Wednesday, January 5, 2022

HiLo: The boy who crashed to earth by Judd Winick

[Originally reviewed in 2016]

I waited a long time for a library to purchase it so I could borrow it. The description sounded intriguing, but not enough that I wanted to purchase it sight unseen. After reading it, my emotions are mixed.

DJ is bored. Ever since his best friend Gina moved away, years ago, he feels like he isn't good at anything and doesn't stand out. Then a mysterious stranger literally falls out of the sky and suddenly life is very exciting. HiLo doesn't know anything about who he is or how life on earth works. To complicate things further, Gina suddenly shows up again but she's changed a lot. The adventure gets even crazier when other, more dangerous things start crashing to earth and HiLo figures out who he really is and what he's there for.

The art is bright and bouncy, with lots of explosions, eyes popping with shock and surprise, and flashy color. HiLo at first seems very young, probably because he's racing around in his underwear, but then switches to a more "gritty superhero" look later on as he remembers his purpose and realizes the danger his new friends are in.

So, on the pro side this was a fun, exciting adventure with colorful art that fans of superheroes and adventure comics will like. On the other hand, I had a couple issues with it. First, it goes at sonic speed from "alien who doesn't understand how earth works" funny to "Ender's Game child soldier who's really a robot fighting an unstoppable evil" dark. Secondly, it sticks with some rather boring superhero tropes without really bringing them up as discussion points - maybe the unstoppable evil robot kind of has a point that robots, especially since they are clearly sentient, should not be slaves to humanity? Of course, destroying entire planets isn't really a good solution but having HiLo use his programming to destroy fellow robots who step out of line, instead of standing up for a community of more or less slaves, seems like a quick and dirty "solution." Granted, you can't get really deeply into matters of law and human freedom in a quick kids' comic but this glossed over those issues awfully fast.

Again, while it's great that DJ and Gina were both kids of color and it's great to see some biracial protagonists in the story, we're still stuck with the blond-haired, blue-eyed, white savior. DJ and Gina's story is clearly secondary to HiLo's battle and why would a super-advanced civilization create their fighting robot in the form of a small Caucasian boy anyways? As far as the gender divisions, Gina is obviously smart, funny, and going places - but a large part of the storyline is her reassuring DJ that he's not boring or incapable of change, even though he's basically done nothing but mope since she was gone.

Verdict: While I had....issues with certain thematic elements, it is still a fast-paced and fun story and it's good to see some representation at all, even if it's only in the background and secondary protagonists. Actually, the one thing that makes me feel the iffiest about purchasing this is that the hardcover binding feels like it won't last very long. I don't really have a definite decision on this one, you'll have to decide for yourself.

Revisited: I went ahead and bought this, the series continued and is wildly popular, and there is now a secondary series featuring Gina. I never read any farther, so I don't know if they resolved any of the issues I saw, but it's popular so I buy it. There was also never a resolution of the poor binding and it's never been released in paperback so I can't get Follettbound editions, which honestly is what bothers me the most about it! If you are willing to overlook the binding issues, this is popular with a pretty wide range of graphic novel fans who like action and humor.

ISBN: 9780385386180; Published 2015 by Random House; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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