The storyline of David A. Robertson’s young adult trilogy The Reckoner (2017-2019) continues in the graphic novel series The Reckoner Rises with volume 1, Breakdown (2020), and volume 2, Version Control (2022). Robertson’s initial trilogy focused on Cole Harper, a Cree teenager with debilitating anxiety who returns to Wounded Sky First Nation. Cole and his friends (the Bloodhound Gang) investigate the suspicious activities of Mihko (Cree for blood) Laboratories. Book three was not the end, but, as Robertson notes, “an origin story,” as Cole and some of the Gang gain superhuman powers from the forced experimentations at Mihko Laboratories (Robertson qtd. in van Koeverden). Now that the Bloodhound Gang have powers akin to those of comic-book superheroes, it is only fitting that the Reckoner story transition from prose novel to graphic novel. The transition not only reflects the subject matter, but also meets Robertson’s goals of “tackling representation issues that have always existed in comics for Indigenous people” and presenting a “true Indigenous superhero” rather than the “savage Indian . . . noble savage or a dead Indian” depicted in comics that Robertson read as a child (Robertson qtd. in van Koeverden).
In this transition, Robertson is joined by illustrator Scott B. Henderson, who has worked with Robertson on nearly fifteen previous projects, and colourist Donovan Yaciuk, who is well acquainted with superheroes because of his past work with Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse Comics. The trio creates a world in which Marvel/DC/etc. superheroes also exist; for example, Eva, Cole’s girlfriend, declares she is “no Robin. I don’t have to wait around for Batman” (Breakdown), and Cole is compared to Superman and Wolverine when his ability to heal is discovered. It is a meaningful decision to include such references—rather than running parallel, Reckoner Rises intersects with the superhero tradition and positions Indigenous superheroes as capable and worthy of inhabiting the same space as these predominantly white heroes.
Cole and Eva are vehicles for the creators to further fill gaps in representation. In the opening pages of Breakdown, Cole confides to his therapist that he’s experiencing anxiety from the trauma Mihko Labs has inflicted upon him and others. The type of mutation Cole has gained from the Mihko experiments creates a dark irony: his body is self-healing, but this does not extend to any mental and spiritual harm; mental trauma is thus depicted as being more complicated to heal. Further, Cole carries survivor’s guilt: he has emerged physically restored from events that claimed the lives of others, many of whom now literally haunt him. Cole’s post-traumatic stress reflects the experiences of thousands who continue to manage traumas induced by settler-colonial infrastructures designed to control, manipulate, and erase Indigenous bodies. In Version Control, Eva is the protagonist, a choice that, Robertson explains, offered an opportunity to present “a really strong, non-sexualized, authentic female and Indigenous superhero character” (Robertson qtd. in Laskaris). With the long history of female sexualization in comics, not objectifying a female superhero is a tall order; even the most self-determined female superheroes, like Wonder Woman, are put into costumes that invite the audience to look at them rather than through their eyes. This is not the case with Eva. Her superhero “costume” is practical and well suited to the winter in Winnipeg: she wears a black balaclava, a thick, long, brown scarf, a winter jacket, full pants, and knee-high, fur-trimmed winter boots. Never depicted as a damsel in need of rescue, Eva is self-determined and capable: she can fly, control the air, direct the wind, and fight several Mihko agents on her own. Though Eva can protect herself, she does not isolate herself (as Cole does), but rather relies on her community to provide information and emotional support. With Eva, the creators depict a strong, empathetic, self-reliant, community-driven Cree woman.
Reading the Reckoner trilogy prior to The Reckoner Rises is not required, but strongly recommended. There is some exposition in The Reckoner Rises that provides context, but often the creators rely on readers’ prior knowledge. However, there is compelling suspense that could pull new readers forward. The mystery around Mihko’s intentions and goals has the potential to hook readers. Likewise, the human experimentation plot positions the series alongside foundational comic characters—the X-Men, Captain America, Luke Cage, and Deadpool, to name just a few—and the ethical questions they tackle. The ways in which Mihko Labs’ experimentations echo settler-colonial infrastructures—like the nutrition experiments run at several residential schools, or the testing of new medications in residential schools and Indigenous communities—reflect continued trauma and cast an urgent light on the graphic novels’ subject matter. In this way, Robertson and Henderson’s work joins the realm of popular culture superheroes while simultaneously gesturing towards Canada’s insidious past and the ways in which settler-colonial infrastructures continue to function. The Reckoner Rises creates strong and compelling superheroes who battle conventional comic enemies as well as threats that speak to our reality.
Laskaris, Adam. “Upcoming Graphic Novel Version Control Continues Indigenous Superhero Trilogy.” Toronto Star, 29 Mar. 2022, www.thestar.com/news/canada/2022/03/29/ upcoming-graphic-novel-version-control-continues-indigenous-superhero-trilogy.html.
van Koeverden, Jane. “The End of David A. Robertson’s Reckoner Trilogy Is Really the Introduction of a New Indigenous Superhero.” CBC Books, 25 July 2019, www.cbc.ca/ books/the-end-of-david-a-robertson-s-reckoner-trilogy-is-really-the-introduction-of-a-new-indigenous-superhero-1.5203757.