That quote in the title of these reviews comes from Michael Sheyahshe’s introduction to Moonshot: Volume 1 and it serves as a rallying cry for all three volumes. The Moonshot series, published in 2015, 2017 and 2019, is, as the title says, a collection of comics written and drawn by Indigenous writers and artists. These volumes were also published and distributed by Avani and Inhabit Education Books, which are Inuit owned. The reason for the volumes is pretty obvious — Indigenous people have had very little representation in comics, and that which has appeared has often been stereotypical in nature. Each volume contains a dozen or more stories which might surprise readers and artwork which will blow you away.
All three volumes contain a great variety of stories. Some are reimaginings of traditional tales, others are original stories with characters or themes taken from traditional stories. Many stories are set in the future, others in the present world and a few in the past. Volume 1 opens strong with a story by Daredevil writer and Eisner Award winner David Mack, co-creator the the character Echo, who is about to get the Disney/Marvel series treatment. Mack’s heritage includes Cherokee, and he grew up listening to his uncle tell stories. “Vision Quest: Echo” introduces the reader to Maya Lopez, the Indigenous/Latin superhero who also is deaf. Mack illustrated his own story, and it is full of amazing images and words (did you know there is “Indian sign language”?). Volume 1 contains several stories featuring animal characters and creation stories (“Ochek,” “Coyote and the Pebbles,” “UE-Pucase: Watermaster”), but the other story that stayed with me was “The Qallupiluk: Forgiven.” This is a story from the Arctic coastal region. A Qallupiluk is a shapeshifter that inhabits dark waters and tries to lure young people into its depths, thereby capturing their energy. The Qallupiluk overhears a young child saying that she wishes to see a Qallupiluk, which breaks a taboo and allows the Qallupiluk to pursue her later that night while all are sleeping. It is a creepy story that takes a surprising turn.
Volume 2 is a very strong collection, with a number of stories addressing problems that indigenous communities are facing right now, including missing women/girls, suicide, and environmental destruction. “Bookmark” was written in consultation with suicide prevention specialists and Elders to address the suicide epidemic amongst First Nations communities. It is a short story about a teenager’s struggle to come to terms with the suicide of his best friend. His grandfather sees his pain and uses the creation story to help guide his grandson. “The Awakening” is a “story inspired by the work of Ojibway Elder Arthur Solomon, who led the way in the 1980s for indigenous cultural practices to be accepted into the Canadian federal prison system.” Jake is a young man who has made bad choices and finds himself arrested for a robbery gone wrong. He is on his way to either trial or sentencing for his crime when the small plane that carries him, corrections officers, and a couple of witnesses to his crime (including a young boy) goes down in the wilderness. Jake could try to run, but there are wild animals there; if he stays, he will have to answer for his misdeeds. What will he do? “Water Spirits” uses a school field trip to tell the real story of the Yellowknife community and the gold mining facility that caused major, lasting pollution of the water and harm to the Indigenous people who lived there.
Volume 3 contains a number of futuristic stories. In fact Indigenous futurism is the theme to this collection, although not all of the stories necessarily fit in to that category. “In Our Blood” is one of the standout stories in this volume. Thanks to a scientific breakthrough, a drug has been developed that can remove trauma from a person’s DNA — trauma that has been passed down through generations. The government wants to test the drug and contacts Crow’s River Community, an Indigenous community, to see if they would consent to be the first human guinea pigs. Their Chief, a man who is maybe in his 40s, has conflicted feelings about this and his speech to his community, in which he reveals information about his own family trauma, is powerful. “Litmus Flowers” takes place in a world where the earth is so contaminated, special “litmus flowers” have been cultivated in order to show whether or not ground is safe for growing food. “Emmie and the Starweb” is about a scientist who is able to use her grandmother’s teachings to solve a scientific problem. “Waterward” is another powerful and kind of creepy story like “The Qallupiluk.” A young mother of triplets waits until her husband leaves to hunt before packing up her children and walking into the snowy night. As she walks, we learn of her anger and bitterness and of a deal she hopes to make with the creatures of the lake. Finally, “Digital Bird and the Bitter Spirit” takes place in a future where people are chipped by the government, allowing authorities to separate Indigenous people from the rest of the population. Digital Bird is brilliant with computers, and she along with some others have plotted a way to take down the system. After a betrayal, Digital Bird, who had had a vision and was certain that she could succeed with her plan, finds herself in prison, but she is not alone. The trickster known as Bitter Spirit enters her cell. He might help her, but he might not, and he points out all of the negative things that could happen even if the plan succeeds. Digital Bird must decide what to do if he offers help.
All three volumes offer excellent, provocative stories. They link past, present and future, and they show the ongoing vibrancy of Indigenous cultures. They are not “past” but vital and active. Concerns for mental health, physical safety, and the environment permeate these works, as do the teachings and beliefs at the root of Indigenous cultures. I won’t pretend to have understood all of the stories, and some are very short, making me wish for more, but overall I was enthralled.