"America's Got Powers" is the second comic series from British media personality and celebrity comics fan Jonathan Ross following his debut with the critically well-received "Turf." Teamed with artist Bryan Hitch of "Ultimates" fame, this is both a higher-profile launch than his last book with a more traditional spin. Where "Turf" crammed together all manner of supernatural concepts and did it as a period piece, "America's Got Powers" is a simple tale of futuristic super-powered bloodsports.
While the title suggests some kind of "America's Got Talent"/"American Idol" competition structure, the premise has far more in common with the likes of "Rollerball" and "The Running Man." In this world, rather than taking to the streets (and skies) as vigilantes, super-powered individuals are used as pawns in a vast media empire fuelled by both executive greed and a public appetite for violence that can't seem to be sated, no matter how extreme it gets.
Fans of "Rising Stars" may notice some similarities in the explanation of how the super-powered teens acquired their powers but at this point, the uncertain origins of their abilities is a secondary factor in the story. The hook, to remain a little coy about the specific twist, is the discovery that one of their number may be slightly more special than the others -- but not for the reason he thinks.
Hitch's visuals are stunning. The action is widescreen in the most genuine sense of the word and as a storyteller, Hitch is one of the few who can use that panel format to properly enhance a story. Much is often made of his fantastically detailed renderings, but one thing this book really drives home is quite how good he is at conveying action on the page. Every panel conveys the energy and excitement of a sports game, bringing the atmosphere to comics in ways that would be difficult for anyone with any less talent.
The oversized format of the issue (it has twice the page-count at single-issue price) means that we get plenty of time to spend with the characters and world before the inevitable twist is delivered. It would have been possible to do the same in a single issue, but there's no question that it's all the better for taking more time to ease us in, painting a bigger picture of society and the characters inside it than a normal-length instalment would have allowed.
It's interesting to see a superhero artist of such a high caliber take on a book which (so far) only has one foot in the genre. In many respects, this is a sports comic which simply uses the visual language and genre conventions of superheroes, almost in the style of professional wrestling. It's an intersection of ideas that hasn't been done for a while, and likely hasn't ever been done this well.
As a book, it's strong in every area. Any ambivalence over the conceptual basis dissipated quickly, meaning "America's Got Powers" #1 is ultimately a powerful opening chapter for a story with a stronger high-concept than you might expect. It'd be worth a look for the art alone, but combined with a good story, it's yet another feather in Image's already prodigious cap.