Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 67

Delilah Dirk And The Turkish Lieutenant

by Tony Cliff
Genre notes: Adventure. Also Adventure. Also historical adventure.
176 pages
ISBN: 1596438134 (Amazon)

Growing up, I never had any concern with finding myself in the heroes of adventure stories. Being white and male, I had the privilege of being more than adequately represented in the protagonists of these adventures. Or at least roughly represented. Really roughly. Roughly enough so that no hero of any of the books or movies I loved remotely resembled me save that, perhaps, they had penises and skin that was lighter than it was dark. They might not have actually had penises—I never had the opportunity to check, nor would I have even considered the attempt. In truth, regardless my privilege, the heroes of my favourite adventures were always indelibly alien to me. The depth of their foreignness was complete. I did not have their strength, their skills, their abilities, their wit. Moreover, I could not conceive that I might ever share any of that je ne sais quoi that made them suitable heroes.

And here, on the cusp of Age Forty-4, I can look back and applaud the considerable judgment I possessed as a seven year old—because I have acquired none of those heroic traits (save perhaps a smidgeon of wit). I have always then wondered at those who are sad about not seeing themselves in their heroes. Chalk it up to privilege if you care to, or perhaps to the fact that I just never seemed to share in the growing-up experiences that so many of my friends had, but I have always imagined that I would feel as much disconnect between myself and my heroes as if I had been black or Asian or female. Because heroes were never even human to me. They were this Alien Other. When Spider-Man was Peter Parker, he wasn’t like me. He was this non-human creature with amazing skills that was pretending to be me. He was the privileged one and he was wearing some equivalent of black-face to try to blend in, some human-face camouflage. It didn’t work. Not for me.

Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy heroes or their adventures. I did. I ate that stuff up. I loved Spider-Man. I loved Rick Hunter. I loved Wolverine and Groo and Rogue and pre-ninja Psylocke and Nightcrawler and Tintin and Power Pack. And Kitty Pryde. While still foreign, Kitty Pryde was the adventure hero whom I could most relate to. I would of course never be able to be her or possess near a third of even her non-superhuman abilities. But if I were forced to relate to one of these fictional figures, it would have been her. And that’s kind of the point: I didn’t love these characters because I could relate to them. I loved them because they were unbelievable and fantastic. The stories they got wrapped up in were ludicrous and impossible and kind of delicious. And while I’ve mostly graduated from adventure tales, I’m still able to take great joy in the occasional episode—despite not feeling that I am remotely represented in the protagonist. Bone is fantastic and amazing, even though Fone Bone isn’t even human. Raiders of the Lost Ark is thrilling, even though Doctor Jones is an immortal possessed of uncanny luck. The Sea Hawk is exciting and daring, even though there’s nothing in my make-up that could possess me to commandeer a tallship or run a guy through with a rapier.

And I found Delilah Dirk as delightful a hero and her adventures as blisteringly exciting as any other—despite the fact that she is a woman and I, clearly, am not. And a woman that has skills and fortune greater than those of any man or woman in all of the combined histories of the real world. She has a winning personality and a basketful of impossible abilities. I don’t know whether my daughter will take after me and feel no need to see herself in her protagonists, but if she does hope to find herself in her heroes, she won’t find that in Delilah. All the same, I expect she’ll take as much joy in this episode as I do. Delilah Dirk may be unconvincing in terms of realism or relatability, but it’s a grand little adventure.

While Delilah may be the book’s hero, its narrator is someone who flies a little closer to the earth, the mostly accessible Turkish lieutenant, Selim. It is through the eloquent Selim that we encounter the whirlwind, Delilah Dirk. He is as incredulous as we might be when encountering a woman who is trained in forty-seven sword-fighting techniques, who sits as a high-ranking member of three royal courts, and who—in the preindustrial Mediterranean—claims the power of flight. Selim is just a normal guy, mostly. He’s a janissary lieutenant with astonishingly good taste in tea and a certain loquaciousness, but with no other skills to recommend him. Delilah helps him out of a bind and they begin their travels together, moving from hot water to scalding.

Only, when one is on Delilah Dirk’s side, things can’t get too hot—just more interesting. The only time when Miss Dirk isn’t entirely in command of her situation, Selim is able to provoke her to action simply because in the present crisis he has far less to lose and so is less shocked by their predicament. Delilah Dirk is a woman-run show. Honestly, it’d be a delightful romp either way, but it’s refreshing to see an overly competent woman in the Doctor Jones role for a change.

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