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Inside Good Comics For Kids

Monthly mini-reviews: ‘Aero’, ‘Bug Boys’, ‘Star Wars’ and more

Aero Vol. 1: Before the Storm
Writer: Zhou Liefen
Artist: Keng
Marvel Entertainment; $17.99
Rated T+ for teens 13 and above

Shanghai-based, wind-powered superhero Aero’s real-world origin is just as interesting as her fictional one. Like her fellow Chinese hero Sword Master, Aero was created as part of a 2018 collaboration between Marvel and Chinese Internet company NetEase, starring first in a digital comic before making her American debut in 2019 miniseries War of The Realms: New Agents of Atlas. This trade paperback collects six issues of that Chinese series, which has since been published serially in the states, with New Agents of Atlas writer Greg Pak credited with the English adaptation.

Actually, her real-world story is probably more interesting than her comics one. Lei Ling is a talented and powerful architect who secretly protects her city in her superhero identity, which she struggles to keep from her boyfriend, who has a particularly low opinion of Aero. About half of this book is devoted to her fighting skyscrapers turned into giants, a mysterious sorceress, and a villain that controls rock similar to the way she controls air, before it flashes back to begin to tell readers how she got to that point in the second half of the book.

Keng’s artwork is incredible and offers about as sharp a contrast from the rest of the Marvel line as one can imagine, but beyond the Asian style and lush coloring, there’s not much to the book that one couldn’t find in virtually any other American superhero comic. In that regard, maybe Aero is a little too much of a Marvel comic and not enough of a Chinese one.

Bug Boys
Writer/artist: Laura Knetzger
RH Graphic; $13.99

Best friends Rhino-B and Stag-B enjoy a series of adventures in and around Bug Town, where they live with a variety of other anthropomorphic insects and arthropods. If their depictions and the elements of their setting don’t seem quite realistic, that’s because Laura Knetzger’s entire book is told in “bug vision,” which we see compared and contrasted with “human vision” only briefly in one of the earliest stories, “Bug Napped.”  See, in bug vision, Rhino-B and Stag-B and their friends are adorable little bug-people who live in a world much like ours, but smaller, while human beings are big, featureless sinister shapes; in human vision, they look like an ordinary rhinoceros beetle and stag beetle, while the humans look like, well, humans.

The two pals live together and are inseparable—not counting the one chapter where they have a falling out—and love reading, working with Dome Spider in the Insect’s Library, exploring, hanging out with their friends and, occasionally, saving the day, as they do when they negotiate a peace treaty between a warring hive of bees and a termite colony.

Though a substantial book, Bug Boys reads a bit like a chapter book, with each chapter telling a more-or-less complete story while gradually building up a whole distinct world for the protagonists. This is the second of two offerings from the new RH Graphic imprint I’ve read, following The Runaway Princess, and so far they’re two-for-two in terms of providing excellent comics for an all-ages audience.

Green Lantern: Legacy
Writer: Minh Lê
Artist: Andie Tong
DC Comics; $9.99

DC’s Green Lantern concept has been one of the publisher’s most consistent avenues for introducing more diverse heroes into their line since 1972, when John Stewart got a Green Lantern ring and became DC’s first black superhero. That legacy continues with this original graphic novel, introducing new Green Lantern Tai Pham, a 13-year-old, third-generation Vietnamese-American who inherits his grandmother’s jade ring when she passes away in the middle of the night.

That ring is no ordinary ring, though, and in short order Tai learns that his grandmother was one of Earth’s Green Lanterns, partnered with Stewart to stave off intergalactic threats like the villain Sinestro. Stewart will now train Tai…once he figures out why the ring chose a kid, and if it’s really oaky for someone so young to join the Green Lantern Corps. Evil’s not awaiting a greenlight, though, and a member of Sinestro’s “Yellow Lantern” corps arises in Tai’s neighborhood at the very same moment.

Closer in style and tone to DC’s regular line of serially-published comic books than most of the other graphic novels in the publisher’s new kid and teen-focused initiative, Legacy should find its audience among DC fans, and it provides a nice enough, low-commitment entry point to one of super-comics’ more intimidating franchises.

