COMICS: John reviews “Power Up” by Doug TenNapel

Power Up, an original graphic novel by Doug Tennapel

Power Up, an original graphic novel by Doug Tennapel

The premise of Earthworm Jim creator Doug TenNapel’s latest graphic novel, Power Up, is not unlike the Fantasti-defeat-Dr. Doom-ray.  It’s so obvious and clever that it’s a wonder no one has tackled it before: Wouldn’t it be great if real life worked like video games, where you could have cool abilities like stop-time and extra lives?  (EDIT: I guess you could say that the Scott Pilgrim series does this to an extent, but O’Malley tries to make the video game elements seem second-nature to the characters.)  TenNapel takes this premise and blends in elements from a few classic wish-fulfillment stories like It’s A Wonderful Life and The Monkey’s Paw, then brands it distinctly with his own unique blend of humor and heart to create a compelling cautionary tale warning of the dangers of obsession and of getting everything you always wanted.

Power Up is the story of Hugh (I don’t think his last name is ever given), an average joe who works a low-level job at Kopyko’s, wife and pre-teen son, and dreams of selling his video game designs to a major game publishing company.  The monotony of Hugh’s life is broken when he picks up a strange-looking homemade video game console at a garage sale, only to find that a secret button on the side of the controller causes the game’s power-ups to materialize in the real world!  Hugh has all kinds of fun testing out classic game power-ups like shields, 3x multiplier, invisibility, and even extra lives that manifest as nearly-identical copies of himself (distinguishable by the prominent “on/off” switch on their chests.)  Soon, Hugh finds a way to turn power-up gold into real money and can finally provide the life for his family that he always wanted to, only to find that his obsessive pursuit of wealth and status has alienated him from the people he cares most about.  Without further spoilers, I can say that there’s an epic battle scene, a thrilling climax, a clever twist, and a satisfying conclusion.

While the whole story is in some ways similar to the movie Click, TenNapel’s flair for characterization and love of video games helps to give Power Up a distinctly different feel from that Adam Sandler vehicle.  The emotional scenes are honest but not tear-jerking, and the comedy is great fun for video game fans both new and old.  TenNapel both writes and illustrates Power Up, and the presence of a  single creative voice helps to unify the story’s prose and art.  Fans of his earlier comics work or of Earthworm Jim will find Power Up to be similar, if slightly more realistic at times (and EWJ fans will get a kick out of the numerous mentions to the franchise, referred to as Earth Dog Jim to avoid copyright infringement.) The quieter story moments look just as great as the fantastic VG action, and it’s hard to say which aspect of the story is handled better.

Incidentally, Image printed Power Up on a bright, high-quality non-glossy stock (either a very subtle matte or completely uncoated, it’s hard to tell which) that works perfectly for black-and-white collections.  I still think they should’ve used this for I Kill Giants, but I’m also aware of the fact that that’s a personal preference, and that most people prefer glossy books all the time. Oh, well.

Power Up is a very fun, funny story jam-packed with video game humor, but it also has a heart that it wears on its sleeve.  If you’re a fan of Doug TenNapel, video game comics, or even It’s a Wonderful Life, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: