For anyone who doesn’t know, I am a massive comic book fan. I’ve been enjoying the adventures of Batman, Spiderman, Godzilla, and others since I learned to read. I’ve amassed quite a library over the near three-decades that I’ve been collecting them. I am unashamedly and unabashedly a comic book nerd. So when I heard about Face Value Comics, a nonprofit based out of York, Pennsylvania, and their plans to create the industry’s first superhero with autism, I had to learn more.Set against the backdrop of a fantastical steampunk universe, this first issue introduces the main characters in the series and begins building a world rife with potential for narrative exploration. The story centers on young Michael Eckman, an autistic boy attending his first day at a new middle school. Accompanied by his Bio-Droid Tess (a therapeutic robot aide designed by his parents) Michael navigates the social landscape and creates budding friendships with his peers, all of whom are also on the spectrum. While on an extra-credit assignment, Michael uses his unique gifts and insights to help his new friends stay safe and work together as a group. A cliffhanger ending sets the tone for issues to come.
Author Dave Kot has gone to great lengths to ensure that the characters and their struggles resonate with people on the spectrum, crafting each in such a way that they go beyond stereotypes. The comic book medium allows a unique space to explore these concepts, utilizing facial feature recognition and variable perspectives to convey the inner feelings of Michael and his friends. For instance, at numerous points in the story Michael has trouble expressing himself in the moment. In these specific panels his dialogue appears upside down as a motif, requiring the reader to either turn the book upside down (a metaphor for perspective taking) or slow down their reading experience to focus on the character’s thoughts. One of my favorite images from the comic is the first page depicting Michael to the reader. The entire image is upside down, which forces readers to literally change their perspective in order to view Michael as he is as opposed to simply being labeled ‘autistic.’While the story is geared towards middle-school aged kids on the spectrum its message is one of inclusion and understanding, making it a wonderful tool for exploring the aforementioned concepts with anyone who is curious to know more. Author Dave Kot has said that the series will see Michael develop into a fully-realized superhero, reminiscent of heros and crimefighters from the Golden Age of comics. It’s definitely one of the most unique comic book experiences I’ve ever had and I can’t wait to see where the series goes. Check out Face Value’s Facebook page to learn more!
– Zachary Batson