If nothing else, Max Bemis’ Polarity is a well-named book. I’m not writing that because it “has its ups and downs,” I’m just not sure whether it wants to punch itself in the face or attempt autofellatio. A bit of both, I guess. More than any issue preceding it, Polarity #4 feels less like an interesting take on the superhero origin story, and more like a painfully obvious exercise in self-deprecating self-adulation. In this final issue of the miniseries, our hero - the super-powered, bipolar anti-hipster, hipster-protecting, self-hating hipster (otherwise known as “Tim”) - wraps up his ill-advised foray into super-heroism by stopping a nefarious plot to use disability-powered people for world domination, in the process snagging a sweet new girlfriend and punching the crap out of a troubled guy in a homemade K’NEX power suit. And they all pretty much live happily ever after ... “or DO they?” ... we are left to ponder.
Okay, first thing: I don’t think I’ve liked any one character in this book so far; most certainly not its main protagonist. In fact, he’s my biggest gripe with Polarity, which, given that he is its voice, isn’t good. Tim isn’t an altruistic everyman hero - I get that - but how does anyone actually root for this whiny, pretentious little hypocrite? I seriously can’t be the only one who finds his thinly-veiled sycophantic self-deprecating “humor” annoying. And readers who believe this guy isn’t the hipster he purports to despise after gushingly setting himself up as protector of super-trendy Williamsburg, basically because he lived there “before it was cool,” are lying to themselves.
His motivations are trite, yet heavy-handed; ardent yet disingenuous. He grabs a crack pipe out of nowhere like a 1-Up and through the glory of smack, activates his super powers ... one issue after he was beating up drug dealers for polluting his neighborhood’s social fabric. He pines - heavily and often - about the shackles of his mental disability, and then beats the shit out of a schizophrenic man while calling him a “weird son of a bitch.” I guess Tim’s mad ‘cause he was crazy before it went all mainstream?
Like Tim (and all hipsters for that matter), this book tries too hard and takes itself too seriously ... while desperately trying not to look like it tries too hard or takes itself too seriously. It makes fun of trendy culture one minute, before issuing an almost immediate apology, in this case through Tim’s final soliloquy: a puckeringly saccharine elegy to his beloved Williamsburg. And maybe it’s because Bemis has repeatedly said that Tim is a character based on himself, but this all just feels oddly masturbatory, not to mention prepubescent.
The end fight scene, for example, was clearly inspired by the daydreams of some loner 14 year-old: “Step 1.) Get into a fight with (and sacrificially stabbed by) Mecha-Wolverine; Step 2.) Go Super-Saiyan like a hard-ass; Step 3.) Rip shirt off and beat up Mecha-Wolverine in front of a crowd of onlookers and girl-of-dreams; Step 4.) Collect high-fives and get to third base.” It drips with immature hormonal angst, and I guess I’m just too old for that kind of story so overtly portrayed in my books. I mean, the guy has a battle cry of “You suck,” before literally tattooing it (like a bully might a “spastic” kid) all over his face. Self-aggrandizing. Hypocritical. Shallow.
And god knows what the message is supposed to be here. I’m assuming it was meant to ask something like, “Is it better to let your crazy diamond shine on, or settle down and sell out?” But that never really gets answered. Instead, we get conflicting opinions about things like: drugs are bad, but also enlightening; you should buy them, but hate the people you buy them from. Mundanity is boring; hate those who stew in their own juices, but attempt to find that comfort yourself. And don’t try to say any of this is the result of some kind of narrative expression of bipolar disorder; it’s just noncommittal writing.
In terms of art, I initially found Coelho’s near-Rob Guillory-esque style to be adequate, but here it felt rushed, uneven and weak. Saying that, the one page where Tim spears his opponent into space shows exceptional potential, it’s just a shame this was more of a flash of brilliance than a steady burn.
Overall, I found Polarity to be a thematic and character mess delivered by a retinue of uptight and affected scenesters with zero redeeming qualities. Unless you’re a die-hard fan of Bemis, in which case you’ll have picked this up anyway, I’d give it a pass.
Writer: Max Bemis
Artist: Jorge Coelho
Colors: Felipe Sobreiro
Release Date: 7/3/13