Archive for All-Ages Comics

Good Golly, Miss Molly!

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Molly Danger, Book One

I genuinely thought I’d reviewed this ages ago, and was completely surprised to discover I’d let it fall by the wayside. Time to remedy that problem before it’s too late.

This comic was a labor of love for writer/artist Jamal Igle, and he only got to do it originally because of a very successful Kickstarter campaign. Our main character is, of course, Molly Danger, a super-strong, super-tough alien superhero in Coopersville, New York. She’s also immortal — she looks like she’s a ten-year-old human girl, but she’s actually at least 30 years old.

She’s also painfully lonely. The military organization in charge of Molly refuses to let her have contact with children her own age, and she get to meet very few civilians. They’re apparently terrified that she’ll accidentally harm a civilian — which seems a bit nuts for a superhero who’s been active for about 20-30 years without killing scads of people…

Anyway, Molly gets to fight a couple supervillains — the super-smart brain-in-a-jar Medulla and his giant robot and the superspeedster Slipscott. She also gets help from Austin Briggs, a pilot for the cops and later for her own organization — he’s a thrill-seeker who’s willing to take on risks to help Molly get the bad guys — and ultimately, to help her connect with real people.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The art is fantastic, the action and dialogue are a thrill, and the humor is top-notch.

The characters are pretty grand. Molly is just fantastic — mostly rambunctious 10-year-old, though her more advanced age pops up here and there when she demonstrates that she’s been trying to figure out what motivates the supervillains who plague her. She knows if she could figure out what they want, she’d have a chance to reform them. But for the most part, she’s all about the action and taking risks — even more so when she has a chance to get to meet and hang out with kids her own age.

If I’ve got a complaint, it’s that there haven’t been more of these books. Molly’s shown up in a small number of guest appearances in other Action Lab comics, and a new Kickstarter funded a new ongoing series — but dang, it’s been a long wait…

If you love superhero comics — and especially if you’ve got daughters who love superhero comics and never get to see anyone like them getting to kick some tail — then you’re probably going to enjoy this one. Go pick it up.

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The Hero Sandwich List of Great Comics for Kids

(Hey, y’all, last July, I wrote my first-ever guest-blog post for the Hello Mamas site (dedicated to helping moms meet other mom friends in their area, so their entire social lives don’t devolve into nonstop baby talk and Teletubbies reruns) to talk about great comics you can share with your kids. I’d planned on posting it here a good while back, but I clean forgot for ages. I finally figured to get it dusted off and posted so we can all enjoy it. It might be a bit late for anyone who was going to give comics as holiday gifts, but what the heck, it’s always a good time to start your kids reading comics. Enjoy!)

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Hiya, I’m not parent, but I am a long-time comic collector, and I’ve been known to pass comics on to my friends who have kids. Because comics can be an awful lot of fun, and I like the idea of getting to share a hobby that has lots of fun and adventure with younger readers who also have a taste for fun and adventure.

But this sometimes gets me in a liiiiittle bit of trouble. A year or two back, I was clearing out some of my older comics and set aside a stack to take to some coworkers who had some comics-loving kids. I was a bit mortified a few days later when I was told that the dad I’d given them to had decided he better put them on the top shelf, away from younger fingers, for a few years. One of the comics I’d sent him — a superhero comic starring a bunch of teenaged characters — had included a sequence where someone’s head got blown up. Holy craniums, Batman!

The unfortunate problem for parents of kids who love comics is that a lot of comics just aren’t made for kids anymore. The readership has been skewing older for years, and grownup readers often want to read stories for grownups. So there’s more violence in comics, more horror, more sex, more cussing, and more, well, adult material. They’re often really good comics, too — but you still wouldn’t necessarily want your kids reading ’em.

So yeah, I try to be more careful about gifting comics to younger readers. And if I’m nervous about it, it’s gotta be so much worse for parents who may not know a lot about comics. You head into the local comic shop and grab some Batman comics for your kids, ’cause, hey, it’s Batman! Adam West! Super Friends! Batman’s totally family friendly, right? And then you get home and discover that Batman comics nowadays can be kinda disturbing. Hey, look, it’s the Joker, and he’s straight up murdering people and trying to drive superheroes insane and his face has been sliced off and is being held on with straps, and then Jane and Timmy wet the bed ’til they’re in their 30s…

There aren’t as many kid-friendly comics out there — and if you really want to get depressed, try to find comics for the superhero-loving girl in your family. There are discouragingly few comics about superheroines that little girls would feel comfortable reading. You have to go back a few decades to find a kid-friendly comic book starring Wonder Woman, fer cryin’ out loud.

