Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha are best friends, muddling through high school together. In the previous volume, the four girls worked together to get their high school to carry free menstrual products in the girls’ bathrooms. Now, Abby is determined to go further: to convince the school to carry the products in all bathrooms so that trans and nonbinary students can access them. Meanwhile, Sasha is so wrapped up in her boyfriend that her grades are slipping, which hurts her self-esteem. Brit is dealing with endometriosis and with two boys vying for her attention. And Christine is still not ready to come out to everyone—or to admit she has a massive crush on Abby.
Educating readers about menstrual issues is part of the authors’ goal, so it’s perhaps not surprising that this volume, like the first one, can be a little didactic. At the beginning, Brit explains endometriosis to her friends, accompanied by cartoon diagrams of a uterus. After that, though, Look on the Bright Side focuses mostly on crushes. Christine is scared to confess her feelings to Abby; Abby isn’t sure about her own orientation; and Brit finds herself reenacting Pride and Prejudice with two boys in her class. (Despite being a huge fan of the BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries, Brit never comments on how closely her love life parallels that story: she is torn between a grumpy-but-noble boy named Fitz and a charming scoundrel named Jorge.)
All the protagonists are imperfect but good-hearted and easy to root for. They make mistakes and struggle with misunderstandings and fears, but they overcome these challenges with help from each other and from their families. While the girls’ friendship is central to the book, we also get at least a glimpse of each girl’s family, all of whom seem loving and supportive. Their school environment, too, seems positive. The high school has a new principal since the events of the last book and there is an active LGBTQ+ club.
The art is colorful, with a simplified cartoon style. The characters are all distinct, in part because they include a variety of races and body types. The backgrounds include enough detail to set the scenes, which are generally at school, outside, or at the girls’ homes. The focus, though, is on the characters. Despite the simplicity of their designs, they are expressive—important in a book with so many emotional plotlines. Their feelings are often underscored by scribbles or smudgy textures in the backgrounds of the panels, especially when the characters are stressed.
There are lots of crushes in this book, but no nudity or sexual content beyond a couple of quick kisses. There is one discussion in which the girls joke about wishing for bigger or smaller boobs. Characters discuss attraction, but not in terms more explicit than, “I think she’s cute.”
Despite being set in high school, this book fits nicely among the many popular graphic novels depicting the trials of middle school life. That’s a good thing, because middle school readers may benefit most from clear discussion of menstrual issues. And while this book does drop a fair amount of information on endometriosis, it centers on friendships, romance, helping others, and figuring out life. The heroines are relatable and kind. This volume can stand alone, but reading Go with the Flow first will provide some context (and a lot more menstrual information). Hand both books to fans of authors like Raina Telgemeier, Megan Wagner Lloyd, and Kayla Miller.
Look on the Bright Side By Lily Williams Art by Karen Schneeman Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250834119
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14 NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Character Representation: African-American, Lesbian, Queer
Teen Titans: Robin was uncharted territory for me and yet oddly familiar at the same time. As a teen librarian, I was familiar with Kami Garcia’s novels, but I had never read any graphic novels she had written. I was likewise well versed in the Teen Titans characters, but this was unlike any Teen Titans comic I had read before. I didn’t recognize the name of artist Gabriel Picolo, but I recognized his art from various social media posts showing more slice-of-life Anime inspired takes on the Teen Titans characters.
This helped ease me into Teen Titans: Robin, which is the fourth volume of Garcia and Picolo’s series of young adult graphic novels. I hadn’t read the original trilogy of Raven and Beast Boy books, but that didn’t prove to be a major obstacle. This volume is surprisingly accessible to those who, like me, were lured in by the Robin name without any thought of this being part of a larger story.
The graphic novel opens in the thick of the action, with Rachel Roth, Garfield Logan, Damian Wayne and Maxine Navarro on the run. They escaped from HIVE and the man called Slade Wilson who had lured them in to become test subjects due to their amazing powers. At the same time Slade is hunting them they are also being hunted by Dick Grayson, whom Damian recognizes as the adopted son of his biological father.
