By Kwanza Osajyefo, Jennifer Johnson, David Sharpe, Tim Smith 3, Sarah Litt
Originally starting as a Kickstarter before getting picked up by Black Mask, Black felt like a story that needed to be told. Its premise, where the victim of a police shooting inadvertently finds out that only black people have superpowers, was an exciting prospect. It was a take on the X-Men without as much metaphor and more direct in the social issues present in the world. With such a powerful message, it seemed only natural that more would be on the way. Black AF: America’s Sweetheart serves as its expansion, focusing on a new main character and having a much more light-hearted tone. And while it does suffer from problems concerning character development and pacing that the original had, America’s Sweetheart is overall a much better executed story.
In a world that’s divided, Eli Franklin decides to become a force for change named Good Girl. If Black was the universe’s X-Men, America’s Sweetheart is definitely its Superman. Filled with the heart and optimism that only a younger person would have, the book delivers those feel-good moments present in traditional superhero tales. But it doesn’t shy away from relevant issues, such as the perception of people with power by the public. Even when Good Girl is doing her best and succeeding, it makes sure to show that there’s still general outrage concerning skin color, desperate to find racial bias in her actions. This kind of moment is all too real in today’s climate and the book shines when it fights this negativity with hope. Eli herself is a beacon of understanding and kindness, a resistance of positivity that can easily be found if looked for.
America’s Sweetheart does a lot right in terms of its message and making Eli such a relatable character, but it does feel a little too quickly paced in its first half. There’s not much room to breathe, propelling Eli from plot point to plot point. This is especially unfortunate when the rest of its pages are dedicated to a single climactic fight, making you wish that more time could have been spent leading up to it. It’s actually the same problem that can be said of a lot of Superman stories, not taking the time for events to sink in with the character and by extension, the reader. The inevitable comparisons that can be made to Superman in Eli’s story also might make her feel less unique to some.
While it lacks an identity in some story beats, America’s Sweetheart has a definitive look. Artist Jennifer Johnson evokes the style of pieces of Pixar concept art, fully realized in its colorful painted glory. It’s a look that highlights the innocent tone and makes the action feel natural. This is where the long final battle pays off by displaying a fighting spectacle between two powerhouses. On a more subtle level, Eli wouldn’t feel like half the character she is without Johnson’s attention to visually representing a sweet and kind soul. The seamless transition between social media and the story’s events is also really well done. News headlines, likes, and reactions play out across panels, getting across the public’s perception of Eli as well as her own feelings.
Black AF: America’s Sweetheart will feel familiar to some. However, in a book with so much good will and wonderful art, it’s hard not to enjoy it. Good Girl is sure to reach young and old with its warm-hearted protagonist, packed with a sincerity that endures beyond hate.