Book Title: The Sons of Liberty Book One
Author: Alexander and Joseph Lagos (Writers), Steve Walker (Pencils), Oren Kramek (Colors)
Style: Graphic Novel
Target Audience: YA
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Page Count: 176
Format: Hardcover (library)
Reading time: 45 minutes
Date Finished: 1/29/17
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My impressions: Meh. I don’t have much to say about The Sons of Liberty. It sounded really good in concept, but it’s not so great in execution. It reminds me a lot of the various comic books you’d see floated around several years ago that were intended to help get unproduced screenplays picked up.
The story is about two runaway slaves in 1760 who receive supernatural powers thanks to some sort of experiments that William Franklin (Benjamin Franklin’s illegitimate son) is conducting on animals and people. The story also includes Benjamin Lay as a sort of martial arts master to apprentice the boys in an ancient African style of fighting he learned from a band of guerilla fighters who’d escaped from slave ships. While I feel like the story is trying to say something, it depicts people in the broadest stereotypes and throws in historical anecdotes on a whim to make the tale feel more authentic. It also (admittedly) takes enormous liberties to tell its story.
Yes, William Franklin and his father had a strained relationship, but no, William Franklin was not interested in science – he was a soldier and a governor before becoming a Loyalist and fleeing for England in the 1780s. So that plot point feels weird.
The story also shows very little understanding about what slavery was and how it worked. Yes, slaves from southern states like Virginia, Delaware and Maryland did escape to Pennsylvania because it was a free state, and yes, slavecatchers would pursue them with brutal efficiency. The idea that two boys on foot could make it to Philadelphia without being run down by a slavecatcher on a horse is preposterous enough. But the idea that they’d run into a free black man who would not immediately recognize them as runaway slaves is also pretty silly. Slavery was a reality in 1760 for most of the colonies; one in four people living in the colonies were slaves (and one in three in the South).
When the story takes place, Benjamin Franklin historically owned slaves who worked in his print shop. He didn’t become an abolitionist until later in the 1770s, and didn’t formally work towards the cause until the 1780s after his return from France.
Benjamin Lay, the Quaker abolitionist who serves as the boys’ martial arts master, is a quite peculiar figure in history, and I wish his story had been better explored here. Stereotypes abound with him; the artist draws his younger self to look like a leprechaun; his older, hunchbacked self looks like a bearded Yoda (minus the pointy ears).
All of that might be forgiven if the story were interesting or well-scripted, but the pages are jam-packed with talking (often in corny, dialected speech) and the artist often has to make do with very little action.* There are weird, surreal moments that aren’t really explained well, and the larger-than-life Hessian who shows up later in the story (who’s somewhat Hulk-like) breaks whatever semblance of reality the story’s going for.
There’s a second book in this series; I have no plans to read it. I wouldn’t recommend this one, either.
*I make this criticism knowing I was guilty of the same sins when I wrote comics a decade ago. It was a bad idea then, and it remains so today.