In comparison to most of the graphic novels for grown-ups I’ve read recently, this felt quite long, but I think there’s a good reason for that. The original, published in 2020, only collected the first six issues of the series. This follow-up contains those and six more chapters that round out, at least for now, the story of Jill, Charlie and the (awesome) Free Betties.
Several decades in the future, gene therapy to prevent pandemic deaths accidentally brought into being children known as Variants. Their altered DNA gave them usually very small-time superpowers. Jill Kearney is an influencer/anchor on the Austin-based Freebodies HQ News, and has a tactile telekinesis (and no, I don’t fully understand what that is, either. Like she can move things with her mind that she could ordinarily move with her hands? Not sure, tbh.) Charlie North has hands that go hot. Both are perfect examples of the vast majority of Variants: possessed of an unusual but honestly quite limited extrasensory ability.
But when Jill and Charlie touch, something inexplicable happens. Their powers amplify, turning them into the Powers of Mass Destruction that Texas Governor Ann Pritchard warned of and won election on in a fear-mongering landslide. Because, people being people, the very existence of Variants terrifies the average voter, leading to a new strata of entirely legal discrimination against the mostly harmless. The Freebodies movement is a necessary reaction against the government and social oppression of Variants, with their founder and CEO Sefton Smith promoting nonviolent resistance against the fascism encroaching on their existence.
Ofc, not everyone agrees with Sefton’s “softly, softly” approach, that also somehow manages to monetize the cause and provide Sefton himself with a cushy lifestyle. Jill and her best friends are the Free Betties, an organization that wants to take more hard-hitting action. With Charlie on board, will they finally be able to point the spotlight on the disproportionate force used on Variants, or will they only end up making things worse for the very people they’re trying to protect?
So like I said, this is a surprisingly long book, with lots of details that I’ve barely touched on here. It’s honestly a fairly comprehensive view of political discrimination, with a lot of interesting interstitials written from the perspectives of various news outlets patterned after ones we have in real life, as well as a surprisingly deep amount of history on Austin, Texas. The book doesn’t end quite as neatly as I’d like plot-wise, but does finish in a good place.
The development of the art over the course of the story was also interesting to see. I’m not sure how much time Eric Zawadzski had to develop what was happening here, but the evolution of the figures from oddly proportioned to John Byrne-esque was quite stunning in the end.
This was an interesting read that draws from contemporary politics to depict a more realistic version of superpowers in the populace. It’s smart and kinda depressing, but ultimately hopeful.
Heart Attack by Shawn Kittelsen, Eric Zawadzki & Mike Spicer was published October 3 2023 by Image Comics and is available from all good booksellers, including