As one might expect given the title, the focus of this book is on Damian and Dick and the difficulties they face in trying to start a supportive sibling relationship. Most of the difficulties are on Damian’s side, as he views Dick as the perfect son that his father chose to adopt, whereas he was literally left on Batman’s doorstep for him to deal with unexpectedly. Dick, for his part, has trouble trying to understand where Damian is coming from and why he has a hard time accepting help and honest emotion after being raised by a group of assassins. However, the story also continues the development of Raven and Garfield’s romance from the earlier books in the series, and sets up a romance between Damien and Maxine as well.
Garcia has a terrific grasp of the teen psyche and has done a marvelous job of developing the classic Titans characters from the comics into a form that grasps their essential personalities while conforming to classic young adult literature tropes. Her characterizations are well-matched by Picolo’s art, which grounds an otherwise fantastic narrative as the teens train their powers and abilities, building up to a thrilling chase scene that closes out the novel. The final effect is reminiscent of a children’s adventure movie, like The Goonies or The Monster Squad.
Teen Titans: Robin is rated 13+ by the publisher and I consider that to be a fair rating. There’s no sexual content beyond kissing and no violence beyond martial arts sparring. There are a few intense moments where Raven tries to use her powers to see through the eyes of her demonic father, Trigon, but nothing inappropriate to the intended teen audience.
Teen Titans: Robin (Teen Titans, bk 4) By Kami Garcia Art by Gabriel Picolo DC, 2003 ISBN: 9781779512246
It is spring of eighth grade, time for a Riverdale Academy Day School tradition: a school trip to somewhere exciting and educational. For Jordan and his friends, that just happens to mean a trip to Paris. School Trip is the third installment of Jerry Craft’s graphic novels about Jordan, who readers first met in the Newbery and Coretta Scott King Award winning New Kid, and an excellent addition to the collection.
At the cusp of a new stage in his life, Jordan finally feels a part of the RAD community and can’t wait to travel overseas with his classmates and teachers. He never gets to see kids like him, other young Black kids from New York City, traveling the world and experiencing different cultures. This is his chance to be the main character and blaze a path. But there’s more than just the trip on his mind. Eighth grade will be over before he knows it and he’ll have to decide between RAD, where he’s no longer the new kid, or art school, the place that could help make his dreams come true. He knows what his parents want him to do and where his friends will be but hasn’t quite come to realize the best path for himself.
A prank causes some unexpected changes to the RAD trip to Paris, but the group makes the best of the situation. Along the way, the classmates learn more about each other, sometimes resulting in conflicts amongst the characters. Craft’s masterful storytelling gives these arguments and discussions depth, without seeming unrealistic for a bunch of eighth graders.
The trip exposes each student’s prejudices, fears, and unrealized ideas about themselves and their peers. Readers will see characters like themselves reflected back at them and School Trip gives them the space to discuss similar things happening in their lives. Witnessing Jordan and Ramon, amongst others, sticking up for themselves against unaware bully Andy may even give readers confidence to do something similar.
The introduction of the Thumbs-Downers in the story gives a realistic explanation to why negative, hateful people always speak the loudest and get the most attention. A two page spread between Drew, the focus of Craft’s Class Act, and Andy is particularly visually striking as a follow up to this idea. Andy is a Thumbs-Downer but he’s much more than that and must recognize his own privilege. This scene could, and should, cause reflection in young readers as they consider their own racial, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds.
As with Craft’s previous books, it is recommended readers keep an eye out for easter eggs throughout School Trip, especially anyone who reads lots of graphic novels. There’s even some aimed at older readers! Craft does a great job of setting his characters in very specific places without the cities and backgrounds becoming the main focus. Your eye is always drawn to the characters and their stories.
School Trip belongs on every library’s and classroom’s shelves, alongside its predecessors. Craft’s fondness and appreciation for these characters is evident throughout the book, something that readers of all ages will find themselves feeling as they follow along with Jordan, his family, and his classmates.
