Hey kids, not-comics!: Art Baltazar and company's <em>Super-Pets</em> can make <em>anything</em> kid-friendly

Here’s a quick review of DC’s Red Lantern Corps concept, introduced by Geoff Johns and company in 2007: Long ago, The Guardians of the Universe created an android army to police all of an existence, but a glitch in their programming caused them to commit genocide in "Sector 666," killing all of the billions who lived there save five. These five formed a terrorist cell, and eventually one of them, named Atrocitus, killed the other four and used the power of  his anger and need for revenge to form the Red Lantern Corps.

They wield the red energy of rage, and becoming a Red Lantern involves expelling all of the blood in the body, replacing the beating heart with the ring itself, and then pumping a sort of gory, acidic, liquid energy through the veins, which is often spit and vomited out as a weapon.

If you’ve only a passing familiarity with Green Lantern comics, the Red Lanterns are the characters you see puking blood on the covers.

So, perfect for little kids, right?

One might not think so, but artist Art Baltazar seems to have developed a knack for turning some of the modern DC Universe’s least all-ages concept into kid-friendly gold, as he demonstrates monthly in his Tiny Titans comic (Wherein Dr. Light is a science teacher, Deathstroke a elementary school principal and all the minor Titans characters brutally murdered in the pages of Teen Titans live in perfect harmony).

Baltazar gets his drawing hands on Red Lantern Dex-Starr, The Red Lantern who is also a house cat, in Super Hero Splash Down, one of the DC Super-Pets line of heavily-illustrated prose books for younger readers (Each are about 50 pages long, consist of three chapters, and have big, comic book sound effects embedded in the paragraphs, making for fun books to read aloud).

As the artist, Baltazar is the most recognizable creator behind the line—and many of the animal characters have previously appeared in his Tiny

Titans series—but there’s a writer attached to each of the six books publisher Capstone has released so far: J.E. Bright, Jane B. Mason and Jon Sazaklis and Sarah Stephens.

In the story featuring the Red Lantern cat, space chipmunk B’dg (Pronounced “Badge"; he replaced the dead Ch’p in DC continuity) is relaxing at a water park when he runs afoul of another attendee, Dex-Starr. They initially fight, but have to set aside their differences to protect the water park from greater threats like the Sinestro Dog Corps (A pack of dogs with yellow power rings, obviously) and Orange Lantern Larfleeeze’s sidekick Glomulus (who Baltazar actually drew in a DC comic before, in a back-up strip that appeared in Green Lantern: Larfleeze Christmas Special #1).

Obviously there’s no talk of genocide, and no blood-puking—Dex-Starr doesn’t even drool red acid blood-spit.

I’ve only been able to track down two other books from local libraries so far—Pooches of Power! and The Fastest Pet on Earth.

In the first, Ace the Bat-Hound teams up with Krypto the Super-Dog to crack a case on the Gotham City docks involving The Penguin and his three hench-birds (all of whom wear adorable little top hats and bow ties like their boss). In the second, Wonder Woman’s kanga mount Jumpa must protect a magical golden turtle from Chauncey, The Cheetah’s trained cheetah.

If you’ve read or been around comics for very long, you can probably rattle off the names of plenty of pre-existing Super-Pets, like a few of those mentioned above, or the Super-Family’s menagerie of red-caped animals Streaky, Beppo and Comet, or Hoppy the Marvel Bunny.

What’s rather remarkable about these Super-Pets books is how huge a pool of characters Baltazaar and company have found. Here’s what the inside covers of each book look like, for example:

You’ll see plenty of Silver Age-born pet sidekicks, some quite obscure (Like the members of the Space Canine Patrol Agency, Krypto's equivalent of the Legion of Super-Heroes), some Golden Age “pets” (like the aforementioned Hoppy and Jumpa, and even Whatzit, the superhero identity of a funny animal character from Funny Stuff), as well as characters from cartoons  (Storm, Gleek) and plenty of what look like original pets, mostly among the villains.

A two-page “Know Your Super-Pets!” chart in the back identifies a lot of the characters, but not all of them, and I’m dying to know what the deal is with some of these characters, like that green-striped zebra who looks like he may be a Green Lantern.

I do have some difficulty recommending the books to grown-ups, as they’re not really written for adult readers (the quality varied from book to book; I personally found Fastest Pet more engaging than the other two, for example).  Certainly for parents with little readers at home who are interested in super heroes, these are probably a good investment—especially if your little one already digs Tiny Titans.

As a fan of Baltazar’s artwork, they were definitely worth borrowing from a library in order to take in his amazing designs, and his uncanny ability to wring emotion and expression out of so few lines (I sometimes think Baltazar’s skills as a cartoonist are overlooked because so much of his work is directed towards kids comics from a publisher that doesn’t seem all that interested in cultivating kid readers anymore—do note that these are books published by a book publisher, not comics published by DC Comics).

The books also offer an opportunity to see Baltazar drawing characters he doesn’t normally get to in Tiny Titans, including the superheroes like Batman and Green Lantern who, in Tiny Titans, only appear from the neck down, their heads cut off by the tops of the panels (Only supporting characters like Alfred and the villains who teach at Sidekick Elementary get to appear head-and-all in the book).

They’re also worthwhile as something to simply marvel over, too, I think.

The entire endeavor proves that among these sorts of shared corporate characters, the products of so many hands, that there’s no one take so pervasive that it ever completely eliminates alternate, even contradictory takes—Super Hero Splash Down is completely drawn from Johns’ often gory and convoluted 2005-2011 Green Lantern run, for example—and, perhaps more importantly, every character, no matter how obscure and unpopular, can generally be given new life by a talented creator

I think that's something worth thinking about, and so is the fact that whether or not there’s a market for DC kids, there’s definitely interest among kids for DC characters, whatever the medium may be.

Me, I like comics, so as much fun as I had poring through these and looking at Baltazar’s art, as much as I’m looking forward to future volumes to seeing all these strange characters interact with one another or finding out who some of them are, I’d personally rather read comics about them than chapter books about them—not that I’m the audience for these or anything, but making everything about me is part of my job as a comics blogger, isn’t it?

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