Astronaut Academy is back with full color reprints of the first two volumes and an all new third volume. Young readers today are even more primed to love this sci-fi take on classroom comedy than they were when Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity debuted ten years ago. Series like Dog Man and Hilo have familiarized readers with the off-the-wall comedy and plotting that run amok in Astronaut Academy. The new colorized volumes fit in better with the current graphic novels for kids and breathe extra life into the stories. The content has barely aged at all, with most of the references being broad enough to involve pop culture classics (like the Catbus space shuttle) and with a timeless heart that grabs the reader.
This was my first time reading the series. I stand by the original No Flying No Tights reviews Sheli Hays wrote of Zero Gravity and Re-entry, especially the celebration of the zany fun they contain. The first volume introduces us to Hakata Soy, a member of the super heroic Meta-Team, whose absent parents enroll him in Astronaut Academy. He joins students in a space station that resembles a metal planet with one ring. Classes run the gamut from Wearing Cute Hats to Antigravity Gymnastics to regular math. The story unfolds in short episodes introducing different characters, sometimes furthering the main plot, sometimes just going off on gag-filled side bursts. As Hakata learns to navigate regular student life, the school is threatened by villains from his past. Meanwhile Miyumi San learns about time travel and bigger networks of galactic protection. Volume 2: Re-entry continues the school-centered adventures focusing on the lacrosse-like game Fireball and a gamified take on giving your heart away.
Splashdown is a new volume in the series and it takes the familiar wide cast of characters to a summer party on a resort island owned by Maribelle Mellonbelly’s family. Terraforming has caused a cascade effect on the environment of the planet and much world-saving ensues. There are some heavy backstories added to characters we didn’t know as well, such as Scab Wellington, and a few new friends like Mercutio of the sea folk. Readers who start with this volume will be able to enjoy it, but I liked the character growth and nuance that reading the earlier volumes gave. The lack of the school setting also removes the story from situations that are more directly relatable to the reader, though there is still an emotional core that rings true amongst the fantastical elements. And no one, regardless of place and time, is immune to the wonder of a cosmic waterslide that crosses five pages.
The art is simple and fun. It reminds me a lot of the Tiny Titans books, very cartoony, unsurprising given Dave Roman’s Nickelodeon credentials. Ephemeral things like emotion, reactions, and sounds are made visual and embellish the images, a charming blend of Looney Tunes and manga sensibilities. Tiny hearts rain down and starburst surround action. There is a progression across the volumes from small panels densely crowding the pages to a more open style that often forgoes panels, it makes each volume easier and easier to read. In her NFNT reviews of volumes 1 and 2, Sheli Hays talked about sometimes having trouble differentiating the characters, but I think the colorization resolved that by making hair colors and outfits stand apart. Emmy Hernandez’s tonal changes in the palette for flashbacks and other shifts in the story help orient the reader.
The Astronaut Academy series belongs on all children’s collection shelves, perfect for middle grades but fun for all ages. Some of the plot and tensions between characters relies on romantic entanglement at the early crush stages, so older elementary kids getting more caught up in that kind of drama will find a little more in the story than younger kids. But there aren’t any content concerns. Fans of Jedi Academy, Zita the Space Girl, and Cleopatra in Space who’ve cut their teeth on Dog Man will be thrilled to discover this re-launch of an excellent series.
Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity, Re-Entry & Splashdown (in full color)
By Dave Roman
Colors by Emmy Hernandez
First Second, 2021
Vol 1 ISBN: 9781250225894
Vol 2 ISBN: 9781250225931
Vol 3 ISBN: 9781250216861
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)