School Trip By Jerry Craft Quill Tree, 2023 ISBN: 9780062885531
Eugene Bullard lived the kind of life that demands biographers take notice. He was the first Black fighter pilot from the United States, as well as a decorated soldier, boxer, vaudeville performer, and Paris businessman. His social circles included early 20th-century notables like Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes, and boxer Aaron Lister “Dixie Kid” Brown. During his pilot career, he had a pet monkey named Jimmy who accompanied him on all of his combat flights.
Now Let Me Fly: A Portrait of Eugene Bullard captures the kinetic energy of Bullard’s biography but also gives it weight. It’s a sensitive portrait of a daring young man encountering the possibilities and complexities of the world beyond his birthplace—small-town Georgia at the dawn of Jim Crow. The book’s success is due to a seamless collaboration between cartoonists Ronald Wimberly and Brahm Revel; Wimberly’s deft script allows Revel’s emotionally rich, vintage-inflected art to speak for itself and makes use of a clever frame story that positions Gene as the author of his own story.
Bullard did tell his story to the American public more than once, most notably on the Today Show in 1959. By that time, he was an unknown figure working as an elevator operator at New York’s Rockefeller Center. Now Let Me Fly imagines Gene trapped in an elevator with a white advertising worker who’s spellbound by Gene’s stories and later arranges for him to appear on the show. This accidental interviewer serves as an audience proxy, giving us space to process the emotional highs and lows of Gene’s story but also bookmarking moments when Gene’s story complicates the expectations of a non-Black audience.
Gene’s story opens with trauma—the near-lynching of Gene’s father by the Klan after he stands up for himself against an abusive supervisor. The episode underscores the precarity of the family’s life in the Deep South, and despite a tender relationship with his father, Gene begins running away from home. At thirteen he leaves for good, joining a group of traveling Romani and learning to race and perform with horses. At this time, many African Americans are moving north in the Great Migration, but Gene is determined to go farther—he’ll make his way to Europe, where he believes he’ll find true racial equality.
Perseverance, charisma, and a stint as a stowaway allow Gene to make his way to Britain and then Paris. Racism is still present in his career as a street and vaudeville performer, but to Gene, none of it compares to the violent apartheid of the South. He trains as a boxer and settles into a seemingly charmed life as one of many African American exiles living in Paris—but then World War I strikes, and the city he loves requires defense. Gene enlists as an infantry soldier in the Foreign Legion, the boldness that’s defined his life propelling him to courageous feats amidst a dehumanizing war. Sent home with grievous injuries, he nevertheless talks his way into being selected as a fighter pilot, finishing out the war as one of the few Black pilots in the air.
In Wimberly and Revel’s hands Bullard’s story is powerful, but it’s rarely sensational. His story has room to breathe, with wordless panels lingering on the bittersweet beauty of the Deep South and lively adventure of Gene’s life abroad, as well as frankly depicting his experiences with violence, both at home and at war. This frankness extends to use of language; the book reproduces historical slurs, including “gypsy” to refer to Romani people. The inclusion of slurs in historical works is a debated topic, and this word in particular gave me pause, but the author’s intention appears to be an honest rendering of history, which includes sympathetic characters using problematic language. I do think it would have been useful to include an author’s note discussing this choice, as readers may be unaware that “gypsy” is now broadly considered offensive.
“A man can be a lot of things in life, and there’s a lot of ways to tell his story,” Gene says in the final pages of the book. Now Let Me Fly is particularly interested in how Gene’s travels shed light on the systems of power that define the modern world. As Gene escapes the uniquely American racism of his birth and makes new connections, he glimpses opportunities for solidarity among people of different oppressed backgrounds, whether they’re terrorized Black Americans, ostracized Roma, colonized Moroccans, or infantry soldiers of all ethnicities caught up in the mechanized horrors of modern warfare. Yet the book acknowledges how fragile these possibilities are—for instance, in an episode when a Jewish tailor calls Gene by a racial slur, only to make amends when passersby verbally attack both Gene and the tailor’s assistant. “Most people can’t see how they’re wrong till something similar happens to them,” Gene observes. “For some, they still won’t.”
