World Class by Jay Sandlin, Patrick Mulholland, Rebecca Nalty & Justin Birch

Adrian “The Colombian Cannon” Molina is obsessed with football and dreams of being recruited to Nottingham FC. He knows he has talent, but he also knows he has a lot of work to do despite being a part of the Bogota Condors, Colombia’s premier U17 football team. During an exhibition match against England’s Regents United, he clashes with their star forward Titan Evans, the epitome of the sneering rich kid who doesn’t believe that the rules apply to him. Adrian is glad to see the back of Titan once the match is over, but a savvy football scout has other plans…

Before he knows it, Adrian has been recruited to Regents United and is enrolled in the affiliated Regents Preparatory School. Titan is, unsurprisingly, less than pleased. Will Adrian be able to navigate this world of high school and sports drama while vying for the captaincy of the team and the U17 International Cup, while still staying true to himself?

Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever read a Western sports comic book before! My previous exposure to sports comics are almost entirely manga, so this was a fun callback to my adolescence of reading same. I like how they modernize well-worn tropes for the 21st century tho, playing down any gay panic in favor of embracing diversity. You do have to allow for quite a bit of footballing poetic license, especially if you’re a fan of real life footy, but once you get used to the structure of the book’s in-universe leagues, the whole thing becomes terrifically enjoyable.

I was a big fan especially of the women in this book, from Syd and Ashlei (even at the latter’s most Insta-thirsty) but especially to Olivia, who just kicked ass and took names. The dressing down she gave Adrian near the beginning was well-deserved and extremely well-put. I, personally, wouldn’t have had the patience for such nonsense, but I appreciated her blend of nurturing with tough love, and her steadfastness and integrity throughout.

The art in this book was absolutely brilliant, combining realistic poses and breath-taking action with delightful metaphors for the characters’ states of mind, such as Salvador embodying a dragon or Ashlei sparkling in imaginary lights. Patrick Mulholland and Rebecca Nalty make a formidable team, drawing on the manga tradition to create a graphic novel that’s both visually appealing and almost palpably kinetic. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a sports comic this much, with its redemptive arcs and troughs and narrative triumphs. Definitely recommended for anyone who likes slice of life/gifted high school kids stories, sports-centric or otherwise.

World Class by Jay Sandlin, Patrick Mulholland, Rebecca Nalty & Justin Birch was published today April 12 2022 by Mad Cave Studios and is available from all good booksellers, including

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