This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.
I did not like this graphic novel. It was basically a rehash of The X-Men, or The Inhumans, or The Gifted, or New Mutants, or whichever simplistic, derivative Marvel Comic series about mutants you wish to name. This novel brought literally nothing new to the genre unless you count that in this case, the only people with the mutation are black! To me, it was racist.
All the "good guys" were black. All the "bad guys" were white. Neither side was anything more than a caricature. It felt like I was watching a so-called 'blaxploitation' movie from the early seventies. Since this was a graphic novel, and given that a potentially interesting premise failed to be effectively exploited, I found it hilarious that the color scheme was gray-scale! It felt ironically appropriate, but not in the way the creators intended, I'm sure.
While on the one hand I can understand this - and work like it - constitutes a backlash against the inexcusable racism inherent in comic books, movies, and TV shows where - unless you're prepared to be the token person of color - please don't show for the audition, the way to fix a problem where the pendulum has swing way-the-hell too far in one direction is not to swing it equally far to the opposite side, it's to stop it dead in the middle and weld that sucker down so it can never move again. Period.
I think the comic would have carried a much more powerful message had it been less comprehensively biased. As it is, it runs a dire risk of being viewed by too many people - and those are the very ones who most need to get an education - as being nothing more than sour grapes. It didn't help the cause that one of the freedom fighter leaders was named Caesar, the same name given to the chimpanzee in the Planet of the Apes saga. That sounded insulting to me.
Even that aside, it was not well-thought out. Rather than go with Marvel's asinine "x-gene" ploy, the creators (and I admire them for this) tried something different. Unfortunately, it wasn't something new! They made the mistake of taking the easy way out by simply making the quantum leap. It didn't work. The idea here is that some people (all black!) have unusual arrangements of quarks in their body. Quarks are the foundations of hadrons, which most people unknowingly know as protons and neutrons, and which form the nucleus of every atom.
There are six known quarks, divided into three up-types, named (with characteristic physicist quirkiness) up, charm, and top, and three down-types, named down, strange, and bottom. We're told that gifted black people (who may not necessarily be young!) have a hexaquark, like this is something rare, but it really isn't. Their expert is very confused and talks bayrons rather than baryons. But that, with its unintended allusion to Bay Watch, works given how some of the women are portrayed in this story. Which is another problem.
There's precisely one female super hero, and one transgendered one. The only other females are background or ancillary personnel. There is one professional assistant, one cop, and one lab technician. Two of these unaccountably wear eyeglasses whereas not one other person in the entire book does, and one of them - the so-called quantum particle expert - wears a lab coat. Barf.
The comic is hypocritical in this regard. On the one hand it's admirably, if ineffectively in my opinion, championing black characters in graphic novels, but on the other hand it's keeping "bitches" down. That's inexcusable, especially given that the women's liberation and black civil rights movements have historically often worked hand-in hand, because both sectors of society have been oppressed and in disturbingly similar way in some regards (such as having no vote, for example).
Why are there so few important black characters in graphic novels? Because most of those novels have traditionally been written by white folks and it never occurs to them to include non-whites. It's not that they hate black folks and what to keep them down or actively exclude them; it's just that (and this is no excuse) they just don't think of it. Why are there so few women of note in graphic novels? Because most of them are written by men - who don't hate women and don't wish to keep them down; it simply never occurs to them to include women. They just don't think of it. That's what happened here.
The main character is named Kareem Jenkins. He's shot for two reasons. The first of these is that it's a case of mistaken identity because all black folks evidently look alike to New Jack City cops, as a sorry history of shooting deaths in New York has shown and continues to show. The second is that when he's told to freeze, by armed cops, he's too stupid to do exactly that. Instead, he rabbits and is shot and ostensibly killed. A dozen or more black men have been fatally shot by NYPD in the last twenty-five years, and very few cases have even gone to trial, let alone ended in a conviction, but this novel repeatedly refers to NYPD as New York's finest. I don't know if that's meant to be ironic.
Kareem is unique because he rises again, and then is kidnapped by a character who far from being Straight Outta Compton, is straight outta The Matrix movie. He's Morpheus by another name, and he even sits with legs crossed in an armchair when we meet him, and effectively invites the kid to take the black pill. Yawn.
This leads to him discovering a hitherto totally unknown world of back mutants, all of whom have powers of some sort, but there are then so many of these characters so quickly introduced that they become lost and meaningless in the crowd. The irony of course is that here, all black people do look the same, not because they're all drawn the same (the artwork was pretty decent), but for no other reason than that this comic book has failed to differentiate them by giving them distinctive personalities and back-stories.
Having some of them speak in what in some circles, and for better or for worse, has been dubbed 'ebonics' is not giving them a personality. It's not giving them character. It's not making them individual. It's just cynically pigeon-holing them. There should have been fewer of them initially, and they should have been properly introduced instead of being treated like so many nameless, interchangeable slaves. This was a serious fail.
The plot doesn't work because we're expected to believe that a handful of white folks have pulled the wool over people's eyes for literally centuries, working in concert with the black community! I'm sure this isn't what the creators intended to convey, but it's very effectively what they achieved, because as the white community has, we're told, systematically sought to wipe out this 'black threat', the black community has been trying to hide the mutants, and neither side has ever let anything get out to the public! It's simply not credible.