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Yes, it’s a definite challenge to find great all-ages comics. But it isn’t impossible, and you don’t have to be too nervous about shopping for comics. May I help make things easier by offering a few suggestions of high-quality kid-friendly comics?

(You’ll notice that a lot of these comics aren’t being published every month. And some of them haven’t actually been printed in years. But they’re all great comics, and they’re worth tracking down in the trade paperbacks in your local comics shop or bookstore.)

And before we get started with the list, could I offer one final piece of advice? Don’t assume my suggestions are guaranteed to be safe for your kids. If you want to get any comics for your kids, I recommend you read them yourself before you give ’em to your kids. You know your kids better than I do, and you owe it to your younglings to make sure I’m not accidentally recommending something your kids — or you — won’t like.

Having said all that — happy reading to both you and your kids! I hope you’ll all enjoy reading some of these fantastic comics!

PRE-READERS

  • Owly – This is a series of short children’s graphic novels by Andy Runton. They focus on a gentle-natured owl named Owly who always works hard to be a good friend and to be kind to everyone around him. The stories are nearly entirely wordless, so kids can enjoy the stories without needing anyone to read them aloud. Kids tend to love this series, as Owly is very charismatic and gentle, and the stories are simple and fun. It’s a great way to introduce kids to comics at a young age.

Owly

EARLY ELEMENTARY

  • Tiny Titans – These were all created by the team of Art Baltazar and Franco — Tiny Titans was the first, with the idea being to take some more traditional comics characters, the Teen Titans, and recreating them as cartoonish elementary school kids who occasionally had adventures as superheroes, but mostly just went to school and did hilarious stuff. You’ve got Robin, Cyborg, Raven, Starfire, Beast Boy, Batgirl, Wonder Girl, and many, many more. It’s great fun for kids, and it’s even fun for parents, because the jokes are pretty funny, and there are plenty of nods for older fans who are fans of the mainstream comics.
    Baltazar and Franco also created “Superman Family Adventures,” which is full of humorous family-friendly tales of Superman, Supergirl, Superboy, and all their friends and pets. And they also did “Itty Bitty Hellboy,” which accomplished the seemingly impossible task of taking the dark pulp horror of the Hellboy comics and giving them the Tiny Titans treatment.
  • Batman: Li’l Gotham – This quirky comic is perfect for kids — and grownups — who love Batman and his entire supporting cast. The series featured beautiful watercolor artwork by Dustin Nguyen and almost every superhero and supervillain who’s ever been associated with the Dark Knight. But though Batman himself is the old familiar grim avenger of the night, everything else is played for laughs. Even the villains are more interested in having fun and causing mischief than anything more serious, and it’s a great way to introduce younger Bat-fans to Gotham City’s best superhero.
  • Zita the Spacegirl – This unbelievably fun graphic novel focuses on a girl named Zita who is accidentally transported to the other side of the universe, where she has amazing sci-fi adventures, befriends weird aliens, fights weird aliens, and repeatedly saves the world. You got a daughter who craves heroic action? You need to get her this book. It has two sequels. I recommend the entire series very highly.

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  • Axe Cop – This series was created by two brothers — the illustrator is a 30-year-old comics pro, and at the time of the comic’s debut, the writer… was just five years old. This leads to some astonishingly bizarre and funny stories. Our lead character is Axe Cop, a cop who carries an axe. He fights bad guys and dinosaurs, usually by chopping their heads off. Yes, the series is pretty violent — in a very cartoonish manner — and there’s a very strong focus on poop. Again, the writer was five years old. This may make it a no-go for some parents — but I still recommend it, partly because your kids, no matter how angelic, are probably thinking about cartoonish violence and poop all the time, partly because it’s a great look at how kids tell stories on their own, and partly because we grownups think stuff like this is hilarious, too.
  • Molly Danger – Molly is a superhero — a ten-year-old alien superhero who’s superstrong and supertough. She fights against villains called the Supermechs — and against her own boredom and loneliness. She’s been ten years old for several decades and doesn’t know anyone outside of the government facility where she lives. Can Molly fight the bad guys and make some friends, too?
  • Giants Beware – This medieval action comedy stars three kids — a battle-loving tomboy, a wannabe princess, and a kid who loves baking pastries more than he loves danger — as they go out to hunt a giant who threatens their town. They meet up with many challenges on the way, of course. Fun characterization in this one, from the kids to the grownups who try to rescue them.
  • Phoebe and her Unicorn – Phoebe is a normal girl. Marigold Heavenly Nostrils is a normal unicorn. They meet, become friends, and are hilarious together. This collection of comic strips gets a lot of fun out of Phoebe’s mundane world clashing gloriously with the utter beauty, awesomeness, and magic of Marigold.
  • Super Dinosaur – What’s the only thing better than having a pet dinosaur? How ’bout having a talking pet dinosaur? How ’bout having a talking pet dinosaur who wears battle armor and fights other talking dinosaurs in battle armor? Basically, if your kids love dinosaurs, they’re probably going to love this comic.
  • Marvel’s Oz comics – Marvel Comics has done a number of comic book adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s classic Oz books, with glorious cartoony illustrations by Skottie Young. If your kids love Oz — or if they’re a bit too young to read all of them — these are really grand fun.

