I haven’t had time to prepare a proper review for today as I’m currently studying for an exam. Don’t worry though – so long as I pass, everything should be back to normal for next week!
Anyhow, instead I thought I’d use today’s post to talk about something a little different. If you follow me on Goodreads, you’ll already know that I’m also an avid comic book reader. While comics are a bit more mainstream now than they once were, they’re still often looked down upon as being of lesser value than other forms of art and literature. This is quite frankly crazy – as with the novels that I’ve reviewed, the quality of comics can vary quite wildly between titles, writers and artists.
Therefore, I thought I’d use this post to talk about my favourite comics for middle grade and young adult readers. Everything on this list (apart from Nimona) is an ongoing series so you should be able to find them at your local book store, library or comic book shop. I also should note that all of these series are all Western comics. While I do also read manga, these days I’m more of a Western comic book reader and so I’m not up on the most recent Japanese titles to recommend.
Anyhow, let’s start with some Marvel comics!
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (Marvel, 2015)
I already talked about Squirrel Girl’s origins in my review of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World, and really I couldn’t recommend this series more. It’s bright, colourful and infectiously optimistic. The series focuses on the title character – also known as Doreen Green – who has all the proportional powers of a squirrel, along with her sidekick Tippy-Toe and best friend Nancy (who has no powers, but does write Cat-Thor fan-fiction). Her adventures pit her against some of the biggest villains that the Marvel Universe has to offer, including Galactus, Doctor Doom and Loki, and she tends to save the day through her ability to talk them around to her way of thinking, rather than using brute force.
Squirrel Girl is, as you may be able to guess, a light-hearted spin on a superhero series that isn’t intended to be taken completely seriously. It’s written by Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics fame and its humour is drawn from the ridiculousness of its subject matter, as well as the foot notes and texts that accompany each issue.
Ms Marvel (Marvel, 2015)
Marvel has had a couple of superheroes who bear this name, but to be clear I’m referring to the series starring Kamala Kahn. Kamala is one of the Inhumans – a race of superhumans who gain powers when exposed to a mutagentic Terrigen Mist. Kamala’s powers are the ability to shape-shift parts of her body, growing larger or smaller at will. She takes on the Ms Marvel mantel to fight crime in her local community, though her behaviour causes a lot of friction with her very strict parents.
Kamala’s personal life is one of the things that makes her so interesting and unique. While also an exciting and often humorous superhero story, the series also focuses on what it’s like to be a teenage Muslim growing up in New Jersey. On top of her responsibilities as Ms Marvel, Kamala is also torn by her those that she owes to her family and faith. It’s an excellent and fair portrayal of Muslim life, which is something that’s rarely seen in Western media. Like most of the female characters on this list, Kamala is also completely non-sexualised. Comic books historically have been aimed at attracting a male readership, which (as a female reader) is why I have a particularly liking for ones that focus on the personal side of a superheroine, making them feel human rather than just being there for titillation.
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Marvel, 2015)
Like Kamala, this is another series that focuses on an Inhuman protagonist but takes it in a very different direction. Lunella Lafayette (also known as Moon Girl) is a child prodigy who often feels as though she’s looked down upon because of her youth. She likes who she is and is determined to find away to protect herself from the Terrigen Mist so that she never changes. During one of her attempts to do so, she encounters Devil Dinosaur – an intelligent tyrannosaurus who has been displaced from his natural time period – and the two soon become fast friends as they team up to fight crime.
While not as off-the-wall as Squirrel Girl, Moon Girl is a really fun series that is aimed at slightly younger readers than the other titles on the list. It’s a story about the friendship between a girl and her dinosaur, but also the difficulty fitting in and getting others to understand you when you’re viewed as being just a kid. The stories are colourful and east to follow, often seeming lower key than those of Squirrel Girl or Ms Marvel, but still giving the reader plenty of time to get to know and love the title characters. It also contains cameos from some better known Marvel characters – such as the Hulk – who fans of the movies will instantly recognised.
