By my count, Nnewts, vol. 3: The Battle for Amphibopolis must be at least #23 in the line of comics Doug TenNapel has published, and I’ve read almost all of them. And like most of TenNapel’s titles (except maybe Black Cherry), this book has recurring themes of a parent’s love of his or her child, the importance of faith and reverence, and technology and magic.
The Battle for Amphibopolis continues the story of the Nnewts and the Lizzarks, who are caught up in a battle of beauty against ugly, love against hate and anger, and tolerance against division. Young Herk, Zerk, and Pikk are Nnewts oppressed under the more powerful Lizzarks, and have only their family, friends, and love of singing magic to protect them. They think they know which side is the right side to be on. But do they really? When Herk and Zerk start changing because of the Blakk Mudd, they start hurting their friends and family and abandoning what they value most—their family and culture.
TenNapel combines Greek mythos, oral histories, constellations, libraries and archives, and some real Lord of the Rings type destiny/quest themes into a sort of “Introductory Joseph Campbell” type story for elementary school readers. He sneaks some allusions to past wars in on the colorful pages—in one part, the powerful evil Wizzark glories in the Snake Lord’s victory over Orion, the Nnewt’s god. Herk, who is already changing into a Lizzark, worries that “The Snake Lord said he would govern the sky…He didn’t say anything about attacking Orion! Orion saved my life, Wizzark!” Wizzark replies, “What did you think we were doing? The Snake Lord didn’t go up there to set up a democracy! At least the Lizzarks won’t allow us to be destroyed! If that’s the bad side, then sign me up!”
These are pretty grown-up themes for a children’s book. And yet, TenNapel’s pacing and the character’s jokes, antics, and one-line zingers lighten up what could be a pretty heavy conclusion to the three part tale. There are even some pop culture in-jokes for older readers— including a Star Wars one on page 127. The characters’ colorful and variable alien forms allow children to consider weighty topics like family, friendship, love, hate, loss, and responsibility for one’s actions from a safe distance.
This Herculean epic is a solid finish to the trilogy. With constant action spilling over the page gutters, it will keep readers guessing until its thoughtful ending, and, like a true loving parent, allows the reader to confront the changes that keep happening within the Nnewts lives, and possibly in the reader’s own life. This title is recommended for elementary and middle school readers, and can be bought as a set with Nnewts: Escape from the Lizzarks and Nnewts: The Rise of Herk. There is cartoon violence, but nothing more explicit than that. Scholastic’s Graphix durable binding should hold up to many circulations.
Nnewts, vol. 3: The Battle for Amphibopolis
by Doug TenNapel
Publisher Age Rating: 7-11