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LATE ELEMENTARY

  • Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade – This is seriously one of my favorite comics of all time. Our lead character is Superman’s cousin Kara, stranded on Earth from her interdimensional home. She has amazing superpowers, but she’s completely and hilariously unused to Earth customs, and soon finds herself at the bottom of the junior high pecking order. Her best friend is Lex Luthor’s Superman-hating sister, her top rival is her own imperfect bizarro clone, and the teachers are hiding a dire secret. This is a wonderful, funny book, and I recommend it for kids and their parents, too.
  • Lumberjanes – This comic focuses on a group of friends at a summer camp — one with monsters and mysteries galore! The emphasis is on humor and the characterization of our counterculture-cool heroines — and how great is it to have a comic starring kick-ass girls whose creators are all women!
  • Mouse Guard – Tasked with protecting a medieval mouse society hidden away inside trees and tucked under cliff faces, the Mouse Guard fight against predators large and small. There’s more violence and death in this series than in most others we’ve discussed, but for the right kid, the action and adventure, coupled with the visions of the miniaturized mouse cities, are going to really light the imagination.
  • Ms. Marvel – One of Marvel’s biggest success stories in recent years, Kamala Khan is a teenaged Muslim girl from New Jersey who acquires shapeshifting powers. Great art, writing, and humor are the hallmarks of this series — and Kamala’s amazing popularity inspired Marvel to rethink how they wrote — and drew — female characters.
  • Yotsuba&! – The mostly normal adventures of the world’s cutest, funniest kid. This slice-of-life series has great characters and a fantastic sense of humor. It’s a manga series — it’ll take a little time for Western readers to get used to the backwards reading required for Japanese comics.

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  • Smile – A comic memoir about the teenaged years of Raina Telgemeier, the author/cartoonist of the book. After a minor accident does major damage to her teeth, our heroine recounts the years of dental and orthodontic therapy that followed. Excellent characters, fun cartooning, great for middle school kids and anyone going through orthodontic treatment.
  • Princeless – Adrienne is a princess being held captive in a tower by her cruel father — but Adrienne decides to team up with the dragon guarding her so she can rescue her sisters from confinement. This one’s notable for being one of the few all-ages comics that stars a heroine-of-color…
  • Cleopatra in Space – What would happen if Cleopatra — as in THE Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile — were accidentally teleported into the distant Egypt-themed future while still in her teens so she could attend space school and fight evil aliens and robots? I’ll tell ya what would happen — AWESOMENESS would happen! Mike Maihack’s comics are fun, funny, charismatic, and action-packed. They’re great for action-loving girls, but everyone in your family will enjoy this series.

MIDDLE SCHOOL AND UP

  • Atomic Robo – The star is an atomic-powered robot created by Nikolai Tesla. He runs his own company, staffed entirely by Action Scientists, and he runs around all over the world having adventures, fighting Nazis, and being awesome. There are giant robots, vampires from other dimensions, and the deranged and hilarious Dr. Dinosaur. Atomic Robo is one of the coolest comics on the planet. Your kids will love it, and you’ll love it, too.
  • Bandette – Follow the adventures of Bandette, the greatest, the most daring, the most charming thief in all of Paris! Bandette, her friends, her rivals, and her foes are fantastic and fun characters. This one will be extra fun for kids who love all things French and Parisian — reading the book is like getting an immersive crash course in French culture — or at least French culture through an Americanized lens.
  • Captain Marvel – There are lots of Captain Marvels at both Marvel Comics and DC, but this one is Marvel’s newest Captain Marvel. Carol Danvers was called Ms. Marvel for years, but since taking on her new name and awesome new costume, she’s gotten a lot more popular with readers and with Marvel itself. There’s going to be a movie about her sometime around 2018, so get in before the Hollywood hype machine drowns everything else out.