Blue Beetle (DC, 2006-2009)
For the first time here, I’m going to be a bit more specific with dates. While DC has had three different Blue Beetles, the series that followed their Infinite Crisis event was by far my favourite one. It may be a little harder to find, but it is worth it. This was the introduction of the third Blue Beetle – Jaime Reyes – a teenage boy who gained the ability to become the superhero after an extra-terrestrial scarab beetle embeds itself in his spine. Using his powers, which include flight and the ability to create alien weapons – he fights a race called the Reach who are intent on taking over the Earth.
Like Ms Marvel, this series focuses on teenage boy from a minority who aren’t often portrayed positively in Western media. Jaime also differs from a lot of heroes due to his large support network. He doesn’t keep his identity a secret – he shares it with all of his close friends and family to ensure that they stay safe. The Reach are an excellent enemy as their plan is slow and meticulous, making them a lot harder to fight as they don’t pose an obvious threat to humanity.
While it should be noted that the first arc of the series is a little weaker than the rest, but it’s worth sticking with as it picks up speed quickly after this. It should also be noted that this series crosses over into a number of other popular DC series at the time – including the Titans, Green Lantern and Booster Gold – but you don’t really need to know much about these titles to fully appreciate it.
Gotham Academy (DC, 2014)
This series is pretty different to the others on this list as it focuses on a group of mostly ordinary teenagers who attend a boarding school in Gotham City. The series mainly tells the story of Olive Silverlock – the daughter of a villain that Batman once put away in Arkham Asylum – though features a varied ensemble cast. The tone of the series is a mixture of teen drama and paranormal, often following the adventures of the Detective Club as they try to unravel the school’s dark past and many mysteries.
Gotham Academy is set within DC’s ever popular Batman mythos, though you don’t have to know much about this to fully appreciate the series. It has lovely artwork and offers a fresh take on the often bleak world of Gotham City through the eyes of its young protagonists. It balances its subject matter really well, allowing readers to grow attached to its cast of characters and containing a good dose of teen humour to counter its eerie tone. It also recently crossed over with the Lumberjanes, which leads me to the next title on my list…
Lumberjanes (BOOM Box!, 2014)
Lumberjanes is all about the adventures that five girls have while at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, which is not your typical summer camp. Although no one really talks about what’s going on, they’re often forced to face off with various different mythological creatures – including shape-shifters and mermaids – and so the team take it upon themselves to discover just what is really going on in the woods.
This series is, quite frankly, my favourite current comic book. Although its art style may seem a little simplistic, it’s a story that tackles the importance of friendship and teamwork in a completely non-saccharine way. Each of the girls is unique, with their own strengths and weaknesses that they’re forced face as they confront all manner of gribblies. Lumberjanes is appropriate for everyone from middle grade up, containing excellent stories which show girls just being ordinary girls. It also contains both gay and transgender characters in a completely non-sexualised way, which is always something I like seeing. If you love animations like Gravity Falls and Stephen Universe, this is definitely a comic book that you should read.
Nimona (HarperCollins, 2015)
Finally, as I’ve talked about Lumberjanes, I just thought I’d mention Nimona. This isn’t really aimed at younger readers, but I still think it would be readily enjoyed by them. It’s a fantasy graphic novel about a shape-shifter called Nimona who is determined to become the sidekick to local villain, Lord Ballister Blackheart.
Nimona started off life as a webcomic and was the debut work of Lumberjanes creator, Noelle Stevenson. And it’s fantastic. It gets off to a light start with great humour but becomes increasingly dark and complex as the story progresses, exploring the motivation of the main characters and showing that good and evil aren’t as simple as they may first appear. While the characters initially feel shallow, the grow increasingly deep as the story progresses and you start to understand their motives, making it a story that really benefits from multiple readings.
The graphic novel contains the entire series, so you don’t have to worry about hunting down multiple volumes and issues.
So, that’s it. Well, not it. There are hundreds of comic series out there and it’s not hard to find gems if you look. In case I got you curious, here are some links to where you can purchase the trade paperbacks (each collecting the first 4-6 issues of the series, except for Nimona which is complete):
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – [Link]
Ms Marvel – [Link]
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur – [Link]
Blue Beetle – [Link]
Gotham Academy – [Link]
Lumberjanes – [Link]
Nimona – [Link]
I hope you enjoyed this little post – normal service will resume next week!