Star Wars Adventures Vol. 8: Defend The Republic
Writers: Cavan Scott, Nick Brokenshire, Delilah S. Dawson and George Mann
Artists: Derek Charm, Nick Brokenshire, Mauricet and Valentina Pinto
IDW Publishing; $9.99

The latest trade paperback collection of IDW’s Star Wars Adventures, which is differentiated from Marvel’s many Star Wars series by featuring short, standalone stories and being created for an all-ages audience, features stories set during the second, prequel trilogy of Episodes I-III. So the protagonists consist of Princess Amidala, Anakin Skywalker, Ben Kenobi, Yoda, clone trooper Captain Rex, a couple of those battle droids that say “Roger, roger” and yes, even Jar Jar Binks. (That Jar Jar story, by the way, is maybe the best and most fun among this batch, surprising as that may seem to those with strong feelings about the controversial character).

There are more ways than ever to experience Star Wars stories these days, but one advantage that this series has over many of the other media is that this comic really takes advantage of and emphasizes the galaxy far, far away as a setting, a place where adventures of different kinds are always happening. Here, Star Wars isn’t just epic stories of good vs evil or desperate battles for the fate of the universe. Sometimes it’s just a matter of exploring with a friend, completing a mission or, as in the recurring “Tales from Wild Space” features, telling a story.

Star Wars: The Legends of Luke Skywalker: The Manga
Writer/artists: Akira Fukaya, Takashi Kisaki, Haruichi, Subaru and Akira Himekawa
Viz Media; $14.99
Rated T+ for Older Teen

Author Ken Liu’s 2017 middle-school prose book The Legends of Luke Skywalker featured a premise that seemed part Canterbury Tales, part Rashomon: Deckhands on a spaceship trade stories about the galaxy’s greatest and most mysterious hero, each of them featuring a very different version of the star of the original Star Wars trilogy. The manga adaptation dispenses with the framing device, and simply presents four different short stories told from different perspectives and in different styles by different creative teams.

Is Luke Skywalker a mysterious and powerful boogeyman of The Empire, willing to show mercy to inspire even his enemies? Is he the champion of droids everywhere, owing to the fact that one of his best friends is a droid and his cyborg hand makes him himself something of a droid? Is he a hopeful dope whose heroics in The Return of The Jedi were owed mostly to a talkative space flea on his scalp? Is he a philosophical and unflappable hero whose sense of wonder and hope are infectious, even under the most dire of circumstances?

Yes. He’s all of those things in this exciting manga, which filters the world of Star Wars through the storytelling prism of Japanese comics, resulting in a quartet of stories that vary as much in tone as they do perspective, but whose quality is always consistent. They’re as good as they are different from what one might come to expect from Star Wars comics today.

Superman Smashes The Klan Book Three
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Artists: Gurihiru
DC Comics; $7.99

Gene Luen Yang and art team Gurihiru’s loose adaptation of the 1946 Adventures of Superman radio show story line “Clan of The Fiery Cross” ends just as strongly as it began, if not more so. In addition to concluding the plot line referred to in the title, which involves disillusioning the main villain about the true nature of the Klan and the ideology he thought it fought for, this chapter also completes two powerful character arcs. Roberta Lee finds her place in Metropolis, and Superman finally, publicly embraces his alien heritage, which means he’s able to use his full array of superpowers most effectively, but not without having to expose his true origins to his friends and neighbors and opening himself up to their prejudice.

In addition to being a beautifully-drawn, (unfortunately) timely and relevant comic about complex issues told in surprisingly nuanced terms (there’s a moment in this book where Chuck Riggs, the nephew of the Klan’s Grand Scorpion, finds himself questioning whether or not the idea of wanting to live only among one’s own kind is really all that bad, for example), Superman Smashes The Klan is one of the strongest explorations of Superman as the ultimate immigrant…despite how well he can “pass” as the ultimate, stereotypical American of European descent.

Yang and Gurihiru’s miniseries has turned out to be one of the better Superman stories in recent memory, no small feat, given how many Superman stories are told in comics and across other media these days.

A complete collection of the series will be available in May.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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