“Just Exhale” is the first volume of Elemental Micah, containing the first four chapters of Michael Georgiou‘s ambitious project. It’s a work I have trouble defining: not a “superhero” tale in the conventional sense; not exactly a coming-of-age story, either. Georgiou borrows elements from both of those sub-genres, and has created something unique, honest, and most importantly, believable. The absurd elements, the superpowers and the conspiracies, each play a part in Micah, but they are secondary to strong characterisation and emotional exploration. These are the elements in which Micah shines– both the character and the series.
The manner in which we are introduced to the story’s hero, Micah, effectively sets the tone for the first two chapters. Dana, Micah’s cynical (but emotionally supportive) closest friend, inadvertently spots him not only masturbating, but deliberately late for work in the process. Perhaps “hero” wasn’t a fully appropriate term. Micah is a man with very human flaws; his life and work are monotonous at the outset, he’s cripplingly full of self-doubt, and he’s hardly the paragon of moral virtue, either. For all this, he is relatable, he is human. It’s easy to see how somebody shy or lonely, somebody a little overweight and conscious of it, somebody gay, could see themselves in Micah’s shoes in a way that they couldn’t with Clark Kent or Jason Bourne.
Micah discovers, in the most tumultuous way possible, that his pent-up emotions seem to physically manifest themselves: since even a frustrated sigh can send a shopping trolly flying a few metres, losing his virginity is disastrously destructive. The love-interest, Simon, bears the very worst of this. When he’s first introduced he seems a perfect specimen, confident, fit and comfortably at-ease around others; before too long he’s relegated to a wheelchair, seemingly as a direct result of Micah’s powers running unchecked in the form of a hurricane. I would have liked a little more exploration of Micah’s sense of guilt at this point, but its a minor complaint, overall. By sharing experiences (and, to some extent, powers), Simon becomes a part of Micah and Dana’s world; they start to discuss the limits of their abilities and whether or not they should keep the entire business under wraps. Micah feels a sense of responsibility to help others, though he has yet to really face up to the lack of real control he has over what he can do. It’ll be interesting to see whether Micah really can make safe use of his abilities when innocents’ lives are at stake. After all, there’s no Uncle Ben figure present to bring home the message of what “great power brings”.
Simon, on the other hand, favours keeping quiet altogether. Its in the third chapter that a darker side of his character emerges, as we discover what he had been up to when briefly gifted the power of flight (in a semi-successful attempt by Micah to keep him safe from harm during the hurricane): as it would be with many of us, his first thought is to pay a visit to an old flame in a transparent attempt to impress him. It works. But, just as the storyline seems to be heading in a conventional, predictable direction, it defies expectation again– I won’t say precisely how. Suffice it to say that Simon, too, has a great deal of emotional baggage to carry by the end of the third chapter.
That’s really what Elemental Micah does best: defy expectation. Whenever I thought I had it sussed, either thematically or in terms of where the storyline was headed, it proved me wrong, which is a refreshing feeling for a semi-avid comic-book reader. The biggest example of this would be the tonal shift in the fourth chapter– my favourite part of the volume. Here, Georgiou introduces Micah’s adoptive parents, as well as his biological ones in a series of dark flashbacks focusing on his father’s job within a secretive, brutal organisation. The full nature of this organisation is deliberately kept hidden from the reader, and I get the distinct impression they’ll receive a good deal of elaboration in later volumes. The question playing most on my mind, upon finishing, was what relation this shadowy secret service has to “Eno”, an unseen figure who seems to be filing reports on Micah’s activities, and who seems to be near-impossibly knowledgeable about events as they unfold.
The introduction to Micah’s father’s organisation begs, and leaves open, the question of whether he maintains contact with them, or is perhaps even still in their employ. This is the most direct and open-ended hint as to what we can expect to see as the plot develops further, though there are one or two other indications: at one point during the third chapter, Dana compels Micah to attempt using his powers to “fix” his flawed eyesight. Micah’s initial misunderstanding, believing that Dana was suggesting he fix his maladjusted nose, is another subtle dig into Micah’s body issues, but he eventually gives it a go. It doesn’t go exactly as planned, and blurred visions flash before his eyes; I won’t spoil the shock by describing them, but this experience certainly suggests there may be a whole new dimension to the goings-on aside from what we’ve seen so far.
This volume, “Just Exhale”, serves as an extremely fitting introduction to Georgiou’s concept. So far, Elemental Micah is a highly character-driven piece of work, focusing more on the frustrations and emotional turmoils that drive his supernatural abilities than the abilities themselves. In this regard, as well as in its sparing sense of comic relief, it reminds me somewhat of Bryan Lee O’Malley‘s Scott Pilgrim. It is not precisely a “superhero” book in the conventional sense, though there are the makings of one here, if Georgiou chooses to take future volumes in that direction. Indeed, in “Just Exhale”, Micah is the source of more strife than he solves, albeit completely unintentionally. He’s a good man at heart, though emotionally conflicted and struggling with an incredible situation. It would be unrealistic to depict things unfolding in a more stereotypically positive way.
As I’ve mentioned, the fourth chapter is where this volume hit its highest peak for me; among other things, the art improves as the volume progresses. The darkness of both tone and subject matter in the fourth chapter also appeal to me as a matter of personal preference, and I hope that future volumes continue to head in that direction. Elemental Micah‘s strength lies in its commitment to honestly and believably depicting characters with very human flaws, as well as a strong, if small, cast of characters. Altogether, it’s an ambitious project that tends to defy genre and expectation, and I have both hopes and predictions for where future volumes will lead.
If you would like to get your hands on a copy of Elemental Micah, you can find it on the official website, ElementalMicah.com or you can nab it at Orbital Comics in Central London, at Comica Comiket this weekend at table 49, or in Forbidden Planet Southampton on May 4th.
For news about upcoming issues, you can find Elemental Micah on Facebook here.