Superhero storytelling has been around for a long time. Finding an original idea or novel power set for a new hero is quite a challenge at this point. YA author E. Lockhart takes her shot in the new DC graphic novel for teens, Whistle. Is Gotham ready for this new teen superhero?

Willow is a somewhat average high school student with a crush on a friend and a strong penchant for activism. She regularly protests various issues at her school and tries to enlist her fellow students to help solve problems. She also has a sick mom and lots of bills to pay. Her activism catches the eye of some local entrepreneurs, led by the enigmatic E. Nigma, who need a young go-getter to help them organize their local secret mystery parties. Willow suspects that she doesn’t know everything about her new job, but it pays well, which will help her mom, and she is good at the work. Yet, it isn’t long before she runs afoul of local villain Killer Croc. As he leaves her for dead to send a message to her boss, Willow is saved by a local stray dog that she has been kind to. This act does more than save her life, it grants her super powers as well (though it is not clear exactly why or how she gets them). Soon, she must test her newfound abilities and decide how to use them to help others. Yet this act will put her in conflict with her new boss and those working with him.

Whistle has an appealing main character in Willow, but this book also tells a well-worn secret origin tale. Sadly, Willow’s secret powers are unbelievable at best and laughable at worst. Most super powers are ridiculous, but to make them work, the creators have to lean in to the preposterousness. Powers of a spider? Lighting yourself on fire with a thought? Stretchable skin? These powers ultimately make sense because writers and artists revel in the visual spectacle of what this represents. Willow’s powers are almost too subtle to show off in this way and too cute to take seriously at the same time. The art by Manuel Preitano is solid, but some of the action scenes struggle with perspective. His figures are somewhat static most of the time, okay when they are talking (which happens a lot in this book), and less appealing when kicking, running, and hitting.

I’m happy to see DC making an effort to represent teens as superheroes in their original graphic novel book line. I was excited to see a new hero enter the DC universe, but Whistle shows just how hard it is to create a captivating new superhero. Many libraries will want to pick up this book for their teen collections as I’m sure many teens and preteens will read it and enjoy it, particularly since a popular author like Lockhart is involved, but it is far from the best work to come out of this line for teens.

Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero
By E. Lockhart
Art by Manuel Preitano
DC, 2021
ISBN: 9781401293222
Publisher Age Rating: 13 and up

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Character Representation: Jewish

  • Mark


    Young Adult Librarian, Cedar Mill Library | He/Him

    Mark Richardson is the Young Adult Librarian at the Cedar Mill Library in Portland Oregon where he selects adult and young adult graphic novels, YA fiction & nonfiction, video games and adult music for the library. He also plans lots of activities for local teens ranging from art contests to teen trivia to Pokemon parties. If this sounds like a dream job, it is. Sometimes he has to pinch himself to make sure he really gets to do all of this. He’s been reading comics for as long as he can remember and has been known to present an occasional conference sessions on graphic novels at the Oregon Library Association’s annual conference.

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