Review – Primer: Paint by Powers

Comic Books DC This Week
Primer cover, via DC Comics.

Primer – Jennifer Muro, Thomas Krajewski, Writers; Gretel Lusky, Artist

Ray – 9/10

Ray: One of the biggest surprises of DC’s new wave of middle-grade OGNs has been the way it’s been introducing original superheroes to the world of the DC Universe. We saw a great opening act with the Gotham-set Anti/Hero, and now another preteen titan joins the group in Primer, a fun and cartoony tale of what happens when top-secret military technology meets impulsive teenager. Our main character is Ashley, a snarky 12-year-old with a criminal father who’s grown up in a group home after he went to prison. Written by cartoon vets Jennifer Muro and Thomas Krajewski and drawn by Gretel Lusky, the creative team immediately infuses her with a lot of energy and sass.

Ashley’s used to running away from foster homes quickly and has a taste for graffiti, but she gets another chance at a family when she’s taken in by Kitch and Yuki Nolan, a modern couple consisting of an eccentric artist and a kind-but-tense scientist. They try their best to make Ashley feel welcome, but an accident and a misunderstanding quickly set Ashley back on her heels, and lead to her making another run for it. The interaction between Ashley and the friendly Kitch is one of the best parts of this book – an unconventional, but very warm and different parent and child relationship.

Fire in the sky. Via DC Comics.

Of course, the prologue makes clear Ashley is going to get superpowers, and they come into play thanks to Yuki’s job. She’s a military scientist who has been involved in developing a new technology – easy-to-apply body paint created from the leftover DNA of famous superheroes, that can temporarily grant its wearer individual superpowers when placed on the body. A ruthless soldier named Strack is slated to be the first test subject, but when Yuki has second thoughts about letting it fall into military hands, she goes on the run with the briefcase and deletes the files to keep it from being replicated – and then stores it in a safe in her home, right where Ashley and her new friend Luke can find it.

There isn’t much time devoted to Ashley’s new school, aside to help her meet Luke, a sensitive and clever African-American boy with an interest in hairdressing who quickly becomes her confidante. It’s another great bit of representation to have an African-American main character who is so distinctly unstereotypical. The scenes where he helps Ashley experiment with the paint and figure out her new superheroes are a lot of fun – very reminiscent of Billy and Freddie testing Billy’s new powers in Shazam! One thing that stands out about this book is how relatively uninterested it is in standard superheroics. Ashley rescues a plane, beats up a hilarious group of pathetic villains called the Night Knights, but most of the story is character-driven.

Here comes Primer. Via DC Comics.

That, of course, changes towards the end of the book when Strack makes his move, escalating the military’s search for the paints and becoming a massive threat to Ashley and her parents. He’s a seriously evil villain, maybe too evil for a book like this. Essentially a wannabe war criminal who has no problems killing civilians, children, or even his own superior officers if he thinks it’ll help him get his hands on power, he sort of briefly breaks the tone of the book – although Ashley doesn’t seem to notice. She banters just as much while fighting him as she does with the Night Knights.

One of the best parts of Primer is just how inventive it is with these customizable superpowers. They each have a power, but only three can be used at a time before they burn out and self-destruct – a clever little touch that complicates Ashley’s mission and also provides a surprising twist in the end. While Strack is the main villain, I found the most compelling adversary here to be Ashley’s verbally abusive, manipulative criminal father, who is locked up but casts a long shadow and a possible sequel tease. At about 150 pages, this is a fast read, but has a great “Act one” feel that introduces another promising young hero to the line. Here’s hoping for a sequel and a team-up with Hummingbird and Grey Owl down the line!

To find reviews of all the DC issues, visit DC This Week.

GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

Liked it? Take a second to support GeekDad and GeekMom on Patreon!