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  • Spider-Girl – In an alternate future, Peter and Mary Jane Parker had a daughter, and May Parker inherited her father’s amazing spider powers, fighting crime as Spider-Girl. The series had some teen angst — just like the classic Spider-Man comics — but lots of adventure and fun. Do some digging to find the old trade paperbacks.
  • Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant – A grand swashbuckling adventure starring Delilah, an expert swordswoman, archer, and acrobat, and Erdemoglu Selim, a mild-mannered lieutenant in the Turkish Janissary Corps, whose greatest pleasures involve resting quietly and brewing tea. Due to a misunderstanding, they have to go on the run to escape execution and to enjoy amazing adventures.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Cleopatra in Space

It’s Christmas Week, so back we go into the Holiday Gift Bag so you can find great gifts for the comics fan in your life. Today, let’s check out Cleopatra in Space!

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Some of y’all may recognize Mike Maihack’s name and art style — he’s the artist behind the wonderful “Batgirl and Supergirl” mini-comics. Well, he also created this astoundingly cool series of graphic novels. So far, there are two — “Target Practice” and “The Thief and the Sword” — but there’s a third one coming up in 2016.

So we start out with Cleopatra, teenaged princess, soon-to-be ruler of all Egypt — and a deeply bored kid who feels stifled by demands that she be a proper princess. She likes to go playing and exploring with a commoner friend, and one day, they accidentally uncover an unknown tomb, which ends up teleporting Cleo into the distant future. There, she discovers a high-tech Egypt-inspired utopia, where talking cats hold many positions of authority — and where she is foretold in prophecy as the savior of their society!

So on one hand — awesome! The future! Talking cats! But on the other hand — not awesome! She still has to go to school! Ugh, school. But on the other, other hand (We can do that because the future probably has three-handed aliens), part of her schoolwork involves combat training — and amazingly, Cleo is really, really good at combat. Which is good, because there are some bad people in the universe, and a lot of them want to kill her.

Oh, and one more bad thing — there’s no way to send Cleo back to her home time. So how can she get back to her friends and family? How is she going to become Queen of Egypt like history says she’ll be?

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Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s an incredibly fun story, with great art, characters, action, and more.

If you’re familiar with Haihack’s work, you’ll be pleased to hear that his art is just as charming and wonderful as ever. The main characters are wonderfully emotionally satisfying as art — and the background characters, scenery, and architecture are also really fun to look at. The design of the techno-Egyptian future is outstanding.

Character interaction and conflict are really great, too. Cleo is our main character, but as the Chosen One, a lot of mundane things often come really easy for her, and everyone’s expectations for her are really high — and her more normal, non-Chosen friends just kinda want her to hang out and have fun instead of being the uber-popular badass. This ends up being a lot more fun than you’d expect.

It’s also pretty cool seeing everyone take orders and learn lessons from cats — the cats are generally a lot more intelligent than humans and they hold most of the teaching positions. It’s pretty fun to watch Cleo sassing the cats who hold authority over her.

The action is entirely fantastic. We get just about every kind of action scene — shootouts, chases, melee, mass battles, you name it — and they’re all exciting and fun and amazingly kinetic.

These books will be really popular with anyone, young or old, who enjoys all-ages comics — they’ll probably be extra-fun for girls who crave their own comic book action heroes. Go pickem up!

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Holiday Gift Bag: Princeless

Well, here we are again. It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and we’re being told by advertisers and the media — and way too many people who should know better — that the very best post-Thanksgiving activity is getting up in the middle of the night to run around shopping malls like good credit-card-wielding psychotics, abusing exhausted retail clerks and breaking the bank on “doorbuster bargains” that aren’t actually very cheap. There is, thank goodness, a slowly growing backlash over the idea that we all have to go crazy for Black Friday — but on the other hand, there’s not really much to do after Thanksgiving, and it’s not like shopping is some sort of crime.

But you can shop better and smarter. You don’t have to deal with the gibbering lunatics at the department stores. There are lots of stores out there that don’t attract hordes of zombie shoppers — and one of them is your Friendly Neighborhood Comic Book Store, which tends to be much more sedate on Black Friday and which still has great gifts you can buy for the comics fan on your shopping list.

