28th Sep2021

‘Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero’ Graphic Novel Review

by Dean Fuller

Written by E. Lockhart | Art by Manuel Preitano | Published by DC Comics (YA)

I’ve written in previous reviews just how much I like these Young Adult books. DC haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory in a lot of ways in recent times (closing down Vertigo for one) but this division has been one of the real successes. DC knew to make a real splash in the very competitive Young Adult market they would need top talent working on these books, and they secured just that. E. Lockhart, the writer of this volume, is just the latest in a line of award winning authors to be coaxed in. The brief has always been to take the core of certain popular DC characters, add in some real life angst and worry, and construct a story in the style of a YA novel. To be honest, it’s not a million miles away from what Stan Lee did with Peter Parker back in the day. This book however, Whistle, is different.

Not different in the methodology I described above as such, but in that Whistle is a brand new hero, or heroine, albeit one based in Gotham City. Whistle is actually 16 year old Willow Zimmerman, currently resident in the Gotham slum area called Down River. In many ways, she starts this book like any average kid her age. Social campaigner, animal lover, carer for a sick parent, juggling her own life and education while dealing with a lot of external pressures. Teenage angst, identifiable teenage angst at that. Did I mention boy trouble? Well, trouble in the sense there are no boys interested. Until Garfield of course, but we’ll get to him in due course. Lebowitz too. Lebowitz is a stray dog, but will play a big role in proceedings.

So average kid, but living in a very non-average place. Gotham City. Being Gotham City, there’s always something happening. This time, building are being ‘greened’, that is mysteriously being covered completely in plants and foliage over night, making them unusable. Poison Ivy, right? Well, yes, but remember this is essentially Earth-YA. These are not the same characters you see in the comics, but are variations of. It takes awhile for Willow to realise her new found friend, Pammie Isley, is more than just a Professor of Botany. Pammie is essentially an eco-terrorist, with the ultimate intent of re-greening huge swathes of the world, starting with Gotham. She’s just thrown in with the wrong people, or so it seems.

A big part of the early story is just getting to know Willow, her relationships, and her world in general. It’s nicely written, with a very warm, emotional hook, especially with her Mum and her chemo. Which brings us to mysterious family friend E.Nigma. Nigma had been a family friend, before falling out with Willow’s Mum. Knowing he’s now a wealthy businessman, Willow goes to him looking for work, to earn money for her Mum’s medical bills. He offers her work, helping organise illegal gambling nights. Willow reluctantly agrees, knowing she is selling a little piece of her soul. What she doesn’t know, is that life is just about to really change for her.

An encounter with Killer Croc, himself an eco-warrior of sorts, leaves Willow and her stray dog pet Lebowitz badly hurt. Normally she would hopefully recover, but this time round she was in Pammie Isley’s greening, and something happened to her. She gained powers. Flight? nah. Heat vision? nope. Great hearing and heightened sense of smell? You bet. Ability to understand dogs? That too. It seems that, somehow, Willow and Lebowitz gave each other some of their own human and canine abilities. That’s some teen girl wish fulfillment right there. What’s a girl in Gotham, with new found powers, to do? Become a costumed hero of course. Though being a teenage girl, choosing a suitable costume is nearly as stressful as taking on crooks.

Those crooks, though, are the obvious. Poison Ivy and E. Nigma, who is of course The Riddler. Though friends with Willow, both are enemies of Whistle, her costumed identity. Although by the end of this origin story she has taken down Ivy, she deliberately leaves Nigma, so she can both work for him and work to shut down his operation. More to come on that front. But that isn’t the real point. The real point was Willow as a person was challenged, her values and her ideals. Although she flirted with that darker side of life, she ultimately stayed true to her values, and that is the true core of a hero. Willow is definitely a character that younger readers could happily identify with, but also one that all readers could learn a thing or two from. Gotham is the better for her.

I’ve said this in most of my YA novel reviews, but once again the best compliment I can pay is to say that I really enjoyed it. It’s not aimed at my demographic of course, but if I enjoyed it I’m willing to bet its target audience certainly will. It’s nicely written, affectionate, sassy, funny, and a perfect blend of superhero and youthful angst. The art by Manuel Preitano is absolutely beautiful throughout. Considering the smaller format, which can be tricky, the art really stands out, with some particularly great full pagers. Perfect look and feel for the subject matter too. Still not sure about Willow’s name of Whistle, but I guess a 16 year old girl’s idea of a great name would be different from mine so we’ll let that go for now.

A big thumbs up, this character and this creative team tick all the boxes for me. *

****½  4.5/5

*except the name, obviously.

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