Dear Justice League is a bridge between two worlds of superhero fandom. One is populated by children in love with superheroes because of their adventures and unquestionable coolness. On the other are adults who research and harbor enough opinions about superheroes to write a Ph.D. thesis. Both sides tend to wish for an elusive kind of superhero story: one written and drawn full of joy. Dear Justice League is that wish granted, mainly for kids, but adults chasing an innocent-but-fun superhero vibe will grin ear to ear during this book. Each chapter of the book features a different member of the Justice League answering a letter from a child, often revealing some humanizing foible about themselves in the process.
Gustavo Duarte’s artwork captures these heroes during their less-than-heroic moments, which may not be violent or melodramatic, but they add so much dimension to each character as they brainstorm their replies. Kendra/Hawkgirl taking a long slurp out of a soda can, Simon/Green Lantern typing alone on top of a skyscraper, Clark/Superman holding multiple leashes for a dog walker—these glimpses go a long way toward showing how their secret and public identities are intertwined, taking readers “under the hood” of their practical personalities. Wide panels and arrows with humorous captions make the art and its intentions crystal clear. A battle against an insectoid invasion near the end lets the heroes (and Duarte) show off their battle prowess, but that’s not the main draw of the book. The consistent theme of Dear Justice League is that reaching inside yourself to provide a positive (if self-effacing) example only makes you more extraordinary.
Duarte’s expressive illustrations and easy-to-follow layouts, similar to his work on Bizarro, shine a fun light within the DC universe. Wes Abbott’s lettering makes distinguishing dialog, captions, and written responses a breeze, while Marcelo Maiolo’s colors are bright and always serve to make characters and action pop. The art team’s efforts complement each other at every turn—a two-page spread of Diana/Wonder Woman playing Pin The Tail On The Kanga blindfolded uses color changes, sound effects, fonts, and linked panels to effectively convey how she plays the game.
Michael Northrop’s scenarios show off the kids’ and Justice League’s personalities in tandem. A question to Arthur/Aquaman about how he smells turns into an extended gag about his lack of self-awareness. A couple of knuckleheads try to prank Barry/Flash (from the school library, no less!), only to be shown up in a lighthearted way. DC’s icons are cooler for relating to kids on their level. Bruce/Batman’s clocked plenty of villains, but check out the utility kit he designs for someone’s first day at a new school. Diana/Wonder Woman gains credibility for giving advice based on gross mistake she made as a child. Victor/Cyborg kind of gets the short end of the “heartwarming self-awareness” stick, with his chapter mostly setting up the alien battle finale.
This graphic novel is a must-have for your children’s section, and don’t be surprised when you spot parents and older fans flipping through it, too. There’s plenty of heart and kid-friendly antics to earn this book a recommended spot on your juvenile graphic novels shelf. Also of note: African American Victor/Cyborg, Hispanic Kendra/Hawkgirl, and Lebanese-American Simon/Green Lantern are all colored in different shades of brown, and a black Amazon appears in Diana/Wonder Woman’s childhood flashback. While the League’s specific cultural makeup is not addressed beyond a Themysciran flashback, it’s still nice to see color that matters beyond a green ring or scarlet blur. A cute bonus section at the back details League members’ bios, including those of some super-pets and the book’s creators.
Dear Justice League
By Michael Northrup
Art by Gustavo Duarte
DC Comics, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: E (everyone)
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
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Character Traits: Black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern