Hand-me-downs turn two boys into heroes in this hand-painted graphic novel for young adult readers.
Story time! When you’re the middle child in a military family, you learn a lot of things quickly: you’ll never have personal space until you’re old enough to kick your brother out, sometimes the house really isn’t big enough for all of you, things will always change (just give it time), and hand-me-downs are probably going to be a part of your life until you magically grow up and are in charge of your own closet. (Also, camouflage goes with everything. Those cute Mudd blue jeans with the hot pink stitching that your grandmother got you for Christmas? Pair it with a green and black camo jacket.)
No one’s hand-me-downs meant more to me than my sister’s because she had a bomb taste in clothing, most of the time. The ‘90s and early 2000s were a great time to be Lovefool’s little sister. She had this blue and black fuzzy top that I wore holes into when I was in 7th grade. I was way too young to be wearing that kind of clothing, but it had a certain kind of magic to it because I knew that it had been hers at one point.
And that hand-me-down magic is central to the story presented in Secondhand Heroes: Brothers Unite. In Monster Hunter’s Justin LaRocca Hansen’s latest adventure into graphic novels, we meet Tuck and Hudson, who are two brothers moving through the last days of their summer vacation with a mother who loves to yard sale hunt. After one particular yard sale, she comes back with an umbrella and a scarf, and these items transform the lives of Tuck and Hudson because they’re the best kind of items: the enchanted kind. Tuck, the younger of the two brothers, quickly realizes that by receiving these items, they are obligated to become superheroes and protect their town… from what, exactly? Well, they aren’t the only ones who received magical items, and heroes always need a villain! Their adventure tests the brothers and takes them places that are further than even their own imaginations could have plotted out.
A few babbles back, we explored the idea of presenting ideas within graphic novels at the right time in a reader’s life and how difficult that can sometimes be because we’re never all at quite the same level. In Brothers Unite, Justin LaRocca Hansen manages to deliver an engaging story that doesn’t talk down to the middle school audience that it was meant for, but also doesn’t shy away from the brief moments of violence that our heroes encounter. That’s a really important trait for any kind of literature meant for an audience that could be described as young adult. During college when I took a class on young adult literature, we spent a lot of time discussing how best to write and present young adult literature because it is a tough audience to write for. I think that Hansen was able to execute this because he draws on his childhood experiences and the childhood experiences of anyone growing up who had only their imagination and what things they could cobble together to make their playtimes better than simply sitting there with a paddle ball. Although, there’s nothing better than bouncing said ball off of your brother’s head—multiple times.
Another great thing that Brothers Unite brings to the table is the art—oh my gosh, the art. Justin LaRocca Hansen hand-painted the panels for his graphic novel with care and it shows. The story warmed my heart because it reminded me of all the hand-me-downs that have wandered in and out of my life, but what really kept my attention was the gorgeous art. Art style is the main criticism that I level at titles like Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman—I know, two completely and totally different genres, but they are still both graphic in their presentation. The illustration and use of color in the pages of comics and graphic novels is a pass or fail point with me. Does the art make sense with the story? Does it distract from the story (which was what I didn’t like about The Sandman) or add to it? Is there skillful use of color or not? These are all really important questions, I think, to ask a piece when you’re consuming it.
Thankfully, Brothers Unite hit on all the pleasant parts of reading a graphic novel, and once our heroes had returned from their otherworldly adventures, I was left hoping that there was another page to turn to continue the story. But alas! It was not so.
Brothers Unite is currently available for purchase and if you’re looking for a great, middle school-level read, I would definitely suggest picking it up! | Catherine Bathe
Click here for a preview of the book, courtesy of the artist.