A quick look at two awesome recent books:
Captain Amazing is an aging superhero who has a hard time with a villain and contemplates getting a new sidekick to whom he can pass the reins. His former sidekick was his pet feline, Static Cat, who had electrical powers. But that didn’t end well, and he says the new sidekick won’t be one of his pets.
That doesn’t sit well with his stuck-up dog, Roscoe, who’s determined to take that spot. Meanwhile, hamster Fluffy and new chameleon pet Shifty head out to do some of their own superheroics. Plus, there’s the mysterious vigilante hero the Claw on the streets.
And when Captain Amazing is in further danger, even the smallest of the super heroes must show his mettle and save the day.
Santat has a great, painted-cartoony art style that’s still steeped in strong comic book storytelling. I so want Disney or Nickelodeon to pick this up.
While everything is pretty straightforward and the emotional arc (family infighting, pulls together at the end) not terribly original, Santat dresses is all up in bright colors and a lot of fun. The story feels a bit familiar because it’s worked for generations and will work for more.
You root for Fluffy, Shifty and the Claw from the start — and even Roscoe as Metal Mutt, after a while. Santat throws in a lot of great details, from an unconventional superhero weakness to the penguin club where the animals hang out. (Yes, penguin waiters have been done before, but these guys are so cute!)
“Sidekicks” is a great book to hand to young comic readers, and then you should read it after they go to bed. GRADE: B+
“Wandering Son” by Shimura Takako (Fantagraphics Books) – A more serious book is this new hardcover manga, presented larger than you usually see manga here in the U.S. There’s nothing offensive to worry about (except one word), but it’s definitely for older readers in theme.
Fifth grade is the year everything starts changing for most kids. Adolescence is setting in, and as the body changes, all these other feelings start creeping in. LGBT kids have it even tougher, as they’re trying to deal with their new feelings in a society that still largely frowns on them (at best).
Throw in the issues Shuichi Nitori and Yoshino Takatsuki are dealing with, and it may be even harder. Shuichi, who’s starting a new school, is a boy who’s realizing he wants to be a girl, and Yoshino is a girl who wants to be a boy. As they find each other’s secret, they form an easy friendship.
Gender roles and cross-dressing are often fodder for laughs in anime and manga, but this is the most serious and thoughtful take I’ve seen on the subject. And I love how Shimura doesn’t make things too angsty for the characters. Maybe that will come later, but for now it’s more of a quiet discomfort — the reader is finding out at the same time as the characters, and it’s quite touching.
It’s also interesting to see how the other characters react. One girl in particular, Saori, without even knowing the full truth about Shuichi, is enamored of him and of seeing him dressed as a girl. She goes so far as to suggest the class do a play in which the boys play the girls and vice versa.
The pace is a tad sluggish, and as much manga as I’ve read, I still sometimes trip over storytelling shortcuts and undefined flashbacks common to the form. The author herself admits some of her characters look too much alike.
But “Wandering Son” is a tender take on a taboo subject. I wish it success in the American market. GRADE: B
A 12-episode anime series based on the books is available on Crunchyroll.