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Sean William Scott

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Kid Friendly Reviews 

Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil by Jeff Smith, published by DC Comics

It's no exaggeration to say that this is one of the best comics of the year so far, and easily one of the best super-hero comics of recent memory. Smith manages the extremely difficult task of retaining the innocence and child-like charm of the original C.C. Beck Captain Marvel comics, while maintaining the gravitas readers have come to expect from contemporary super-hero comics. The result is a book which feels both nostalgic and modern.

The story is the by-now familiar retelling of Billy Batson's first encounter with the wizard and his bonding with the mighty Captain Marvel. Smith does an excellent job here of portraying the misery of Billy's existence, the horrible conditions he must live in while still possessing an optimistic innocence. A suggestion is made, briefly, that Marvel and the wizard are fantasies of Billy, which only serves to heighten the wish-fullfillment aspect of his transformations into Marvel.

Smith's art is also exceptional here, a nicely detailed work that doesn't stray far from the friendly, rounded world that Beck created. Smith isn't afraid to let the art carry the burden of the story-telling either, going for several pages at a time without words, letting Billy soak in the strangeness of his experiences just as the reader soaks in the art.

The strongest recomendation in the book's favor, though, is that Smith has created a fun, innocent comic for all ages that doesn't shy away from the kid-oriented origin of the material. Smith doesn't try to inject any false notes of seriousness or importance, or attempt to make the work more than a charming fable for adults and children.

Yakari and the Grizzly by Derib and Job, published by Cinebook

I've been filling a gap in my comics collection: I simply don't have enough European comics that aren't attempting to be "high art" available to me. And since I don't care for rampant heterosexuality of Heavy Metal-style comics, and since Trondheim doesn't appeal to me, and iBooks and Humanoids in limbo, what I've been scrounging for are interesting European kid's comics.

Yakari is a Native American boy who can talk to animals and helps them when they're in trouble. In this particular adventure, he helps a group of animals who are being forced to gather food for a bear. It's a very simple story, with a not very threatening menace, and everyone turns out to be all right in the end and very friendly with one another. It's cute, but is clearly on the extreme young end of the kids comic spectrum. It would be a very good book for the younger brother or sister of a child getting into comics with super-hero or manga titles, as it's straight-forward story makes for good practice in reading, and the conflict resolution is handled in a clever and non-violent way.

The art is attractive, and about on a par with other European kid's comic. If you've ever read any Asterix books or Peyo's Smurf comics, you know what to expect, art-wise. The animals are cute, and everything is appealingly stylized against more realistic backgrounds. Again, if you're looking for something for younger children and you want to avoid any potentially problematic content, this is an eminently suitable choice.

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