Bingo Love

A lot of transformations occur in the lives of Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray. From meeting and forming crushes in 1963 to reuniting in 2015 and nurturing their long-lost love through 2038 and beyond; these queer, black women navigate the changes and regrets of life, love, family, and identity. Their story is a powerful and diverse narrative, whether in reference to LGBTQ experiences, senior love, body sizes, oppressive socio-religious norms, growing social acceptance, or simply processing the choices in one’s life.

The story mainly focuses on Hazel Johnson, a middle schooler lovestruck at meeting the new girl in town, Mari. Mari dubs her Elle, a nickname no one else uses and a term of endearment that gains power through the story’s decades as precious few people accept or even know about Hazel’s romantic interest. Hazel and Mari are clearly compatible, going on dates with good humor and finding time to be together in and out of school, continuing through high school. Both of their families discover them kissing, which leads to a number of religious-fueled denouncements. “My grandmother says I’m an abomination and I’m going to hell,” teenage Mari reports to the love of her life. “Let go of that sinner,” “Beg God to forgive you,” and “Jesus did not die on the cross for this sin,” they are told, though Hazel wonders to herself “Since when is it a sin to be in love?” After their forced separation, both women surrender to arranged marriages and going on with their lives of quietly nursing wounds that won’t heal.

Decades later, Hazel and Mari meet again, at a church bingo game. This time, both ladies have families of their own and a lot of consequence to consider. “I love my family, but deep down inside, I’m truly not happy,” Hazel recognizes, going so far as to say “I’ve been dead inside since 1967.” In order to be as close as they both desire, they have to divorce their husbands and explain their long-hidden love to their families.

Readers who enjoyed The Other Side: An Anthology of Queer Paranormal Romance or Melanie Gillman’s As The Crow Flies will find a lot to love here, as Tee Franklin’s writing, Jenn St-Onge’s art, Joy San’s colors, and Cardinal Rae’s lettering all work together in support of Hazel and Mari’s pure, natural love. As girls and women, these two make each other smile, laugh, and feel comfortable in their skin, and St-Onge never runs out of glowing, joyous facial expressions at every stage to communicate their compatibility. In addition, Hazel and Mari’s outfits and hair are consistently stylish and represent the wealth of expression bubbling within them, from 1963 to the near future. Their lives radiate against the comparatively plain backdrops of suburbia and high school. In scenes populated with family members, a variety of hair styles are shown, whether long, short, shaved, curly, wavy, black, brown, gray, or rainbow. A scene of Hazel lovingly braiding her granddaughter’s hair shows how the activity emotionally grounds both of them and serves as an important bonding ritual. Layouts are clear and easy to follow, and the creative team has good instincts for when to employ a large or full-page panel to show off a powerful emotional moment, whether it’s a warm family celebration, an enraged outburst, or a loving embrace.

There are a couple of minor stumbling blocks in the story in the form of editorial notes referencing digital, supplemental chapters about events outside of the main story. These notes could have been used as miniature advertisements at the end of the book, but in the heart of the action, they might give readers the feeling of missing out on bonus material. Also, at the beginning of the story, Hazel refers to the lighter-skinned Mari as a “honey colored maiden” and “honey glazed goddess.” While used as terms of endearment, these expressions are part of a pattern of non-white characters in literature described as foods and flavors. The pattern only lasts as long as the opening scene, but it’s there.

This 88-page queer black love story has a lot to unpack and appreciate that this review can’t cover out of length concerns, but the central conceit has a lot of characterization and commentary hung with care for the story’s impact and adoration for the central romance. Instances of characters clearly stating their interests or identity will serve as encouragement, reinforcement, and education for readers of all stripes. With official release on Valentine’s Day 2018 and content that falls squarely within a wholesome tween/teen range (no explicit nudity, no swearing besides “Hell,” lots of family drama and reconciliation, a bathtub embrace), audiences will positively swoon to find this on your library’s shelf. Its message of “Love whomever you want to love. Just make sure they’re deserving of your love,” deserves to be embraced by a wide audience.

Bingo Love
by Tee Franklin
Art by Jenn St-Onge and Joy San
ISBN: 9781534307506
Image, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 13-16

All-Star Batman, vol. 2: Ends of the Earth

Batman is best known as the chief protector of Gotham City. Yet many of the colorful criminals who have risen up to challenge The Dark Knight do not limit their activities to his domain. As they travel, so must The Caped Crusader journey to the ends of the Earth, in order to prevent the end of the Earth!

All-Star Batman, vol. 2 features four stories which pit Batman against four of his most famous foes in locales far away from his native Gotham City. It also teams superstar writer Scott Snyder with four of the hottest artists in modern comics.

The first chapter sends Batman to Alaska, some 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It is here that Mr. Freeze and an army of followers have begun to hasten the release of a deadly bacteria frozen in the permafrost that could end all life on Earth once released! The dark and brooding artwork of artist Jock (best known for his work on Green Arrow: Year One and The Losers) proves a good fit for this tale, where the use of negative space fantastically reinforces the stark natures of both the environment and the villain.

The second story, featuring the vivid, lively artwork by Tula Lotay (Bodies, The Wicked + The Divine), sees Batman journey to Death Valley in search of Poison Ivy. Rather than seeking to stop Ivy’s current work, drawing toxins from a tree she believes could be used to heal all manner of ailments, he comes to ask her help in stopping the plague that Mr. Freeze released.

Tracking the financial interests behind Mr. Freeze leads Batman to the Mississippi delta. It is here he encounters The Mad Hatter, who has put a new spin on his mind-control technology to create a new form of augmented reality that allows people to see the world as they wish it were. Or as someone else might wish them to perceive it. This chapter is imaginatively illustrated by Giuseppe Camuncoli, who does a fantastic job depicting both the real world of Batman’s memories and the psychedelic wonderland The Hatter tries to force upon him.

Jock returns for the final chapter, in which Batman travels to Washington D.C. to confront the mastermind behind the plots he has foiled and avert the end of the world once more.

This volume also contains the second half of “The Cursed Wheel,” a story focusing on the training of Duke Thomas, a young African-American teen Bruce Wayne took under his wing to train for a new role. Not a sidekick or a new Robin but something Batman feels is needed in Gotham City but cannot yet quantify. While wonderfully illustrated by Francesco Francavilla, it is easily the weakest section of the book and one wishes they had put the whole of “The Cursed Wheel” in a single volume where Duke’s story wouldn’t seem like so much of an afterthought.

This book is rated T+ for audiences 12 and up and that rating is a fair one. There is a fair bit of violence, but nothing unsuitable for teenage audiences. The worst of it involves a gunshot to the head that is depicted from the side so no gore is shown. There’s no nudity or sexual content, apart from Poison Ivy’s brief discussion about what pheromones do and Ivy’s usual form-fitting costume. Some of the social issues at play in this story may be worth discussing with your children or students (i.e. global warming releasing super-diseases) but adults will likely enjoy Snyder’s thoughtful story and the psychodrama involved just as much as teenagers, if not more.

All-Star Batman, vol. 2: Ends of the Earth
by Scott Snyder
Art by Jock, Francesco Francavilla, Tula Lotay, and Giuseppe Camuncoli
ISBN: 9781401274436
DC Comics, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 12+