Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story – Lilliam Rivera, Writer; Steph C., Artist
Ray – 7.5/10
Ray: A little over a year ago, DC released the first Lois Lane graphic novel in their all-ages line, Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge. It was a cute all-ages story of a girl learning how to balance her ambition with her friendships—but it really didn’t feel like a Lois Lane story, featuring virtually no ties to the character’s comic book cast. That issue feels like it’s magnified with Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story, a passionate graphic novel with a lot on its mind—absolutely none of which relate to the Green Lantern Corps.
The YA graphic novels often take a lot of liberties with the characters, usually to their benefit. But Jessica Cruz, of all of DC’s characters, feels like she’s already set up in many ways to address some of the issues today’s teens deal with. Her struggles with trauma and an anxiety disorder that turned her into an agoraphobe were dealt with brilliantly by Sam Humphries and Tim Seeley, and even adapted semi-accurately into the first version of DC Super Hero Girls. But that’s all gone here, replaced with a completely new backstory rooted in the politics of the last few years.
This version of Jessica is an undocumented Mexican-American teenager, a DACA recipient living in Coast City, with a fascination with indigenous Mexican culture. She’s an ambitious student about to graduate, and taking part in an enrichment program at the local museum where she meets a teenage Army brat who becomes a good friend (John Stewart, in this book’s only real tie to the GL franchise). Her hardworking immigrant parents try to keep her focused, but she spends a lot of time worrying about their uncertain future.
That future becomes a lot more uncertain with the possible ascent of a hard-line conservative Mayoral candidate who vows to “clean up Coast City” by removing the homeless and the undocumented. The choice to make this villain a Latina woman is a little odd, but given how the Trump era featured so many people like Stephen Miller who were willing to turn their back on their own heritage for temporary acceptance from white supremacists, it makes sense in a twisted way. The character’s propaganda posters feel very Trump-esque.
As the city becomes a more hostile place and ICE becomes more active in arresting immigrants in everyday activities, Jessica struggles to continue in her everyday life. There are relatively few genre elements in this book, and almost the entire OGN is character-driven. The one exception is the battle in Jessica’s mind between two of the Gods she visits at the museum—one representing peace and wisdom, one representing righteous rage. These segments provide a nice visual break from the slice-of-life story and represent Jessica’s inner struggle, but they never quite fit in with the story when they come.
This is an important book, one of the most frank when it comes to the experiences of young immigrants and dreamers. But I’m not sure if it does justice to Jessica Cruz. The depiction of her anxiety disorder is so watered down, shown as a simple response to serious events (including a family crisis) that she’s eventually able to overcome because she found the right motivation. There’s no question for me that young immigrants will find this book speaks to them. But teenagers who battle mental health issues might not to the same extent, and that’s who Jessica Cruz was created to represent. It reminds me a bit of the situation with Cassandra Cain in the Birds of Prey movie.
Ultimately, these creators had a very specific vision for this story, and it’s an important one (albeit one that will hopefully feel like a historical relic sooner rather than later). But I’m never convinced that the character in this is the Jessica Cruz who will put on the ring. Rather, it feels more like a story of someone inspired by her—which, if this book accomplishes that goal, it’ll have certainly done some good.
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GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.