Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: J.G. Jones
Release Date: 14th October, 2015
After a truly impressive opening issue which seemed to be met by equal amounts of praise and scorn by readers, Mark Waid and J.G. Jones’ Strange Fruit continues here as the continued torrential downpour and impending flood threatens to set off the already volatile powderkeg of racist, violent 1927 Mississippi.
This issue probes a little deeper into the backstory of our strange alien visitor, giving us several flashbacks into his own experiences that perfectly mirror the events of the present. His motivations and reasons for being here remain unclear, and he seems more interested in learning about the world he finds himself in than swooping in and saving Sonny and the other victims of violence and racism – for the time being, at least.
It’s sometimes the case where projects that deal with the subject of racism in any way – whether they be written, drawn or committed to celluloid – get a little extra leeway when it comes to appraising their individual merits. Yes, it’s good that these conversations are happening and that these issues are being covered, but from where I’m sitting, they could definitely be tackled a hell of a lot better. The characters are all fairly superficial and one-dimensional thus far, with “Johnson” – the aforementioned alien – the only one really keeping my interest at the moment.
The series also doesn’t really tackle the issues of racism and slavery in any meaningful way, other than to examine them from an almost solely white perspective where the black people are plucky heroes and the racists are all moustache-twirling pantomime villains. There’s no real insight being made, which feels like something of a missed opportunity given the (presumably) carefully-chosen time period and overtone of the book.
That said, if we look past these issues and focus on Strange Fruit as quote-unquote “superhero comic”, what we’re left with is a fairly compelling story with some utterly stunning artwork. J.G. Jones does a stellar job throughout with his detailed, painted style and bold, expressive characters, providing poster-worthy panel after poster-worthy panel for the duration of this second issue. Waid’s writing is solid, if perhaps not quite as sharp as we’re used to seeing from him. His grasp of the Southern drawl sets the tone beautifully, but some of the dialogue feels a little forced and almost clichéd in places, detracting from the drama of the situation at times.
While it may not necessarily be the most balanced or well-handled insight into the racism present in Mississippi in the 1920’s, Strange Fruit still provides a uniquely intriguing take on the ‘Superman’ trope, and features some of the most impressive artwork you’re likely to find on the shelves today. I’d say it’s definitely worth a look, although that will clearly depend on your reasons for picking it up in the first place.
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