If one could capture the essence of the black experience, many persons would find a succinct link between the value of friendship and the value of family. Two people may not be related but at the family party and/or cookout? They are “cousins.” And the amazing thing about that link is that individuals can draw together in love and harmony through this created bond. Pax Samson Vol. 1: The Cookout (written by Rashad Doucet and Jason Reeves, and illustrated by Doucet) is a graphic novel about that bond spread throughout generations of super-powered love. While this is a kid-focused and friendly story where the themes that run throughout are predictable, they never come across as preachy or in excess. This is a wholesome story that is simplistic in the approach for its child-centric audience, but the thematic elements of family, trust, and love work well as they would in a more mature-themed book.
Pax is a super-powered boy who is just starting out in his journey to become a hero. He has a lot of pressure on him as his entire family has been fighting baddies and keeping the world safe for centuries. Grandma Samson, the OG hero, and matriarch of the Samson clan tries to instruct Pax on the value of being a hero but also remaining true to his own values. He takes some ribbing from his cousin Pinnacle and receives some advice from his super-powered aunties and uncles along the way, but everything that the family members tell him comes from a place of love and never with ill intent. The writing team of Doucet and Reeves take great care in making sure that the family is here narratively as a support and not a hindrance. We see through Pax’s eyes how he learns to stumble, and then grow as a hero throughout the story.
The lore in the story is where Pax Samson really shines. Humans and enchanted people (elves etc.) have been at odds over the years. There are stories of gods, stories of rebellion, and stories of retribution. Over time, humans and enchanted folks live and thrive by working with one another, but there are tensions that still remain. These underlying themes are present in the background in this tremendously grounded children’s story. I appreciate the level of detail that the writers built into this world. It never feels heavy-handed, but it adds a layer of depth to the novel that provides an interesting context to the reader. Without getting into spoilers, I will add that it also gives a valuable lesson that one should not always believe the history that they have seen, but instead to look at the bigger picture that encompasses the world.
The art style here works well for the book. Rashad Doucet has said himself that he is a “very messy artist” and the raw, sketchbook style comes across great here. The characters have an old-school anime/manga quality to them but are still cartoony in approach, which rich, rounded line work and fun facial features. I love how the Samsons all have their own distinct looks. My favorite is the uncle that appears near the end and how he looks somehow like every uncle every person has ever had. Doucet does an excellent job of having the visuals of the character somehow match their well-developed backstory. The look of Grandma Samson powerfully jumps off the page in her panels to go along with her bombastic personality. This is the mark of a creator who knows how to push his narrative across not only in words, but visually as well.
I adore this story. It feels like a taste of home. It makes me want to call up the cousins and kick off another family reunion. Pax Samson Vol. 1: The Cookout is a story that is meant to be read to one’s children as a bedtime story, that the adult then sneaks off and jumps ahead to finish off. I am enamored with the artistic intellect and ability of the team that put this together. I cannot recommend this book enough. Pax Samson Vol. 1: The Cookout will be released on August 3rd, 2021.
Ryan Files is an avid comic book and video game consumer, reviewer, and critic hailing from the boondocks of Illinois. He has taken his ethnographic cultural studies background and applied it to his love of geekdom. He is a huge Star Wars nerd, Castlevania fanatic, and his power level is definitely over 9000. When he isn’t online writing about how he misses old school beat em’ ups like Final Fight, Streets of Rage, or TMNT IV Turtles in Time, he raises his 3 Dora Milaje warrior girls with the most awesome wife a blerd could ask for. You can reach the mumbly one @moblipeg on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.