I read Now Let Me Fly in a single sitting, and I think many readers will have the same experience—this book, and Bullard’s story, are just that compelling. This is a standout in the field of graphic biographies and highly recommended for adult and teen readers.
Now Let Me Fly: A Portrait ofEugene Bullard Vol. By Ronald Wimberly Art by Brahm Revel Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781626728523
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: African-American Character Representation: African-American, First Nations or Indigenous
After losing his best friend in a bus accident, Tristan is sent to stay with his grandparents for a month on their Alabama farm. The grief counselor thinks the fresh air and quiet will help Tristan process the trauma. Unfortunately, Gum Baby snatches the only thing Tristan has left of his friend, a journal of stories, and leads him on a chase that ends at a bottle tree. In his anger, Tristan punches one of the glass bottles which releases a haint (evil spirit) and tears a hole between his world and Gum Baby’s, called MidPass.
In MidPass, Tristan meets more of the characters from his grandmother’s old stories; Brer Rabbit, John Henry, Brer Fox, and the People Who Could Fly. They work together to find the Story Box and replenish the stories to draw Anansi out to mend the hole between worlds. Along the way, Tristan meets the mysterious Uncle C, who also wants the stories to regain his strength. Tristan struggles with what being strong means and how to find his own strength.
I knew about many of the legends mentioned in this story but not a lot of specifics. The adapter did a great job presenting enough information that the audience could follow along without drowning in the details. Honestly, I enjoyed learning about the stories from a culture I am less familiar with and appreciated that stories are presented as powerful as physical strength.
Tristan does plenty of punching throughout the story as the title implies, which is showcased in full color. It was wonderful to see all the brown skin tones. The illustrations have enough details to convey what is happening in the story without making the art too heavy. And there are plenty of panels full of lighter colors to balance out the darker earthy backgrounds.
Since this is from the Rick Riordan Presents lineup, it is marketed to readers between the ages of 8-12, and I agree with that assessment. There are some heavy subjects like grief, loss, and slavery; however, the story is not focused on those things. This would be an excellent addition to any graphic novel or general library collection.
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky: The Graphic Novel By Kwame Mbalia, and Robert Venditti Art by Olivia Stephens Rick Riordan Presents, 2022 ISBN: 9781368072809
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 Related media: Book to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: African-American, Character Representation: African-American
Private Detective John Blacksad considers it a good day when he can get home with peace of mind and his knuckles intact. Sadly, days like that are all too rare, particularly when Blacksad is more frequently employed as hired muscle than for his keen insight. Such is the case when Blacksad is hired by a union president with no confidence in the police to hunt the hitman he’s sure is after him. His paranoia proves well founded and Blacksad soon finds himself embroiled in a mystery that will take him from the depths of New York City’s underworld to the lofty heights enjoyed by real estate magnate Lewis Solomon.
Coincidentally, I had the Blacksad series recommended to me as a Film Noir fan just before I had a chance to preview Blacksad: They All Fall Down—Part One. Somehow, it had flown under my radar, despite the Blacksad books being critically acclaimed and published in translated editions in 39 countries. This is largely because the original English translation went out of print before Dark Horse comics picked up the American license. Throw in the complication that the series was originally written for the French comic market by two Spanish creators and it is small wonder Blacksad is still relatively obscure in the United States outside of a few niche fandoms.
It should be mentioned that the world of Blacksad is populated by anthropomorphic animals, but this is no children’s story. Like Art Spiegelman’s Maus, different species of animals are utilized as metaphors for racial and social strife, with John Blacksad himself facing suspicion both because of his mixed-race status as a tuxedo cat and his being a predator among prey animals. The effect is like a gritty version of Zootopia, aimed firmly at adults.
