Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero by E. Lockhart and illustrated by Manuel Preitano
DC, pb, £12.53
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Willow Zimmerman doesn’t want to change the world; she just wants to make her Gotham neighbourhood better. No matter what it takes, protesting at City Hall or working at night for the dog shelter, Willow will not give up, even at the expense of her home life. There’s a boy she likes, but she doesn’t have time to explore that relationship properly, she can’t adopt Lebowitz, the stray Great Dane who follows her around, and she can’t afford the medicine that will save her mother’s life.
This all changes when an old friend of her mother’s, E. Nigma, comes back into their lives. Willow’s mother doesn’t want anything to do with him, too many shady goings-on in the past, but Willow is more pragmatic. Nigma is willing to pay Willow lots of money to organise poker nights in weird locations for him and his friends. Easy money.
Then Willow and Lebowitz are attacked by Killer Croc and, when she wakes in the hospital, Willow realises she can understand Lebowitz as well as hear other people’s thoughts. This is when Willow discovers that Nigma and his poker buddies are actually some of Gotham’s greatest super-villains. Willow must choose between her employer who saved her mother’s life or her community.
Over the last few years, many YA DC graphic novels have landed on my desk, and Whistle is my favourite so far. That is to do with Willow herself. She is an activist for her neighbour, but she isn’t preachy or over the top. She is warm and compassionate, thinking of others before herself with a sense of humour and a strong sense of loyalty. When she inevitably loses her way as Nigma’s protégé, those qualities lead her back to herself.
I also loved that Willow was Jewish. Her religion is one facet of her personality, like her love of dogs. It isn’t thrown in your face, as some attempts to be inclusive can be, but drawn out over conversations with Garfield, a new boy at her school she befriends. During the story, she also meets Pammie Isley, a plant biologist. Experienced readers will know this is Poison Ivy and enjoy the similarities between the women as well as the anticipation of their inevitable fallout. The stakes are high as Willow’s action could also pit her against the one friend who truly gets her dedication to her home.
But a graphic novel is as much about the art as the words, sometimes more, and Preitano’s work compliments Lockhart’s powerful story. He captures the essence of the story and Willow’s personal strength with clean, pop-art style drawings that reminded me of Piccolo’s work for Raven and Beast Boy. It is also full of humour. One page is dedicated to Willow trying to find an outfit to fit her new powers. Some outfits are obvious takes on other heroes original costumes, and her commentary on them sums up current thoughts. There are other humorous elements, too, such as cameos from other villains, only distinguishable by small decorations on their outfits or the style of their hair. Catwoman pops up all over the place.
Whistle is a charming story about being true to ourselves, aimed at younger audiences, although I enjoyed it despite not being a member of that target audience. I would love to see more of Willow and Lebowitz and hope this is one of the origin stories that DC run with instead of being a limited series, never to be seen again. That would be a real shame.