BOOK REVIEW: SP4RX by Wren McDonald
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
There once was a man born low level
who felt he was weak and disheveled
ELPIS reached out its hand
then transfigured the man
who found out that the hand was the devil.
The style of illustrations in this graphic novel, and the fact that this is being distributed by a children’s book publisher and is marketed as for 14+ might lead you to believe it’s suitable for younger readers.
IT REALLY ISN’T.
Early in the reading of this title, I came across the word “shit” and was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Most publishers will allow a couple of swear words in a title for older teenage readers, but then came “asshole”, “bitch”, and “fuck”. And they weren’t one-offs.
Add to this the inclusion of drinking, smoking, “pleasure emporiums”, leather harnesses, assless chaps, gimp masks, and naked robot strippers complete with their own credit card swipe machines, and the realisation that this should not be accessible to fourteen year olds becomes a little clearer with every page.
The style of illustrations and the use of action words (wham, blam, crack, blast, boom, bonk, doom, ding, thunk, blip, whump, domp, bang, pop, ka-chk, pow) hint at a rather innocent style, à la the original batman. Sure, there’s violence, and it’s a rare graphic novel that doesn’t have its fair share, but when it starts to delve into certain sexual kinks, in a work distributed by a children’s publisher, aimed at readers as young as 14, and with no warning label to hint that this is not suitable for the age the cover and style of artwork suggests… that’s where this reader has to take a step back and look more closely at all of the elements that make up this story and try to work out whether this should be rated for the targeted/suggested age or as an overall product.
I’m still not entirely sure, to be honest, because I’m not entirely sure what this graphic novel wants to be.
It’s about the struggle in a class system, made even more urgent by these new implants which perhaps have a lot more to them than people realise, but this information isn’t immediately clear as the reader is dropped in the middle of everything and left to run along behind the story trying to figure out what’s going on.
Come the end of the story, the reader has a much clearer picture of what is going on, but there are still uncertainties. This book feels almost as though it is trying to be a movie, with an action-filled story on the surface but little in the way of any depth of character or plot. And the feeling remains that the illustration and telling of the story are created for a younger readership, but certain themes are definitely too old for that same readership, marooning this graphic novel in something of a No Man’s Land.
There was a pretty cute storyline running through this graphic novel centred around a robot called OBD-0.3, but he was pretty much the only redeeming factor for this reader, and he was mostly stage left of the main story if in the scene at all.
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