Even if we allow that it worked before, it sure as hell would not work now! Have the creators of this series not seen the black community? Everyone is a showman or woman. There are pop divas and DJs with monumental egos. There are sports personalities with attitude, there are movie stars all about showmanship and conspicuous consumption, and there are so-called 'reality' shows and talk shows which are all about self-promotion.
None of this is confined to the black community, but we're not talking about how white folk might behave here. There is no way in hell, if any of this community had these powers, that they would all consistently keep them secret! It's simply not credible and this unarguable fact brought the whole story down and gave the lie to this farcical 'secrecy' claim. Besides, it made no sense to begin with - not in this day and age. If the white folks are trying to wipe-out the gifted peeps, then the best way to stop it is to go public, not go private. "Morpheus" is a moron!
Neither is it credible that the white folks would be able to continue their pogrom of extermination into modern times when much of the world is now ruled by non-white leaders. Are we supposed to believe that black leaders in African nations were in on it with the white folks? Bullsh! (More on that shortly). This is a classic case of failure to think outside the box, the box being the United Whites of America. Far too many of these kind of dystopian or secret society stories are far too hide-bound by 'American' thinking, or constrained by 'The American Way'.
What far too many authors fail to grasp is that there's an entire planet outside the USA that doesn't think about the USA from one week to the next because they have more important things to think about! They do not conform to US norms or patterns of thinking! They do not live the way US citizens live! They do no view the world like US people view it. Any story like this, which has global implications, yet which tries to pretend the entire globe is just like the USA is doomed to failure, and this one fell right into that trap.
There was almost cussing in this story! It's not credible. Almost all the time, when a cuss was about to be issued here, it was cut off. Instead of "Fuck!" we got "Fu-". Instead of "Shit" we got "Sh-" hence my "Bullsh" comment above. It's not realistic. It maybe be practical for some readerships, but people don't talk that way in real life, and everyone, even kids and churchgoers, knows it. You either have to include it to make it real, or you have to skip it for the sake of the readership. You can't have it both ways without it sounding truly dumb, and suspending suspension of disbelief. In short, either sh or get of the po.... Yeah! That's dumb it sounds.
A brief lesson in genetics: Not all mixed race couples have exclusively black children. Even a black couple can legitimately have a white child. Nature is color-blind! The reason for all this is that there is no difference, at the genetic level, between black people and white people and Asian people and whatever people.
Just like in real life there is no X gene, there is no B-for-black-gene either. There are gene networks wherein many genes acting in concert can achieve remarkable ends, but there is no 'negro network' than can make a person black or pigeon-hole one as such and more than there is a 'honky network' that can make a person white. This begs my last question: why did this affect only black people? There was no rationale given for this. We were expected to take it on trust.
Maybe the authors had some plan to work this out later, but forgive me for having little appetite for swallowing that when I'd already been asked to swallow much that was unpalatable in this graphic novel. I got the impression that they were winging it; tossing in some quantum nonsense and hoping to get by, but as we've seen, there is nothing in our genes to confer powers on one race and not another, so how much less credibility is there in ascribing this same effect to something even more fundamental: sub-atomic particles?
Quarks do have a property referred to as 'color', but it has nothing whatsoever to do with actual color as we perceive color day-to-day at the macro level. It's just a word; not a meaningless word because it has meaning to physicists, but it doesn't convey the same thing to them when they talk about quarks as it does to the rest of us when we talk about LED TVs. There is quite literally no color at the sub-atomic level as any electronic microscope image you can find online will show. Some of them have artificial-color added for clarification purposes, just as those glorious space images do, but in reality the sub-atomic world, just like the outer space world, is a very colorless one indeed.
Oddball congregations of quarks, which are the components of all matter, living or not, cannot grant powers to one race without granting them to all. It's another case of failure to think through. I mean, do Asians have powers? They're not white, but they ain't black either! How about the Latinx community? Deal or no deal?! What bothers me about this is that the authors seem to be saying that black people are somehow fundamentally different from all others, which is patently not true, but by saying it, they're risking undoing what decent, good-faith people of all races have been trying to accomplish for decades: true color-blindness wherein all are equal, all are one family, and all are brothers and sisters. The plot for this novel seemed like a very negative step to me unless it was handled better than it was here.
Black folks do have something rare and it is a real superpower: they have greater genetic diversity, especially those resident in Africa, than do any other humans. The reason for this is that all humans started life in Africa, not in Eden. We're all black. Unfortunately, the pale skin minority has forgotten this, and instead of seeing it as something unifying and something to be proud of, too many people see one color or another as a fault or a defect, something to be despised and rejected. Americans are often proud of their Irish, or German, or English, or native American, or whatever ancestry. What a pity they arbitrarily stop it at some point before it ever gets all the way back to eastern Africa where it all began.
So in conclusion, I cannot recommend this story as a worthy read. There were too many problems with it including endless excessive violence, but at least it was gray-scale so there was very little red ink to deal with. The one positive sign I saw was that in the end, Kareem took off on his own, rejecting all the bullsh- he;d witnessed. I commend him for that, but for me, it was too little, too late.