Who Is AC?

Who Is AC?

I adore Hope Larson‘s work. Every single book she’s done has made my recommended list, from last year’s A Wrinkle in Time through Mercury and Chiggers to her early Gray Horses and Salamander Dream. With Who Is AC?, Larson is writing a magical girl story for artist Tintin Pantoja to draw.

A magical girl is a manga convention, with Sailor Moon being the best-known example in the U.S. Because of the manga roots, Pantoja was a good choice to work with this kind of character design. Unfortunately, the various elements of the book didn’t come together for me as tightly as I hoped they would, and I was left wanting more.

Larson’s characters are well-observed and three-dimensional, without being unquestionably good or bad. Her small-town setting and limited human cast — Lin, a writer and new hero; Mel, the popular girl, grieving a recent loss; and Trace, a copy shop manager with a blog — feel realistic. (The less said about the mystical forces behind the powers and battles, about which we learn little, the better.) Take, for example, the opening sequence (which you can read in an online preview). It’s well-written and captures the feel of leaving behind loved ones, with expressive art — but the questions it raises, about who is calling Lin and why, aren’t fully answered in the rest of the book. I would argue that they don’t need to be, since we don’t require detailed origin stories to enjoy a superhero story, but in that case, I would expect less space spent on this prologue. For me, I was left with expectations that weren’t completely fulfilled.

Who Is AC?

Larson tackles the online culture of teens, an element that I particularly wanted to see more about, but by physicalizing internet debate into a battle between our hero and a “troll” with black attack streamers, the depth is lost. I know it’s tough to make virtual interactions visual, but the result here seemed over-simplified.

Anyone who’s expressed an opinion online can relate to struggling with an anonymous attacker talking you down over the net — and Mel’s wish to disappear online is very relatable to anyone who’s thought better of something they said that they wished they hadn’t. It would be a lot easier to learn how best to behave online if the results were as visible as they are here. I also was left wondering about Trace’s attack posts — did they have any affect outside the three main characters? Does he have any audience?

On a reread, I found myself noting slight discrepancies in design and layout in the art. I was better able to keep track of the characters after the first time through, now that I knew who they were, when before I didn’t realize some cast members (Trace the blogger, Trace the copy shop manager, and Trace the guy Mel gets teased about) were really the same person. I think Larson is doing some advanced work with scene changes and transitions, and it may be that the book would have been stronger if she’d drawn it herself. Or perhaps the reader needs to pay more in-depth attention to the work than I gave it at first.

Perhaps I’m expecting this story to be more than it aims to be, but there are a number of kids’ adventure comics that tie their themes and plotlines together more tightly. I’m thinking of Hereville, for one. I wanted to know more about items mentioned but not developed. Why is Lin still making print zines instead of blogging online like everyone else? She clearly feels strongly about digital. Why are Trace’s parents so evil they’re willing to let their kid go blind without glasses? What’s going on with his brother? Perhaps there’s more to come in a hypothetical followup volume. (Series are popular for graphic novels aimed at younger readers.) Or maybe the author is leaving room for the reader to come up with their own explanations. Given how much I’ve enjoyed Larson’s work in the past, I can’t help feeling that the flaw here might be in me.

Who Is AC? is due out in mid-April. You can order it now from your local comic shop with Diamond code FEB13 0808 for the paperback or FEB13 0809 for the paperback. There are some preview pages available at the publisher’s website. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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