So let’s begin our annual review of some of the best comics gifts out there. Today, we’ll start with a comic series called Princeless.

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Careful readers should take note of the “L” right in the middle of the title — this is a story about a princess, but she’s certainly not defined any attempt to get herself a Prince Charming.

The story, written by Jeremy Whitley and illustrated by M. Goodwin, focuses on Princess Adrienne, who has been imprisoned at the top of a tower by her cruel father. The similarities to any other stories you may have read end there — she thinks the idiots trying to rescue her are, well, idiots. She teams up with the dragon assigned to guard her. She rescues herself. And then she decides to go rescue her sisters, who have all been similarly imprisoned in towers by their tyrannical father.

And when she realizes she needs decent armor, she goes to a cool half-dwarf armorer (she got her mother’s height) named Bedelia — and then she teams up with Bedelia, too, so they can go on fightin’ evil and rescuing her sisters!

Do Adrienne, Bedelia, and the dragon Sparks have a chance to rescue everyone? Will her fairly awful father come after her? Will her poetry-loving brother be able to aid her? And will Adrienne finally find some armor that’s built for action and not for cheesecake?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The story is pretty dang fantastic, the art is pretty dang fantastic, the whole thing is pretty dang fantastic.

Characterization is a big thing in this book, because Adrienne is a wonderful character. She’s peeved at all the nonsense around her — her father locking her in a tower, a bunch of idiots trying to rescue her and then getting eaten by a dragon, sexist guards who think they’re allowed to mack on every girl in the area. And she’s not just peeved — she also does something to deal with the things that peeve her. She’s no passive nobody — she gets up, she kicks ass, she learns how to kick more ass.

There’s a lot of great humor, too. This is designed to be an all-ages comic, and kids love a heroine who can crack jokes — and who can lose her dignity without losing her awesomeness.

If you’ve got a kid — or an adult, for that matter — who loves clever fantasy, they’ll love this. If they love kick-ass female heroes, they’ll love this. If they love kick-ass female heroes of color (because yeah, Adrienne’s dark skin isn’t a tan, and her straightened hair came out of a bottle — and it gets curly fast once the adventuring begins), then they’ll definitely love this.

You know what? You should go pick this one up.

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Magical Happy Unicorn Time!

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Phoebe and her Unicorn and Unicorn on a Roll

Let’s be honest, sometimes, all we want is a simple story about a little girl and her special unicorn friend.

These graphic novels (really a collection of strips from a webcomic) by Dana Simpson focus on a little girl named Phoebe who befriends an actual for-reals unicorn named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. Phoebe wins Marigold’s trust by freeing her from a devastating trap — Marigold had caught a glimpse of her reflection in a lake and was transfixed by her own beauty, and Phoebe broke the spell when she accidentally pegged her in the head while skipping stones. Marigold granted Phoebe a wish, and Phoebe wished for her to be her best friend.

From there, they have many adventures — well, they have mostly fairly kid-centered adventures. They torment Dakota, the school’s alpha — and other than that, they mostly hang out together and chat. And they razz each other about the relative strengths and weaknesses of their species. Marigold is able to go out in public thanks to her magical Shield of Boringness that makes everyone disregard the fact that there’s a freakin’ unicorn walking around in public, which gives the two pals the opportunity for many more shenanigans.

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Verdict: Thumbs up. You hear a lot of comparisons to Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes” strip when people talk about Phoebe and her Unicorn, and while Watterson is unquestionably a better artist — no knock on Simpson, by the way — very few cartoonists will ever be as great as Watterson — the comparisons are pretty apt. The characters are pretty similar, though Phoebe is better behaved, and Marigold is 100% real. And the strong sense of play and fun and wonder is prevalent throughout the story.

The artwork is plenty of fun — very expressive in the way the best cartoons are. Characterization is also a great strength — Phoebe is smart and kind and a little lonely and a lot awkward and funny — and Marigold is graceful and egotistical and magical and patient and affectionate.

Why should you get these books instead of just reading them for free online? Well, first, it’s always nice to be able to support cartoonists. And more important for you, it’s easier to read this to your kids before bed in book form than it is on the tablet. Yes, your kids will love it — and if you’ve got kids who love smart heroines their own ages and hilarious magical unicorns? Well, this is going to become an incredibly prized possession.

Get it for your kids. Heck, get it for you — there’s plenty of stuff for grownups to laugh at, too. Just go pick it up.

