It’s time again to start the school year at that most prestigious school, Astronaut Academy. The timing couldn’t be better, since Hakata Soy, our mysterious hero, needs a distraction after getting some sad summer news from his crush, Princess Boots. But returning to Astronaut Academy doesn’t have the promise of solace that Hakata was hoping for, as there is trouble afoot. There’s a unexplained heart-thief causing damage among the student body and it turns out Hakata will have to take place in the Fireball tournament in place of his MVP roommate. The premise doesn’t even hint at how wonderfully zany the world of Astronaut Academy is. Everything about the first book is still intact (like the secret agent Spanish teacher that’s a panda), with so many added bonuses (like the security bears, they’re great). It’s a world that’s fun to be back in, but by no means does one have to read the first book to jump on the bandwagon. The format of the story is the same, with the reader being introduced to the bevy of characters through short two- to four-page stories. What’s different in this iteration is that there is more of a narrative thread connecting all of the students. In this volume they all need to deal with the mysterious heart thief. In the world of Astronaut Academy, everyone apparently has the constitution of a video game character and can spare a heart or two for a loved one.
Dave Roman uses the same meta-humor that was rampant in the first volume. A cheering crowd at a Fireball game won’t be caught yelling, “Yay!” when they could be yelling, “Let the enthusiasm of our screaming inspire you to achieve victory!” It’s so self-referential and satisfying. There’s also a moment where a flower springs out of a student’s head, seemingly for no reason, and it stays planted there till the end of the book.
Roman uses tropes well, but the jokes land best when the reader is old enough to recognize a trope in action. It’s an absurd humor that would track well with older elementary students and middle school students. Roman also employs a simple cartooning style that does everything it has to. This means he can explode children and have monster blasts without actually showing anything except a few action lines and a charred face. It’s the type of artwork that encourages young kids to emulate it and they’ll be pretty successful. This isn’t meant as a slight – a lot of the best comics legacies lie in reproducible artwork. What’s better, it’s the type of early comic experience that invites readers to make their own comics. And while the style is simple, all of the characters are unique enough in appearance that you can tell them apart.
Astronaut Academy is a crazy place to go to school, and an even crazier place to read about. But if ninja astronauts and dinosaur riding seems like something you want to learn more about, I’d recommended stepping into this frenzied world.