One of the greatest gifts that the creator of any comic book can give a reader is to present their creation as a fully-formed entity with a minimum of exposition.
There’s nothing wrong with exposition per se, of course; the key thing is that it must be done well or you risk bogging the story down in so much scene-setting and character-establishment that a reader is likely to give up, or lose emotional investment, before the story proper even gets underway.
Supers, by Frédéric Maupomé & Dawid, neatly sidesteps this narrative pitfall, thrusting us straight into an already-fast moving story without confusing the hell out of us, bringing the characters and the setting to life in the first five to 10 pages in such a way that you’re very quickly up to speed with who the characters are and why they are where they are.
It’s a masterful beginning that Supers, the winner of the first ever Youth Award from ACBD (the French Association of Comics Critics), capitalises on beautifully as it goes on, building upon this deftly-executed start with warmth, good humour and supreme relatability.
That last point is all the more impressive when you consider that the story, brought to vivid life by Dawid’s lavishly-colourful and richly-realised artwork, revolves around three very young alien children who have been hidden one earth by their parents who are running, we find out later, at least in part, from some very powerful enemies.
This part of the story remains shrouded in half-remembered details because the people doing the remembering were far too young at the time of the event that prompted their subsequent hiding away on our big blue planet and can’t recall, as you might expect, what really took place.
Matt, the eldest sibling, and nominally the one in charge – though as with all brothers and sisters, that authority is questioned and challenged on a routine basis – remembers the most but even his recollection is hazy, made up as much of half-recalled sensation and lingering emotional sensibility as memory of what actually transpired.
Nevertheless, it is to Matt that younger sister and brother, Lily and Benji respectively, turn when they want some sense of reassurance that they were, and are, loved, are wanted, that they belong to someone who wants them back.
Maupomé beautifully captures this sense of abandonment and vulnerability, evoking the sense of loss and bereavement felt by the three siblings who, though they well looked after by an AI named Al, long for the kind of family life enjoyed by, for instance, Matt’s friend Jeanne, who may want more than just a simple friendship.
Their sense of otherness is compounded to a profound degree by the fact that they possess the kinds of super powers that, were they to go crazy with them, wold make them the kinds of superheroes who’d feel right at home in a Marvel or DC blockbuster.
They can’t use those powers, because to do so, would risk calling attention to them, a problem on a planet where far too many people can’t cope with differences in their fellow man let along aliens living among them, and possibly out in the galaxy because who knows who their enemies are and whether they’re listening.
With this kind of weight upon their very young shoulders, these three appealing and wholly normal kids – well, “normal”, in as much as they act like any child would, right down to the bickering and immature emotional reactions – have to still go to school and deal with the angst that comes with life in the rough and tumble environment of the playground.
It’s a challenge for anyone but even more so when you are effectively in hiding and unable to fully express who you really are.
There is one scene in the book, part one of a series though exact release for following entries don’t appear to be forthcoming as yet, where the three kids get to unleash their powers in secret, rescuing people from a burning building (even responsible Matt admits it was a buzz and something they needed to do) and it’s glorious watching them be utterly and completely themselves.
So beautifully expressed is Maupomé characterisation and so assured is his narrative execution that you rejoice with the kids when they are able to let loose and empathise with them when they have to lock down the hatches and hide who they really are.
You get a real sense all through the story of the vulnerability, sadness and sense of dislocation the kids feel, but also their exultancy and joy, both in each other’s company and those moments when life feels as close to normal as their exceptional circumstances allow them.
Supers is a rare joy, anchored by superlative good writing, luscious artwork that deserves to be hung in a gallery, poppingly-vibrant characterisation and a story that feels wholly grounded and extraordinary all at once.
While it is ostensibly directed at children aged 7 to 10 years old, it is so heartfelt, real and true that anyone would benefit from reading it, if only to be reminded what it feels like to have to hide who and where you are, but how that doesn’t feel quite as bad if you’re at least with people who love you (even if they are occasionally annoying siblings).