SMASH: Trial by Fire

smashAndrew Ryan is your typical fifth grader. Like all the other kids in town, he hero-worships the Defender, greatest hero the world has ever known. He daydreams about being a hero himself: Sparrowhawk! But real life isn’t so heroic. He’s picked on by bullies, daydreams in class, and at home he’s often stuck with his teenage brother Tommy, who’s not going gracefully into the teen years. Then he accidentally gets Defender’s powers. Just when he’s starting to think this whole superhero thing might be pretty cool, he realizes it comes with some major downsides, and we’re not just talking about an upset stomach after a few loop-de-loops. Nicknamed “Smash” by the media, Andrew tries to figure out what it really means to be a hero and if he even wants to try. Along the way he’ll battle villains, meet possible allies, and learn some of the hidden perils of being a superhero (like flying into a flock of pigeons). But Andrew better figure out what he’s doing fast, because Defender’s old arch villain Magus isn’t the only one who wants a piece of the new superhero in town…

The ARC I was given for review was in gray shades and really didn’t do a good job of showing the final art. I went online to find some samples of the original webcomic to get an idea of the final art. While the art in the galley is confusing and seems to have muscle-bound superheroes and villains and identical kids, the full color art gives very different pictures. The lines are smoothed out, the color pops off the page, and there’s a lot more expression and nuance to the action in the finished artwork.

The plot isn’t particularly new or unique. There are plenty of stories about a daydreaming kid who gets powers and then has to figure out how to use them, but it’s told very well and the art is certainly attractive. There are a couple really good moments, like Andrew’s interactions with his divorced father, and the evil scientist is very funny, in a completely serious way. This story is mostly set-up for the rest of the series. We meet the characters, get Smash’s origin story, and get an idea of what he’s up against both at home and in the super world. It’s a little more serious than some similar books (Daniel Boom AKA Loud Boy by David Steinberg, Hyperactive by Scott Sava, etc.) with one use of “crap” and quite a few really perilous situations, but nothing that a middle grade reader used to superhero comics would notice. Fans of superheros will enjoy the familiar tropes and humor and look forward to finding out what happens next.

SMASH: Trial by Fire
by Chris A. Bolton
Art by Kyle Bolton
ISBN: 9780763655969
Candlewick, 2013