I’m biased: I thoroughly enjoy ghost stories, so I was excited to have the opportunity to read and review Nancy Hernandez and The Black Widows, published by Los Angeles-based independent publisher Diablo Comics. Scott “Diablo” Marcano and Jaime Zevallos co-wrote a story about a vengeful spirit of an honor student who seeks out her killers – a middle school gang of vicious girls – and one by one exacts unique methods of revenge that match their nicknames. Juan Romera illustrated this tale that is based on a true haunting.
Marcano and Zevallos spend a substantial amount of time developing the central characters and a supporting cast that is likely to generate a sense of caring about what happens to the characters. For example, readers are likely to identify with Nancy Hernandez’s struggle as she tries to learn who she is and what she wants to be. In contrast, as we get to know the Black Widows, we are provided glimpses into the backstories of each of the cruel girls that terrorize the halls of Felipe H Middle School. The writers, however, do not leave the supporting characters as stereotypical, two-dimensional cut-outs meant to fill space. Instead, many of them are fleshed out, and, as a whole, the characters of the story are more interesting because of the extra time spent.
In addition to well-developed characters, the writers intertwined multiple plots into a fascinating cautionary tale. One of the central themes of this ghost story that Marcano and Zevallos tackle is the disturbing and all-too-frequent issue of bullying. In this case, bullying is taken to the extreme and has deadly repercussions. Another serious topic the writers explore is the attitudes regarding race and, naturally, racial tension. For example, Detective Milk, who is a former student of the high school, remembers being constantly teased for his fair complexion, calling into question the legitimacy of his ethnic background as a latino. He is traumatized by the experience that, even in adulthood, he keeps secret that he was an alumni of the school, because it is a defense mechanism to keep the bad memories in the past. There is also a new teacher that has joined the school, and readers are led to surmise that her family is concerned for her, because she is white working in a predominately latino school in a rough neighborhood of Los Angeles. Broken homes, gang initiations, and sibling relationships are also explored.
Romera uses a straightforward format style to visualize the story. He keeps to a standard layout of black-and-white illustrations that complement the story being told. In particular, his full-page panels are nicely done and signify important moments in the story or for a character. There were a few minor issues, as I did struggle to keep a couple of similar-looking characters separate, and I did not quite understand the strange-looking nun at the beginning of the story.
Nancy Hernandez and The Black Widows was a welcome surprise. In addition to the unique methods of retribution the ghost employed, the use of a myriad of subplots married with life-like characters that were well developed resulted in an intriguing tale that kept me engaged and interested. It was definitely worth the read!