Teenage superheroes have been part of our popular culture for decades, acting as sidekicks, contemporaries of adult superheroes, and standalone characters. That's been especially true in the DC universe, which has captured the essence of being a young adult in ensembles like the Teen Titans and Young Justice. Anti/Hero, the publisher's newest foray into middle-grade graphic novels, brings something new and genuinely adorable into that sub-genre of superhero comics. The story, which revolves almost-entirely around new characters, is endearing, action-packed, and an absolute delight for readers of any age.
Anti/Hero revolves around Piper Pajaro and Sloane McBrute, two thirteen-year-old girls in East Gotham. As popular girl Piper and introverted brainiac Sloane navigate the trials and tribulations of middle school, they each harbor their own secret. Under the alias of the Hummingbird, Piper uses her super-strength powers to protect her neighborhood—even if she occasionally causes a mess when doing so. And Sloane, who goes by the code name of Gray, uses her intelligence and an army of tiny robots to carry out tasks for her grandfather, the crime boss known as "The Bear." While Piper and Sloane aren't typically in one another's orbit as students or vigilantes, a freak accident accidentally switching their bodies forces them to work together.
Anti/Hero's approach to character is one of its biggest strengths, as Piper and Sloane are adorable and compelling from the first sequence in which they appear. As the title would suggest, Anti/Hero never reduces either character to a dichotomy of good or evil, but allows them both to exist in shades of gray. It's easy for readers to relate to both characters' motivations and outlooks on life—which makes the moment they switch bodies even more upbeat and effective. Yes, the body-switching trope has been used many, many times in comics (and plenty of other media), but there are genuine stakes beyond that sci-fi twist. At the end of the day, Piper and Sloane are just teenage girls thrown into an unpredictable, but entertaining situation. Even the more contrived elements of the story—namely, a contest at school that conveniently fulfills both Piper and Sloane's personal hopes and dreams—never weigh down Anti/Hero.
There's also something to be said about Anti/Hero's place in the universes and continuity of DC Comics, which proves to be an increasingly pleasant surprise as the graphic novel continues. Despite being just a stone's throw away from the main hub of Gotham City, East Gotham feels like its own accessible thing, without being bogged down with superhero connections or gratuitous Easter eggs. Batman does have a surprising (and adorable) significance to the story, but it never takes away from Piper or Sloane's journey. Co-writers Kate Karyus Quinn and Demitria Lunetta clearly possess a profound love for the universe they're playing in, and it shows on every page of Anti/Hero.
The art from Maca Gill completes this story's adorable, energetic, and savvy approach. Every character becomes incredibly expressive and entertaining in the matter of just a few panels, and the comics' style comes across like the best early-2000s Disney Channel animated series you never forgot about. Even then, the art has the ability to feel incredibly current, both in the diversity of body types and modern fashion on display.
While nearly every character in Anti/Hero is making their first appearance in DC comics, there's something about their debut that feels like a perfect, collective fit. This adorable story toes the line between heartfelt and larger-than-life, and the two main characters would be really entertaining foils for any number of DC's teenage heroes. Anti/Hero is the latest example of near-endless potential in DC Comics' middle-grade line, and it's genuinely a great graphic novel.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Published by DC Comics
On April 14, 2020
Written by Kate Karyus Quinn & Demetria Lunetta
Art by Maca Gil
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