There’s an overt corniness at work in Chris Claremont and David Nakayama’s “Big Hero 6,” but that’s part of its charm. The opening splash page tries to spin Japan’s tragic nuclear past with an explanation of why they use heroes like Honey Lemon and Go-Go Tomago for national defense. We also meet the rest of the team on that first page as they fly down from above, their names in handy-dandy arrow-shaped captions. In addition to the belly-button flashing Honey Lemon and the jai alai gear-wearing Go-Go Tomago, we meet Hiro Takachiho and his bulky robot Baymax, along with chef/hero Wasabi No-Ginger and the inauspicious Fred.
Fred doesn’t appear in the story in issue #1, but the surprisingly extensive back matter not only shows Nakayama’s sketches and “Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe” entries for the team, but it also sneaks a peek at Fredzilla. So, we have that to look forward to: Fred apparently turns into a giant mutated lizard.
It’s certainly not a comic that takes itself completely seriously. But, at the same time, it’s not constantly winking at its audience. Instead, it’s more of an old-fashioned, lighthearted, comic book superhero story, like something you’d find in one of the recent “Power Pack” series, or in the Marvel Adventures line.
Unlike those comics, though, “Big Hero 6” doesn’t have any of the Marvel icons to rely upon. While the team has apparently existed for years (according to what the back matter tells us), I’ve never seen them before, and any established Marvel characters once affiliated with the team — The Silver Samurai and Sunfire — aren’t in this story. So it’s up to Claremont and Nakayama to establish (or re-establish) the personalities of characters and turn the concept of a Japanese super-team into something more than a cliche.
They don’t fully succeed, but at least they use the aspects of the cliche to their advantage. We get Baymax the mecha and Wasabi No-Ginger with the katana, and inevitable ninja attacks, and the stern schoolmaster. But all of those things are presented playfully, with just the right amount of mystery beneath the superficial plot details. Visually, this comic — with its manga-inspired look — reminded me of Sean McKeever’s “Sentinel” series, but this first issue contains a far more compressed story than anything in “Sentinel.” Claremont packs a lot of information and plot points into “Big Hero 6,” and if some of the character moments are left underdeveloped, then it’s at the expense of a story with more layers than you’d probably expect.
This isn’t the greatest comic ever, but it’s a good first issue, and it’s something that works as an all-ages book within the Marvel Universe. The team is headed to New York by the end of issue #1, so it probably won’t be long before we see some interaction with some of their more famous Western colleagues.
“Big Hero 6” #1 surprised me, offering more fun than I had expected, and I’ll definitely stick around to check out the next issue.