Some stories, it seems, have captured the collective imagination in ways that allow them to be adapted and retold in new ways each generation. These are stories that intrigue and entice, stories that speak ideas that need to be spoken. The legends of King Arthur hold a prominent place in that cohort of stories and in The Misfits of Avalon Kel McDonald offers a unique adaptation of the Arthurian tale for twenty-first century teen readers.
What would you do if a talking dog offered you a magic ring? That’s exactly what happens to four oddball teenage girls in The Queen of Air and Delinquency. They’re an unlikely group of heroes: tough, androgynous Morgan is the daughter of an apathetic, alcoholic father; boy-crazy Elsie is the daughter of the local diner owner, where she and her brother pull shifts; African-American Kimber is the youngest, more middle-class in upbringing, but still used to tension at home; and studious Rae is more intellectual than the others, less coarse in behavior and language. None of them are used to working with others; they all have baggage that makes teamwork unappealing and difficult. Yet shape-shifting Cu Sidhe, who appears as both a talking dog and an attractive man, offers each girl a ring of power and an undeniable mandate to reclaim the sword of Avalon from a mysterious man. But what if Cu isn’t telling them the whole story? The girls have to learn to work together, not only to capture the sword, but to figure out exactly who is, or isn’t, the hero of this story.
Kel McDonald, best known for her webcomic Sorcery 101, writes and draws The Misfits of Avalon. Her approach to the Arthurian story is unique and clever, though this first volume of the planned trilogy is largely introduction and world-building with little actual story development. The focus is on the girls themselves, their reactions to their new powers and their disjointed team, with little plot in this volume. They are interesting characters with plenty of potential for growth and evolution in future volumes. The art is done in grayscale, which lacks dramatic detail or flourish, but McDonald does a good job establishing people and places in each drawing. Each character has a distinct appearance, including a hero costume that magically appears when the girl uses her ring’s power. Like the art, the storytelling sometimes lacks in detail. McDonald works hard to build her world, though The Queen of Air and Delinquency‘s plot is primarily teenage angst with some monster fights thrown in. Included Gaelic phrases are untranslated, but still they add a flash of authenticity to the narrative. Each girl does have a personality and a story, and tensions arise as the reader, like the girls, wonders if they will be able to rise above themselves to actually accomplish anything. Additional tension builds as it becomes apparent that Cu is keeping secrets and that maybe the girls are not really the heroes of this quest.
Dark Horse rates Misfits of Avalon as suitable for readers 14 or older and the work is likely appropriate for most teen graphic novel collections. While the violence is less graphic than many mainstream comics, some concerned parents might be distressed by the portrayals of the girls’ dysfunctional home lives. Parents are people to be avoided for the misfits, rather than being seen as guides or supporters. The language is often coarse, though generally more PG-13 than R rated, even with numerous instances of sexual innuendo. The story is heavily rooted in Arthurian legends, including numerous references to Celtic mythologies, and the story is permeated with magical powers and references that might be problematic. Perhaps the biggest problem with this story, though, is that it is so clearly a part one; there is no sense of resolution with this book. Instead, its primary purpose seems to be to set up the next book. Volumes two (The Ill-Made Guardian) and three (The Future in the Wind) have projected release dates of spring 2016 and 2017. Despite its flaws, The Queen of Air and Delinquency is engaging enough to have me looking forward to the continuation of this story.
The Misfits of Avalon: The Queen of Air and Delinquency, vol. 1
by Kel McDonald
Dark Horse, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: 14+