The DC antihero John Constantine first appeared in the 1980s “Swamp Thing” comics, where he was drawn to look like Sting. He went on to become the lead character in the “Hellblazer” and “Constantine” series, and has also shown up in Neil Gaiman’s comics. This new graphic novel series by North and Charm (the duo behind the Eisner Award-winning “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” series) is a prequel of sorts, depicting Constantine’s life as a young “heck blazer” and his evolution as a wizard. Shortly after we meet him, the 13-year-old British hooligan is shipped off by his parents to an American boarding school in Salem, Mass., where he teams up with Anna (Zatanna Zatara when she becomes a superhero), the only other student at the school who seems to have magical powers, to investigate why their witch of a history teacher not only hates him on sight, but also is scheming to destroy the world. Ms. Kayla sports a Cruella de Vil-like white streak in her hair and glares at him through satanic red glasses. But remember what history teaches us about witch hunts. Also on the friends’ side in their half-terrifying, half-satirical battle against evil is the good demon Etrigan, who likes heavy metal music and speaks in rhyme.
‘Miles Morales: Shock Waves: A Spider-Man Graphic Novel,’ by Justin A. Reynolds and Pablo Leon (Marvel/Scholastic Graphix, June 1)
Not to be confused with Peter Parker, that other Spider-Man in Queens, Miles Morales lives in Brooklyn, where he attends a charter school. (Far from rivals, though, he and Parker are mutually supportive friends.) When an earthquake strikes Puerto Rico, his mother’s birthplace, Morales helps organize a fund-raiser. Then a new classmate’s father, who works as a security analyst for the event’s biggest corporate sponsor, disappears. Reynolds (author of the young-adult novels “Opposite of Always” and “Early Departures”) and Leon (a 2019 Eisner Award nominee for his original comic story “The Journey,” featuring true accounts of Latin American migrants) emphasize family ties and ethnic pride.
‘The Legend of Auntie Po,’ by Shing Yin Khor
(Kokila, June 15)
When Mei was little, her father told her stories of Chinese heroes and gods. But he doesn’t tell them to her anymore. It’s the late 1800s and Hao is head cook at a Sierra Nevadas logging camp, in charge of feeding 100 lumberjacks plus 40 Chinese workers who pay their own board. Mei helps out in the kitchen. Though she was born in Reno and has never been to China, she now tells the children in the camp Chinese stories of her own — vivid, inspiring Paul Bunyan-esque tales about the elderly Po Pan Yin (“Auntie Po”), who “ran the most efficient logging crew west of the Mississippi,” and her loyal blue water buffalo, Pei Pei. Khor, a Malaysian-Chinese immigrant and American citizen since 2011, draws Auntie Po like a giant, with superhuman strength, and writes wise words for her to speak. Anti-Asian racism abounds: Some of the Chinese workers are attacked and injured by “roustabouts” aiming to drive them out of town, and the foreman is threatened with a boycott if he continues to employ them. Some of the dialogue in this hopeful, humane, empowering story is presented in both English and Cantonese (the translations were done by Khor’s mother and most of the Chinese characters are in her handwriting). Mei’s silent crush on the foreman’s daughter, Bee, with whom she grew up, is a lovely, subtle subplot.