Written by Max Bemis and with art by Jorge Coelho, Polarity is a four issue comic book series that was released over the course of 2013. It follows Timothy Woods, or Tim as his friends know him, as he traverses the “trendier” side of Brooklyn after having a psychological breakdown and finding out that he has manic depression. While in the process of trying to rebuild his life, Tim makes a rather big discovery – he has super powers when he’s having a manic episode.
Things start normal, half-nakedly, enough. Learning of Tim’s life post diagnosis, the degree of regret the character shows as his career slides despite his best efforts makes Tim quite loveable. He’s doing his best, Bemis makes very clear, but you can see early on that he’s regretting the life his condition and subsequent drug regime has landed him in. The cruelness of seeing Tim more aware of the two-face insipidness of many of his so-called friends neatly builds-up the sense that something has to happen. In fact, if there’s one recent comic book series I’ve read that suggests that hipsters are uninspired pieces of bad news – it’s this comic. Seriously, Bemis has quite a go at the subculture.
Anyway – something has to give. Over the course of issue one, Bemis with Tim’s narration demonstrates how the character is having second thoughts about being “better”. Each page, Tim is more and more frustrated with what his life has become, like he’s trapped in a bubble that he needs to burst out of. And when Tim does burst out, his spiralling back towards being manic again is beautifully done by Coelho over a double page spread, where the literally spiralling background and circling thought captions, skillfully written by Bemis, really captures Tim’s descent back to the way he was before. The top half of the spread seems regular enough, but as you spiral around towards the bottom there’s this neat little hint that things aren’t quite what they seem and that Tim has gone off the deep in more ways than one.
I think the way Dr Mays tells Tim “the truth” is both jarring and acceptable at the same time. Bemis is, in a way, playing with what normally happens with media representations of people with psychological illnesses like depression – any paranoia and delusions would normally be drawn out, but within the first two pages of issue two, Tim is told that he isn’t delusional. This move against your expectations was nicely done. Though at the same time, there’s an interesting sense of humour at play as Tim’s a counselling session, after his latest breakdown, is topless due to Tim puking so much.
With all the ways that Tim could react to this revelation, the way Tim decides to seek revenge against the hipsters is painful and hilarious at the same time and certainly NSFW. But what’s perhaps another good touch, is how Bemiz incorporates how substance misuse can heighten Tim’s powers. In a way, Tim decides to be a superhero, but not in the “conventional” sense – instead he wants to save the minds of a generation.
I enjoyed that by issue three, Tim’s a lot more confident by this point. The fact that Dr Mays tries to bring him down – it almost feels like a metaphor for modern, western society where government and corporations seem intent on making you mindless consumers, subdued, and not necessarily happy. Tim’s character really begins to embody a counter culture that really is counter to everything that’s going on at the moment.
Of course nothing is simple and the fact that people are trying to take advantage of Tim through his psychological illness is creepily similar to what happens to many people in real life when they’re affected by similar circumstances. You do get the feeling that on some level, Bemis is putting in his own experiences of this (Bemis was diagnosed with manic depression around 2004), and it really makes you feel for Tim. In fact, the personalisation in the story is what makes much of this short series so compelling to read.
Worth a read?
While shorter than I would have liked – at times, it did feel a bit rushed especially in issue four – Max Bemis has written an interesting and compelling mini-series. Jorge Coelho’s attention to detail and Felipe Sobreiro’s subtle colouring makes the entire series a beautiful read and it reflects back the culture that the main character, Tim, has put himself in. If you’re looking for a different kind of superhero, and don’t mind a bit of wish fulfilment, then Polarity is definitely worth a read.
Polarity issues one-four are out now and published by BOOM! Studios. If you can’t buy physical copies, it is available through certain digital services. We bought our own copies.