Quincredible, Volume 1 – Quest to be the Best! is a fresh take on the familiar superhero origin story that dares to question the often unexamined relationship between superheroes and police.
It’s a common sight in superhero comics: a hero foils some villainous plan, ties up the bad guys, and then leaves it to the police to take it from there. The assumption is that these are Bad Guys, that whatever justice follows is proportionate and deserved, that the cops will follow due process. But as the Black Lives Matter movement has drawn global attention to this year, and as people of colour have been talking about for decades, the reality isn’t so simple. You can’t assume “justice” will be proportionate, that due process will be followed, that someone won’t wind up dead at the hands of a police officer for the crime of being Black.
Few superhero books question or challenge those assumptions, but it’s at the core of what Rodney Barnes, Selina Espirity, and Kelly Fitzpatrick are doing with Quincredible. This is a book where a superhero will protect a local senior centre, save the day, and then have to reckon with the fact that he’s responsible in sending three kids to jail, and the reality of what that means. It’s a book set in New Orleans that situates itself directly in a reaction to the American Government’s racist response to Hurricane Katrina. It’s a book that makes police brutality and a largely Black community’s justified distrust of law enforcement a central theme.
It’s against this backdrop that Quinton West, a Black kid from New Orleans, finds himself with superpowers in the wake of a strange meteor shower—specifically, the power of invincibility. Other folks got powers too, like super strength and the ability to fly, to the point that superheroes are a relatively normal thing, now. But to Quinton, his only power is being good at getting beaten up—or at least, that’s how he sees it—so as much as he dreams of being a “real” superhero, it’s not something he’s ever chased.
But when a group of armed police turn violent on a crowd of protestors and chaos breaks out, the power Quin thought to be useless comes in handy for helping people escape. Coupled with a chance encounter with Nova, one of the city’s more famous superheroes, this is the motivation for Quin to step up and learn to use his powers for the good of the community as the one and only Quincredible.
This is where almost every superhero origin story would see the newly-minted hero start beating up thugs and handing them over to the cops, with the assumption that the job is done. Indeed, Quincredible tries this approach to—but the adrenaline of his heroic deeds quickly gives way to the realisation that while, yes, he’s protected a group of vulnerable elderly citizens from a robbery, he’s also just turned a group of his own peers over to the justice system, in all likelihood to have their lives destroyed. There are no winners here, just a bunch of people—disproportionately people of colour—being victimised by a systemic cycle of poverty, criminalisation, and violence.
Every new superhero goes through that coming-of-age story where they have to figure out what kind of hero they want to be. For Quin, that’s about figuring out how the very idea of superheroes fits into a racist justice system, a racist corrections system, a racist society, and figuring out how he can step up to that—how Quincredible can be a force for meaningful systemic change, rather than just someone who’ll beat up a few muggers and cart them off to jail.
At the same time, he’s also just a regular teenager dealing with regular teenage things. He’s head over heels for a girl who doesn’t seem to see him as anything more than a friend. He’s a popular target for school bullies—who are a pain in the ass, even when they can’t actually physically hurt you. He has his parents, who he loves more than anything and do anything to avoid letting down, and his seemingly endless drive to want to make them proud. He has his hobbies and his fascination with technology. Despite the heavy themes that Quincredible tackles, it’s still a story that finds plenty of levity and heart in the everyday life of a high school kid.
In a lot of ways, Quincredible, Volume 1 touches on common elements of a superhero origin story—the self-doubt, the questions, the learning to use one’s powers, the finding one’s place in the world. But in situating that against a backdrop of police violence and racism, it embarks on a bold commentary on the oft-ignored issue of superheroes’ complicity in a fundamentally unjust justice system.
Quincredible, Volume 1 – Quest to be the Best! collects issues #1 to #5 of Quincredible. It’s written by Rodney Barnes, illustated by Selina Espiritu, coloured by Kelly Fitzpatrick, lettered by AW’s Tom Napolitano, and published by Oni Press.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.