Mike Kunkel returns to his much beloved and critically acclaimed Eisner-winning characters after more than ten years away with “Herobear and the Kid: Saving Time” #1, and the results are decidedly mixed.
There’s a lot to like about the return of “Herobear and the Kid,” most notably Kunkel’s beautiful, emotional and fully engaging cartooning that captures movement on the page the way few artists can. However, a glaring problem overshadows every single page of Kunkel’s book — awkward, clunky, naked exposition.
Even though Kunkel’s story is perfectly understood through the dialogue and gorgeous storytelling, he chooses to also narrate every moment from Tyler’s perspective, often resulting in straight up repetition for what’s already been presented on the page. The narration offers no added insight, does not have a “voice” that adds style, character or dimension, and is not even particularly beautiful prose. In fact, it’s easily the weakest and most awkward writing in the book. The most bizarre thing is that the narration captions are also absolutely unnecessary. Sometimes exposition in a comic is awkward and frustrating but necessary in order to understand a flawed story — but there’s nothing flawed about Kunkel’s story. His drawing is so strong and his storytelling so easy to follow that dialogue is barely needed half the time. Yet, every scene is laden with not only dialogue (which is generally good and functional) but repetitive captions narrating everything previously stated.
It’s a glaring misstep from a creator of Kunkel’s caliber and experience. Readers might expect to see this from an inexperienced comics writer working with an artist, but it’s almost unheard of for a single creator handling both writing and art to overwrite to this degree.
If you can get beyond this one issue (and it’s tough as the overwriting follows readers into every panel) there’s still a lot to enjoy. Herobear and the Kid are as full of verve and lust for adventure as ever. Kunkel’s art is lovely and expressive, keeping things loose and doing phenomenal things with character acting. The script concept itself feels a little dated and done before, and the dialogue doesn’t have quite the pop it should, but the charm of Herobear and Tyler plus the gorgeous visuals are enough to keep readers invested.
All in all, it’s good to have Kunkel’s characters back, and perhaps this issue still has him shaking off the dust and getting back into his groove. We need more good, kid-friendly, all-ages comics, and if Kunkel can get “Herobear and the Kid” back up to snuff it’ll be a welcome and needed addition to the comics landscape.