The English translation of Juan Diaz Canales’ script by Diana Schutz and Brandon Kander is excellent. The pater of a 1950s detective story is replicated perfectly, despite the original French text being translated literally. Thankfully, an afterword explains some of the linguistic oddities and literary allusions, such as Blacksad’s reference to the folly in sending a fox police officer to the henhouse, when the police break-up a Shakespeare in the Park production. (Henhouse is a slang term for the cheap seats in France.)
Thankfully, the artwork of Juanjo Guarnido transcends language. Beyond the sheer variety of colorful creatures he has created to populate this world, Guarnido is a master of expressive faces. The emotions of each character is clear, despite the delightfully alien nature of their features. Guarnido is also a master at working little details into every panel.
This volume is recommended for readers 18 and older. Having not read the earlier volumes of Blacksad, I can’t vouch for the series as a whole, but that seems a bit high for this particular chapter. There is bloodshed and murder, but nothing in excess for an Older Teen series. There is also some sexual content, with a perverted peeping tom spying on one of his neighbors and slapping a woman on the bottom, but no nudity. I would still advise keeping this series in the adult collection, however, given that the sensibilities and historical context of this series are more likely to appeal to older audiences.
Blacksad: They All Fall Down Part 1 By Juan Díaz Canales Art by Juanjo Guarnido Dark Horse, 2022 ISBN: 9781506730578
Publisher Age Rating: 18+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Spanish, Character Representation: African-American,
Tommie Smith is the subject of one of the most iconic images from the Civil Rights Era, of two black men holding gloved fists high in a Black Power salute during the 1968 Olympics. In Victory. Stand!: Raising my Fist for Justice, Smith tells his story behind that moment. The graphic memoir, co-written with Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile gives an account of Smith’s life leading to the Olympics, his choice to make the political statement, and the aftermath.
The book opens with a race, specifically the 200 meter sprint finals. Despite a sharp pain in his thighs and a whirlwind of thoughts, Smith leaps at the sound of the starter pistol. We then immediately flashback to his childhood, 1949 in Texas. Throughout the next few chapters, Smith flashes back and forth between the story of his childhood and school years in the segregated South with his iconic race at the ‘68 Olympics.
Smith and Barnes juxtapose his pain and resiliency during the race with the harsh realities of living and growing as a Black boy surrounded by racial injustices. His parents were sharecroppers who were hardworking and kind, but treated in a way that was obviously cruel and unfair, even through the eyes of a young Smith. He talks about the ways he perceived these inequities, and the moment when he first came to the understanding that this was all about race. In college, Smith begins to realize that his voice matters. It is with that knowledge that he makes the decision to run in the Olympics and raise his fist to the sky. The last chapter details the trajectory of his life in the aftermath. Unfortunately, it felt rushed and included details that were not relevant to the theme of sports and the Civil Rights Movement. I also wish that the parallels with the 200 meter race and his life extended further into the story. However, these are small imperfections in an otherwise fascinating book from an important voice from history.
Anyabwile’s illustrations in gray, black, and white, are filled with texture, movement and emotion. Throughout the book, the illustrations add depth to the story. Much of the emotion and drama comes through in the backgrounds with textures, shadows or expansive black. Anyabwile also did a notable job capturing Smith’s growth from child to adult, sublely adjusting looks and style as time goes on.
At pivotal moments in Smith’s life, Anyabwile steps away from Smith’s story to illustrate more striking images reflecting the reality for Black people in America. When Smith’s family eventually moves to Southern California in hopes for a better life, the very next page features a haunting two page spread with a mother and her young children screaming in pain. In the background a Black man hangs from a tree next to a burning cross. Other images include references to such events as the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing and Martin Luther King’s Assassnation. Smith came of age at the dawn of the Civil Rights era, as he was finding himself and his place in the world, these moments and realities helped to shape who he became. Anyabwile deftly illustrates these pages. They are awash with black and expand beyond the panels typical of most pages in the book. These events are monumental and his illustrations reflect their importance.
Victory. Stand!: Raising my Fist for Justice is a notable addition to the graphic memoir genre. It is a definite purchase for my high school collection. Tommie Smith is an important voice from the Civil Rights Movement and I think this book will appeal to a broad range of readers.
Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice By Tommie Smith and Derrick Barnes Art by Dawud Anyabwile W. W. Norton & Company, 2022 ISBN: 9781324003908
Publisher Age Rating: 13 and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: African-American, Black, Character Representation: African-American, Black,
Miles Morales is adjusting to his identity as the new Spider-Man in town. It can be tough, but it has some serious perks, like being a guest of honor at the release event for the video game launch of the century. Which is awesome . . . except it turns out the game is a trap set by an alien mastermind who plans to use it to destroy humanity.
Everyone who logs onto the game—or even sees a video of it—is frozen in a state of suspended animation. Miles would be one of them, but he is grabbed at the last moment by an unlikely rescuer: former supervillain Trinity. She and another villain, Vex, have been working with a powerful alien entity called the Stranger, who is responsible for the video game plot. According to the Stranger’s plan, in three days, the frozen people will unfreeze and attack everyone else, causing potentially millions or even billions of deaths. But Trinity doesn’t actually want humanity destroyed, so she proposes a team-up to save the world.
The problem is that the Stranger is powerful. Maybe too powerful even for Spider-Man, his loyal “man in the chair” Ganke, and Trinity to take on. Especially when Miles is distracted by worrying about his own friends and family who have been frozen by the game. Things are looking grim, but as it turns out, Trinity is not the only surprising ally willing to help Spider-Man take down the Stranger.
Miles is brave and goodhearted and has all the snarky banter one expects from a Spider-Man. His friendship with Ganke, in particular, feels caring, real, and full of fond ribbing. But Miles also feels things deeply, especially when someone he loves is hurt. This book gives considerable page time to Miles’ worry about his beloved uncle Aaron, who became frozen while driving and crashed his car, ending up in the hospital. Other family and friends are targeted by the Stranger as the book goes on, strengthening Miles’ resolve.
The art is angular and colorful, giving the pages a lively look even before the additions of classic superhero visuals like action lines and sound effects. Kool-Aid-bright colors highlight the neon lights of the city and the larger-than-life characters, settings, and action sequences. The cast is racially diverse and the characters visually distinct and expressive. Screentones are used frequently, but subtly, often to highlight a character’s altered state: for instance, simple screentones help differentiate the frozen people from others, and is one of the visual indications used when Miles turns invisible.
The stakes are high in this story, with danger both global and personal, but things do work out well in the end. The frequent fight scenes are full of teleportation and spider webbing, but no blood or graphic injuries.
This is a smart, fast-paced story with lots of superpowered action. Hand it to young readers who want a relatable hero with attitude and heart. Fans who enjoy seeing superhero comics written by popular YA authors may also like this volume’s preview of Captain America: The Ghost Army by Alan Gratz.
Miles Morales: Stranger Tides By Justin A. Reynolds Art by Pablo Leon Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2022 ISBN: 9781338826395
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: African-American, Guatemalan Character Representation: African-American, Puerto Rican
Superpowers, as depicted in fiction, are often a double-edged sword—there’s the freedom of flying like Superman or having enough strength to move the car that’s taking up your parking spot, but there’s also the inherent fear of others that comes with having abilities different from mainstream humanity. Add in the volatile component of racism and the superpower narrative can become quite explosive, as it does in Dark Blood, written by LaToya Morgan and illustrated by Walt Barna.
The book focuses on Avery Aldridge, a former Tuskegee airman living in 1950’s Alabama. He’s a veteran who fought in the war with the hope of making it back home to his family, but home means he and his family must endure the racism of the Deep South. While processing the trauma of war and the racism at home, he discovers that he can somehow move things with his mind. Many people, especially those who see Avery as less than them, will also be afraid of that power.
The superhero origin story is a popular trope and Morgan’s story offers an interesting take. There are multiple plotlines that run through this story, from Avery being trapped behind enemy lines to him being the victim of a racial attack that ultimately leads to him being on the run. The narrative jumps around a bit, but these stories are as vital to Avery’s superhero origin as a bite from a radioactive spider. Everything from the PTSD to how he is treated by the white people in his life all go into who he is and how he decides to use his gifts.
