Published on July 17th, 2018 | by Jules-Pierre Malartre0
Review: Switch: Electricia HC OGN by Keith Champagne & Tom Nguyen
I picked up this book reluctantly… and was electrically charged to being surprised and leaving me wanting more!
My resistance had nothing to do with the art or the story; I have this weird hang-up where I never read superhero comic books if they’re not from DC or Marvel. I’m not sure where that comes from; I was probably scarred as a kid after reading a superhero comic book from some obscure publisher that ruined part of my childhood, and then I repressed the whole thing. I also never read anything that’s told from the bad guy’s point of view – not because I’m a paragon of virtue, but simply because I can’t relate to villains. I tried to get over this “villain discrimination” recently when the Star Wars Battlefront II tie-in novel Inferno Squad by Christie Golden came out. (The book is told from the point-of-view of agents of the Empire.) I forced myself to read it, because I love Christie Golden’s books, and this copy was a limited-edition print signed by Golden herself at San Diego Comic Con that cost me a mint; However, no matter how well it was written, reading it was pure torture. The thing about most villains is that they rarely change. They are not very nuanced, and therefore they are usually predictable. So, unless you like them purely for the mayhem they cause, they can be rather dull. In order to be compelling, a character – either the protagonist or the antagonist – has to go through some changes. And while comic books are replete with colorful villains, few are really layered or go through changes or conflicts that make them relatable (let alone endearing). And that’s too bad, because villains should be the perfect breeding ground for the most complex character transformations.
Enter Electricia: A female super-villain with electrical superpowers. Her super-villain costume is an itsy, bitsy teeny weenie bikini made up of electricity that would shame even a painted-on bikini. Her costume alone could carry the story, and Electricia strikes enough sexy poses to keep readers interested and praying that someone cosplays her at Comic Con this year. As if that wasn’t enough to at least catch my eye, the book’s extended tagline did the rest: “When infamous super-villain Electricia realizes she wants more out of life than evil and mayhem, she adopts a second costumed identity as The Switch and begins fighting crime instead of committing it. But when Electricia’s new life as a superhero brings her full circle against her former villainous allies, the cat-and-mouse-game she’s been playing quickly turns deadly. As her new enemies close in on Electricia, the question becomes not if she’ll survive her career as The Switch… but for how long.”
Villains who try to go legit are nothing new in comic books, but this premise was enough to get me to read the book. The book starts off bloody in an intense display of callous, graphic violence showing the death by dismemberment of the original The Switch. (The city’s mayor moonlighting as a costumed superhero.) The other villains – Moss, the Yoda-back-talking saskwatch wannabe; Stefan, the gross super-villain trying to bring the mullet back in style, and Interstellar, the possessed kid – are cookie-cutter super-villains for the most part. The exceptions are Electricia herself and her sidekick, Doctor Hate, the self-styled criminal mastermind trapped in the body of a house cat. We’re not really privy to what causes Electricia to question her super-villain vocation. From the first frame, she seems to have participated in defeating The Switch. She gleefully removes his mask to unveil his identity, but she refuses to kill him. She still lets her partners do the deed. A bit later on, she tracks down The Switch’s sidekick, a mere girl, and lets her live. She tells the girl, “you remind me of myself at your age.” Maybe that was enough to sway her. Feels a bit thin, but the next several pages are spent exploring Electricia’s state of mind and progressive transformation into a superhero, and the book keeps getting more and more interesting from there.
The book surprises by not simply letting Electricia assume The Switch’s mantle and start fighting crime. The transformation is very well handled, made complex and believable. As in any good story, things get harder for our new superhero wannabe, and that’s when the story gets even more interesting. Obviously, the book is inevitably predictable in Electricia having to face off her old super-criminal partners. However, there again the tale is not that simple and the books surprises yet again.
We don’ really get a sense of her ethical struggle until the customary shower scene (after she’s obviously had sex with disgusting, Mullet-Man Stefan, which, thankfully, the creative team only implied rather than showed), where she is clearly seen struggling with her conscience. Even though Electricia’s original motivations for changing her ways are not exactly clear, her struggle becomes very relatable and interesting from that moment – there is no flip-of-a-coin transformation here. The story is more layered than a run-of-the-mill comic book. Her conflict becomes even more complicated when both the authorities and her former partners in crime are after her. It makes for fascinating reading as we see her trying to stay true to her new dedication while the authorities are intent on bringing her down, leaving her with no one to turn to when her ex-partners want to kill her. Keith Champagne writes an interesting tale that could easily have been highly predictable, and although it does end pretty much like we would like, the story still throws you a few curves along the way, keeping you enthralled and entertained the whole time. And the ending does what best books should do – leaving you wanting more. It’s a book that reads very well. It draws you in so much that even though it’s a hundred-page long graphic novel, it’s over as quickly as if it were a regular sized monthly comic book. The end leaves you wanting for more, and this was deeply surprising for me since I don’t usually read this kind of book.
The creators have a singular sense of humor when it comes to naming some of the super-villains and superheroes. It’s almost like they ran out of ideas, but decided to make the best of it; there are the super-villains Greasetrap (a humanoid-shaped gob of translucent grease with eyes, a mouth and a tiny brain); and Valdimir Putin (how timely!) to name only two; then there are the superheroes, with Thomas Truman, the @Social Justice Warrior; and The Ghost of Ronald Reagan (yes, really!). The art is excellent throughout. Tom Nguyen’s style is very dynamic and he knows how to use panels for best effect and appeal. Every page feels fresh, and no page ever looks like a generic newspaper comic strip. Nguyen’s facial expressions could use some work at times, because pretty much every single character grins maniacally like someone out of Dave Berg’s Modern Thinking strip from Mad Magazine. It may fit psychopathic Stefan, but it felt kind of odd on some of the secondary characters such as Electricia’s friend Jodi.
Switch: Electricia HC & OGN
writer: Keith Champagne
artist | cover: Tom Nguyen
FC | 96 pages | Oversized HC: 8.5” x 13” | $19.99 | Teen+
On sale: now