DC’s new young adult graphic novel, Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story, nails the unexpected highs and lows of being a hero in the real world.
The latest entry in DC Comics’ expanding catalog of young adult books is titled Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story. Of the new YA title released this year from DC, it’s one of the best so far, thanks to its writing and art that captures the heart of what it means to be a superhero without relying on the traditional tropes of superhero comics.
Written by Lilliam Rivera and illustrated by Steph C., Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story, follows the titular character, a teenager from an immigrant family, as she tackles her fears in the face of a powerful yet realistic threat that puts her loved ones at risk. Despite traditionally being associated with the Green Lanterns, Jessica’s latest story is a strong coming-of-age narrative that may not register as a DC comic for those unfamiliar with her past; however, that is far from a negative thing. Instead, it makes this accessible to a wider audience without losing the heart of what makes a hero and a Green Lantern.
This is perhaps one of Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story’s biggest strengths: it’s not the powers that make Jessica a hero. Her enemies and obstacles are not things that require a metahuman to solve. Because of this, she feels real. While not everyone has gone through her experience of living as an undocumented immigrant, they can relate to how she is a teenager trying to protect herself and her family, despite, at times, feeling utterly helpless and invisible.
The emotional journey Jessica goes through rips at readers’ hearts, and C.’s art plays a huge part in this. While Jessica experiences immense inner turmoil, C. illustrates what it’s like to feel hopeless, afraid, vengeful, heartbroken, empowered and so much more in an expressionistic, mythical way. This, accompanied by the use of Aztec deities and legends, shows how overwhelming and powerful these feelings can be, even when one is trying to save face in public. Furthermore, the use of colors in the external environments perfectly matches what is happening within Jessica.
The weight of what Jessica is going through couldn’t be clearer visually, as well as in the story itself. Jessica and her challenges are grounded in realism, and while initially, this may not seem like the best setup for a superhero story, at the end of the day, being a superhero isn’t about the more action-oriented or fantastical elements. Anyone can be a hero, and sometimes the dangers one needs to face are closer to home than some extraterrestrial threat or superpowered bad guy.
Several of DC’s young adult graphic novels have had their protagonists tackle timely social issues, and this creates an active, empowering image of this generation of teens — one that is inspiring for that age group and beyond. Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story continues this tradition and takes it even further as readers see how important the issue at hand — immigrant rights — is for Jessica and how hard it is for her to navigate what’s ahead of her. This isn’t just a social issue: it’s a deeply personal one, so as the graphic novel progresses and readers see how things affect Jessia and those around her, they are fully invested in the issues at hand, Jessica’s character, and the beautiful community she calls home.
Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story is exactly what a superhero story should be, even if it isn’t the typical DC comic. It puts out-of-this-world threats and abilities on the backburner in favor of a narrative that reminds its readers anyone can be a hero and fighting for those we love is one of the most heroic things a person can do. It’s also a reminder that life is hard, and getting through those rough parts is a remarkable feat. Jessica Cruz is a hero for her community, family, and self, and she is an inspiration for readers of all ages.
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