The Human Target, Vol. One

Christopher Chance is not a DC character many people will be familiar with. He wasn’t the first “Human Target” from DC Comics, but since Len Wein and Carmine Infantino reimagined the character in Action Comics #419 December 1972, he’s been impersonating people who pay him to take their place and save them from assassins and others looking to harm them. Chance is part bodyguard, part private investigator. In this latest iteration, he is hired by Lex Luthor to find who was trying to assassinate him and wound up taking a bullet from a would-be assassin. The twist is that this isn’t the only person trying to kill him that day and someone else with much more sophisticated methods poisoned Chance by mistake. He now he has 12 days left to live and try to solve the puzzle of who poisoned him and why they wanted Luthor dead.

Doctor Midnight diagnoses Christopher after he passes out from the poison and crashes his car. He gives his some medicine to try and help manage the pain, but more importantly makes a discovery. The poison in his system gives off traces of radiation from another dimension and the only people to have traveled there and returned are The Justice League International. Now, with 11 days left to live, Christopher has to try and figure out who in the JLI would want Luthor dead bad enough to poison him and why. This is where Tora Olafsdotter enters the picture, Ice of Fire and Ice, and JLI fame. She will be the key to all of this as Lex once had her killed and most of the JLI hasn’t forgotten. Ice, however, is full of surprises herself. There is a bond growing between her and Christopher and the more time they spend together the further complicated his investigation is getting.

Of all the books I’ve read in 2022, The Human Target is the one that made the biggest impression and the one I’ve talked about the most since reading. This is the first of two volumes, covering the 12 part mini-series written by Tom King and illustrated by Artist Greg Smallwood. Both have equally contributed to why this book stays with me and why I enjoyed it so much. While both are producing great work respectively, as a team they have elevated the work and created a truly distinct, riveting book.

Tom King is doing what I would argue he does best, taking characters outside of their normal continuity in universe and telling interesting and unusual stories with them. Some of his most popular and well regarded work falls under this category, like The Vision or Mister Miracle. This is also a detective story and King excels at having people solve mysteries that involve a human element.

I mentioned before that Greg Smallwood’s art made a lasting impression and that is an undersell. I haven’t seen a book like this maybe ever. It has the feel of a chalk or soft pastel ad from the 1950’s. There is a timeless quality to the entire book that makes it impossible to place, while at the same time you know exactly where and when it is. It feels akin in style and dress to a show like Mad Men, while somehow being more colorful and vibrant. When I recommend this book to people (which I do constantly) my inability to articulate everything that is important and beautiful about Smallwood’s work frustrates me and makes my point. I simply don’t have the words to do justice to what he’s managed here and for that reason you should read it for yourself to understand.

Because The Human Target, aka Christopher Chance, and the Justice League International aren’t the best know or most compelling characters at DC Comics I can easily understand this book flying under the radar for a lot of readers. An author like King being attached should help it gather some attention, but it may not look like the most accessible story. For the uninitiated reader there is enough introduction and background information included in this volume to give you everything you need to enjoy this story. If you do know something about the JLI or its members this is a fascinating look at how King pulls characters apart psychologically and presents them as flawed individuals who are trying their best despite their shortcomings.

An absolutely worthwhile addition to any library collection for older teen and adult readers, this particular 12 issue story is coming out under DC’s Black Label. Since 2020 is Black Label has been defined as “The imprint intend(ed) to present traditional DC Universe characters for a mature audience with stand-alone, prestige-format series.” DC rates this as an ages 17+ book and I would agree that between the drinking, language and romantic intrigue it’s best suited for older readers. It feels like a hard-boiled detective novel in both tone and look, something of a throwback. It’s not as brutal as something like Ed Brubaker’s Reckless series, but will certainly shares an audience with those books.

The Human Target Vol. 01
By Tom King
Art by  Greg Smallwood
DC Black Label, 2022
ISBN: 9781779516701

Publisher Age Rating: 17+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)

Hello, My name is Poop

Hello My Name is PoopI’m pretty sure that I could get many people to agree with me when I say that middle school is the most challenging time of growing up. Finding and making friends, being popular or not, body changes…all these contribute to you feeling like you’re the ONLY ONE who has problems. It hurts to be excluded. It hurts being bullied. Being laughed at hurts. Being called names hurts. But there’s a certain magic in claiming a name for yourself and making it your own, right? No one can hurt you with it after that. This is what middle schooler Will Poupé discovers from the school janitor (who is really a wizard who loves bowling) after a particularly grueling day trying to escape from the school bully. The janitor helps him find what was inside of him all along, so to speak.

