‘b.b. free’ #1 is exciting narrative entry, slightly stalled start

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Grade: 3.5/5.0

From Boom! Studios’ imprint Boom! Box comes “b.b. free” #1, an effervescent excavation of angst in adolescence. The first issue of the coming-of-age comic opens in the year 2232, onto the post-apocalyptic “Fractured States of America” — a world that has seen the collapse of humanity at the hands of a medical epidemic. In the fallout, tucked in the swamplands of what is now the “Florida Islands,” young b.b. wanders fearlessly through the wilds, accompanied by her companion, a neon alligator named Buttercup. 

The issue’s artwork is similarly saturated with bright and lush color palettes, debut artist Royal Dunlap balancing the world’s neons with starkly contrasting hues. With 14-year-old b.b. as the reader’s primary window into the world, the comic’s fresh-faced illustration feels entirely appropriate, but Dunlap’s commitment to the work’s balance also hints at something more sinister at play. While the aesthetic interests of the world are grounded in the eyes of someone on the cusp, it remains dynamic. 

In contrast, the story that writer Gabby Rivera (creator of Marvel’s America Chavez) introduces is fairly elementary. It is also where the issue stumbles most — there is a clear effort in place to introduce the rules of the world in a way that doesn’t feel too rudimentary or contrived. It’s a tough act to balance, especially when the central point of narration is through the mouth of a 14 year old. But it is a battle that the first issue succumbs to — a narrative plague on its colorful world. Even so, the work’s struggle to overcome the most basic forms of storytelling are easy to overcome as b.b.’s own youth is so expertly captured in this struggle. The limitations of the scope of her perspective is the means through which the comic asserts that even a future away, a call to freedom can still be the most deafening call of all. 

This call — the arc that underscores the entire first issue —  is not without its complications, however. The issue’s naive narrator also sets up what feels like a hollow introduction of its characters. Chulita, b.b.’s best friend, a young person with a disability who lives across the Florida Islands, is introduced primarily through conversations with b.b. via headset. While readers are given the chance to see glimpses of what Chulita’s life looks like in conjunction with b.b., these moments are brief vignettes that open up more questions than answers. In the shadow of this confusion, the pair’s friendship is still able to flourish, and is defined as gentle, supportive and unconditional. It is one of the true highlights of the issue and its development and further exploration is sure to be a treat. 

In this way, “b.b. free” plays into familiar coming-of-age tropes, both settling into them and taking them just a step farther. Everyone thinks their parents are evil at 14, but what if they actually were? In this way the comic fits in well with genre-disrupting contemporaries, like Marvel’s “Runaways,” which believe young characters are more than sites upon which to project all-too familiar stereotypes of youth and naivete. “b.b. free” presents a respectful and authentic regard for what it means to be young, and it will be exciting to see the ways Rivera and Dunlap further explore that in future issues.

Areyon Jolivette is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].