ARC Review: BLACK, Vol. 1 by Kwanza Osajyefo

BLACK, Vol. 1BLACK, Vol. 1 by Kwanza Osajyefo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a world that already hates and fears them – what if only Black people had superpowers. After miraculously surviving being gunned down by police, a young man learns that he is part of the biggest lie in history. Now he must decide whether it’s safer to keep it a secret or if the truth will set him free.

Warnings: racism, police brutality, violence, murder

Awesome idea – what if only black people had superpowers? Now, if you have heard of Luke Cage or seen the Netflix series (which specifically was driving the BLM movement message home in it’s trailer with a guy able to withstand bullets), you would agree that this is an interesting premise to build on. Also, a story centering the experience of black people in a society that hates their existence is a conversation we need to keep having. However, Black veers off from that by like the 3rd chapter and plunges into conspiracies and gets a bit unbelievable.

It starts off pretty well – Kareem, who somehow survives a police shooting, wakes up in a secret facility and told he has powers. Supposedly, a small population of people (who are black or mixed) have these quarks (subatomic particles or something – physics is NOT my strong suit) that give them powers. This is however, sold in the plot as a worldwide conspiracy to keep black people subjugated, and so that they don’t pose a threat to the white governments. There are also different factions in these super-powered people who have different approaches to how things should be done to protect their people.

Now, I’m a fan of superhero themed graphic novels, but if you are going to tell me that there is a ‘worldwide’ conspiracy to hide powered people’s existence, there better be a good reason. I would even accept that this was a US-centric problem, like how it happens in most dystopias, but if there was even a slight hint that there were conspiracies out there. For the whole book, it is presented like a secret that no one, not even in the age of the freaking internet and smartphones, knows about. And this is where I had a problem with how the rest of the plot played out, because it all depended on the premise of ‘no one knows’. Still, we have powered humans getting into government facilities, having amazing battles (the artwork for which was super-cool, by the way) and literally no mention of how they are covering this all up. Like, one panel with some conspiracy blogs or something – was that too much to ask?

Another thing – what about countries with a majority of black people, or where white populations were lower? How were they hiding the existence of an albeit small, but noticeable fraction of the people being powered? Nobody’s third cousin or something doing some weird things? It was just all – they lock up all the powered people on false charges. Which is a problematic concept to tackle, because it makes it sound like powered black people were considered a threat and have been enslaved, or imprisoned throughout history for that reason – when in fact, colonialism, racism, slavery and apartheid are complicated issues involving dehumanizing a race and cannot be simplified to suit a narrative like – hey, so some black people are super-amazing, so we have to make sure all of them are subjugated. Then again, I admit it is not exactly my lane to comment on, but I think it could have been presented as a multi-dimensional issue instead.

The artwork is pretty good, with realistic character designs, a range of abilities and people being presented and some really cool fight scenes. Overall, a good graphic novel, with some amazing artwork, but perhaps it doesn’t handle the subject matter to its full potential.

Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Diamond Book Distributors, via Netgalley.

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