Obligatory disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary copy of Tales of the Talented Tenth: Bass Reeves for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.
In this graphic novel, Joel Christian Gill tells the story of Bass Reeves, the first black US Marshal west of the Mississippi and, some believe, the inspiration for the Lone Ranger.
I'd heard of Bass Reeves before, on Drunk History, and probably elsewhere. I'm all for books about awesome historical peeps, and for the most part I enjoyed reading Gill's graphic biography of Reeves. The story was fast-paced, with a lot of tension, and I thought the artwork served the story well. I particularly liked how Gill represented the language of the Seminole Indians before Reeves learned how to speak it, and I thought the use of Jim Crow as a character was effective, if a little confusing at first.
That said, I did have a few niggling areas of concern:
- First of all, I was a bit disappointed by the lack of humor. Reeves was known to be sharp-witted and funny. You'd never get that from this book, where he came across as either bummed out or angry, because racism. The character really had no personality, and it constantly seemed like things were happening to him rather than vice versa. Granted, I don't know much about Reeves, but from what I do know I'd think he'd be more of a force of nature than that.
- Secondly, the "language," if one might call it that, deserves a mild trigger warning. The characters use the n-word (a lot), but instead of using the n-word Gill represents it with a picture of a black man's face. I can just imagine being a parent and having to explain what that's supposed to mean.
- Somewhat related: Gill also uses a face with a feathered warbonnet to represent the word Indian. With the n-word, I can get why he'd want to represent the word pictographically; but Indian is NOT a racial slur, and it bothered me that Gill drew that parallel. Most American Indians prefer the term Indian.
I think for a younger audience, this will be a good intro to the story of Bass Reeves, and I'm definitely looking forward to more stories in this series. But this book is certainly not without a few issues.
To find out more about Tales of the Talented Tenth: Bass Reeves, visit its Indiebound and publisher pages, and check out Gill's website and Twitter account.
Thanks to Fulcrum Publishing, I have one copy of Tales of the Talented Tenth: Bass Reeves to give away. To enter, simply provide your name and an email address where you can be reached in this form. I will select one winner using random.org on March 5th, 2016. If applicable, international entries will be shipped at my own expense.
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