REVIEW: Whistle – A New Gotham City Hero is Doggone Good

in this detail from the cover of Whistle, a teen with lots of hair is shown in profile

Whistle is my favorite new hero of the year. She cares about her city neighborhood, her friends, her mom, and her dogs. That’s a character I’d love even if she didn’t have superpowers, but luckily, she does. Whistle joins Peter Parker, Kamala Khan, and the Teen Titans in the ranks of teens who gain powers as they gain adult responsibility, and if I got to choose, she’d immediately become a superstar of the genre.

Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero

E. Lockhart (writing), Gabby Metzler (colors), ALW’s Troy Peteri (letters), Manuel Preitano (art)
DC
September 7, 2021

on the cover for Whistle by Lockhart and Preitano, a teen is shown in profile as a large dog looks off. Blues and oranges dominate.

As Whistle begins, Willow Zimmerman is a high school activist, waving signs to encourage better funding for her school in the Down River neighborhood of Gotham City, an analogue for the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She’s got troubles. Her mom is sick, and they worry about money. The crime rate is up, and funding for education is down. There’s a stray dog Willow loves and shares Reubens with, but she and her mom are not in a place to take in a pet.

Because this is Gotham, her neighborhood keeps getting hit by supervillains. Killer Croc attacks people, seemingly at random. Buildings important to the community get “greened” by Poison Ivy, overgrown with vines overnight in ways that make them unusable as community centers any longer. While these specific issues could only happen in a DC book, they mirror the safety issues and neglect for infrastructure that can pave the way for gentrification in real life neighborhoods.

With Riddler, Poison Ivy and Killer Croc featured, Metzler’s colors tend toward a rich palette of greens in the foreground and browns and oranges behind them. Preitano’s lines have a newsprint quality, and the colors help his excellent art showcase the classic quality of this story. At a glance, the pages look like something from the Silver Age of comic books, though on closer examination, the technology featured, the range of clothing worn by the characters, and the dialogue all set the era in our current time. This art style highlights the traditional aspects of Willow’s origin story, and also reinforces the way the same problems can beset communities in different eras.

Things aren’t all bad for Willow, however. Even though she and her mom are not particularly observant, Willow’s Judaism offers her a firm grounding in her sense of self and community. She meets Garfield, a cute new kid in town, and soon after gets a lucrative after-school job offer from an old friend of her mom’s.

That job is under the table, though, and pretty shady. Her mom’s old friend goes by E. Nigma, and he’s the one who wants to raze and develop Willow’s Down River neighborhood. Willow’s job utilizes her knowledge of the community, as she is a location scout and facilitator for E’s illicit poker games. It also demands a lot of the time and energy Willow used to spend with friends and protesting the corruption in Gotham.

She has to make some tough choices. What line is she willing to cross to help her mom get the medical care she needs? Who is she willing to cast aside in order to show loyalty to the shady man paying for her services?

Eventually, and I’m being vague on purpose here, Willow undergoes an event which leaves her with superpowers, and the realization that neither the villains nor the role models around her are what she’d believed. She commits herself to doing what’s right, and becomes a hero. She can suddenly hear people she knows chatting blocks away. Her sense of smell is heightened. She can communicate with her dog. It’s fun and satisfying to watch her figure out how to use her new dog-related superpowers along with her existing talents and skills to protect her community.

Whistle is an origin story with direct parallels to Spider-Man’s. She’s a city teen, smart but without much money, who gets superpowers linked to an animal. Despite these similarities, Willow Zimmerman’s story is unique because her character is unique. Her bond with her mom, her friends, her dog, and her Judaism are all integral to her heroism, and the potentially dangerous long game she’s playing working for E makes for a great ongoing premise. I hope Whistle joins the DC pantheon for the long haul.

 

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter and dog. She teaches writing and literature at Suffolk County Community College where she studies comics, kids' books, adaptations and visual culture. She is a former Pubwatch Editor for WWAC, and frankly, there is a lot more gray in her hair than there was when this profile picture was taken.

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