brokerages and the destructive enhanced monsters they sometimes produce.

Given that this is a first issue, readers should be prepared to wade through a large amount of exposition. Potentia is a very busy, complex setting and writer Todd Vicino crams in as much information needed to help you get to know the place and its populace. This is a great idea from a world-building perspective, but it can make some parts of the comic uneven as the amount of exposition sometimes muddles up the narrative.

This is a minor inconvenience, though. and one that will be easily glossed over by readers of mature comic books. And to the writer’s credit, there is plenty of action provided in the pages. If the reader is asking for scenes of super powered individuals wrecking each other in flashy colorful bouts, Power Broker #1 provides enough. Most of it is inconsequential, but they help demonstrate the stakes. And towards the end, helps set the stage for a future story arc.

In terms of art, Mr Kutzer’s work is commendable but a bit of an acquired taste. There is a bit of raw, unpolished aesthetic to his renderings of the characters, but the amount of detail and clarity he provides in each panel suggests that this is a stylistic choice, as opposed to a shortcoming. Mr Kutzer does not seem to like taking shortcuts, providing as much attention and detail to a random box in the background as he does to the protagonist’s costume. This dedication to detail is further enhanced by the extensive use of colors. Where other gritty mature stories rely on a limited palette of dark colors, Power Broker isn’t afraid to make full use of the color wheel.

We are not ready to heap heavy praise on Power Broker just yet. It is just the first issue and it takes a small amount of effort to fully appreciate if a reader is more accustomed to mainstream superhero comic books. But the comic sets up an interesting premise and the creators’ hard work is readily seen in the pages. There is a solid potential here.