As the two biggest superhero-orientated comic book publishers, the characters that have defined Marvel and DC have been around since the Golden Age. There will be stories for decades to come with icons like Batman and Spider-Man that will hopefully remain relevant for today’s young readers, but what about new creations? While Marvel has the likes of Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, one of the best new creations to come out of that publisher, DC has Naomi as part of Brian Michael Bendis’ Wonder Comics imprint. Of course, there is room for a few more.
Published as an original graphic novel, Primer tells the story of Ashley Rayburn, an orphan who has been through the foster system since the imprisonment of her criminal father. When she gets another chance to be part of another foster family, Ashley finds a new home with the Nolans: the adult hipster, Kitch, and his more sophisticated wife, Yuka.
Adjusting well in her new family, despite the fear of her father clinging onto her, Ashley discovers a briefcase that is secretly kept by Yuka, who is a geneticist working for a very high-level tech company — one that’s contracted out to work for the government and the military. As the briefcase contains tubes of what looks like body paints, they comprise of a colorful array of superpowers that Ashley uses for good, despite Yuka’s worry of the paints being on the wrong heads.
A lot happens in this comic, some of which rarely gets time to breathe — Jennifer Muro and Thomas Krajewski’s script moves at such a quick pace. The storytelling at times falls into familiar tropes, such as a teenage orphan at the center and the journey she goes through — it’s not far off from the cinematic Shazam!. That said, there is a lot to like as the comic works best when exploring the domesticity of our hero. Considering her decidedly downtrodden past, Ashley maintains an upbeat personality that can lead to troubling situations, but in the company of the Nolans as well as her only friend Luke, provides the feel-good moments that make you wish that other superhero comics were this comforting.
The moment that certainly clicked for me in terms of narrative and art is the bond between Ashley and Kitch, as the latter notices and loves the former’s street-art. Kitch invites her to his studio where he paints and influences Ashley to study his artistry. Introducing the super-powered paints may be on the nose, but it helps Ashley in finding her own identity, which is at the heart of all superheroes.
With a colorful art-style that is so different from conventional superhero art, Gretel Lusky – coming from a background in character design and visual development in animation – presents a painterly quality in every page that fits well with Ashley’s youthful nature that shines throughout. Speaking of character designs, they are all so well-expressed that you don’t need as many words to describe how someone is feeling — there’s even a hilarious panel involving a surprised dog that says it all.
Although I wish the book was longer and some elements were fleshed out more, Primer does plenty right as a coming-of-age superhero narrative that explores a literally colorful array of superpowers.