The poems in Joy Priest’s Horsepowerspeak powerfully of a Black girl’s experiences growing up in the South End of Louisville. The personal struggle with racism in a family gives way to the wider struggle of racism in society as the three movements of the collection reflect the growth of a racehorse from timid foal to wild filly throwing off her harness. Priest’s study of Louisville captures the push and pull that makes this city so hard to define — horse racing in an urban setting, southern traditions that range from harsh segregation and the KKK to the joys of cruising and muscle cars. This collection of poems is a must-read for any white Louisvillian working through their racism. Priest is uniquely suited for this examination as a Louisville-native herself, as it’s easy for any local reader to picture the old landmarks and streets mentioned, dripping with atmosphere unique to this Weird Louisville (TM).
While this might be her first published collection of poems, I have eagerly been following her work in Best New Poets and other places one wouldn’t expect poets to be published (like her piece for ESPN on “The Athleticism of Beyoncé” ) since 2014. While Priest writes more than poetry in verse, she has a strong poetic voice and sense of atmosphere that can be seen in many of her works, including “Denial is a Cliff We Are Driven Off Of”. Everything she writes is beautiful, something that inspires the reader to connect more directly with both the subject as well as the poet’s past and selfhood. The poems that are included in Priest’s Horsepower collection are no exception.
View Joy Priest’s full list of published works on her website, here.
Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows, written by Jeff Lemire with art by Max Fiumara, is a spin-off of Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s Black Hammer series. If you are not familiar with Black Hammer (one of my Top Ten Graphics of 2019), you seriously need to check it out. In that series, a group of superheroes saves the world from an alien threat only to disappear and then reappear in a small town somewhere in Middle America. A small town that they find themselves unable to leave! The mystery of why they cannot leave is slowly tearing them apart until…well, I don’t want to spoil it for you and it’s not what this review is about, other than as backstory.
Doctor Star takes a look at one of the other heroes of this world who finds his powers and starts adventuring during the World War II era. Dr. Jim Robinson is a brilliant astrophysicist whose research into the Para-Zone, a mysterious and dangerous dimension outside of the normal universe, is funded by the government looking for a way to weaponized it. Eventually, after throwing himself into the work, Dr. Robinson discovers a way to unlock the power of the Para-Zone. Using the tools that help him control it, Dr. Robinson creates his new superhero persona, Doctor Star.
This is how he connects to the rest of the Black Hammer universe, meeting Colonel Randall Weird, the only hero who can traverse the Para-Zone, as well as other heroes along the way. But don’t worry too much about those connections. This short spin-off is firmly anchored in its protagonist’s tragic journey.
Jeff Lemire is good telling at these kind of very human, painful stories. There are so many little character details he throws in that you very quickly feel for the characters. You feel for them even as you watch them damage or destroy what is precious to them.
Artist Max Fiumara is very capable of portraying these little details in a concise manner while still capturing the spirit of adventure the story beats demand. The line work alternates between sharp and quirky, almost fairy tale, style and a muted, grimmer style that feels like a fading memory. Fiumara is known mostly for artwork on Hellboy titles but here, it is more akin to classic pulp than urban horror.
Not only is this a loving tribute to comic author James Robinson’s classic Starman series (Doctor Star’s alter ego is named after him after all), it is also a meditation on how parents and children can become alienated from each other with no malice intended. Here we find a scientist turned superhero who sees the universe and has many adventures in his career but loses something irreplaceable. Something which he only realizes in the final, heartbreaking sequence.