Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Level Up by Gene Yang Illustrated by Thien Pham YP FIC YANG

Dennis is at a crossroads; his focus on videogames over classwork has him about to flunk out of college.  He finds a new (and entirely unwanted) sense of purpose when visited by a group of chibi* angels that tell him they are there to help him fulfill his destiny: to become a gastroenterologist!  This leads to long nights of studying and new friends.  But a crisis of faith in his unshakable gastroenterologist destiny (namely how much poop is involved) leads Dennis to question his angels and see their less than angelic side.

This is a charming and unusual coming of age for dorks comic about the weight of family expectations and generational guilt.  I really couldn’t relate too directly to Dennis’s slackerdom or his ready acceptance of agreeing so readily to his hallucinations whims, but I liked him a lot in spite of that.  His willingness to assume the floating angels are real and do whatever they want instead of check himself into the nearest mental health care facility didn’t seem unrealistic, it just says a great deal about poor Dennis’s state of mind.  The angels and the ludicrousness of Dennis’s choices make for some great humor and also build to a genuinely satisfying emotional ending.  This doesn’t feel as deeply personal or as ambitious as American Born Chinese, (which I think is Yang’s best) but it is a very strong simple work that brims with fun from odd beginning to weird end.   If you like comics about people and their problems, comics about nerd culture, or just want to enjoy a good story, check this one out.

*Manga (Japanese Comics) term meaning they have hugenormous heads and small bodies.  Like Hello Kitty!

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