In addition to be being great entertainment, graphic novels can also be important. Here are some that achieve that distinction:
Freiheit (Plough, $24): I've often wondered if there was any sort of German resistance to the Nazis during World War II — and this graphic novel gives me the answer. "Freiheit" — it means "freedom" in German — is the true story of the White Rose, an underground sect of five Germans during World War II who printed and distributed leaflets excoriating Adolf Hitler's regime, exposing Nazi atrocities and urging other Germans to resist. Get this book. It can be depressing, yes. But it's also inspiring to see what some people will sacrifice for freedom. It has resonance with the world today.
Nubia: Real One (DC Comics, $16.99): When the Black Wonder Woman, "Nubia of the Floating Isle," was introduced in 1973, her origin was that she was sculpted from clay by Queen Hippolyta at the same time as baby Diana, only with darker clay. But after being given the same divine gifts as Wonder Woman and coming to life, she was kidnapped by Mars and raised on the "Floating Isle." Somehow, in all the stories since Wonder Woman's first appearance in 1941, Hippolyta had failed to mention that Diana had a twin out there somewhere, being trained to hate her by the God of War.
Comic books have told us for 80 years what it's like to grow up superpowered and white. "Nubia" shows us superpowers on the other side of the color divide — and it ain't pretty. This Nubia is a teenager who has to hide her powers, because she and her two moms (one's an Amazon) have a pretty good idea what would happen to her if she was "outed" as a powered person of color. "Cops don't see Black kids as kids," warns one of them. But this story, by young adult author L.L. McKinney, is no downer. Yes, Nubia has challenges, especially because of the color of her skin. But this coming-of-age tale depicts her learning to meet those challenges with wit and heart.
Tamba: Child Soldier (NBM, $24.99): I was so horrified by this book that it took me weeks to finish it. That being said, everyone should read it. The premise is a kid named Tamba testifying to an investigation committee in a central African nation about his experience as a child soldier. Kidnapped at 8, brainwashed into believing in whatever cause the ruthless and violent rebel band believed, Tamba engaged in crimes against humanity that no one should commit, and no one should witness. That a child is at the center of it is, as Henry James might put it, the turn of the screw.
Worse yet, survivors of the rebel band's atrocities are present, as well. Tamba must face them and his own conscience as he relives his own crimes by reciting them to the commission. "Tamba" is harrowing, because while our narrator is fictional, his experience is mirrored all over Africa. It has become commonplace for armed thugs to kidnap children, shape their malleable minds to their cause and set them loose on innocent civilians. It is a horror, and a real one. Which is why we should all read "Tamba." Through our tears, if need be.