The body-switch is a tired and true story concept across the science fiction and comedy genre – it even gave us one of the best episodes of Bruce Timm’s Justice League. When done well, it showcases the inequities in-between individuals and teaches the audience lessons along the way. When done wrong, it feels too weird to make sense. Thankfully, Anti Hero the new middle-grade graphic novel from DC Comics fits executes this much-seen concept with enough charm and authenticity to feel unique and fun, while offering some life lessons along the way.
Written by Kate Karyus Quinn and Demetria Lunetta, illustrated by Maca Gil with Sam Lofti, colored by Sarah Stern and lettered by Wes Abbott, Anti Hero focuses on Piper Párajo and Sloane McBrute are two 13-year-old girls with very different lives. A tale of two sides of the tracks, Sloane lives in Gotham Estates, gloomy, dark, and visibly rundown, while Piper lives in Gotham Acres, in a house with a white picket fence. While both girls are worlds apart, they do share similar secrets.
At school, Piper is pretty, popular, upbeat and excels at physical activities. Sloane, on the other hand, is a loaner with zero interest in having any friends, snarky, and the smartest girl in the school. Outside of the classroom, Piper is strong, super strong and longs to be a superhero, trying to use her powers to do good, even if she tends to leave a mess. The niece of a cop, she’s set on being a hero, no matter what. Sloane, on the other hand, is evil-genius level smart and is forced into using her smarts for her villainous grandfather in order to provide for her mother. While Piper is connected to the law, Sloane’s last name automatically causes those around her to expect the worst. When a mission to steal an experimental technological device brings the two girls face-to-face with each other, the device sparks, and the girls switch bodies. In typical fashion, the two are forced to live each other’s lives and work together to find their way back to their own. All while learning more about each other along the way.
Anti Hero is a charming read, with bright colors and great character designs from Gil and Lofti that invites the readers to connect to the girls. The stark difference in aesthetic between Piper and Sloane is one of the graphic novel’s strengths and works to visually tell the story. Additionally, Piper’s lucha-esque costume is not only fun, but age-appropriate, which is great to see given how many artists tend to draw brown girls as more mature than their age. As for Sloane, she fits into a She-Go look that works for her, in fact, she looks like a baby villain. That said, it’s balanced with a sincerity that also grounds her as a teen in the story and builds empathy from the first moment.
The action in Anti Hero is also extremely dynamic. While Piper uses cheesy chips to fight, Sloane relies on gadgets and entirely thought out movements. The two clash in style and on the page, it works beautifully. Sterns’ colors should also be called out for making each page and panel vibrant and beautiful regardless of the color palette.
While the art and colors are strong, and Quinn and Lunetta have written a story that is sure to hit with a lot of kids, there is something missing. The story itself focuses on highlighting that you’re not what you’re born into, that you are the path that you choose to follow. It showcases that those who seem to have it all, don’t, and those who are on the “bad part” of whatever town or family tree aren’t defined by the stereotypes associated with them. It’s an important message.
But the importance of this message is overshadowed to me by the hollowness of Piper’s homelife. Sure, she says abuela, is visibly brown, and has Párajo as a last name, but she doesn’t feel authentic. Comics like Hotel Dare and Quince have excelled at showcasing Latinx culture. Characters don’t need to speak Spanglish on every page, but there are elements of home life that just, well, feel like home. Sadly, Piper’s home-life could have been given to any other ethnicity, and it would have had the same impact.
Her identity feels like an afterthought, especially given that she is written as the privileged girl in the story, something many Latinx who aren’t white-passing seldom experience in the world. From the food on the table, to calling her grandma abuela, but not saying tío, it feels somehow awkward, even for me, a Chicana who doesn’t speak Spanish fluently, and grew up where all of our Mex was in fact Tex too.
Additionally, while not intended, there is a moment in Anti Hero where Piper is called “chipster.” While it isn’t common knowledge to those outside our community, “chipster” is a term used for “Chicano hipsters” specifically to chide those who are well off, well educated, and have forgotten their gente. It may not be intended but to have associated with Piper, the girl who is playing the “one who has it all” role in the story, was frustrating and the first thing I saw when I read the word, even when it was elaborated on as a joke about her “cheesy chips.”
Piper is endearing, fun, and wholesome in the way that we need in comics right now and her bond with Sloane as it grows is amazing. Additionally, the fact that the two girls switch bodies may attribute to the lack of attention put on Piper’s identity, but it still feels off. That said, readers without a Latinx identity probably won’t notice this element, so it’s hard to hold this against the book.
Overall, Anti Hero is a fun and empowering read for young girls and is a great addition to DC Kids’ lineup of graphic novels. While I wanted more from it, its charisma and levity while also touching on some deeper class issues is heartening to read at a time like this. If you’re looking for a nice read with your kids, this can be it.
Anti Hero is available online via Amazon.
Anti Hero is a fun and empowering read for young girls and is a great addition to DC Kids’ lineup of graphic novels. While I wanted more from it, its charisma and levity while also touching an some deeper class issues is heartening to read at a time like this. If you’re looking for a nice read with your kids, this can be it.