First Impressions – THE POWERPUFF GIRLS #1

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The city of Townsville…has returned in a new ongoing comic series from IDW, alongside its pint-sized protectors! THE POWERPUFF GIRLS #1 reunites longtime fans of the hit Cartoon Network TV series with Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup; three perfect little girls with extraordinary power! IDW returns us all to a bygone age, one show at a time, and this series leads the charge.

“Suger. Spice. And Everything Nice. These were the ingredients to create the perfect little girl. But Professor Utonium accidentally added an extra ingredient to the concoction…Chemical X. And thus, the Powerpuff Girls were born! Using their ultra super powers, Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup have dedicated their lives to fighting crime and the forces of evil!”

Thus goes the classic opening to The Powerpuff Girls cartoon series. Opening narration I have personally heard so many times I could recite it by heart. No really, I didn’t need to look that up. I quote it from memory, that’s how important the Powerpuff Girls were to my childhood.

Beginning in 1998, The Powerpuff Girls lasted for seven years, and remains a much-beloved series for those fortunate enough to watch it. It was witty, intense, and insightful. And it’s the perfect counterargument to anyone who claims that girls can’t make for interesting protagonists.

That and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, but we already knew that. Funny how Lauren Faust, the creator of FiM, also worked as one of the many creative directors on Powerpuff Girls, along with John McIntyre, Genndy Tartakovsky, Rob Renzetti, and of course its creator Craig McCracken.

So after seven years of show, one theatrical movie, and one anime spinoff (that we don’t like to talk about around here), it was obvious the property would resurface somewhere. How fortunate then that Cartoon Network made a deal with IDW Publishing to produce a slew of comic adaptations of old CN shows. This includes The Powerpuff Girls.

It also includes Samurai Jack, but that will have to wait until later.

THE POWERPUFF GIRLS #1 starts things off with the status quo: the city of Townsville, USA (state unknown) on fire. Mojo Jojo, that evil exposed-brain monkey in a purple cape and helmet, is at it again, trying to destroy and/or take over the city, this time piloting a suspiciously familiar mech. In come the Eponymous Girls to save the day. So easy is their victory, in fact, that it lends itself to enhanced confidence on the girls’ parts and – never thought I’d see it – an existential crisis on Mojo’s part.

Also there’s some stuff about golfing and an expy of Swamp Thing and Man Thing all rolled into one, but that’s dressing. Salad dressing.

But yeah, Mojo Jojo has a bit of an existential crisis in this issue. Dude’s been fighting kindergarteners for seven plus years, not including the anime spinoff, and is no closer to his vague goals. Granted all three of the girls are basically Superman circa the Silver Age, so his Silver Age era Lex Luthor mad science shenanigans not panning out is at least understandable. But his pride as a mad genius takes a hit in this case, leading him to seek assistance from a very unlikely source.

He asks Professor Utonium – his former owner and the guy who accidentally created Mojo in the same incident that created the Powerpuff Girls – to basically lobotomize him by the power of Antidote X(!) so Mojo doesn’t have to deal with his constant failure anymore. That’s hardcore.

On the artistic side, THE POWERPUFF GIRLS #1 perfectly replicates the show’s distinct style. Save for a few moments when the comic needs to go “off-model”, it’s almost exact. Good news for fans, as being able to emulate a distinct style several years old is no easy feat. On the writing side, the script deviates a tad from the original show, but it hits all the correct notes. It has over the top super-heroics mixed with lighthearted humor, and a plot that’s presented in a simple manner while not being condescending to its readers’ intelligence. All things the show did very well.

It’s obvious IDW cared about the source material and about reproducing it to the best of their abilities. One of the lines of thinking I had – more with the upcoming Samurai Jack than here, though the thought is the same – is that IDW is attempting to pick up where the now defunct cartoon left off. THE POWERPUFF GIRLS #1 reads like an episode of the TV show, albeit using an A-B-A plot structure. There’s Mojo Jojo, then the golf subplot, before finishing with the Mojo plot again.

I hesitate to call it a comic for fans, though. Certainly existing fans will get more out of the comic than newcomers. Personally I found myself reading the dialogue of the main characters in their original voices almost immediately. But while the plot alludes to the girls’ history with Mojo Jojo, it doesn’t dip into things too deeply. When I say it reads like an episode of the show, as if uninterrupted, I mean that also in that the comic jumps straight into the action. The status quo exists, and the comic moves forward under the assumption it doesn’t need to explain anything. Readers get not even a recitation of the above quoted opener.

This can both be bad, as readers are sort of expected to know something coming in about these girls, and is therefore theoretically difficult for people who never watched the show…like young children. But on the other hand, it’s not really a complicated premise and the comic does enough to establish the most important elements necessary: that the Powerpuff Girls are superheroes, and they fight a monkey named Mojo Jojo in the city of Townsville. Other than a scant few background details or turns to formula, THE POWERPUFF GIRLS #1 is largely bereft of fanservice…and I think that’s a good thing.

One practice I found personally irksome when it came to the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic comic is its readily present fanservice. It’s a comic that knows some of the biggest readers are the periphery demographic (the bronies), and courts them with near constant sight gags, references, and cameos to MLP lore and pop culture. Granted none of these are deal brakers, and a younger reader won’t be left confused by them. But it always came off to me like IDW was pandering mercilessly to its brony fanbase. And if one thing butters my biscuit and attaches it to a cat in an attempt to produce a falling cat/toast infinite energy turbine, it’s being blatantly pandered to.

THE POWERPUFF GIRLS #1 avoids this for the most part. There are no unnecessary background appearances by the talking dog or the transvestite devil or any other side characters. It’s just the reader, the main characters, and the plot. And for a book whose true audience should be children, this is preferable. And older readers, the fans of the original, aren’t missing anything because they don’t need their knowledge of the series validated through obvious fanservice.

So do I recommend the book to- ABSOLUTELY YES. It’s The Powerpuff Girls, of course I recommend it. Heck, if you’re curious I’d even recommend the anime for what it’s worth. As a comic on its own, it’s a very solid read, though of course as an adult I’m not the target audience. Fans of the original show could do much worse, though they might not get what they’re expecting. What they’re expecting, of course, most likely being a comic that aged to their level, which is not what this comic is for. But if you’re an older fan who happens to have children of their own, you could not wish for a better way to band with them. It’s like coming back home, and in its purest form.

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