As you can probably guess from the title, there is LOTS of poop on these pages—but the pages are riotously colorful, flow well and are drawn in a manga-action style, with plenty of swooshing background lines, sparkle marks and chibi love-struck eyes. Like Ms. Marvel, Poop discovers how to change into a pooper-hero (his costume even looks a little like hers), has a familiar (or sidekick) named Turdie and even the little flies attracted to his poop love him. But the janitor has warned him, (just like Spider-Man) with great power comes great responsibility. Will Poop use his power to get even? Or to help others? Because not all is what it seems, and even Green Lantern had to learn restraint in what he made with his ring.

Of such drama is middle school made—and learned from. Poop’s teacher, Walter Tenpenny (T.P.) is portrayed as a good-hearted but somewhat off-base guy with a sallow complexion and a Gomez Addams moustache.

This book is full of diverse characters and hilarious “dad puns” that will definitely elicit more than a few eyerolls. Aimed at about the 7-12 age range, this book would be a good addition to any middle school library collection. Books making fun of bodily functions are almost always popular, right?

Hello, My Name is Poop 
By Ben Katzner
Art by Ian McGinty
Wonderbound, 2021
ISBN: 9781638490128

Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

Rogue Sun, vol 1: Cataclysm

There’s a hero way down in New Orleans they call the Rogue Sun. And he’s been the ruin of many a poor villain. But now his time is done.

This doesn’t matter much to thug-in-training Dylan Siegel, whose biggest concerns are why his girlfriend is now telling people she’s his ex-girlfriend and which of his high school’s nerds are going to “help” him with his homework this week in exchange for protection from the other bullies. No, the death of his city’s superhero doesn’t mean much to Dylan. Not until he learns that Rogue Sun was the father who abandoned him and his mother 15 years earlier and that he’s inherited the magic Sunstone that granted his father his powers.

Unfortunately, Dylan has also inherited his father’s enemies along with his responsibilities. To make matters worse, in addition to being magically compelled to spend his nights dealing with all manner of magical menace that is threatening New Orleans, Dylan’s also being haunted by the ghost of his father. And he’s rather insistent that Dylan track down the new villain who killed him and avenge his death.

On paper, there’s little to separate Rogue Sun from every other superhero comic about a teenage boy who develops great power and must learn great responsibility, save for one fact—Dylan Seigel is a jerk. Most superhero comics center around loveable losers like Miles Morales or Jamie Reyes who inspire sympathy in the reader because they face the same problems as the average teenager (i.e. balancing classes, romance, their family, and maybe a job) when they aren’t punching supervillains. Dylan does not inspire that same sense of pathos. In fact, the only thing that makes Dylan into a marginally acceptable protagonist is that most of the supporting cast of Rogue Sun are more annoyingly amoral than he is.

This makes Rogue Sun an interesting read in the early chapters, as Ryan Parrott plays against the genre clichés by making Dylan and his ghost dad as unlikeable as possible. There’s also some interesting villains for Rogue Sun to face, such as the gentleman thief Suave and a family of vampire-werewolf hybrids who have been menacing New Orleans for generations. Unfortunately, the shine quickly comes off the original concepts and Dylan’s combativeness grows tiresome. The fact that Dylan’s father is slowly exposed as being little better than the villains he condemns to eternal imprisonment in magical crystals doesn’t help matters and a series of twists regarding Dylan’s half-siblings lead to diminishing returns long before the revelation of who is responsible for the death of Rogue Sun.

The artwork is similarly capable, but not outstanding. The artist called Abel presents a dark, gritty view of New Orleans that suits the story, but the colors are frequently dull and muted, making it hard to tell the backgrounds from the characters. There’s also a distinct lack of expressions on the faces of most of the characters. One face which stood out to me was the muted look of Dylan’s mother, as a lawyer announced her son was being given the same magic artifact that destroyed her marriage.

The book is rated for Teen audiences 13 and up. I consider that a fair rating, as there’s little in this book most parents would find objectionable for a teen audience. Unfortunately, there’s not much to make them want to read Rogue Sun either, given how unlikeable the characters are and how trite the story is once you get past the core concept of a jerk being given magical powers instead of a good-hearted chosen one.

Rogue Sun, Vol. 1: Cataclysm 
By Ryan Parrott
Art by Abel , Chris O’Halloran
Image, 2022
ISBN: 9781534322370

Publisher Age Rating: 13+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)

Spidey and his Amazing Friends: Team Spidey Does It All!

Peter Parker teams up with Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy for the Spidey and His Amazing Friends franchise, which features the trio having adventures together as Spidey, Miles, and Ghost-Spider. Based on the Disney Junior TV show, this comic is aimed at young children and features silly humor and childlike, prank-pulling versions of villains Green Goblin, Doc Ock, and Rhino. While it follows the show’s premise, this volume is made up of all-new stories.

