Let me tell you the most insane premise of a graphic novel that I’ve ever heard of. Marcus, a young boy, was strolling along with his mother and father one day. When his parents are looking across the horizon, hopeful for a new life, they are crushed to death by a homeless woman that fell from the sky. Why was she homeless and up in the sky? The answer is Ronald Reagan.
You see, During Ronald’s presidency, he had cut off a lot of income for mental hospitals in America, resulting in the mentally ill being thrown out onto the streets without any way of supporting themselves. The result was one of these patients attempting to take her life by jumping off a bridge and accidentally landing on our protagonist’s parents. This sparks an unwavering anger in the heart of the young boy that compels him to enlist in a school that specializes in assassination. As Marcus, gains more knowledge of the deadly arts, he revels for the day when he will finally takes his vengeance upon the president.
Now that seems like a fun and engaging idea for a story… but it sadly loses my interest with two clichés that clutter the narrative and the mishandling of a couple of other themes. With the constant focus around these clichés, this book feels like any other YA novel that centers around high school, instead of the unique revenge story I anticipated.
Cliché # 1: The love triangle that has no substance at all. The protagonist has an introspective monologue that has him thinking, Do I date the chick whom I think is hot or the chick whom I think is slightly less hot? It’s not compelling, considering we barely know the personality or motivations of either characters that are subject to his affection.
Cliché # 2: Racial stereotypes and cliques. The only black guy says “yo” all the time and the only interests that I remember him talking about are the rap music he listens to. The Spanish characters are only defined by their cultural stereotypes, having the girl wear the Day of the Dead makeup whenever she feels like it and having the guys smuggling drugs. The only southern white people are, of course, overtly racist caricatures who want to kill minorities.
While I’m on the topic of murder, I’ve got to say that I’m not entirely comfortable with the (hopefully) unintentional message of murder solves all your problems in this book. It might come across as hypocritical that I frown upon the use of violence here, while I previously mentioned that I hoped that this book was simply a murder-revenge story. It’s subtle, but there is a difference between having a story with violence and having the story glorify violence. For example, A Song of Ice and Fire is one of the most popular fantasy stories that involves violence and monarchy-centered politics. The book series contains these themes while having the most anti-violence and anti-monarchy messages out there. The author is able to capture our attention through the conflict of the characters’ unhealthy devotion to this aforementioned violence and way of ruling, alongside teaching us not to follow in their footsteps, or else be exposed to the same punishments they go through.
Because the consequences that the protagonists receive for slaughtering people left and right seems to be little to none, it paints a different message. A homeless dude brought up a dark memory from your past? Solve it with murder! Father sent you to a school you didn’t like? Solve it with murder! A dude is violently pissed at you for sleeping with his girlfriend? Then try to work it out in a calm and meaningful conversation. I’m just kidding. He’s just a teenager; his life’s practically over anyway. Solve it with murder! And what were the consequences of all this murder that the main character dishes out? He gets put in time out for like five seconds before his new buddies break him out to do drugs.
I can tell that the author wanted to tackle the issue of mental illness, but it’s so rarely integral to the plot or characters, aside from the quick origin in the first issue, that it barely warrants being included at all. Writing about mental illness is a job that requires the writer to be respectful to the character, while providing entertainment and or education to the reader. We get a couple of moments when Marcus mentions social anxiety, but we never see it affect his interactions with the other characters. He is supposed to be at the bottom of the barrel in terms of social hierarchy, but he has someone take partial blame for a murder he committed, he has the girlfriend of one of the most powerful students offer to sleep with him, and goes on a road trip with a bunch of other students, all in the first week of his new school. This guy’s doing better than most of the popular kids in my high school ever did.
As mentioned earlier the two clichés featured in this volume are partially why I was so disappointed in this book. However, I’m not against the use of love triangles or racial tropes, so long as their utilized in a creative, informed manner. That’s the difference between a trope and a cliché; The former gives further insight into the seemingly mundane and predictable, while the latter is mundane and predictable. Even though this review is mostly pointing out the flaws, I’m still hoping that the following volumes start delving into the parts of the fascinating premise that peaked my interest in the first place.