The latest two Installments in The InvestiGators series will entertain readers as much as the first three. Book 4: Ants in our P.A.N.T.S and Book 5: Braver and Boulder are full of wordplay, humorous acronyms, and general silliness. In Ants in our P.A.N.T.S., Agent Brash is in the hospital, unable to wake. Mango is accompanied by a robotic replacement, RoboBrash. Suspecting that Brash’s former partner Daryl, most recently appearing in cracker form with the alias Crackerdile, is trying to recruit other bad guys, the General Inspector encourages the agents to use a strategy called P.A.N.T.S.: Pinpoint, Avoid, Neutralize, Thwart, Stop.
While Mango and RoboBrash are “trying P.A.N.T.S. on for size,” Cilantro the chameleon discovers a musical astronaut, or Maestronaut, with a rocket base under the opera house. The Maestronaut is captured, but Brash still won’t wake up. He seems to have blocked all memories of Daryl, and RoboBrash can’t access any of those memories either. Maestronaut and Houdino, a criminal dinosaur, break out of jail and use a device called the embiggener to create giant ants which terrorize the city. Meanwhile, Mango and Miss Tick try to break into Brash’s memories. The embiggener ends up hitting RoboBrash whose memories are unlocked at an inopportune time, turning him into an enormous hostile MegaRoboBrash. Now, Mango and Brash must disable the enormous robot before even greater destruction occurs.
In Braver and Boulder, Mango and an awakened Brash have started using the deactivated MegaRoboBrash as their new InvestiQuarters. Things in the city are so quiet at first; there don’t seem to be any cases for them to solve. With the InvestiQuarters’ likeness to Brash, everyone recognizes him, yet no one seems to know Mango is also an InvestiGator. Meanwhile the town is all obsessed with the glowing rocks being sold at Anjie’s Antiques called Boulder Buddies. When all the Boulder Buddies go missing, it’s up to the InvestiGators to find out why. They realize that all the city’s crime has really just moved to the seedy underworld in the Any Fin Goes nightclub, a front for the activities of the crooked Red Mobster. They also find a rock monster made of all the missing Boulder Buddies, which were actually yet another form of Daryl spawned from radioactive waste and the remains of his concrete waffle form. Saul, the cracker baker turned dump manager is implicated in disposing of toxic waste for the mob, and Daryl and Brash finally find mutual forgiveness.
The illustrations are in comic-book style, typically with three to six panels per page in full color. The vibrant palette is reminiscent of Dav Pilkey’s work. In fact, the series would appeal well to fans of Dog Man, with similar humor and themes. Fans of the Agent Moose series would also enjoy The InvestiGators. Silly enough to be entertaining to young middle grade readers, it contains enough Easter eggs to be humorous to readers in the upper middle grades, as well. For example, tea is served in a pot very much resembling Mrs. Potts from the animated Beauty and the Beast. Some of the wordplay is even snuck in for the benefit of adult readers, such as jokes about Miss Tick the mystic who is too small to be a medium, and stolen gems that are truly outrageous.
For all the silliness of these stories, they do touch on some deeper themes. Characters question how much space to give to fear in their lives and how to deal with guilt over past mistakes. Brash and Daryl reach a place where they can finally forgive each other for things which happened over an arc of five books, as Daryl lives his final moments. The series deals with real lessons about friendship, courage, and the conflict of good versus evil. These volumes, along with the rest of the series, are an excellent choice for youth graphic novel collections.
InvestiGators, vols 4-5: Ants in our P.A.N.T.S. and Braver and Boulder
By John Patrick Green
Macmillan First Second, 2021
Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S. ISBN: 9781250220059
Braver and Boulder ISBN: 9781250220066
Publisher Age Rating: 7-10
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)