(Originally posted on tumblr)
Ajala is a comic book series by Robert Garrett, N. Steven Harris and Walt Barna about a 12 year old superhero in training from Harlem. The series won a Glyph Award in 2014 AND 2015 for Best Female Character in a series as well as a Glyph Nomination for Best Cover by Walt Msonza Barna in 2015.
Ajala Storm is a formidable 12 year old girl who is in training to be a Marathane (field agent) of the Community Spirit Center, an elite group of trained masked guardians tasked with the protection of Harlem. As one of the youngest and most talented members of the C.S.C., Ajala represents a legacy. Her mother Adel Storm, was an agent and her great-grandfather Cecil Storm was a founding member in the 1920’s. Ajala’s parents now support and coach the teen from the sidelines while her Zanutra (a sensei and a tutor) Lavar Dennis, is responsible for her primary training.
No one in the Ajala storyline is “powered” technically. Members of the C.S.C. are highly trained in many forms of combat and run drills on a regular basis. Their weapons are mostly Japanese: katana, bokken, jo, and Ajala’s personal weapon of choice, the tonfa. The only special piece of tech that they have is a holographic mask which is worn on a neck collar (kind of like Star Lord’s holo-helmet in GoTG) and is activated with the push of a button effectively hiding their identities.
The C.S.C. doesn’t just exist in Harlem but it is actually a worldwide secret organization with charters in local cities who aim to train and mentor the youth while protecting the innocent. By fighting gang members and other hostile groups who (often paid by corporations) are sent in to undermine businesses and rough up civilians, the C.S.C. aims to maintain balance in the community. The group that basically controls the C.S.C. are the Sulu who serve as it’s board. Although not elite trained fighters, they are skilled in politics and subterfuge and have the power to promote or demote Zanutra as well as Kinzu-Kai (elite trainees) and Marathane.
Ajala’s story is also about community. We see her life at school between classes, and after school at the neighborhood pizzeria, run by the block matron Mama Celeste. She owns the last in a long line of historically Black and Latino owned businesses in Harlem that have not “sold out” to gentrification.
Ajala is almost constantly being observed under the watchful eyes of Mr. Dennis (who also happens to be her history teacher at her middle school) and her parents, who understand her role as a Kinzu-Kai and potential Marathane but still make sure she gets her homework done and cheer her on at basketball games. The pre-teen often finds herself having to fight many of her own peers as a Kinzu-Kai and although they don’t recognize her through the mask, she learns at an early age how to lead a double-life.
The majority of the series is narrated by Ajala’s trainer Mr. Dennis, who provides exposition for much of Ajala’s story and serves as writer Robert Garrett’s mouthpiece for political and social commentary. Dennis’ character often emphasizes the lack of community programs and the need for socio-economic change in order to keep the streets safe.
The C.S.C. have learned to keep a close eye on The Quo, their sworn enemy, whose main goal is to stunt the growth of urban communities through money, drugs and ignorance…by any means necessary. When two mysterious sisters suddenly transfer into Ajala’s middle school, suddenly there are more fights in the neighborhood, attempted arson of the pizzeria and more kids from outside of the area are involved. Coincidence? Or are The Quo much closer than Ajala and Dennis have been led to believe? If so, Ajala’s confrontations might not be as random as originally thought and her position and safety within the C.E.S. might be in jeopardy.
What I think
This is a great all ages story with a strong Black female character that would be appropriate for any child ages 12 and up. Even though Ajala is a fighter, there are relatable examples of non-violent conflict resolution in the story. Although there is a major difference between the artwork and lettering in book one and book two, the rest of the series is more cohesive and each new book builds on the look of the last.
The only thing I would wish for the rest of this series is more of the voice of Ajala, (which we really only get to hear at the beginning of Book 3) and less of Mr. Dennis’ monologues. Sometimes I feel that the reader is observing her as opposed to really hearing what’s in her head. I hope Garrett, et, al can facilitate more of the female perspective and delve into her character development a bit more.
Ajala showcases a strong smart young African-American character growing up in a middle-class, two parent urban household, (yes they do exist) who is just as comfortable navigating the streets of Harlem as she is negotiating the social minefield of middle school. She’s smart, strong and popular and that should resonate with younger readers.
Ajala team info:
Beni Olea – Colorist
Brian McGee – Colorist – Web
Poster by Chris Cross X