And when he starts using his powers in earnest, they are quite awe-inspiring, thanks to Barna’s use of dynamic POV angles that give a punch to the scenes of Avery fighting in the war as well as those showing him unleashing his powers. Where Barna really shines, though, is how he makes Avery’s telekinetic powers truly terrifying. Avery’s power builds from being able to lift small objects to stopping bullets, but it’s the characters’ body language, as illustrated by Barna, that really sells the power Avery has. From Avery’s tension-filled face as he uses his powers to people’s terrified reactions to them, readers can practically feel them thrumming off the page.
Some people dismiss superhero comics as straight-up revenge fantasies, as people gaining power to get back at those who slighted them. But the kinds of slights that Avery and his family must deal with go beyond what Peter Parker endured at high school or Clark Kent endured at the Daily Planet. More than just a story full of dynamic angles and fluttering capes, this tale is more of a character study of a man who suddenly gains great power and must decide how to use it. This book is sure to be a hit with superhero fans because of its many displays of awesome superpowers, but its social commentary is also an important message of how hard it is for the marginalized and disenfranchised to rise up, with or without phenomenal psychic powers.
Dark Blood, vol. 1 By LaToya Morgan Art by Walt Barna Abrams, 2022 ISBN: 9781684157112
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: African-American Character Representation: African-American
Writing stories set in a much loved, previously established universe is always a highwire act. It’s hard to make everyone happy. Tillie Walden takes the challenge in Clementine Book One, as she adapts a graphic novel from a Walking Dead video game character. Her success or failure is probably dependent on how invested in the Walking Dead universe you are.
This story opens with a Black teenage girl with an amputated leg traveling alone through a zombie apocalypse. She clearly knows how to take care of herself. She’s also been through a lot of trauma and doesn’t trust people easily, though no one seems to trust each other in this world. We learn that it’s been many years since the apocalypse began and Clementine has lived in this world for most of her life. We see flashbacks of what happened to her before (likely parts of the video game) and it informs who she is today. Soon she comes across a religious community and reluctantly accompanies one young man on a quest he’s undertaken to meet others on the top of a mountain in the hopes they can survive there away from the living dead. As with most zombie stories, nothing goes as planned and mayhem ensues. There is a complete story in this book but another door opens at the end in the hopes that readers will want to see what Clementine’s next steps are.
Walden’s art and storytelling are clear and distinctive. She is able to create the appropriate mood and atmosphere for a zombie apocalypse. The book is in black and white, just like the original Walking Dead series, which does make it hard to tell some characters apart. Walden uses clothing and hairstyle to do most of this work and she’s successful most of the time. The book is mostly set at night, so everything is pretty dark. This makes depicting Clementine’s race particularly challenging. In general, if you liked Walden’s art previously, you’ll enjoy what she does here.
We’ve had a lot of tales told in the world of the Walking Dead. Focusing on the trials of a capable teenage girl is a good story to tell, but it’s not breaking much new ground other than the fact she is an amputee. Fans of Tillie Walden will be interested to see her working in someone else’s “playground.” Fans of the Walking Dead and the video game will get to see Clementine’s story move forward. Not all of them will be happy about where the story takes us, though. I am curious where planned books two and three go. Image Comics head and Walking Dead creator, Robert Kirkman, has picked a good property to launch his new Skybound Comet imprint at Image with. It will be interesting to see how well this imprint expands Image’s audience to include a younger crowd of comics readers. Clementine is rated for older teens and could go in most public library YA or adult collections. Whether it stands alone or if it has too much backstory for most teens will be the test of whether it is a hit or not.
Clementine Book One By Tille Walden Image Skybound, 2022 ISBN: 9781534321281
Publisher Age Rating: 14+ Related media: Game to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Lesbian Character Representation: African-American, Bisexual, Missing Limb, Prosthesis