Clearing out my review pile, here’s a look at some relatively (and I do mean relatively) new books for the tween-age set.
Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dodgeball Chronicles
by Frank Cammuso
The idea of grafting the King Arthur mythos onto a modern-day “boy makes good and new school” tale (a la Diary of a Wimpy Kid) seemed a bit forced to me at first, but Cammuso (Otto’s Orange Day, Max Hamm) does a good job creating an engaging, funny story that thankfully doesn’t force its metaphor the way say Tokyopop’s Avalon High series does.
The story involves young Arthur and his first day at a new school (called Camelot, natch), where he makes friends with and runs afoul of the evil principal Dagger and the ugly (and dumb) bully Joe Roman. He has a friend in the science teacher Merlyn and there’s a mysterious locker which nobody has been able to open. And so on and so forth. Eventually it all comes down to a big dodgeball game and if you honestly expect Arthur to lose then I have some property in Florida you might be interested in.
The cast are more types than actual characters, but that’s in keeping with the sort of broad, comical story Cammuso is telling here. Really, the book works best when it focuses on Arthur’s attempts to make it through the school day instead of the classic King Arthur allusions. Thankfully, that’s most of the book. Cammuso has a light, rubbery touch that I appreciate and he knows how to pace out the story for full dramatic or humorous impact. Anyone over the age of 13 will find this to be little more than an amusing trifle, but I’d easily recommend it for its intended audience.
Classics Illustrated: Through the Looking Glass
Adapted by Kyle Baker
This is a reprint of a book Baker did all the way back in 1990, when First Comics was trying their hand at revamping the Classics Illustrated line. This was also done during Baker’s “storyboard” phase where he would run the dialogue underneath the pictures and slice the panels up into tight little close-ups of his characters.
It’s not a method that really enhances this type of material to be honest. I think a more open, wider canvas would have allowed Baker to make better use of Carroll’s fantasy world. Here it just feels cramped and truncated. He also, I have to say, relies too heavily on John Tenniel’s initial illustrations. When you’re taking on a classic book of this nature, the last thing you want to do is constantly remind readers of the definitive version. Especially if your own art pales in comparison.
Part of the cramped style is no doubt due to the short page count. Back in 1990, Baker had to keep things tight as the notion of a 80 or even 100 page children’s comic was laughable. Today he could open up a little more. Honestly wouldn’t mind seeing him take another wack at this story. I think he’d do a better job the second time around.
Warriors Tigerstar & Sasha: Into the Woods
Erin Hunter Dan Jolley and Don Hudson
This is the second Tokyopop spin-off series based on Erin Hunter’s nigh-inexplicably popular series about feral kitty-cats. I didn’t mind it the first time around, but by now the bloom is decidedly off the catnip (Ha! See what I did there?).
This time the story’s about the two title characters and how they meet and fall in love. Yes, this is a comic about cats falling in love. The male is a rough and feral leader of a “clan.” The female is a shy house pet who must fend for herself after her owners grow old and die. Can these two crazy kids find happeness together in mixed-up world full of savage foxes and rival clans? Here’s a better question: Can I make it through a kids’ comics about cats describing their “funny feelings” for each other without being creeped out?
Wait, I think I know the answer to that last one.