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I have a soft spot for all-ages comics that take super heroes and retools them for a younger audience than those who typically read them. Super Powers #1 is part of that pack, and though I don’t think it’s entirely successful, I do still love the impulse behind it, and found there was enough for me to recommend the book, I’m just not sure who entirely for.
Super Powers #1 is the opening chapter in a six issue miniseries from Art Baltazar and Franco, the team behind the charmingly loopy “Tiny Titans” and “Superman Family Adventures” series. Having them take on the whole DCU in their distinct style seemed like a great idea, and the fun I had reading this issue was definitely in their cartoonish take on the characters.
From my point of view, it’s a genuine shame that kids, who love super-heroes and buy all the toys, games and bedsheets and pajama sets they can get their hands on, often find the major comics featuring Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman aimed at an older audience, making a lot of the subject matter within too adult for them. When parents I know come to me about recommending what comics they can give to their kids that feature the characters they see in the vies, I invariably wind up recommending silver age stories, as those work best for early readers. And it’s a shame, even though those stories are incredible, that there’s often not many modern comics you can unreservedly give to a six or seven year old.
In this regard, there’s lots to like about Super Powers #1. Its style is young kid friendly, filled with anarchic jokes and a fast pace that they’ll like, even as it never saps the story of jeopardy or danger, which comics aimed at kids often make the mistake of doing. However, the weakness comes with all the continuity-heavy stuff threaded throughout the issue. For example, in the story the bottle city of Kandor has been enlarged and turned into New Krypton, a planetoid populated by Kryptonians (including Superman’s parents, who are expecting another child!) which orbits around our sun. Brainiac, who sees himself as Superman’s sibling, has abducted Batman there. That’s all before the plot of the issue really starts!
There’s lots of great jokes and tons of fun in the issue, but there’s also a lot of exposition due to the fact that so much of the plot revolves around stuff that is a pretty big departure from what most little kids are going to know about Superman’s origins. This exposition is dealt with in a pretty clunky way, namely, with characters just spouting it, sometimes while they’re in mid-fight or to people who should already know all the info being relayed. This led me to question exactly who this comic is aimed at. Is it for little kids who know only the broadest details? Or for grownup fans looking for a quirky version of the characters they know? Because I think the creative team splits the difference, neither audience is served as well as it could be.
If this is for little kids, an attempt to give them their first comic, then why not tell a more self-contained story that doesn’t require so much explanation? But if it’s a quirky departure meant for both adult readers and kids (a la “Adventure Time” or “Lumberjanes”) then it should be more sophisticated and subversive.
While the art is delightful and totally fun, and the jokes are firmly in the anarchic Looney Tunes kind of ballpark (which is a great ballpark) I wish that the story itself had been more self-contained and classic, so that Super Powers #1 could have hit the ground running and been as new reader friendly as the book wants to be. 6.5/10