A fun yet affecting tale where a supernatural being makes new bonds and learns firsthand about the plight of Black and other Non-White people in the human world.
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The child of Anansi the Trickster god, Is'nana has done combat against many a supernatural foe, straight from the pages of folklore and mythologies from across the Black diaspora. Yet Is'nana faces his most challenging threat in Greg Anderson-Elysee's Is'nana the Were Spider: Showtime.
The quintessential fish-out-of-water, Is'nana says what he means and means what he says, doesn't always understand the ways of human beings, and, like Ryu from the Street Fighter games and comics, doesn't really see the need for shoes. But after watching a breakdancing performance by a lively trio crew, Is'nana practices up, gets some new threads and kicks, and ends up joining the Silencerz as they pop, lock and roll out in the city. And it's via the dance scenes in the book where the talent of penciler and inker Micheal White shines.
As a born-and-bred New Yorker, watching young folks dance on the subway to get better at their craft and support themselves is almost a pastime. It was heartwarming and refreshing to see BIPOC New York culture represented so fluidly and lively, and it kinda makes me miss riding the subway and seeing kids like the Silencerz do their thing. It was also heartwarming to see the Silencerz accept Is'nana into their crew and show him the ropes of navigating the city. They don't exactly know what is so different about Is'nana, and in the end, it doesn't matter to them. They just saw a Black kid who loved their dancing and wanted to join in.
No coming-of-age tale is complete without painful experiences along with pleasurable ones, and sadly, Is'nana's painful experience comes from an all-too-familiar source for Black people: white supremacist violence inflicted by the police. Just as the Silencerz finish up performing on a train car, they're spotted by the cops and dip. Unfortunately, not everyone gets away unscathed.
A scene depicting the abuse and violence done towards a Black body, while fictional, is still poignant in a time where violence against Black bodies is still a very present reality. I've heard from others that reviewed this book that this was a very painful and angering scene, and that is a good thing. The scene SHOULD make one angry. It SHOULD make one sad because racism and the violence it births ARE angering and saddening. What must be appreciated about this book is that Anderson-Elysee does not flinch when it comes to communicating the harsh realities Black people face on a daily basis, especially in New York City, a place still seen as fairly liberal. It was also very important to see Is'nana go through this because he is a supernatural being and comes from a world where the hue of his skin doesn't matter. It's reminiscent of a lens of experience I've heard from other Black folks across the diaspora outside of North America, and it is important that the entire diaspora's experiences of Blackness are acknowledged.
Seeing Is'nana use his powers to escape the cops is a catharsis and much-needed wish fulfillment within the story. Historically, very few Black bodies escape with their lives from racist violence, and it was actually very therapeutic in a way to see a Black person with power escape their oppressors, and frighten them for good measure while doing so. It felt good to see him get away. It felt so good to see him meet back up with the Silencerz and see how much his life mattered to them. And while it felt a tad bittersweet to read the crew explains race and racism to Is'nana, it is very important for him to know how to navigate this world as a spider in a Black boy's body. The rest of Is'nana's time with the Silencerz proceeds swimmingly, and we are given a happy ending with a farewell, well-deserved comeuppance, and most importantly: sushi!
Is'nana the Were Spider: Showtime is active on Kickstarter now, go here to help the creator and crew reach their extended goals!