Review: Power Out


As a literary genre, magic realism is something of a minefield. Taking the rough, feverish text of realist fiction and grafting in the limitless whimsy of fantasy can result in stories like “The Wonderful Ice-Cream Suit” (a personal favorite of mine, written by Ray Bradbury) . . . but it can also lead to stories involving the protagonist being raped at gunpoint by the daughter of a naked hermaphrodite who knits the universe together with anti-matter yarn.* Fiction in general can be a crap shoot, but magic realism plays with erotic dice.

Which brings me to the topic of Power Out, a story from the ACT-I-VATE collective submitted by creator Nathan Schreiber. As far as I can tell, Power Out takes its inspiration from the Northeast Blackout of 2003**, though it extends the scope of the incident—and, according to Schreiber, the duration.

The story follows Justin, a teenager with ineffective parents, an irresponsible older sister, and some unexplained past trauma. Considering the sorts of people his sister befriends, it’s little surprise that he spends most of his time in a cocoon of video games and online lingerie ads. But then his parents go out on a cruise, his sister heads out to Cape Cod with some people she barely knows, and irony strikes: the power grid gives out on the anniversary of the invention of the electric clock.

Justin is forced to confront a world full of rude people, people who don’t speak his language, and heat exhaustion. He doesn’t take to it well. An explicit and unsettling wet dream follows, though for the life of me I don’t know why we’re treated to it. It probably shows how disoriented Justin is, but at the same time, I don’t feel at all good for having had to read through an erotic scene between a teenager and an old woman.

Schreiber’s line art flows very nicely, such that even straight lines seem like gentle curls. His talent really seems to shine through when he’s depicting the high contrast between light and dark or pretty and grotesque. His landscapes are likewise nothing to sniff at. Honestly, if the style were being used to depict a less unsettling plot . . . but that’s my own personal taste. Power Out is the winner of a 2009 Xeric Award, so people certainly like what it does. But as I’ve said in other reviews, I guess I’m not one of them.

Comic Rating: 3 Amperes.

* I am not making this premise up. The title of the story escapes me, but I had to read it for a class on short fiction. The things a person will do to finish off a degree . . .
** An event that I remember mostly for having gotten the evening off of work. A bit callous of me, perhaps, but then my hometown got power back after a day or so with few repercussions.

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