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Kissing Bandette

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Bandette, Volume 2: Stealers, Keepers!

It’s Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover’s long-awaited second collection of the daring and spectacularly French adventures of Bandette, the greatest thief in the world!

Bandette is still competing in a thievery contest with the courtly Monsieur, she’s still toying adorably with the heart of the hapless Daniel, and she’s targeting Absinthe and his deadly criminal organization FINIS for elimination. But while she still has her Urchins to assist her, and while Inspector B.D. Belgique of the Paris Police still pursues her (often just to see if she’ll help them take care of a more serious crime), Bandette has a new foe she must deal with: the deadly strangler Il Tredici!

There are old friends, new friends (like Pietro the Pig), unexpected allies, surprise returns, and more wit and derring-do than you can fit in the Louvre. There are also a number of backup stories about Bandette’s allies — and even one of her foes. Most of these are short comics, written by Tobin and illustrated by other cartoonists, but there’s also a prose story about how Bandette helps save one of the supporting characters in the main story.

Is there nothing Bandette cannot accomplish? Well, perhaps she cannot best Monsieur in their competition. Perhaps she cannot avoid the unlucky hands of Il Tredici. Perhaps she cannot avoid the vengeance of Absinthe. Perhaps she cannot save innocent lives from FINIS.

Ha ha! How droll! Of course Bandette can do all these things!

Verdict: Thumbs up. Like the first volume of this series, this is delightful, fun, charming, and an absolute joy to read. The stakes are higher, but the fun and the humor are still really strong — and there’s still nothing grander than watching Bandette pull off impossible and daring heists of wonderful things, all while keeping up a stream of hilarious and slightly demented patter.

Can’t say enough great things about both Tobin and Coover in this story. They both team up to create a beautifully French comic, with Tobin providing the gloriously Parisian plotlines and dialogue and Coover creating the romantic, exciting Paris that probably only exists in dreams.

You can also see Coover’s notes at the end of the comic about the people who inspired her depictions of all the major characters, which will probably send you reading back through the story to imagine what a “Bandette” movie would’ve looked like if they’d made it in the ’60s.

Don’t know what else to say. It’s an outstanding comic, great for kids or grownups, boys or girls. Go pick it up!

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The Giant Killers

GiantsBeware

Giants Beware!

I picked this one up a couple weekends ago, considered holding onto it to use for next December’s gift recommendations, then figured, heck with it, I wanted to go ahead and review it now.

I’ve been trying to keep my eye open for more fun all-ages comics, and I’d heard several friends recommending this one. It’s written by Jorge Aguirre and illustrated by Rafael Rosado, and it was released back in 2012. Our story is set in Mont Petit Pierre, a small quasi-medieval city surrounded by a fortress to keep monsters and other threats away. Our lead characters are Claudette, a young tomboy who craves battle against the legendary Baby-Feet-Eating Giant; Gaston, Claudette’s brother, a coward and remarkable pastry chef; and Marie, who aspires to become a princess; and Valiant, Claudette’s brave bulldog.

Our plotline: Everyone’s heard the stories about the giant driven away from the city years ago. Claudette is full of bravado and wants to go out and kill the giant herself. The Marquis, Marie’s father, mostly ignores her. Claudette’s father, the village blacksmith, who lost his legs and an arm in a battle against a dragon, and his assistant Zubair try to discourage her from foolish talk. Gaston only cares about staying away from danger and making delicious pastries. And Marie only cares about stuff that princesses care about.

But eventually, Claudette convinces Marie and Gaston to accompany her on her giant-killing quest. They must face danger at every turn, from a witch who wants to cook them into a potion to restore her beauty to the mad king of the river, who wants to force Marie into a marriage with his son — who is a fish. The townspeople are pursuing them, too, hoping to return them to the city where they’ll be safe. And of course, there’s a terrible giant waiting for them at the top of Giant’s Peak. Can the three children prevail against a giant?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a fantastic story, with grand adventure and derring-do, outstanding characterization, and great humor. It’s perfect for kids of all ages, and for both boys and girls.

Heck, let’s talk about the characters some more. Claudette is a rough-and-tumble little girl who specializes in goading everyone around her into action — she makes a great show of her bravery, but it doesn’t always hold up like she’d want it to. Her brother is such a richly strange kid — an avowed coward whose greatest passions are making delicious pastries and making swords. His father won’t let him learn the blacksmithing business yet, but it’s clear to everyone that Gaston doesn’t fit any stereotypes at all. Marie is every little girl who wants to be a princess — but where her friends are content to act spoiled and willowy, she is quite comfortable taking action, even if she’d prefer just ruling everyone from a throne.

