The Good Neighbors Book One: Kin

Title: The Good Neighbors, Book One: Kin
Publisher: Graphix (2008)
Author: Holly Black and Ted Naifeh
Pages: 117 pp.
Price: $16.99 US
ISBN: 0-439-85562-4

I am sometimes intimidated by American comics because many seem like they have no beginning and no end (see: Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, etc.), but I’m so glad I read The Good Neighbors Book One: Kin, written by Holly Black, because it turned out intriguing and easy to follow. When I turned the last page, I said aloud, “Damn it! It ended just as it was getting good. Now I have to buy the second one.” (Also, cute nod to the Spiderwick Chronicles on page 72.)

Rue — “My name is Rue, like kangaroo or like ‘You’ll rue the day we met, mwa-ha-ha!'” she says at the beginning — is the main character and narrator whose mother disappears and whose father is blamed for her mother’s murder. Rue doesn’t believe her father killed her mother, but when another young woman turns up dead and suspicion is turned on her father again, she decides to find out for herself exactly what happened, and if there’s any connection between her mother and this young woman.

During her search, she meets her mother’s father, a foreboding, menacing man who tells her that it’s time she met her true family. Rue discovers that maybe her mother actually wasn’t as crazy as she thought, maybe faeries actually do exist, and maybe she is one herself. “A lot of kids have this fantasy that secretly they’re really the princess of a foreign country,” she tells the reader, “Turns out that pretty much sucks.”

Because I’m primarily a reader of non-comics and place importance on good writing, I sometimes overlook another (perhaps the other) primary aspect of comics, Book One: Kin included. I read three pages before I realized I didn’t know what was going on because I hadn’t taken the time to actually look at the pictures in context with the words. A great comic, after all, combines great writing with great art, or else it wouldn’t be called a comic. Ted Naifeh, the illustrator, casts the tone with gray scale; it’s almost film noir on paper, though it has more fantasy elements than the traditional noir. Each panel’s detail is amazing, even without color; I’d like to see what the pages looked like with color.

As for the story itself: it’s engaging and something I’d like to continue reading. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a few questions about it. First, there are a couple of times when the words that a character is saying don’t seem to match with that person’s facial expression. For example, just before Rue finds out her father’s been arrested, she sees the cops and says, “That’s my house.” Her expression implies a mix of terror and disbelief, but the sentence doesn’t even have an exclamation point. (For what it’s worth, though, there are two exclamations on the next page, and one of them even includes italics.)

Second, Rue’s grandfather is portrayed as a pretty two-dimensional bad guy, complete with a “har har har I will rule the world”-type speech; the only evidence against his villainy is Rue’s mother, who says to Rue, “He’s not nearly as terrible as he seems.” And even that’s not exactly inspiring. Part of the reason I want to finish the trilogy of books is so that I’ll learn whether or not his character is fleshed out more; I hope he becomes more … well, more human, for lack of a better word. Complicated characters are much more interesting than monsters of the week.

Book One: Kin has some dark themes — possible murder, familial intimidation and abuse, death of a loved one, and so on — but it never delves too deeply into any of them. Since it’s a comic intended for teenagers, I understand that, but I know that when I was a teenager, I wanted the “adult” themes; I didn’t want to be talked down to. I hope the second and third books, Kith and Kind, send us as readers deeper into the faerie world, for good or ill.

[VE Duncan is still learning and searching on her Pagan path. She’s reviewed for Elevate Difference, a feminist review blog; written for Otaku Project, which focuses on anime, manga, and gaming; and works as an editor forHippocampus, a creative nonfiction magazine, and Stanley the Whale, a collaboration that publishes strange and quirky fiction. She has a cantankerous cat named Cleopatra. V.E. can be contacted through her website, Duncan Heights.]

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