Johnny Ribkins, Cartographer for Hire

RibkinsThink about all the mutants who weren’t good enough to get into Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Remember KwikStep? He was the kid who could put on his sneakers without untying them. And GoGo Kawasaki? She never had to stop at an intersection for a red light.

But do you have to walk through walls like Kitty Pryde to be a superhero? Do you have to have retractable vibranium claws just to be treated with a little respect?

Of course not. Everybody had skills and talents that made them unique, even superheroes with insufficient powers. The trick was to find your path in life and walk the earth with purpose – like the five members of the Justice Committee.

Back in the day, Johnny Ribkins and his super friends traveled around the country staging minor interventions, taking a knee, doing whatever they could to support the civil rights movement. “We were freedom movement adjacent,” said Ribkins in hindsight. The Justice Committee didn’t have any special training or facility; they just wanted to do the right thing. “We were fighting for freedom, trying to uplift people, and change the world.”

But nobody ever confused the Justice Committee for the Justice League. Ribkins and his gang had superpowers, but they couldn’t change the Speed Force like Barry Allen or alter reality like Flex Mentallo. Instead, they could project the illusion of beauty (Simone), spit firecrackers (Bertrand), flash a winning smile (Winston), and administer justice like a hammer (the Hammer).

For his part, Ribkins had sublime cartographic skills. For seven years, his maps set the agenda for the Justice Committee. Even Charles Xavier would agree, that was a pretty cool mutant power – especially if you had to be at the right place at the right time. You didn’t want to be late for the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, after all.

It’s too bad Ribkins never truly understood his esoteric power. He could draw a map like ringing a bell, but he never found his personal path in life. And now, at the age of 72, he was driving around Florida trying to find it.

Author Ladee Hubbard has done an amazing thing with her debut novel. She’s given us a story about history, racism, personal identity, human potential, complicated family relationships, and superheroes. Imagine if W.E.B. Du Bois created Luke Cage, Hero for Hire. Just think how great that would have been.

In the end, Johnny Ribkins gets a little assistance from his 13-year-old niece Eloise. She was the NextGen of Ribkins metahumans, and her nascent superpower would ultimately help her Uncle find the peace he was looking for. “I can see how stuff gets put together,” she told him, “from beginning to end and all points in between.” Instead of following a vague map with a crazy circuitous route, the “Talented Ribkins” finally figured it out. Right path, wrong path, it didn’t matter. It was his path all along.

[The Talented Ribkins / By Ladee Hubbard / First Printing: August 2017 / ISBN: 9781612196367]

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