Even the adults are interesting — the Marquis is a fool when it comes to leading a posse through the wilderness, but he seems a decent administrator of the village’s business — and he’s hiding something possibly dangerous, too. Claudette’s father throws a bit of a shock into us the first time we see him — we’re used to blacksmiths being big, strong men — which Augustine is — but to see him in a wheelchair is not the way we’re accustomed to imagining our blacksmiths. Not that he’s slowed down a bit — he’s the most capable adult we meet in the entire story. And Zubair, Augustine’s assistant, shows depths of wisdom and insight that few other characters possess.

What about our villains? The witch is definitely a bad guy — she captures the children and intends to sacrifice them for her potion so she can appease her own vanity. But she’s dealt with compassionately, and no one seems to perceive her as a truly vile person, particularly Augustine, who has encountered her before. The Mad Lake King is less evil, but he’s still a kidnapper and child-endangerer — and he’s still perceived as more of a misguided person than a true villain. And the giant — well, that would spoil things too much, wouldn’t it?

This is the type of story that’s going to be greatly enjoyed by kids who are around lower elementary age. The characters are well-drawn and interesting, but just a bit silly, and it’ll be incredibly easy for kids to identify with one or more of our heroes. There’s worlds of wonderful but bloodless action, but just as much time devoted to the kids thinking their way out of trouble and finding ways to empathize with others. With two of our heroes being young girls, it’s going to be a great book for girls who want to read comics full of adventure, action, and humor. And I think boys will enjoy it, too — because again, adventure, action, and humor!

It’s a great book for kids or for grownups — and especially for grownups who enjoy reading to their kids. Go pick it up.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Mouse Guard

My children, we have completed our traditional Thanksgiving celebration once again. We have imbibed turkeys and yams and pies. We have endured Uncle Edgar’s racist yammerings. We have watched football, unless we were sensible and avoided football. And it is now time for our nation’s most entirely noxious tradition: Black Friday, when we go out in the wee hours (or, if you particularly hate goodness and decency, Thanksgiving Day itself!) to track down dubious bargains, to battle for mall parking, to press your face obscenely against glass doors and scream at underpaid department store clerks to open the doors right now, and to fight other customers for, I dunno, wifi toasters or something.

But you don’t have to put yourself through that! In fact, there are many wonderful gifts you can get at your friendly neighborhood comics store! Shall we examine a few?

Let’s kick things off with Mouse Guard by David Petersen.

MouseGuard-Fall

This is a great series taking place in a quasi-medieval fantasy setting where mice are our heroes, facing off against various predator species. Our main characters for much of the series are Saxon, Kenzie and Lieam, who are all Guardmice, dedicating their lives to protecting mouse cities, citizens, and merchants and to combating threats like ferrets, weasels, owls, and snakes — and sometimes, they have to deal with threats from within mousedom.

The action is often jaw-droppingly awesome — after all, these are mice fighting and often beating owls, hawks, snakes, and other animals that are much larger and stronger. But even better is the character work — to our human eyes, one mouse looks much like another, so visually, the only difference we may see in most of them is different colored cloaks. But each of the mice we meet is a very distinct character, with different personalities and styles of speaking. The dialogue is often gloriously fun to read, too.

And a big chunk of the appeal of the story is the background. Each of the collections includes maps of the mouse territories, descriptions of their tiny cities hidden inside trees and rock walls, common mouse trades, and more. And it’s just grand fun to imagine life inside these tiny cities, intricately carved out by tiny mouse tools, guarded by brave mouse warriors, served by craftsmen and merchants.

MouseGuard-Winter

Verdict: Thumbs up. The whole series is incredible fun, with David Petersen’s amazing art and storytelling running through every major storyarc. Yeah, the action is great, the characterization and dialogue are wonderful — but there’s nothing like turning a page and discovering a whole new setting you never could’ve imagined before, whether that’s an entire city or just a simple tavern or workroom, built and decorated by mice.

It’s a kid-friendly series, but it’s not entirely violence-free — characters are terribly injured and sometimes die, so don’t expect to just drop this in your kindergartener’s lap unless you want to deal with the emotional traumas yourself. But for the right kid — and especially for the right adults — this is beautiful, emotionally vibrant storytelling that you’ll treasure.

