REVIEW: ‘Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero’

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Whistle - But Why Tho

Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero is a graphic novel from DC Comics written by E. Lockhart, illustrated by Manuel Preitano, colored by Gabby Metzler, and lettered by ALW’s Troy Peteri. Willow is a passionate teenager who loves her city, Gotham, and particularly its historically Jewish neighborhood. She also loves her mother, who has been going through tough cancer treatments keeping her out of work and forcing Willow to take more and more shifts at the local dog shelter to makes ends meet. Everything changes for Willow, though, when she reconnects with her mom’s old friend, E. Nigma.

Willow is the most visibly, obviously, and wholeheartedly Jewish superhero I have ever seen. It’s incredible. She’s got the hallmark frizzy brown hair, loves babka, and her dog is named Leibowitz after Fran, sure. And from the look of her neighborhood itself to the old Jewish delis that fill it, the landscape is as Jewish as can be. But so is her worldview and life. Willow has a whole conversation with her mother about mitzvot, Jewish commandments. She explains at one point that while her mother is observant, she never has been, yet still finds solace and affinity in her neighborhood’s old synagogue anyway. It’s all reflective of a very real and common Millenial/Gen Z Jewish experience and is easily the strongest reflection of myself and my peers in comics. She particularly reminds me of the growing movement of young folks reviving 20th Century Jewish socialist/activist traditions.

I am also obsessed with this book because of Whistle’s true superpower: guilt. Without getting too far into spoiler territory details, Willow and Leibowitz eventually gain very fun powers that essentially give them a bit of each other: Willow gains superhearing, and Leibowitz can talk to Willow. This leads to all sorts of antics and heroics protecting Gotham’s Down River neighborhood from supervillains and too-radical activists alike.

But she’s still a kid. Her strength or speed aren’t enhanced; she can’t take down ner do wells in a fight. So her real weapon of choice? Guilt. It’s often a Jewish stereotype that mothers, in particular, use guilt as their sharpest tool to keep their kids acting just right. But here, it’s Whistle’s way of doing good without doing harm. She guilts her enemies into being better without having to beat them to a pulp.

Beyond that kvelling, though, Whistle just has great characters and a great plot. It takes place outside of the DC canon, so it has the liberty to reimagine some classic Gotham villains to fit its own unique needs, and every single character, old and new, is full of personality. I love the frequent subtle references to other DC properties, from the Black Canary performance to the casual Green Lantern t-shirt. I also enjoy the typical YA romance that follows a predictable but comfortably satisfying arc.

On the art side, there’s a bit of a classic feel to the style. It’s drawn and colored in a way reminiscent of the Silver Age but with sharper detail. I love how many different sets of clothes the characters are drawn in, especially Willow. However, it was a bit uncomfortable how some adults tried to use those clothes to sexualize this teenager. Nonetheless, the coloring uses simple earth tone backgrounds so that clothes and the frequent use of green can stand out starkly against it. The lettering includes a slightly stylized font that befits the Silver Age feeling of the whole comic.

Whistle is not only a great graphic novel; it’s also a great Jewish representation. Between the Jewishness of the character and her community and how she weaponizes a sometimes trite, sometimes actually traumatizing stereotype, it’s the best represented I think I’ve felt in a comic ever. Moreover, it has a great artistic style and creatively weaves old and new characters into its own unique Gotham City story. While not canon, I really hope Whistle/Willow will get to appear in future DC stories.

Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero is available wherever comics are sold.


Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero
5

TL;DR

Whistle is not only a great graphic novel; it’s also a great Jewish representation. Between the Jewishness of the character and her community and how she weaponizes a sometimes trite, sometimes actually traumatizing stereotype, it’s the best represented I think I’ve felt in a comic ever. Moreover, it has a great artistic style and creatively weaves old and new characters into its own unique Gotham City story. While not canon, I really hope Whistle/Willow will get to appear in future DC stories.