Written by Donald Lemke, drawn by Ethen Beavers
Picture Windows Books, $7.99
Given how dangerous being a superhero can be, I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone under the age of 18, and I don’t care what Robin says or does (If Robin jumped off the Gotham Gate bridge with a bat-rope, would you?).
But what about reading about superheroes? When is it safe to start doing that? Well, you can probably start doing that as soon as you learn to read and, if you haven’t learned to read yet, a grown-up can probably start reading to you about superheros almost immediately, so long as they pick the right books.
Might I suggest Batman is Brave and Superman Fights for Truth? These are a pair of new board books for the youngest readers (or the youngest get-read-to-ers) by writer Donald Lemke and artist Ethen Beavers, featuring thick cardboard-y pages and rounded edges, making it almost impossible to get hurt reading them (or having them read to you, or pretending your reading them, or throwing them around, or dropping them or sucking on the edges).
Each consists of either 8 or 16 pages, depending on how you want to count, since each two-page spread consists of a single image with a sentence or so of prose spread across it. Beavers draws in the slightly simplified, Bruce Timm-derived style of DC’s animated series, like those starring these two heroes and the later Justice League series (a fact that speaks pretty strongly of how strong and how influential those particular designs have been, particularly given how many different versions of the characters, particularly Batman, since).
In Batman is Brave, Lemke uses one of children’s favorite heroes to combat one of children’s most pervasive fears: The dark.
“Nighttime can be scary, but Batman is not afraid,” the narration reads. “The dark can be scary, but Batman is not afraid.” And so it goes, while Beavers draws images of a smiling—or at least smirking—Batman swinging over the city and riding on a Bat-cycle, and, at the climax, facing some famous if unidentified Batman bad guys (“Monsters and villains can be scary, but Batman is not afraid”).
They technically fight, but the fighting happens off-page, and there isn’t really any violence to be seen. On one page, The Joker is shown throwing some playing cards like Clayface, Riddler and others crowd behind him, and on the next page Batman blocks the cards and throws a Batagrang, but no attacker and attackee are ever on the same page at the same time). The emphasis is on the fun parts of being Batman, not the violent parts.
The book ends with one more restatement of the title, this time with a smiling Batman looking at the reader and, in a comic book dialogue bubble, adding “So are you!”
Superman is summoned by a street vendor calling for help. Titano, the giant ape with Kryptonite vision that Superman occasionally tangles with, has stolen the fruit vendor’s bananas, and Superman is on the case.
Titano, drawn as a ape only about twice as large as Superman himself, is clearly not holding any bananas, but guiltily tries to escape Superman. Using his super-powers (X-Ray vision to find him hiding in the leaves of a tree, flight to follow him to the top a skyscraper). Each time Superman finds him, he confronts him with the words: “Where are the bananas? Tell the truth!”
Eventually Titano lets loose a giant ape burp, which sends empty banana peels falling from his mouth.
“Letting out the truth always makes you feel better,” Superman says.
Lessons learned? If you’re brave like Batman the dark and nighttime aren’t really scary, you should always tell the truth and, when eating bananas, for goodness’ sake, don’t forget to peel them first.