In the beginning was the world. And it was weird.
The One Hundred Nights of Hero is Isabel Greenberg’s second graphic novel and, apparently, a spin off from her first The Encyclopedia of Early Earth. The tale, or rather tales, since this is a story involving some amazing storytellers, takes place in Early Earth, and Early Earth was itself created by a girl named Kiddo. Kiddo is the daughter of the god Birdman, who created and lords over many other worlds and galaxies, but once he sees that his daughter has made something, he butts in to “improve” it — forcing the humans she has made to acquire knowledge and thence to fear and worship Birdman. While Birdman’s interference introduces jealousy, hatred and arrogance to humans, it also has the unexpected consequence of introducing love, which Kiddo finds amazing and Birdman gets not at all. He thinks love will destroy the world, but Kiddo sees its creative power and beauty as life in Early Earth goes on.
Greenberg then commences the story of Hero and Cherry, which begins with a sinister bet. Two wealthy and powerful men of the city of Migdal Bavel, a city of Early Earth dedicated to Birdman, are discussing women, or more specifically the problem with women. These men, like most of the men of this city, are misogynists who think that women are either vain and stupid or else evil witches. So the two men, Jerome and Manfred, discuss what makes the perfect woman and come up with this: she should be beautiful, obedient and not too smart. It is the law in this kingdom that women not be able to read or write; those who can are labeled witches and condemned to death. Jerome believes he has married the perfect woman (Cherry) and will prove it to Manfred with this wager: Jerome will leave town for 100 nights, and during that time, if Manfred is able to seduce (or rape) Cherry, Jerome will give Cherry and his castle to Manfred. If Manfred fails to seduce Cherry, Manfred forfeits his castle to Jerome. What the men don’t know is that Hero, Cherry’s servant, has overheard this plan, which she reports back to her mistress.
Hero and Cherry, as it turns out, are lovers and have been since before Cherry married Jerome. They are completely devoted to one another and work together to develop a plan to thwart the two evil men’s intentions. Hero is a skilled storyteller and uses her talents each night, much like Scheherazade, to divert Manfred and save Cherry. Hero’s stories involve women, particularly sisters, “who don’t take shit from anyone.” Through her nights of storytelling, the listeners (and readers) learn about sisters whose devotion to one another and to their independence was not rewarded by their male-centric misogynistic society. Yet their actions have not been forgotten. Rather, their stories have been told and retold, via spoken word and tapestry, and passed along through time, inspiring others. Among Hero’s listeners are not just Manfred but the entire castle guard, and they are enthralled by Hero’s stories. In fact the guards share what they hear each night with their own families and, aware of the strange deal between Jerome and Manfred, they fervently hope that Cherry and Hero succeed.
I won’t reveal what ultimately happens to Cherry and Hero, but it is completely fitting and in keeping with the other tales told here. The resolution affirms the power of female creativity, sisterhood and love, all of which can elicit fear, repression, revolution, and joy. We live in times that need this female leadership and bravery, and we see women in the streets leading resistance today. The One Hundred Nights of Hero is their story, our story, the story of our grandmothers and of generations to come. This is a wonderful and inspiring read for the times in which we live.