October 30, 2014

Review of Hero Twins

The Hero Twins: Against the Lords of Death: a Mayan Myth (Graphic Myths and Legends)Grade 3-6: Hunaphu and Xbalanque are characters from a Mayan myth in the Popul Vuh. Their special powers include their skills at playing the ball game Pok-ta-Pok. The competitive rulers of the underworld are not happy and challenge the twins to a game, planning to destroy them. After crossing a river of blood and a river of pus (This is so gross, says Hunaphu) to meet the Lords of Death, the young men must survive nights in increasingly dangerous houses, including one filled with razors and one filled with bloodthirsty bats. Readers should delight in the creepy action, especially the final game in which Xbalanque's head is used as the ball. The bright colors and strong lines of the cartoon-style illustrations add to the story's irreverent tone. A narrative of a contemporary boy assigned to read the myth for school begins and ends the story. Though slightly corny, this framing device may draw in readers resistant to the historical or educational theme. Children may not pick this up on their own, but once they begin they'll find much to enjoy. Lisa Goldstein, Brooklyn Public Library, NY

Great book
By Jennifer on May 10, 2013

My seventh graders love it and it is a terrific graphic novel to use to get boys into a new genre.

Grandkids liked it
By jinez on January 8, 2012

Gift for grandkids -- they like visual language and high adventure stories. I like the myths being introduced at such a young age --elementary school ages.

However, reviewer Beverly Slapin notes many discrepancies between the Popol Vuh and Hero Twins. Her conclusion:

Hero Twins Against the Lords of Death: A Mayan Myth

By Beverly SlapinThese discrepancies go on and on. Basically, in the Popol Vuh, the Amazing Twins, their grandmother, the lords of Xib’alb’a, the animals—all have magical powers and all are related. In the comic book, their motivations, for the most part, are individual and unrelated and the subtlety, the complexity, the lessons are all gone. There’s no cultural context for anything.

What clinches this parallel reading for me—perhaps the worst part about this graphic novel—is that Jolley and Witt frame the story with the narrative of a white suburban boy’s having to read the Popol Vuh for school. At the beginning, he’s complaining to a friend about his homework assignment: “Nah, I can’t come over tonight. I’ve got this reading thing.” By the end, however, this white boy is totally stoked. He has read the story of the “Hero Twins,” and, before slamming down the phone, tells his friend to get his own book. Besides the fact that it’s highly unlikely that a young boy would be assigned something as complex and multi-layered as the Popol Vuh as individual reading, using a cultural outsider as a framing device around a sacred Mayan saga treats it and, by extension, the Maya, as “other.”

Glossing over or omitting important details of a sacred text—and editing out all Mayan cultural markers of land and community and group responsibility—seem to have been an easy task for Jolley and Witt.

Full of gory details, creepy action, and irreverent language; and illustrated with strong lines and bright colors, Hero Twins and the other graphic novels in the “Graphic Myths and Legends” series are likely to draw in “reluctant readers.” For this generation of young readers, comic books and graphic novels are a delivery system for information. But in reading Hero Twins, what have these young readers learned? That a people’s sacred stories are fair game, to be mutilated “just for entertainment”? It would seem so. Not recommended.
Comment:  After reading Hero Twins, I tend to agree with Slapin. It really is simplified to the point where a 3rd-grader might enjoy it.

That may be too simple for any significant story--not to mention a culture's sacred text. Doing the Popol Vuh in 48 pages is like doing the Bible in 48 pages--difficult to pull off.

Dramatically speaking, the menaces aren't that menacing--even for kids. For instance, the gods send the twins into a Fire House full of flames. Do they immediately burn to a crisp? No. When the gods look in on them, they're sitting on a shelf above the flames. It's like the gods are too dumb to come up with a threat beyond a 3rd-grade level.

I'd say Hero Twins is akin to a children's picture book or cartoon show. I was hoping for something a bit more sophisticated when I got it. I'm not sure how I'd introduce kids to Maya culture, but probably not like this.

Hero Twins is $8.95 for 48 pages. Unless you're a completist for Native-oriented comic books, save your money for something else.

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