REVIEW: Recent Reads from DC Kids: Everyone Gets an Origin Story!

a plant talks to a character in art by Beem and words by Stiefvater in Twin Branches from DC

Lately, I’ve been catching up on a year’s worth of DC’s graphic novels for kids and teens, growing more and more attached to checking out graphic novels digitally from my library systems, and becoming well-versed in the sprawling stories radiating outwards from Gotham and Metropolis. Perhaps understandably, most of these feel like origin stories, hinting at more to come. I’ve recently read Anti/Hero for middlegrade readers, and Shadow of the Batgirl, Twin Branches, and Victor and Nora, for YA readers.

Anti/Hero

Maca Gil (art), Demitria Lunetta (writer), Kate Karyus Quinn (writer)
DC Comics
April 14, 2020

the cover of antihero shows a colorful teen juxteposed with a moodily lit one

Friends, Anti/Hero is adorable. It introduces two teen girls, one henching for a supervillain and one trying to establish herself as a new superhero, with mixed results. When their bodies get switched due to a malfunctioning scientific instrument, they learn to appreciate each other’s strengths and understand each other’s family situations. Kate Karyus Quinn and Demitria Lunetta are the writing team, and their writing is charming, giving each character a unique voice as well as moving the plot along engagingly. The art by Maca Gil is impressively inviting, feeling stylized and fresh, while also giving the teen girls different facial structures and body types in a way that feels individualizing. The cast of characters feels believably diverse, and those in this invented world who idolize Batman, do so for good reason. Anti/Hero feels like the origin story for a superhero team, so I can only hope these characters and this creative team will return in future installments.

[Editor’s Note: Read our interview with the creative team here!]

Shadow of the Batgirl

Nicole Goux (art), Sarah Kuhn (writer)
DC Comics
February 4, 2020

the cover of shadow of the batgirl shows the character in a cowl with a flock of bats behind her

In Shadow of the Batgirl, we meet Cass Cain, who has been trained as a child to be a killer. She defies this training and escapes her handlers. Excitingly (for me, at least) she holes up in the library, where she makes observations of human interactions, and slowly becomes friends with wonderful librarian Barbara Gordon, as well as an older restaurant owner, and a teen library intern. Barbara’s influence and research at the library shape Cass’s burgeoning interest in Batgirl, who seems to have left Gotham. I enjoy a found family narrative, and this one evolved satisfyingly, with multiple generations, life situations, and ethnicities coming together in a supportive way. Sarah Kuhn and Nicole Goux make a good team, with Goux’s art providing the atmospheric range appropriate to the moods and settings of Kuhn’s words. Like many teen superhero graphic novels, this feels like an origin story, and I would welcome more adventures in this version of Cass Cain’s world.

[Editor’s Note: Read our interview with the creative team here!]

Swamp Thing: Twin Branches

Morgan Beem (art), Maggie Stiefvater (writer)
DC Comics
October 13, 2020

The cover of Swamp Thing Twin Branches shows two outlined teens back to back; one empty, one plants

Twin Branches is the most explicit origin story of this bunch, presenting teen twins Alec and Walker Holland, one a socially adept Archie-type, the other a plant-obsessed weirdo. They go to a small town for the summer, and by the end of the book, Swamp Thing exists. Now, I enjoyed Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, but I wouldn’t call myself a Swamp Thing fan, per se. I’m no Rosie Knight, with a Swamp Thing tattoo, for instance. Nevertheless, I was totally gripped by this plot, which is suspenseful to the edge of horror. Compared to Shadow of the Batgirl and Anti/Hero, Twin Branches is for a much older audience and I would definitely recommend it to smart older teens who might be dealing with the same things the characters are: family problems, peers making terrible decisions, college applications…you know, American teen stuff. And honestly, as someone firmly in this category, I would also recommend it to adults who like suspenseful near-horror, and plants.

Victor and Nora: A Gotham Love Story

Isaac Goodhart (art), Lauren Myracle (writer)
DC Comics
November 3, 2020

The cover of Victor and Nora shows the two characters looking lovingly at each other surrounded by white marks that look like snow

In contrast to Swamp Thing: Twin Branches, Victor and Nora doesn’t strike me as a book with tons of crossover appeal. Teens who love teen drama will absolutely appreciate it, but I’m not the target audience for Lauren Myracle’s work generally, and this was not an exception. In Victor and Nora, teens with major problems find each other, and find love, in a screwed up way. Victor is a teen genius who looks like a young James Franco and is working on cryonics experiments in a lab for the summer. Nora is a vibrant free spirit, who has a terminal disease. When they meet in a graveyard, each mourning family members, Nora is barefoot. She’s that kind. I think the appeal is supposed to be how romantic it is that two such tragic characters could still connect, but it doesn’t work for me particularly. The ending is maudlin melodrama, which is frankly ideal for an origin story for who Victor will ultimately become–Mr. Freeze. These characters are not people I’d want to spend time with, and the fact that they are model-pretty in Isaac Goodhart’s art, and seem to be posing for advertising posters and pin ups all the time is not endearing to me, personally.


Overall, I remain engaged by the range of the stories that can be told for kids and teens in the DC world, and I look forward to reading more, not only origin stories for other characters in this world, but also ongoing series like the Teen Titans graphic novels that can explore how kids and teens can have their own stories beyond tales of becoming.

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer

In addition to being a contributor to the site, Emily Lauer is the Pubwatch Editor for WWAC. She teaches writing and literature at Suffolk County Community College where she studies comics, kids' books, adaptations and visual culture. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter and dog.
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