Review: Polarity Vol. 1

Polarity is a four-issue miniseries published by Boom Studios written by Max Bemis, drawn by Jorge Coelho and coloured by Felipe Sobreiro.

Here’s a comic I read as a collected trade, having heard a lot about it at conventions and online. Writer Max Bemis is a musician for a band called Say Anything, and so there’s been a bit of talk about “musicians writing comics rather than lyrics”. Much of that talk has landed on the conclusion that Bemis sits along the ranks of musicians who are actually very good at writing comic books.
And having read the miniseries, I have to agree with that. Bemis seems to have a very solid handle on comics as a medium, and plays to the page very well. Although he has a tendency to overwrite at times, his use of narration and dialogue work rather well in creating a busy and interesting comic environment for the characters to move around.
The story is about a young artist in New York who is bipolar, and struggling to make anything of himself. And for the first issue, that’s essentially the whole of the concept – a character study, and a really interesting one at that. Bemis is writing from a personal place, and his own experiences inform the mood and tone of the first issue. He imbues lead character Tim with a really realistic quality, although that doesn’t particularly translate for any of the underdeveloped supporting characters.
Tim, however, is a brilliant lead character. He’s bipolar, but not a martyr to it. The condition does inform everything he narrates in the text, but at the same time he feels like a fully-formed lead character. He’s as culpable as anyone, and the story makes no attempts to present him as a perfect underdog fighting against a condition – he’s a fractious, difficult person just like anybody else, but he just happens to also have a debilitating mental condition which always sits in the back of his mind. 
While Polarity is focusing on Tim as a character, and how he interacts with his world and society in general, it’s an utterly brilliant piece of work. When it stops this and jumps onto rails so it can follow a bog-standard superhero-conspiracy-type plot, it begins to fray apart. Tim becomes a little less realised, but more than that – he gets fitted into a storyline which doesn’t suit him, or the series.
Polarity quickly falls apart midway through the second issue, and from then onwards we’re in for a series of half-developed characters, random plot developments, and a fairly boring plot progression.
The saving grace of all this is the creative team of Coehlo and Sobreiro, whose work on the series is absolutely stellar. Recalling the aesthetic of Adam Pollina to an extent, their designs feel realistic but idiosyncratic in the way they’re placed together. Tim has an everyman quality but within that, the creative team have space to stretch him out and try all sorts of expressive things with him. His hair continually changes to indicate his mood, his skin colour variates, and so forth.
They struggle to manage some of the fight sequences which show up – I’m not detailing the plot twist which shows up near the end of the first issue – but ultimately prove themselves to be an expressive and interesting artistic team whose work I’ll be keeping an eye out for in future.
Polarity is entertaining enough, but it still feels a shame that the series highlights two different directions the narrative could head down, and ultimately decides on the easier and less interesting of the two. The plot is rubbish, but the series remains an interesting, but flawed, piece of work. 
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