GRAPHIC NOVELS

The Black Mage

Oni. Oct. 2019. 144p. pap. $19.99. ISBN 9781620106525.
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Gr 7 Up–Tom Token is the first black student—and black mage—to be admitted to St. Ivory’s Academy of Spellcraft and Sorcery. Tom’s first day sees him fighting racist students and encountering faculty wearing Klan hoods, but he also befriends Lindsay, his student liaison, and soon, he stumbles onto a conspiracy. It looks like there might have been black students at the school in the past. Tom sets out to unravel this secret, with the help of not only Lindsay but also the ghosts of legendary wizards Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. The world of St. Ivory’s is littered with references to “Harry Potter,” Pokémon, Final Fantasy, Sailor Moon, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and even more obscure media, such as G Gundam, much of which might fly over younger readers’ heads. There are also allusions to racial tensions throughout history; those who reread and reexamine imagery will be richly rewarded. The pace is brisk, and Tom and Lindsay receive only a modicum of backstory before the story picks up. But the vivid, anime-esque artwork and creative, at times explosive panel layouts make up for the gaps in characterization, engrossing readers in a one-of-a-kind adventure.
VERDICT Barnes and Kirkland’s dynamic tale is best described as Jordan Peele’s Get Out for the graphic novel set. Action packed, thoughtful, and visually delicious, this is a story that’s not to be missed.

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