Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Psi-Force Classic volume 1

Psi-Force Classic volume 1 contains issues #1 to #9 of the title. Although created by Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson, the series itself is written initially by Steve Perry then Danny Fingeroth with individual issues by David Michelinie and Fabian Nicieza. The art is mainly by Mark Texeira with some issues by Mike Vosburg and Bob Hall.

The basic premise is the series is one of psychic powers, with the White Event having enhanced and adapted the abilities of a number of people who already have Extra Sensory Perception. This use of ESP is another example of the supposed rules of the New Universe being broken from the outset, as is the handling of the reaction to having such powers. Although the main characters themselves at times struggle with the consequences, there's a rather all too easy acceptance that they have these powers when in reality many would likely freak out and the wider population panic. The only other significant sign of a more realistic approach is that injuries happen far more easily than in the regular superhero comics, but as the injuries are usually rapidly healed the effect is much the same.

At the start of the series Emmett Proudhawk, a CIA agent gone rogue with ESP powers of his own, assembles five teenagers who have recently found themselves with powers and brings them to San Francisco. In an early encounter with KGB agents "Hawk" is killed but the five teenagers find they are able to combine their powers to create a silent manifestation called "Psi-Hawk". Over the course of this volume they learn, sometimes the hard way, that the Psi-Hawk won't let them go their own way and they have to stay in hiding as runaways to protect both themselves and their families.

Hiding out in "Sanctuary", a home for runaways under the protection of Hawk's old friend Colby Shaw, the five struggle to adapt to their new lives with the problems of keeping their powers a secret, getting on with each other which is not always an easy task, dealing with other kids in Sanctuary, facing off against various government agencies and coming to terms with the Psi-Hawk. The concept is somewhat generic and it's easy to see elements of other teams of youths in this, particularly the X-Men. However setting this in a different fictional universe at least removes the obvious escape routes of turning to existing heroes for help, and instead the teenagers are left to fend for themselves.

The teenagers themselves are an unfortunate collection of stock archetypes that try to tick all the boxes. We have a moody loner, a pampered rich kid who finds themselves out of their comfort zone, a sporty kid rebelling against parental expectations, an annoying boy genius nerd and a foreigner. The four American teenagers cover multiple ethnicities, with Hawk's Native American heritage initially covering another, and the whole group looks as though it was assembled to order. This series may have debuted four years before the cartoon series Captain Planet and the Planeteers but it's hard to avoid noticing the similarities between the two as they both use the same structure.

The five themselves are a mixed bunch with several not terribly likeable. Wayne Tucker appears to be the eldest. A hot head from Chicago, he has telepathic powers to read minds and make people carry out actions. He resents being stuck with the others the most and is the first to try to break away on his own only to learn the Psi-Hawk exerts a control even when not formed. Wayne's powers are often used to get out of trouble and to wipe other's memories but he resents having to do this all the time. At one point he worries he's inadvertently used his powers to make another kid at Sanctuary commit suicide. His attempts at redemption are well meaning but forcing a businessman to not use loan sharks for money and instead "Get it from a bank!!", leading to a broad daylight hold-up. Kathy Ling is the archetypal "Valley girl", literally coming from the San Fernando valley near Los Angeles. A rich kid with telekinetic powers, she especially resents the way she's been dragged into all this and makes the most concerted effort to escape. Often she is resentful of the others' activities and just wants to go to the shops. Tyrone Jessup is initially the sporty kid, right down to the shirt he wears on the cover, hailing from Scarsdale, a small town outside New York. It soon becomes clear he's resentful of his parents pushing first him and then his brother down this route, believing it to be the only way black kids can get university scholarships. He has the power of astral projection, allowing him to become an intangible spirit form that can travel anywhere whilst his body remains in a vulnerable coma. Michael Crawley comes from Vermont and is both the youngest and geekiest of the five. He has the power to project destructive waves at objects with devastating results. Often the most optimistic of the five, his naive innocence is at times a crucial anchor. Finally Anastasia "Stasi" Inyushin is from the Soviet Union, having been extracted at great risk by Hawk. The back cover of the volume describes her power as "psychic empathy", presumably to make it fit the overarching theme, but it's really a miracle healing power that can heal just about any injury or illness. At times she wonders what she's let herself in for but perseveres.

The team has some limited support from Colby Shaw who runs Sanctuary, but her patience with their use of their powers and frequent fights with other residents. Otherwise their only ally is "Skipper", a colleague of Hawk's at the CIA who keeps tabs on them.

The group get caught in a succession of mundane problems and small time threats from criminals and thugs, plus the interest of various state agencies. In the first issue they are attacked by "Mindwolf", a KGB agent with his own destructive psychic powers who kills Hawk. It's clear over subsequent issues that at least one agency is keeping tabs on the kids and a mysterious figure has hidden another empowered kid, Thomas Boyd, from Hawk. Thomas is given the nickname "Stalker" and has the power to drain energy and life force from others. He thinks he's only capturing them, but rebels when he learns his master wants them dead and presumably him next. Much of the rest of the series is focused on the kids' attempts to grasp their powers and roles, find a way to escape from the power of the Psi-Hawk and cope with life around them. There are a few trips back to one hometown or another and a brief departure from San Francisco to Seattle but it's quickly reversed.

Overall this series shows an awkward hybrid of the arching vision of the New Universe and more conventional superhero norms. It may take advantage of the fact that this is a world without established heroes and that the powers have come in a single instance, but otherwise this book doesn't feel like it's set in an ordinary universe with a few science fiction but no fantasy elements. Instead it feels like a rehash of many of the themes of the X-Men, with the Psi-Hawk never really pulling things forward in a different way. Overall the series is rather pedestrian.

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