Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero, written by E. Lockhart

[Image ID. The cover of Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero. A young girl with curly brown hair stands next to a white great dane in front of the Gotham skyline in blue and orange. Up the left side of the book in large lettering is the title "Whistle" and above that sits the subtitle "A New Gotham City Hero" To the right of the subtitle the author's name is listed as "New York Times Bestselling Author, E. Lockhart." Below the title is "Illustrated by Manuel Preitano." The snapchat caption reads "The first explicitly Jewish superhero in 44 years LET'S GO." End ID]

“Whistle” is a fantastic introduction for a fantastic new superhero. It is at once a classic origin story and a breath of fresh air. Willow Zimmerman and her mother have struggled to makes ends meet as her mother’s (presumably adjunct) job as a professor doesn’t give them health insurance and she hasn’t been able to work as much because she is battling cancer. At the very beginning the mother mentions stopping treatments because of medical debt and I almost had a heart attack that she was going to hold the same narrative place as Uncle Ben. She doesn’t, but that is ultimately the catalyst for what eventually lands Willow in the annals of superherodom. 

In my personal opinion, Willow was activist minded enough that I think she would have found her way into the superhero conversation eventually. I think there’s a lot to be said for those superheroes who really do stand for community, activism and change even before they get their powers, and that’s Willow in a nutshell. She’s fighting for her community from page one. 

[Image ID: In the first panel, Willow, a teenage girl with long curly brown hair, approaches a deli counter with a friend, Garfield, a Black teenage boy. Willow says to the man behind the counter "This is my new friend Garfield. We desperately need Reubens." Transition to the second panel, Willow and Garfield are sitting at a table biting into their sandwiches. Mouths full Willow intones "Grhmmm?" and Garfield replies "Umm hmmm!" The caption reads "Show interest in a girl's activism and you've got a friend for life."

What takes her from activist to superhero, however, is one Edward Nigma, former friend of her mother’s, who offers Willow financial help when he hears that her mother is ill. Whether this was truly altruistic or if there was an ulterior motive there from the beginning isn’t entirely clear, but, regardless, Willow winds up working for Nigma as a runner for his less than legal poker games, which leads to a whole lot of guilt when she finds out who Nigma is and when Willow realizes that he and Poison Ivy are targeting her community with intent to buy up all the local property to gentrify the area. 

[Image ID: A comic panel of Willow's hands working open a puzzle box with the onomatopoeia "Twist!" The narration box reads "My mom's best childhood friend, Eddie Nachtberger, renamed himself E. Nigma in high school." The snapchat caption at the bottom of the image reads, in all caps, "Welp." End ID]

However, it was none of this that first drew me to “Whistle.” I picked it up because Willow Zimmerman is the first explicitly Jewish superhero to be created by DC in 44 years and her Judaism is important in a way that clearly impacts her worldview, something we don’t always see even with the existing Jewish heroes—I’m thinking specifically of Kitty Pryde of the X-Men whose Jewishness only recently started to play a larger role in her character again. 

The only thing that gave me a very brief moment of pause was when it was stated that Willow wasn’t particularly observant, which is a trope that is frequently used as a cop out to not have to deal with any actual aspect of Judaism, but that isn’t the case here, quite the opposite actually. Willow may not be as ritually observant as her mother, but she is still undeniably Jewish and her story deals in Jewish guilt, history and community. When she is conflicted about her work for Nigma, who gave her the money to save her mother, but is also the Riddler and involved directly with the destruction of her community, she seeks solace at her local synagogue, and it is the Jewish principle of tikkun olam, repairing the world, that influences why and how she operates as a superhero once she gains her powers. 

[Image ID: In the foreground Willow is rummaging through her dresser drawer for something to wear. Behind her, in the doorway to her room, is her mother, who looks gaunt and is wearing a headscarf indicative of chemotherapy induced hair loss. Her mother says, "I think you can lie and be a good person. You know the phrase tikkum olam?"  Willow replies, "Hebrew for world repair. Kinda like social activism." Her mother continues, "So, the key thing isn't truth or lies. It's that a person feels some responsibility for fixing what's wrong in the world." The snapchat caption is a drawn out "Yes." End ID]

This is a young adult graphic novel, but it’s very enjoyable for adult adults too and I would say probably also a decent read for kids as young as middle school. I would definitely recommend it if you need more Jewish heroes in your life. You can get it directly from DC here. 

If you enjoy my content and would like to see more, please consider buying me a Kofi or supporting me on Patreon!