Alters #1 Review
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artist: Leila Leiz
Colorist: Tamra Bonvillain
Letterer: Ryane Hill
Review by Josh Canales
By now if you’re reading this, you’ve likely already heard at least some of the controversy behind this book that highlights a sensitive subject in today’s society. Transgender rights and politics have become a massive talking point over the recent years, it was only a matter of time before those conversations made their way into comic books on a large scale. AfterShock’s diverse creative team, featuring a fantastic colorist who is trans, Tamra Bonvillain, is the first to bring the topic to the forefront of the comics industry, in the superhero genre particularly. The sensitive subject has brought on its fair share of criticism, most of which is to be expected, ranging from critiques based out of transphobia to ones with solid talking points based on the experiences (or lack-thereof) of the writer, Paul Jenkins, as cis white male. As a cis male myself, I do not feel like I am the right person to really get into the politics behind the book, but I would like to point out that Bonvillain herself has spoken on one of the biggest critiques of the book on Twitter about how the books “doesn’t have trans creators”, she is a creator on the book. Erasing her input to the book as a colorist is counteractive to promoting transgender creators as well as ignoring the impact colorists have on the storytelling of comics in general.
Alters #1 is a fantastic story that has a really interesting take on the whole “mutants” idea from Marvel. In this world Alters just recently made an appearance in the world, and like mutants, they were met with mixed feelings. Some Alters are doing good, some are blowing themselves into space by mistake, all while others are using their powers for evil purposes, of course. Our hero, Chalice, introduces herself to the world in the middle of a busy Time Square-like area where there are plenty of citizens there to witness her amazing flight ability. As quickly as she appeared Chalice takes off, but is pursued by some unknown Alters. In this world Alters seemed to have split into two different factions, one is for peace and equality, while the other is for dominance, or so it seems thus far. After getting away from this interaction with the unknown Alters we get to see Chalice at home, in her secret identity as the young man, Charlie.
This is the point where Alters really starts to hit previously untouched ground in superhero comics, Charlie is facing the struggle of not only coming out as an Alter in a world full of skepticism, but she is also under the pressure of coming out to her family as trans. Charlie is trying to be a normal young man, going to baseball games and sucking up gay “jokes” from his younger brother. Having yet to come out to his family as either, trans or Alter, Charlie is really struggling with herself and her happiness. Of course, she just wants to accepted and loved for who she is by her family. Yet at the moment she does not feel that is a viable option, so she does the one thing that makes her feel at home. She goes out as the super-powered Alter, Chalice.
Overall, Alters #1 is probably the best first issue that I’ve read all year without already having prior knowledge of the character or story. Paul Jenkins’ writing is so captivating with characterization that will not even make you question that this is the real world they’re living in. He writes real people into his story and not idealized or overly enthusiastic characters that are so prominent in the comic book medium. Well, that seems to apply to everyone except the main villain, but a superhero is only as good as their villain, so I’ll hold judgment on him for at least another issue or two as this was only enough to provide a nice taste of his insanity. As most first issues are, this was more full of exposition rather than action, but that is okay because the story presented is one that can draw almost any superhero fan in. Jenkins’ storytelling is fantastic and relatable, probably more than most recent superhero comics right now.
Knowing full well that the art on a comic book can easily make or break the story and/or sales of a book, it always does well to keep some high quality artists’ names handy when looking for new books; Leila Leiz and Tamra Bonvillain are two names to add to that list. Both of these woman are absolutely incredible at the work they do, Leiz’s art is practically unparalleled for someone so new to comics, while Bonvillain’s coloring work can be seen across Marvel, DC, AfterShock, and more. These two together as basically a dream team; from facial expressions to action scenes these two had me enveloped into their world. You can really tell they the team pays particular attention to how to present what characters look and dress like, especially when Chalice is acting as Charlie, choosing to cloth him in more baggy clothes that could hide his transition while still allowing him to appear masculine to the outside world, which is an important detail to her story. Overall these two fantastic artists team up to bring Jenkins’ storytelling to a point higher than it ever could have been without the pair.
Buy it. As in right now. Stop reading and buy this book. AfterShock’s Alters #1 is a fantastic superhero story with an underlying transgender story. These two things combine to create an incredibly interesting plot that I for one cannot wait to see how it progresses. While this book has many controversial articles floating around it, it would do you well to pick up this book and form your own opinion. Even if you don’t particularly enjoy this issue, just your interest is enough to help show the industry that you want more transgendered characters and creators. This issue is truly worth at least picking up and I really hope you do.