On paper, Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers looked like a slam dunk for the 10-and-up crowd: take the animal sidekicks of beloved Marvel superheroes and feature them in their own time-traveling, kid-friendly adventure. In practice, however, Lockjaw turned out to be an all-ages comic in name only. The real audience for this four-issue series is adult readers, as the story is steeped in nostalgia for B-list Marvel characters unfamiliar to young fans and saddled with a script that’s too sophisticated for grade schoolers.
Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers, No. 1
By Chris Eliopoulos, Ig Guara, Chris Sotomayor, and Colleen Coover
Marvel, 2009, ISBN: 7-5960606821
32 pp., $2.99
The story begins on the Moon, where Reed Richards is debriefing the husband-and-wife team of Black Bolt and Medusa on the Infinity Gems. Individually, he explains, these six stones enable men to read minds, teleport, time travel, and alter reality; when combined, they possess such power they can destroy the universe, especially when wielded by a madman. As Richards assembles a team to find and secure the stones, Lockjaw, Black Bolt’s teleporting bulldog, digs up the Mind Gem. Now blessed with mental telepathy, Lockjaw decides to assist his master by teleporting to Earth to assemble his own team of animal superheroes. That posse includes Frog Thor, a helmet-clad amphibian who wields a magic hammer; Lockheed, a purple dragon who hung out with Kitty Pryde; Redwing, a haughty bird of prey; and Hairball, a cat possessing super-speed and agility, thanks to laboratory accident.
Lockjaw‘s problems start on the very first page. Advertising camouflages the beginning of the story, making it difficult to distinguish Reed’s monologue about the gems from an ad promoting Universal Studios Orlando. Though each of the characters is identified by name, readers unfamiliar with Marvel’s more obscure heroes will be at a loss to know why the artists have included Black Bolt and Medusa in the story. The same problem occurs when each new “pet avenger” is introduced: young fans may realize that Lockheed has a connection to the X-Men, but it’s doubtful they’ll recognize Hairball and Redwing as the animal companions of Speedball (a crime-fighter who originally appeared in The Amazing Spiderman before getting his own short-lived series) and The Falcon (one of the first African-American superheroes).
More irritating is the inclusion of Ms. Lion, a male Maltese — or is he a Shitzu? — with a dubious superhero connection: as he explains to Lockjaw and friends, “My master’s nephew is Spiderman, so I’m a hero, too. Sorta.” (And no, that isn’t a typo. The animals are equally puzzled by Ms. Lion’s name.) Ms. Lion is clearly meant to be comic relief, yet none of his patter is funny; he comes across as the kind of useless, chatty team member that will cause more trouble than he’s worth, testing both his companions’ and the reader’s patience.
The best reason to read issue one is Frog Thor’s origin story. Marvel assigned a separate artist, Colleen Coover, to handle this five-page sequence, a gamble that pays off nicely. Her artwork is looser and more expressive than the slick images found elsewhere in the first issue, bringing a touch of pathos, humor, and raw energy to the proceedings. More importantly, this sequence provides some badly-needed context, helping new readers understand who Frog Thor is without requiring them to know the original Marvel character on which he’s based.
Though the content is strictly PG, I’m hesitant to recommend Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers for the under-twelve set. My main concern is the script: it’s written at a high-school level, and studded with allusions to Silver and Bronze Age characters who have largely faded from view, making Lockjaw inaccessible to the very audience most likely to embrace the animals-with-superpowers concept. It’s a shame, as Lockjaw has all the right elements — humor, camarederie, time travel, and, of course, talking animals — to be a true all-ages comic instead of a kitschy nostalgia trip for adult fans.