MouseGuard-Legends

About the worst thing you can say about it is that it’s an unusual size for a comic — the books are just about square, so it can be hard to display them in some bookshelves. And there are quite a few books in the series — Fall 1152, Winter 1152, and The Black Axe are the books in the main storyline, while the two Legends of the Guard books are collections of stories from different creators — they’re all greatly worth reading, though. And you’ll also want to look for a new collection called Baldwin the Brave and Other Tales, which is full of Petersen’s incredibly charming Free Comic Book Day stories.

Mouse Guard is a perfect gift for kids and adults who love mice, action, and fantasy. You can find them at many comic shops, and you can also order them online from many different store. Go pick ’em up!

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The Triumph of Zita

ReturnofZita

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

When last we left our heroine, Zita the Spacegirl, she had been captured by the forces of galactic oppression. The third volume of Ben Hatke’s all-ages-friendly space adventure serial picks up from that point — Zita is brought before the tyrannical court of Dungeon World, jeered as Zita the Crime Girl, and thrown into a cell to rot, while her friend, Pizzicato the giant mouse, is slated for execution. The only way Zita can save him, even briefly, is by agreeing to work in the mines of the planet as a slave. Her only companions in her cell are Femur, a talking skeleton, and Ragpile, a talking, um, ragpile. And her only ally is a mysterious figure wearing a blue tentacled cloak…

Can Zita make an escape? Can she survive slavery and betrayal? Can she keep the villains from finding and enslaving Earth? Will her many friends ever manage to find her before it’s too late? And most important of all — Will Zita be able to save everyone?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Rousing, gloriously fun science fantasy. It’s a little darker than the previous books — not that they didn’t have their moments of darkness, too — but after all, the heroine spends so much of this story trapped in a dungeon breaking rocks while villains plot the invasion of her homeworld.

But for all the darkness, it just makes Zita’s victory all the more wonderful — and more bittersweet at the same time. It’s a story that can haul you bodily from one emotion to the next, where you exult in the appearance of each long-lost friend, and then cringe at the suggestion that Zita could lose them all again.

You’ve read the first and second volumes of these books, right? You loved the cosmic dust out of ’em, right? You’re definitely going to want to pick this one up.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Delilah Dirk

Already? Another visit to the Holiday Gift Bag? Well, we didn’t get new comics here yesterday because of a slowdown in shipping from last week’s ice storm, so I gotta have something to write about. So let’s talk about Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff.

DelilahDirk

You like swashbuckling adventure, don’t you? Nod your head — of course you love swashbuckling adventure. This story stars Delilah Dirk, an expert swordswoman, archer, and acrobat who travels the world stirring up trouble, and Erdemoglu Selim, a mild-mannered lieutenant in the Turkish Janissary Corps, whose greatest pleasures involve resting quietly and brewing excellent tea. Due to a misunderstanding — Delilah was robbing his employer, and Selim’s employer was an idiot — they end up on the run together, trying to avoid capture and execution while absconding with wonderful treasures.

Selim would really prefer to settle down alone in a quiet town, but he sticks with Delilah, partly out of duty and partly because everyone seems to want both of them dead. Actually, Selim might not quite admit it, but there are other benefits — adventure, flying boats, hair’s-breadth escapes, gold, tea, a beautiful woman who only almost gets him killed every few days… But will their amazing adventures end with them living lives of endless wealth or getting the pointy end of the headsman’s axe?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s an utterly beautiful comic. It’s a bit cartoony at times — and I know we’ve talked about how that ain’t a bad thing — but sometimes you turn the page and hit this astonishingly gorgeous landscape shot that completely transports you into the story.

Cliff is a fantastic storyteller — dialogue, characterization, body language are all hugely entertaining. Delilah and Selim are extremely appealing and charismatic people, and it’s a real pleasure to read about them, whether they’re gambling their lives against impossible odds or just sitting around their flying boat chit-chatting.

The action is just plain jaw-dropping. Bridges get blown up. Towers get holes punched in them. Bad guys get with swords and chairs, and thrown through windows, and clobbered with buckets and fists and feet and everything else they could get clobbered with. And there’s a flying boat. Did I mention that? A genuine flying boat. The action, again, is just plain jaw-dropping.

You’re going to want this for anyone who loves truly breathtaking swashbuckling adventure, for anyone who loves great comic book art, for anyone who loves fantastic female heroines and reluctant male heroes. Go pick it up, people, and do not delay.

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