The Power Within

I fully support the purpose of this inspirational oneshot that tackles the issue of bullying of gay teens, but I wish it had been a little more satisfying. I wanted to see more positive change, even if that’s unrealistic. The creators set up the problems faced by their character in excellent fashion, but the solutions are much sparser.

The Power Within cover

The Power Within started as a 24-hour comic that later was printed via Kickstarter. It’s the story of Shannon, a boy who uses fantasies of becoming a superhero to cope with the harassment he faces at school. (Click the images for bigger versions.)

The Power Within page 1The Power Within page 2The Power Within page 5The Power Within page 6

Mark Brill’s cartoony art is easy to read, plus it makes Shannon approachable, since he’s small and cute. One of the things I found true-to-life is how Shannon is blamed for being a target. His parents and teachers, the people who should be valuing and protecting him, instead condemn his clothes and his actions. The scene with Mr. Cameron is heart-breaking, as Shannon is told that his mere existence is to blame for his being picked on, that he’s not trying hard enough to fit in. The dialogue feels very authentic, but in the story, I wanted to see those authority figures called to account, made to realize that they were contributing to the problem, not fixing it.

A new friend helps out Shannon, but he reads too much into the assistance, leading to more problems. This was another conflict I wanted to know more about than what’s in the comic. Do the two ever speak again after the events shown here? What, for that matter, is the friend’s name? The art is particularly lovely and emotional in the final sequence, but what happens? What choice does Shannon make? I wanted to see more information on how he copes. Perhaps I’m just wishing for this to be a graphic novel, not just a 36-page comic. There’s a lot more here that could be told, including exploring the question of whether Shannon’s fantasies of himself with superpowers actually help or not.

The story is told in three parts, with extra material between the sections, including a pinup by Dan Parent (Archie Comics), an excellent message page by Carla Speed McNeil, a crowded one-pager by Andy Mangels and Donna Barr, and a rather confusing wordless short sequence by Greg Rucka and Matthew Clark. There’s also a text page with suggested discussion questions about bullying and a short list of resources for gay teens.

The Power Within will be available in comic shops in September. Free copies are available to youth organizations and teacher groups and can be requested by emailing the publisher. Preview pages are available at the publisher’s website. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

6 Responses to “The Power Within”

  1. Nathan K Says:

    Excellent review! I agree with you this comic has many scenarios that remain unresolved. Still, I’m sure the enlightened teachers and parents who are looking for a teaching aid to generate discussion around the issue of bullying can find this a very useful tool. I hope the creators and contributors organize a follow-up to this issue.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Thank you, and good point. Perhaps the open structure allows for more readers to insert their own experiences and bring their own opinions to the situations.

  3. Good Comics Out August 24: Goodbye, DCU » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] recommend buying this week? If you like superheroes and want something much more inspirational, try The Power Within (Northwest Press, $4.99). Ed suggests Knights of the Lunch Table: The Battling Bands (Graphix, […]

  4. Suzene Says:

    I didn’t mind the lack of solutions so much; there aren’t any simple answers in situations like Shannon’s, and offering them would have hit a false note, IMO. I was less pleased by the “It Gets Better” message being included — at best, it’s always come across to me as a well-intentioned reinforcement of passivity, and, at worst, false hope. And the Simone/Jimenez one-pager just seemed odd — the message (“bullying stinks, no matter who does it”) fit the book, but it seemed a little off-mark considering the scenario and the fact that the kid being bullied is seeking refuge in the superhero fantasy.

    Generally, though, I liked it.

  5. Johanna Says:

    Suzene, do you mind my asking you to elaborate on the problems you see with “It Gets Better”? Do you think in some cases it doesn’t?

  6. Congratulations to Comic Creators Named to Out 100 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] list of “the year’s most inspiring people”. Christensen wrote and Brill drew The Power Within, a one-shot comic about teen bullying available from publisher Northwest […]

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