This comic begins with an introduction to the heroes and villains, then a brief explanation of how to read comic panels. From there, it dives into a series of over a dozen short adventures, each ranging from two to eight pages long. These stories are fast-paced but gentle: no one gets hurt, including the villains, and there are often silly twists. Occasionally, we get cameos from other Marvel heroes, like Black Panther, the Hulk, and Ms. Marvel.

In some stories, the heroes face villain-free challenges like getting to a movie on time or making cookies for Aunt May. When villains do appear, they are up to mild or nonspecific mischief – Green Goblin tries to steal parade balloons, Rhino threatens to “smash the city” unless Spidey races him, Doc Ock tries to turn a park into a giant aquarium, and so on. These are often resolved with outcomes that leave even the villains satisfied: for instance, it turns out Green Goblin is playing pranks at the library because he is upset he can’t check out books, but he is happy to stop when the heroes help him get a library card.

Given the pace and length of these stories, there isn’t a lot of time for character development. It is clear, though, that the three heroes are friends, and they support and care about each other as well as others, like Aunt May and her cat Bootsie. Like good superheroes, they will drop what they are doing to help others.

The art is bright and dynamic. All of the heroes and villains except for Rhino and the Hulk are drawn child-sized and with childlike proportions, which is especially clear when they appear with an adult character like Aunt May. Backgrounds are colorful and detailed, but do not compete with the characters, in part because the characters tend to have thicker, bolder outlines than anything else in the panels. Most pages have three or four panels each, but the layout varies, adding visual interest.

A dozen words throughout the story have asterisks marking them as vocabulary words, which are defined at the end of the book. Many of these are terms specific to the Spider-Man universe, but the list also includes words like “trap” and “invisible.” The book specifies on its back cover that it is a “Level 1 title tailored for ages 5 to 7” and that its Lexile Level is 400L, all of which may be useful to potential readers and their parents and teachers.

Spider-Man has long been popular with children. Unlike a lot of superhero media, this comic offers action and humor but no scary danger or violence, making it a good fit for young fans.

Spidey and his Amazing Friends: Team Spidey Does It All!
By Steve Behling
Art by  Giovanni Rigano, Antonello Dalena, Ellen Willcox
Marvel, 2022
ISBN: 9781368076074

Publisher Age Rating: 5 to 7
Series ISBNs and Order
Related media:  TV to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)
Character Representation: Afro-Puerto-Rican, Assumed White,

Getting Dizzy

Fifteen year-old Desideria “Dizzy” Olsen just knows she’s destined for greatness. One day, anyway. But so far, it seems like everything she tries—from ballet to trumpet—just ends in total disaster. So when a portal opens up right in front of her when she’s about to toss her roller skates into the donation bin along with the rest of the accouterments from her abandoned hobby attempts, it suddenly seems like everything is falling into place after all!

It turns out that fate (and new mentor Chipper) has a new mission for her: take on the mantle of ‘Burb Defender and use her newfound powers (plus super cool gadgets like the Helmet of Helping and the Blaster Bracelet) to save her hometown from evil monsters known as Negatrixes and their bad vibes. 

As the pressure mounts and Negatrixes multiply, Dizzy starts to realize that there might be more to being a Chosen One than potential fame and cool superpowers. With her own personal Negatrix looming, will the ‘Burb Defender and her new friends the Rollers be enough to defend Ruseberg from the biggest threat yet?

A sweet, silly, and action-packed romp that touches on Chosen One tropes, new friendships, and figuring out who you are, Getting Dizzy is a delightful and enjoyable read for teens and tweens. Refreshingly, the core cast of characters is diverse without being didactic about it: Dizzy is Latine-coded, Scarlett seems to be East Asian (unspecified), Payton is disabled (born without a left hand), and Av is Black and non-binary. This cast is a reflection of the world teens are currently living in, and it’s nice to see them just exist, and not have their identities pointed out in any specific way. Specific traits of each member of the friend group come into play in a vital way later on, and are things unrelated to their race, gender identity, or ability. Instead, what’s important about each friend are qualities like always seeing the beauty in everyone or being incredibly smart. 

With the story opening on a younger Dizzy’s dream of ballet stardom clashing with the reality of name-calling at school, the tone is set right from the start. Fiercely independent (just like her mom), Dizzy isn’t afraid to rise to a new challenge. At least, not at first. Like many young people, she’s a big dreamer who probably wishes life was more like a movie montage, especially when learning to fight the Negatrixes means re-learning how to roller skate (and falling. A LOT — an experience writer Shea Fontana is quite familiar with as a former roller derby player).

