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LAST ON HIS FEET by Youssef Daoudi Kirkus Star


Jack Johnson and the Battle of the Century

illustrated by Youssef Daoudi ; by Adrian Matejka

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 2023
ISBN: 978-1-631-49558-8
Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Illustrator Daoudi and poet Matejka interpret the life and times of Jack Johnson, the first Black heavyweight boxing champion, framing their graphic novel around his 1910 championship bout in Reno, Nevada, and covering his rise in sport and culture and his undoing by the virulence of American racism.

In this evocative and entrancing telling, Johnson comes to boxing through blindfolded backroom brawls for food (and the amusement of White men). His exceptional fighting skills, physique, and drive ultimately earn him much more than a meal: fame, fortune, and the ire of the existing White power structure. Johnson brashly taunts his tormentors as he racks up win after win, chasing down the White champions who refuse to fight him, but to the reader he confesses the toll taken by the racism he’s been subjected to his entire life—a vitriol most nakedly expressed by the racial epithets that rain down on him from the crowd of frothy-mouthed White men packing the stands at his fights. Still, Johnson plays his hand to the best of his remarkable ability, plotting out his fights to look good as motion pictures and thereby generate him more income from movie screenings than he’d ever make from a fight’s prize money, theatrically recounting his greatest matches to paying theatergoers, and always pursuing his own interests, including White women. With red ink luridly accentuating the brutal black-and-white tale, Daoudi’s exceptional sense of anatomy, expressions, and choreography combine with the snap of Matejka’s text to vividly depict this defiant and flawed man’s struggle against a culture built to dehumanize him and equipped with laws to break him. You can’t fight city hall, but Johnson lands some solid blows on his way to the mat.

A knockout.