Yasmeen #5 Review: A Powerfully Inspiring Circumvention of the Victim Narrative

When Saif A. Ahmed and Fabiana Mascolo's Yasmeen debuted in July, I declared the first issue of the series published by Scout Comics as being "as close to perfect as a comic book gets with its perspective-challenging and humanity-filled story" of a young woman surviving captivity by ISIS and making it to the United States to be reunited with her family and face a whole new set of challenges. The series has maintained that high level of quality, both in art and story, in every issue since, but it's this week's Yasmeen #5 that may actually be the best chapter of the entire series. It offers not only that same challenging perspective seen throughout but does so in a way that forces readers to confront their own biases in culture and experience.

The issue builds off of the events in Yasmeen #4 which showed Yasmeen and her mother move to protect one of Yasmeen's schoolmates after she was drugged and sexually assaulted by a group of boys—Yasmeen and her mother track down every person with the graphic photos and erases them, and the mission hurries the healing their mother-daughter relationship in the process. In issue #5, readers see Yasmeen open up about her own escape from her captors. For readers, this narrative begins to thread together Yasmeen's experiences and her family's attempts to save her during that same time, something that sheds light on the trauma her parents endured during her captivity as well. In terms of character development, though, readers see Yasmeen emerging from her broken state—and to be very clear, I use that term with great prejudice as Yasmeen is never really broken; the difference between the character when we meet her and now is simply that striking. She smiles again; she heads off to school with a new sense of self and power having stood up to those who would victimize a young woman.

yasmeen 5
(Photo: Scout Comics)

In a sense, Yasmeen's defense of her friend operates as a healing event for her, a way of obtaining some kind of emotional justice. Ahmed doesn't suddenly make Yasmeen "better" for having endured sexual trauma. Instead, he gives the reader something painfully rare in stories containing survivors of sexual assault by showing that Yasmeen's healing is ongoing but that she is also able to use her experience as a point to advance from rather than something that defines her every moment. In the process, that honest telling compels readers to see all of the women in this story in a more realistic light.

The story also avoids a "fairy tale" ending in Yasmeen #5 by not shying away from the gender, race, and cultural issues at play either. The issue closes with the authorities wanting to speak with Yasmeen, presumably for some of her actions against one of the predatory young men. It's a page that speaks to the multi-faceted experience of all woman who are regularly sexualized and maltreated then punished for standing up for themselves, but particularly women of color who endure this and further racial injustices heaped upon it all. All of this part of the story and, indeed, the rest of the issue, is elevated brilliantly by Mascolo's stunning artwork. Everything here is character-centric and hauntingly good. Yasmeen #5 Mascolo's best work on the series to date—and considering how good the comic is generally, that's an astounding feat.

Overall, Yasmeen #5 is the best issue yet in a series that is one of the best comics of the decade. Building upon existing narrative strengths, Ahmed continues telling a deeply important story. It's rare that a comic book hits every possible note in being both entertaining and culturally (and intellectually) significant, but Yasmeen #5 and the series writ large does exactly that. Beautiful, uncomfortable, haunting, and humane, this issue isn't just practically perfect; it's actual perfection.

Published by Scout Comics

On July 21, 2020

Written by Saif A. Ahmed

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Art by Fabiana Mascolo

Cover by Fabiana Mascolo