Who Was a Daring Pioneer of the Skies Review

By | Thursday, September 01, 2022 Leave a Comment
Who Was a Daring Pioneer of the Skies? Amelia Earhart is part of Penguin Books' "Who HQ" series highlighting the lives of a variety of historical figures. While Earhart and several other figures being highlighted have seen their biographies done in graphic novel form before (I reviewed Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean some years ago) some of the choices for this Who HQ series are a little more esoteric; I don't think I've ever seen a comics biography of Cesar Chavez or Alfred Waud before.

This book is by Melanie Gillman and A.C. Esguerra and, probably because of its length, essentially only covers Earhart's famous last flight, starting from when she first announced it in February 1937. You likely know the basic facts of the story already, so I won't relay everything here. However, Gillman and Esguerra take a somewhat different approach from what I've seen elsewhere in that almost none of the actual flight (technically, either of them -- Earthart's first attempt was scrapped) is depicted. Even more interesting is that they still provide an excellent look at Earhart herself, despite much of the story being told more through the eyes of her husband, G.P. Putnam. Some of that comes from having Putnam read letters she sends to him, so her voice is still present even when she herself is absent, and some of that comes from the press, interviews and radio reports and such. There's some excellent storytelling here to manage telling her story from that outside perspective while still making her a relatable, viable person in her own right.

One of the other incredibly refreshing things I saw here was that they don't really cater to speculation. There are so, so many biographies of her that try to analyze the evidence of what happened to her plane and what theories are out there and how credible each of them are and all that. The center almost more on the myth than Earhart or her actual flight. They do make a quick reference to that in the prose epilogue, but the story itself is limited to the known facts. Here's the radio transmissions that were received, this was her heading, here's what Putman did to search for her, etc. But the story doesn't delve into any speculation. They stopped receving her transmissions, there was a search mission, and she was declared dead two years later. I really liked taking that honest approach and not trying to mythologize her as so many others have.

Doing a biography of Earhart seems to me like it would be tricky. Not so much because no one knows what ultimately happened to her, but because so many people have tackled the subject before. She's been portrayed in film by everyone from Rosalind Russell to Diane Keaton to Hilary Swank. In fiction, she's teamed up with Wonder Woman, Doctor Who, Doc Savage, and H.P. Lovecraft among dozens of others. There have been so many stories done about her -- ranging from strictly biographic to imaginatively ficticious -- that I expect it would be extremely difficult to do a new biography of her that felt different enough to warrant doing. I mean, why should they create this one and why should you read it when there's already comic book biographies out there from Portable Press, Saddleback Educational Publishing, Sandpiper, Capstone Press, Rocky Pond Books, Hyperion Books, Phoenix International, and so on? As I said, Gillman and Esguerra do a great job telling her story and not embellishing it with a lot of nonsense. I certainly haven't read/seen/heard every biography about her, but I've found it exceedingly rare for someone to stick so closely to the facts while still making an entertaining and engaging story, particularly without showing everything through Earhart's perspective.

This is the first Who HQ book I've picked up and, despite being aimed at 8-12 year olds, I didn't feel like it talked down to the reader at all. Like similar series from other publishers, each book is by a different creator (or set of creators) so the level of quality has a bit more variability, I'm sure, but I'm certainly impressed enough to check out some of the others in the line. I don't expect those will dive too deep into the subjects' lives either, again by virtue of their length, but considering there's literally no other comic biographies about Alfred Waud out there, I'm sure I'll still learn something.

Who Was a Daring Pioneer of the Skies? Amelia Earhart came out earlier this month and should be available from any decent bookstore. The paperback retails for $7.99 US and the hardback for $12.99 US.
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