Willow Zimmerman lives in the Down Rivers district of Gotham City, a historic Jewish community. Her mantra is, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” So it happens that she meets her newest friend Garfield while petitioning outside her school for more funding for Gotham’s public schools. She introduces Garfield to the stray Great Dane she’s been calling Lebowitz. After Willow’s mom tells her she’s stopping her cancer treatments because they’re costing too much, Willow gets an overnight job cleaning the animal shelter. The money she brings in isn’t enough. An old family friend, E. Nigma, reaches out to Willow after a long time of no contact due to drug abuse. He’s clean now and looking to reconnect. After hearing of Willow and her mom’s troubles, Eddie gives her money and offers her a job: game runner for his poker nights. She now makes INSANE money, enough to cover her mom’s medical bills and much more… but she discovers that Eddie’s poker buddies and their wealth are slowly tearing down her own neighborhood. After a run-in with Killer Croc and Poison Ivy, Willow gains the power to talk to dogs, including her Lebowitz. How can she use her powers for good if she knows that her job supporting her family is part of the problem?
There’s a lot going on in this graphic novel, but in the end… it didn’t really feel like it went anywhere. It felt unfinished in that for all of Willow’s wanting to change the world, losing her drive, and finding it again resulted only in her willingness to continue her double life. Perhaps the creators were trying to set up for a sequel? Willow is a whip-smart and passionate young woman, which on the one hand is good for my heart, but on the other, just makes it even more upsetting that she didn’t really seem to grow by the end. Great lengths were gone to so that readers could see how busy Eddie’s job kept her and how it alienated her from her friends and mother. Her character arc by the end felt like a compromise rather than true growth.
For all that, it was enjoyable. It was interesting seeing Gotham’s supervillain attacks from a citizen’s perspective rather than a hero’s; one example is them calling buildings Poison Ivy has attacked “greened” buildings. Riddler is not a character we see used too often and I think his inclusion here was generally effective.
Great swaths of color permeate the book. Oranges dominate, underscoring Willow’s vivaciousness and love for her home. The linework reminded me of George Pérez’ artwork: delicate, yet strong. There are plenty of Easter eggs for DC fans to pick out in the backgrounds: Harley Quinn graffiti, a Flash button on a backpack, a poster of Black Canary’s band. And, of course, all the pups were so cute 😉
While it fell flat for me from a story and character arc perspective, Whistle is still an inspiring and enjoyable graphic novel. I hope to see more of Willow, Lebowitz, and everyone else in the future.
Lockhart, E., and Manuel Preitano. Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero. 2021.