It might be hard to believe, but there was a time when Marvel superheroes weren’t necessarily everywhere. They couldn’t be streamed directly into your television any time you wanted. Many of these heroes may have already found their way onto lunchboxes and underwear, but the one place kids were guaranteed to find their adventures was on the comics rack. For a few cents from a hard-earned allowance, a kid could catch up on the latest adventures of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. This is the world Patrick McDonnell, creator of the comic strip Mutts, remembers fondly and his book The Super Hero’s Journey clearly shows his love for these heroes.
Doctor Doom has realized another nefarious plot that will bring him closer to his goal of world domination. Superheroes are too busy arguing with each other to stop Doom’s plans; things look dire. Luckily, Uatu the Watcher has decided he must no longer merely watch and must once again interfere (his usual M.O., honestly) in order to set things right, all while creator McDonnell illustrates what these comics truly mean to him and why they have stood the test of time.
This particular work is hard to categorize. If just looking at the overall plot, it seems like a book that could be stuck in a library’s children’s department until a well-meaning parent checks it out for their child to read. However, McDonnell is doing more than just reskinning a story and calling it his own. He’s incorporated biographical information about himself and how as a child he was drawn to these heroes. He’s brought in quotes from deeply spiritual writers like Eckart Tolle and Henry David Thoreau. This book is less a story on defeating Doctor Doom than it is defeating mental and spiritual obstacles that hold humanity back, an idea he claims that Marvel books illustrate. This deceptively simple story is a love letter to the Marvel Universe that also introduces a discussion of what these stories say about the human and superhuman condition.
The panels McDonnell chooses also illustrate that this is more than just another story where superheroes ban together to stop a greater threat (no offense to Thanos and Avengers: End Game). The panels incorporated into this book show his admiration for comic book luminaries like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. McDonnell also inserts his own drawings, which add a surprising humanity to these superhumans. Uatu goes from looking like an omniscient cosmic being to just a Good Samaritan who wants to help the people he’s found stranded on the road.
While this book would be ideal for any adult collection frequented by patrons who love not just the Marvel movies but the Marvel books of yore, it might also be a hard sell for some. Librarians may find they have to contextualize the book, explaining that, although McDonnell might be known for a comic strip with cute animals, this super hero’s journey is quite ambitious.
The Super Hero’s Journey
By Patrick McDonnell
Publisher Age Rating: Preschool and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)