Review by Win Wiacek
In recent years DC opened up its interlinked superhero multiverse to generate young adult graphic novels featuring its stars and new characters in stand-alone(ish) adventures.
To date results have been rather hit or miss. However, when they’re good, they are very good indeed. One such triumph is Primer, which taps into the communal history and mystique of the DC universe to introduce a sparkling new character who encapsulates every aspect of youthful rebellion channelled into doing good in the traditional cape and cowl manner.
Written by animation scripters Jennifer Muro and Thomas Krajewski, this origin adventure crackles with pace and thrills, whilst basking in superbly effective dialogue and sharp one-liners. Making the pictures sparkle and shine is 2-D visual developer, animation/games character designer and jobbing illustrator Gretel Lusky. Primer is her first comics project and augurs a long and fruitful career ahead as the artist seems able to effortlessly mix drama, pathos, spectacular action and sheer glee for maximum impact.
The wonderment first unfolds as a crashing airliner is plucked from the sky over Washington DC. Suddenly, everyone is saved by what appears to be a paint-spattered, super-powered thirteen year old girl. Flashing back three weeks, we meet troubled Ashley Rayburn, who – after another bout of nightmares about her dad – goes tagging walls with her personal brand of street art. The cops who arrest her are pretty sympathetic – for cops. They realise it must be tough having a major crook for a father… even if he is currently in jail.
Ashley is basically a good kid acting out, and home supervisor Mrs. Boyd is trying her best to be understanding, but after regular graffiti arrests, and being swiftly returned by five sets of prospective foster parents, the child is becoming a real problem with diminishing chances of a normal life. If Ash doesn’t gel with latest prospects Mr and Mrs Nolan, she might be stuck in the system for her entire teen years. Thankfully, these adults are pretty cool. Kitch is a laid back art teacher with a wicked sense of fun/mischief, whilst his partner Yuka is a brilliant scientist: a geneticist who’s as obsessed with football as Ashley is.
Everything seems cool, but Yuka’s employers are working on a project for the US Army, and she’s secretly destroyed all the files and removed the only samples of their experiments. These are gel solutions enhanced with the DNA of superheroes and villains. They look like body paints and can temporarily endow specific powers – 33 different ones – in whoever absorbs them through skin contact.
Sadly, she’s new to parenting and doesn’t realise that acting suspicious and conspicuously hiding a flashy briefcase is the best way to get a teenager about to celebrate a birthday to poke around where she shouldn’t. Before long, Ash and pal Luke have uncovered the paint tubes and are playing with borrowed superpowers.
Primer is a gripping tale about origins, exploring the process of finding yourself and being your best, smartly cloaked in the bombastic trappings of costumed heroics, and the search for belonging and taking control of your life. It’s a compelling romp to warm the heart, stir the pulse and light up your life. Sequel ASAP and series soon, please!