No stranger to the superhero genre herself thanks to her experience writing for the DC Super Hero Girls series, Fontana infuses the graphic novel with a solid mix of one-liners, goofy idioms, and moments of seriousness. From quick-witted dialogue like Payton’s quip about leaving the rest of her left arm behind when she moved from Seattle to Chipper’s speech about participation trophies and why sometimes it’s the people who aren’t good at something who get chosen, the dialogue helps Dizzy and her friends feel grounded in reality, even when they’re blasting Negatrixes back into portals with colorful magic. While the superhero antics are fun, teens and tweens will likely find themselves drawn to the themes of friendship, perseverance, and figuring out how to fight against our own anxiety and negative emotions, even when it feels easier to just give in.

Illustrator Celia Moscote, known for their gorgeous work on the graphic adaptation of Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath, succeeds again here in bringing Fontana’s cast and this imaginative setting to brilliant life on the page. The Negatrixes feel scary in a Pokémon-esque, cartoonish sort of way, keeping the terror lower stakes and accessible for both younger and older readers. Emotions are rendered in great facial expressions, and the visual pratfalls are hilarious. The colors are bold and vivid, especially the magic: that sparkles and swirls give off a magical girl element perfect for our resident ‘Burb Defender. 

A welcome addition to tween and teen collections, Getting Dizzy is a lighthearted but meaningful compilation of an initial run of four comic issues that leaves readers on a cliffhanger and hoping for a potential sequel. Hand it to fans of graphic novels like Sebastian Kadlecik’s Quince, Sam Humphries’ Jonesy, and anyone who enjoys stories featuring magical girls, superheroes, and the power of friendship.

Getting Dizzy
By Shea Fontana
Art by Celia Moscote
BOOM! Box, 2022
ISBN: 9781684158386

Publisher Age Rating: 12+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  Latine,  Nonbinary ,  Character Representation: Assumed Hispanic or Latine,

Miles Morales: Stranger Tides

Miles Morales is adjusting to his identity as the new Spider-Man in town. It can be tough, but it has some serious perks, like being a guest of honor at the release event for the video game launch of the century. Which is awesome . . . except it turns out the game is a trap set by an alien mastermind who plans to use it to destroy humanity.

Everyone who logs onto the game—or even sees a video of it—is frozen in a state of suspended animation. Miles would be one of them, but he is grabbed at the last moment by an unlikely rescuer: former supervillain Trinity. She and another villain, Vex, have been working with a powerful alien entity called the Stranger, who is responsible for the video game plot. According to the Stranger’s plan, in three days, the frozen people will unfreeze and attack everyone else, causing potentially millions or even billions of deaths. But Trinity doesn’t actually want humanity destroyed, so she proposes a team-up to save the world.

The problem is that the Stranger is powerful. Maybe too powerful even for Spider-Man, his loyal “man in the chair” Ganke, and Trinity to take on. Especially when Miles is distracted by worrying about his own friends and family who have been frozen by the game. Things are looking grim, but as it turns out, Trinity is not the only surprising ally willing to help Spider-Man take down the Stranger.

Miles is brave and goodhearted and has all the snarky banter one expects from a Spider-Man. His friendship with Ganke, in particular, feels caring, real, and full of fond ribbing. But Miles also feels things deeply, especially when someone he loves is hurt. This book gives considerable page time to Miles’ worry about his beloved uncle Aaron, who became frozen while driving and crashed his car, ending up in the hospital. Other family and friends are targeted by the Stranger as the book goes on, strengthening Miles’ resolve.

The art is angular and colorful, giving the pages a lively look even before the additions of classic superhero visuals like action lines and sound effects. Kool-Aid-bright colors highlight the neon lights of the city and the larger-than-life characters, settings, and action sequences. The cast is racially diverse and the characters visually distinct and expressive. Screentones are used frequently, but subtly, often to highlight a character’s altered state: for instance, simple screentones help differentiate the frozen people from others, and is one of the visual indications used when Miles turns invisible.

The stakes are high in this story, with danger both global and personal, but things do work out well in the end. The frequent fight scenes are full of teleportation and spider webbing, but no blood or graphic injuries.

This is a smart, fast-paced story with lots of superpowered action. Hand it to young readers who want a relatable hero with attitude and heart. Fans who enjoy seeing superhero comics written by popular YA authors may also like this volume’s preview of Captain America: The Ghost Army by Alan Gratz.

Miles Morales: Stranger Tides
By Justin A. Reynolds
Art by Pablo Leon
Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2022
ISBN: 9781338826395

Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  African-American, Guatemalan
Character Representation: African-American, Puerto Rican