There is a lot of talk in the comic book industry about the “graying” of comic books. Simply put, that means that kids are no longer jumping into the world of bright costumes and superpowers. As comic books matured and became more complex, the barrier of entry became higher. Now comics and comic fans are growing old together and will die out together; the last comic fan clutching the last comic book from the last comic book company.
And its true. I have several friends and co-workers with kids who ask me to recommend a comic book for their younglings, and it is hard to make a recommendation. There just isn’t much out there appropriate for kids.
Which is one of the reasons I loved The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man so much. Instead of wringing his hands and whinging that there was no comic-related material for young kids, Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) went out and wrote something. Now, all parents have a superhero book big enough to put into little hands.
The book looks beautiful. Jake Parker’s illustrations are iconic and bold. I can see the influence of Pixar’s The Incredibles in the character design, and this book could have easily been written about Mr. Incredible instead of Awesome Man. There are some very clever visual bits, my favorite being the underwater Fortress of Awesome which is a classic 1950s white picket fence house under and Atlantis-bubble, complete with separately bubbled doghouse.
The story is very simple and suitable. There is no recommended age group, but the text is usually single and double sentence paragraphs with easy English flavored with a couple of big words. The story mostly pits Awesome Man against single page battles with his villains like Professor Von Evil in his Antimatter Slimebot and the Flaming Eyeball. Unlike Kavalier & Clay which was full of winks and nods for comic fans, The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man plays it straight. And of course, the final panel is a sweet little scene where, no matter how awesome Awesome Man’s powers are, nothing can compete for awesomeness with a hug from mom.
If I have any complaints about The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man, it is that the story and illustrations are too simple. I wish Chabon and Parker had thrown in a few more “Easter eggs” to keep adult attention as well as kids. I remember my favorite books from childhood were the ones that I could pour over again and again, always finding something new. That is not the case here. You get everything on the first read.
And what is Awesome Man’s astonishing secret? Chabon put in an ongoing gag of “Can you spot my secret identity?” with the final punch line being that Awesome Man has more in common with Captain Marvel than Superman. If you get my drift.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the ’90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack’s reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.