Vader's Little Reader

Despite the insistence of people who haven’t picked up a comic since Adam West was on the air, comics aren’t really for kids anymore. Modern comics are full of sex, violence, and all manner of problematic details that a parent might not want their kid seeing. There are, of course, ‘all-ages’ comics, but not all of them live up to that name. Many are aimed at the very young and can leave older readers feeling patronized, while others are simple stories full of easter eggs that go over the head of the supposed target audience and bore pickier comic-fans.

With that in mind, I thought I’d do my part to aid those in the world’s most important profession and give some suggestions to those looking to bring their little nerds up right.

It’s hard to deny that there’s a strange gap in the comic industry where fans between the ages of ten and fifteen aren’t really catered to. Nevermind that this is perhaps the most essential demographic that comic companies could market to, young enough to be hooked for life, but old enough that they won’t just grow out of it, but the facts are the facts. Even more troublesome is the comparative lack of great comics for women, regardless of age. All things considered, it can be understandably hard to share a love of comics with a pre-teen daughter. This article isn’t written exclusively for parents of nerdling daughters, however it’s my belief that girls need to see that they have a place in nerdom and that boys need to learn that there’s nothing wrong with identifying with female characters (lord knows, their female peers have had to learn to identify with men), and, to that end, I’m going to try to focus on comics that might appeal to teen and pre-teen comic fans of any gender.

One other thing to mention is that what is appropriate for any given age varies tremendously from parent to parent. Some feel that their children see enough violence as it is. Others prefer that their sons not be exposed to any sexual content. And still others feel that puberty has done more than enough to inure their daughters to blood, horror, and awful people. And what is sexual content or violent content? Is it alright to see someone die if there’s no blood? Is there a difference between sexualized and non-sexualized nudity? The point is, I’ll try to let you know what you’ll find inside these comics, but I can’t know what your standards are. If you’re trying to share a love of comics with your children, or even just encourage an interest you don’t fully understand, a little noninvasive interest on your part will do wonders.

And with that, we’re off.

 

Gargoyles

Clan Building Volume 1Whether you love intelligent, well-written world-building or just adore the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I can’t recommend Gargoyles highly enough. Introduced as a uniquely high-brow action cartoon in 1994, Gargoyles follows a clan of Scottish Gargoyles, winged humanoids who turn to stone during the day, as they find themselves awakening in then modern New York after being cursed and betrayed by humans.

The show was the brain-child of Greg Weisman, who recently headed the much beloved Young Justice and the underrated Spectacular Spider-Man animated series. Weisman’s love of literature and respect for his audience ensured that the show always walked that dangerous tightrope of being smart enough for an adult but accessible to my five year-old brain.

Gargoyles featured a great cast of characters including Demona, the show’s Magneto-esque lead villainess; David Xanatos, of Xanatos Gambit fame; Eliza Maza, the clan’s amazing human confidant and an able member of the NYPD; and even the historical MacBeth mac Findlaich of Moray.

The show ran for two seasons (the latter exceedingly long) under Weisman’s leadership, before being retooled into the inferior Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles. The show is now available online, but after insistence from fans, Disney has finally released the rest of the series on DVD, a clear indication of the series’ enduring popularity.

While I could go on a long time talking about all the television programs you could share with your kids, the reason I bring this up is that Gargoyles was resurrected a few years ago by Slave Labor Graphics as a line of comics that picked up where the second season left off. Available in individual issues or three small graphic novels, the Gargoyles comics are just as wonderful as the show was, and even benefit a bit from the looser censorship.

There’s nothing terribly objectionable in Gargoyles. One notable episode deals rather seriously with gun safety and the characters tend to wear loincloths, but violence is controlled and usually has appropriate consequences and sex is rarely more than hinted at, if even that. If any of that upsets you, you don’t have give it to your child, but Gargoyles’ thoughtful examinations of good and evil, fully considered world, and respect for literature (Shakespeare especially) helped make me a smarter, more engaged individual.

Through two seasons and three books, Gargoyles is a brilliant concept, full of strong writing and strong characters (male and female). I still do my best to introduce my friends to Gargoyles. It’s one of the best examples of a truly all-ages franchise I can think of.

 

New Teen Titans

New Teen Titans 1Once DC Comics’ best selling title, the characters of Marv Wolfman and George Perez’ groundbreaking run on New Teen Titans will be familiar to many teens due to the Teen Titans television show that aired in the early to mid 2000s and its successor, Teen Titans Go!

While there were comics set in the continuity of that show, New Teen Titans is an entirely different animal. Widely praised for its strong writing and able handle on the struggles of being a teen, New Teen Titans is a rare gem among comics. Wolfman reunited three of the original Teen Titans (Robin, Donna Troy, and Kid Flash) and introduced three more (Starfire, Raven, and Cyborg), rounding out the roster with Beast Boy of the Doom Patrol (now going by Changeling). The characters were no more heroes than they were teens and friends as much as they were teammates. Fans saw Robin grow into Nightwing, Kid Flash fall in love with Raven, and Starfire and Wonder Girl become the closest of friends, and that sense of being there with them made it essential reading for the time.

First hitting the spinner racks in 1980, New Teen Titans has many adult fans and, as I found out in an antique shop with an undervalued dollar bin, they’re still amazing comics. The series is probably a little heavy for some tweens, but there’s very little in it to make it objectively unsuited for young teens. Violence is a part of the series, as it is in nearly all superhero comics, and you’ll probably see Robin beaten up more than once, but there’s very little in the way of flat-out gore or trivial death. George Perez definitelyTickle Fight enjoyed basking in his character’s sex appeal (male and female), but, by today’s standards, the art is fairly tame. Starfire is a truly amazing character whose strength and essential goodness overshadows her sexuality by leaps and bounds. If the name is most familiar to you from the outcry over Red Hood and the Outlaws, know that, while she’s not exactly modest in these stories, the fervor was the result of how well she was written here. In short, if you can handle Donna Troy having a magical orgasm on-screen in one early issue, you’ll be fine.

New Teen Titans is a pretty wonderful run of comics and the sort of thing that makes a life-long fan. The Titans are all wonderful and actualized people and their adversaries are some of the best in the biz.

The best ways to pick up these golden oldies are probably either in individual issues or in the incredible omnibuses that DC has put out recently. One warning about that is that they run $75 a piece. However with anywhere from twenty to thirty issues inside and retrospectives from the creative team, they do their best to make it worth it. Maybe a nice birthday gift?

 

Ichiro

IchiroWhile it’s kind of ambiguous who the target audience of Ichiro was, it’s perfectly clear that it’s a wonderful graphic novel for readers of any age. Ichiro is a fascinating look at growing up and how to face a divisive world; as meditative for an adult as it is educational for a tween just beginning to grasp how poorly their supposed elders have lived up to their own insistence that we treat others how we want to be treated. Starring a young half-Japanese boy, who’s never known his American father or his mother’s homeland, the book provides an escape for children of Asian descent, children of mixed race, and anyone who’s ever felt like they don’t fit in (read: everyone). It’s manga inspired artwork may give the story a familiar tone and some may find, as I did and would have at the same age, that the knowledge they’ve gained from anime and manga gives them a leg up on this book (which is always a nice feeling, whether you’re five or fifty).

Ichiro is exciting, intellectually stimulating, and currently available for cheap on Amazon. It’s a great book to give a teen, and one of those rare volumes that can start a conversation without boring either party to sleep.

If you’d like to know more about Ichiro, check out my review.

 

If none of those seem quite right for the special geekling in your life, check out these alternate suggestions.

 

Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go play with my dinosaurs and try to wash the stink of being old off of me.