Comic Books

All-ages comics make great stocking stuffers

This year has seen a bounty of great graphic novels and trade paperback collections for the “all-ages” group. And in many cases, they truly are for all ages, not just kids.

Sure, they’re kid-friendly, but they’re so good, grown ups will enjoy reading them to the tykes in their lives — or maybe just borrowing them after they go to bed. Heck, buy them even if you don’t have any children.

Here are some of my favorites from 2011 if you’re looking for some great gift ideas.

“Reed Gunther” (Image) — Image picked up this rootin’ tootin’ Western that was being self-published by brothers Shane and Chris Houghton. Chris used to live here in Metro Detroit until he joined his brother in California earlier this year. It’s about bumbling, lovable cowboy Reed Gunther; his trusty steed and best friend, Sterling, a grizzly bear; and potential love interest Starla. But it’s not just a Western as Reed and the gang have to deal with monsters throughout the first story arc, which was just collected into a trade paperback. It reminds me a bit of “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.” with a lot of humor thrown in with the action. And then there’s Reed’s epic mustache.

“Scratch 9″ (Ape Entertainment) — I’m a cat person, so I might be a little biased in saying how much I enjoyed Metro Detroit writer Rob Worley’s and artist Jason T. Kruse’s adventurous kitty. It’s about a cat named Scratch who runs farther away from home than anticipated and winds up in the clutches of mad scientist Dr. Schrodinger. The mad scientist accidentally gives Scratch the power to call upon his other eight lives, past and future. But Scratch just wants to get back to his human, Penelope. It’s a delightful story, now available in a single book.

“Marineman” (Image) — Aside from the blonde hair and ability to breathe under water, Ian Churchill’s (“X-Men,” “Superman/Batman”) Marineman is no mere Aquaman rip-off. Churchill mined the imagination of his 8-year-old self for his new creation, which he writes and draws in bombastic style. Steve Ocean is a world-famous marine biologist with a reality show and everything. He also does some work for his dad and the government. He can’t talk to fish, but he can breathe underwater, swim at incredible speeds, etc. And when his secret gets out, things get crazy. Image recently collected the first six issues, which include a fascinating origin story, into a trade.

“The Last Unicorn” (IDW Publishing) — Writer Peter B. Gillis and artist Renae De Liz present a stunningly beautiful adaptation of Peter S. Beagle’s classic fantasy novel about a unicorn who goes on a quest to see if she’s truly the last of her kind, meeting various humans along the way and battling a mad king and a fiery Red Bull for the fate of her kind. The text is good (and aimed at a slightly older reader), but the art will take your breath away.

“Super Dinosaur” (Image) — Robert Kirkman may be best known for the zombies of “The Walking Dead,” but now he’s making a name for himself in the all-ages market with this fun, exciting series, created with his “Astonishing Wolf-Man” artist, Jason Howard. Kids love dinosaurs, and genius 10-year-old Derek Dynamo has one as his best friend. Super Dinosaur is a genetically engineered reptile, an early result of a series of experiments. The book is a great throwback to cheesy adventure serials, with lots of alliteration and horribly hilarious pun names. The first story arc, which featured Derek and SD fighting Derek’s father’s arch nemesis, Max Maximus, is now available in a single collection.

“Darkwing Duck,” “DuckTales,” and lots more Disney (Boom! Studios) — Boom! Studios certainly did right by their Disney license in many ways this year, so I definitely recommend picking up any of the trades from its titles, which ranged from classic characters Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy, to mostly terrific re-creations of the “Disney Afternoon” cartoon block with “Darkwing Duck,” “DuckTales” and “Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers.”

“Level Up” (First Second) — Writer Gene Luen Yang and artist Thien Pham present a whimsical story about serious issues, the biggest being living up to your parents’ expectations. It’s the story of college student Dennis Ouyang, who’s on the verge of flunking out of school from lack of focus, the burden of his dead father’s wishes and an addiction to video games. Enter four cute, bossy angels from the cover of a greeting card. They clean up his act enough to get him into medical school, but his inner turmoil still gets in the way. Pham’s watercolor illustrations are a great addition, softening some of the story’s darkest edges while injecting a bit more humor with the angels.

“Amelia Rules: The Meaning of Life … and Other Stuff” (Simon and Schuster) — Jimmy Gownley brings us a new installment of the ongoing saga of Amelia McBride and her friends as they face the common struggles of growing up with humor, a bit of grace and, especially in this volume, a lot of attitude. But there’s a lot of heart in Gownley’s story and art.

“Sidekicks” (Scholastic) — Dan Santat’s hero story is a hoot from start to finish. Roscoe, Fluffy and Shifty long to be the pet sidekick of their owner, aging superhero Captain Amazing. But an earlier unfortunate incident with his former pet sidekick, Static Cat, has left him sad and wanting to protect his animal companions. But the critters must save the day when Captain Amazing is in danger. It’s a familiar story told extremely well, with a couple surprises, and done up in bright colors and adorable art.

“Americus” (First Second) — Aiming for a slightly older audience, MK Reed and Jonathan Hill tell a story of a boy who stands up to the small minds of his conservative small town. Some parents start a furor over a bestselling book series available at the library about the magical adventures of Apathea Ravenchilde. High school freshman and bookworm Neal Barton takes on the fight with his friends at the library. The book does great job at making fun of the ignorance and self-righteousness that make these kinds of fights all to common in libraries and schools around the country without being a total slam job.