Review by Frank Plowright
In 1998 Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa are locked in the most exciting baseball home run race for over thirty years, with both on course to beat the single season record set in 1961. Their equivalent in Vermont’s Elizabethtown Monarchs is Carl Carter, almost single handedly dragging a small town baseball team to the play-offs.
Other elements of Carl’s life aren’t as satisfying. He has a competitive relationship with his older brother, his school work is suffering and he’s not getting anywhere with girls. The only time he really comes to life is playing baseball, and he’s not one to hide his talent under a bushel. Despite parental warnings he stills hangs out with his buddy Edsen, who has a far more difficult home life.
Then, however, a mistake is made.
There’s a subtlty underlying Jesse Lonergan’s tale of teenage lack of purpose. McGwire is held up as what Carl could be, the all-American boy eating his wheaties made good, but although it’s not mentioned, anyone with a passing interest in baseball is aware of how McGwire’s achievements occurred. Carl is shocked into upping his game generally, and that’s further contrasted with the fortunes of Edsen, for whom no-one makes excuses. The hypocrisy of the system and those who uphold it is hammered home in what’s a rapid learning curve for Carl.
Lonergan’s sketchy art and elongated and angular figures may initially appear dashed off, but the looseness is very effective when it comes to conveying what’s needed in terms of motion and the particulars of a baseball game. It’s less suited to the emotional moments.
Despite being 175 pages of story many passages are wordless and several more are aimless hanging out periods, making All Star a rapid read. Although seemingly intended for a young adult audience, in keeping with the way teenagers are rather than the way many want them to be, there’s swearing, drinking and mention of sex, hence noting adult content. It’s a simple story well told, but lacking a real emotional punch. In this Lonergan’s true to life, but it results in a graphic novel that falls well short of its potential.