By Wes Jones
What if ADHD was the reason Quicksilver is so fast or dissociative identity disorder was the cause of Mystique’s shape-shifting abilities? MANIA presents us with a future where mentally ill tech mutants called ‘supermanics’ are the result of futuristic cybernetic tinkering. It’s 2052 in the completely automated city of New Renard, and all citizens are provided with a neural implant called the ARC. When the ARC is implanted into people with normal brain chemistry, it works as a sort of personal assistant with a HUD — think a fully-realized Microsoft HoloLens. Those with mental health issues, however, may cause the ARCs to malfunction and they end up with superpowers because comic books.
Publisher A.L.Ex Studios brings society’s perception of mental illness to the forefront of its story, while also exploring traditional cyberpunk themes of post-humanism and artificial intelligence. Although New Renard sounds like a horrific dystopia, it actually isn't all that bad for everyone who isn’t a supermanic. Everything you could want or need is available and easily accessible. If you’re feeling a little down, your ARC can augment your brain chemistry to cheer you up. All city services are automated and efficient, even the police. It sounds like an idyllic future. Being completely reliant on tech provided by mega-corporations could prove to be problematic for obvious reasons, however. Supermanics are the only deviation from the norm. Society sees them as dangerous curiosities, to be feared and ogled. Fahrenheit Corporation sees them as a threat to the status quo.
Each of the first two issues focus on supermanics Jumpstart and Iris, respectively. Jumpstart suffers from persistent depressive disorder and, as a result, has developed gravitational control, while Iris has OCD, granting her matter manipulation. Both of our protagonists are inadvertently involved in a conflict between a mysterious hacker and Fahrenheit. The clandestine hacker warns our heroes that Fahrenheit is plotting something that could prove disastrous, and asks for their aid in preventing it. There's an engrossing sense of escalation as the two issues progress and our unseen tech wizard assembles his mentally ill Avengers and the eventual final conflict between the two factions draws closer.
A team of superpowered misfits is nothing new to comics, but the angle of making their illness the source of their power is unique and makes the characters sympathetic in a way that many larger-than-life heroes aren’t. The writing and art are solid and compliment each other well, making for a brisk and entertaining read, on par with many of the Big Two’s current books. The title is a vehicle to raise awareness and help dispel the stigma surrounding mental illness and does its job admirably. However, I’d like to see more of an explanation of the characters’ neuroses as the story progresses. While most readers may be aware of obsessive compulsion and other disorders, many don’t realize what the diseases actually entail and the varying ways that they affect people. As it stands, the first two issues maintain a good balance of entertainment and education, but hopefully we can take a break from the action at some point to address what mental illness is like for people without the consolation of supernatural abilities.
Mania #1 &2
Writer: Leon Conliff
Artist: Teddy Wright IV
Letterer: James Sparkman