Books for Babes provides info on the sort of comics that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. This week we recommend ‘Black AF: America’s Sweetheart’, an all-new original graphic novel from Black Mask Studios.

Cover to 'Black AF: America's Sweetheart'. Art by Sho Murase/Black Mask Studios

Cover to ‘Black AF: America’s Sweetheart’. Art by Sho Murase/Black Mask Studios

By Stefania Rudd. At first glance 15 year old Eli Franklin may seem like your average teenager. Look more closely and you’ll see that she is anything but.

Found as a baby on a farm in Montana from seemingly out of nowhere, Eli was adopted by the white family who discovered her. So Eli has always stood out — not only for her brown skin, but because she was born with superpowers. She’s forced to hide her gifts, mainly because her adopted father has a high-profile job at the White House, of all places.

Despite the frustrations of keeping her powers in check, all seems to be going smoothly for Eli and her family until the inevitable teenage rebellion kicks in. And then there’s the floating alien ball she was found with as a baby, which helps Eli realize her full potential as a superhero — costume, secret identity and all. After a few heroic excursions out in the world as Good Girl, Eli comes to understand who she actually is: an “Empowered Black.” You see, in this world, only black folks have superpowers. And Eli is the most powerful of them all.

As Good Girl, Eli does her best to help reduce the rising fear that surrounds herself and others like her. She agrees to work with her father (and thus, through the government) in hopes to help restore the “American values” in which she was raised to believe. Her world gets upended once she falls out of favor in the public’s eye due to the perception that she only helps those who look like her — those who happen to be people of color — even though Eli doesn’t see it that way. She sees it as helping those in the most need.

Things only become more complicated once Eli’s birth-sister, Zion, arrives. Zion’s just as powerful as Eli and far more aware of the world around them. She lays it all out for Eli — who she is, where she came from, and the oppression and prejudice that comes from all corners of society. Even with the truth staring her in the face, Eli is too deep-rooted in the fight for good (or what she believes good to be) to fully understand the plight of her sister and the others who are working against the U.S. government. “I had no idea that we’d arrived at such a pivotal juncture in our people’s history,” Zion says. “There was no way I’d let that future come to pass.”

Black AF: America’s Sweetheart is the second book in the Black universe. I think someone could read this story on its own and not feel its message was lost or that the premise was slighted. Still, you should read the precursor to this story if you’d like to fill the story’s small gaps. Reading Black can only make the bigger picture of America’s Sweetheart more robust. It does, but Eli’s own story is very much a living thing all on its own.

Writer Kwanza Osajyefo gives us a lot to unpack in Black AF: America’s Sweetheart, and does so unapologetically. Zion confronts the very reality Eli was taught to believe, and provides her an education to the way the world really works. It’s here where Zion’s ideals conflict with Eli’s; even though Eli, an out-and-out superhero, has been judged by others, even though she’s been reigned in by the government, she still feels the need to be a force for good. Is that naivete? Eli doesn’t think so. She wants to help the world and Zion wants to change it. It’s altogether simple and utterly complex, like so many conflicts in our world are.

I really enjoyed Jennifer Johnson’s artwork here, and think her craft helped give the story the added emotion it demanded. Johnson’s style isn’t so much the traditional four-color superheroics you’d find elsewhere, but more like an oil painting brought to kinetic life. Her colors are bright and bold, almost daring. I also liked the way she portrayed social media like Snapchat and Twitter, as well as media outlets like news websites and cable news. It added a lot to the story’s overall commentary, which provides yet another dimension to how media can shape public opinion.

Black AF: America’s Sweetheart is an accessible graphic novel that dives head-first into topics that are in the forefront of our country’s modern consciousness. It’s a great conversation starter for teens — it doesn’t condescend to them; instead it gives them an opportunity to think critically about the issues they and their friends are facing. For Eli, and perhaps for a few readers as well, it’s time to wake up. Black AF is here to save the day.

Black Mask Studios/$9.99

Written by Kwanza Osajyefo.

Art by Jennifer Johnson.

Letters by David Sharpe.

Designed by Tim Smith 3.

This book contains violence, demeaning language, political commentary.

Age range: 16 and up

That’s it for this week! Has Books For Babes helped you out at all? We want to know! Feel free to send feedback our way in the comments section below.