Tuning into the free comic reading platform Webtoons to check out The Brooklynite (Seth Kushner, Shamus Beyale, Jason Goungor) takes you into the New Brooklyn universe of comics alongside The Red Hook (Dean Haspiel) and The Purple Heart (Vito Delsante and Ricardo Venancio) wherein Brooklyn secedes from New York City, due to the semi-sentient borough’s heart actually breaking, and becomes an island unto itself. The situation induces a “superhero pandemic” and a social order where anything hand-made and original becomes a form of currency, particularly artwork.
Enter The Brooklynite’s Jake Jeffries, a Brooklyn-born cartoonist, whose narrative is painfully honest about his own shortcomings, ambitions, and dreams. A guy who never seems to get the girl—or rather, has gotten the girl, and lost her. A guy who thinks he doesn’t have much to offer—but dreams of being more. Despite the unimpressive display of “costumed buffoons” pummeling their way through Brooklyn and bringing down Jake’s sky-high hopes of what “real” superheroes should be like, his idealism persists. He sees a big problem in the world around him that’s making everyone’s life difficult, and he can’t manage to block it out. The problem consumes him, but not with bitterness. Rather, with a kind of incandescent determination to rise above and make a difference somehow in this borough ravaged by selfish heroes.
Against the backdrop of real landmarks in Brooklyn and the ironies and real uncertainties of gentrification, the property damage and physical danger caused by superheroes looms large, even while Jake toils every day in his comic studio to draw the real life heroes out his window.
He recalls a time when there were heroes he could admire, like the Brooklyn Spectre, a golden age superhero (much like the Shadow or the Spirit) before there was a “backlash against vigilantism”, but it was an example that inspired his father to be a police officer. Jake feels insufficient for merely drawing heroes instead of being one, and as his therapist points out, trying to live up to his father’s dreams might be a mistake.
While churning through his freelance gig drawing the heroes he can’t bring himself to believe in, complete with actual comic scripts the reader gets to see, Jake’s frustration over real-life heroes destroying his town hits breaking point. It leads him to create a fictional hero fighting back on the page—The Brooklynite. When trying to draw this new comic gets him fired from his gig, Jake makes a pretty crazy leap into trying to realize the character he has created in real-life situations.
But is Jake a simple do-gooder? And if so, what exactly does that mean? His motivations are basic and knowable, which is an achievement for a character living in a world not unlike Alan Moore and Gene Ha’s Top 10, where superheroes simply roam the streets and skies. What are some of the qualities that make him a gifted individual, even if he may not think so?
Firstly, he has been brought up with something to believe in, and holds onto that. Even if the idealism he’s channeling may be a little obsessive due to respect for his father’s career, hanging a poster of the Brooklyn Spectre on his wall means something to him. And that has helped him endure the secession of Brooklyn and the new chaos he inhabits.
In fact, that ideal meant so much to him that he became a comic artist and built his whole life around what he felt heroes should be. Faced with the negative misuse of power around him every day, there is ample room for Jake to have a personal crisis, become jaded, and reject everything he previously held dear.
His reaction is, instead, creative. Alarmingly so. While the trappings of superhero behavior may have come to disgust him, he still believes in the redemption of the altruistic idea of heroes if he can somehow enact the ideal himself. That is, in truth, pretty radical. I don’t know many individuals, real or fictional, who would come to those conclusions and fight for them every day. And yet we all know that those people, when we do meet them—are heroes. They have superhuman internal strength that we all wish we could emulate. They inspire others the way that the Brooklyn Specter actually inspired Jake.
Jake is goofy, ridiculous, and transparently driven. He desperately wants superheroic powers and puts his life in danger to seek them, but the following quotes sum up his personality: “I know I’ll be ok because I believe”; “I know I’m meant for something”.
Another remarkable quality of Jake’s is that he’s capable of calling out and addressing every stupid thing he does, from causing himself to get struck by lightning to climbing into a radioactive zone. He possesses the all-important faculty of self-criticism and the journal-entry narrative format of the comic lets the reader in on all his uncertainties. This is actually at the heart of why Jake is already a greater hero than the powered beings beating each other up around him. They can’t and don’t check themselves. Jake is capable of seeing both the ideal and the reality at once. He has 20-20 hero vision. This is the only quality that can keep a potential hero from becoming an inadvertent villain, as well.
And because he’s “no quitter”, the universe finally comes calling to level him up into the big game he wants to play. We already know that Jake has the gifts he needs to be a hero, but surely real powers and responsibility will be a challenge, the biggest challenge yet, to what he believes in. Will he let himself down? And how will he fare as the lone example of right in a pantheon of selfish beings? Well, he asked for it. And now he’s set to find out just what he’s gotten himself into.
What really draws us into Jake’s world is the artwork on the series, which is intrinsic to the realism and pathos of the titular character. With linework both flexible and emotional, and a palette as colorful and as active as Jake’s teeming brain, it would be hard to imagine a comic that feels more Brooklyn, from the attention to detailed settings to the attitude and spirit of the comic and its characters that so accurately conveys the perspectives of the borough’s inhabitants.
Chapters 1 through 6 of The Brooklynite have already been made available for free reading on the scrolling comic platform Webtoons, with chapters 1-5 written by Seth Kushner and Shamus Beyale, and drawn by Shamus Beyale. Starting with chapter 6, the co-creators hand off art duties to Jason Goungor. Colors are by Komikaki Studio, featuring Tiew Keng Boon.
This comic was originally created by the late and great Brooklyn photographer and writer Seth Kushner and his friend Shamus Beyale. Appearing posthumously, this work keeps Seth’s dream of a better Brooklyn alive and is a testament to another guy who was “no quitter”.
New installments appear every Wednesday, and chapter 7 arrives on December 14th! You can check out the comic and hang out with The Brooklynite right here on Webtoons.