Two recent kids' comics that made me insane

Insane because I wonder why the Big Two can't make comics like this for "adults." It's not that hard, people!

I've been reading the odd issue of DC's Johnny DC line of comics (Tiny Titans and DC Super Friends, most notably), and they've usually been quite fun and quite good comics. I've also read some of the Marvel Adventures books that Joey Q's gang puts out, and those too are often good. So recently I read one issue each from DC and Marvel, and now I'm going to wonder why the freakin' hell they can't do this with their "real" comics. Oh, and massive SPOILERS ahead.

First up is Marvel Adventures: Avengers #36, which came out a few weeks ago. It's written by Paul Tobin and drawn by Jacopo Camagni, and is a tale of the time Tigra released a genie. Oh yes, a genie.

First, it begins with a hilarious scene where the Avengers wander around a New York street fair. Okay, so that's awesome. This is the first panel in the freakin' comic (click any picture to super-size it):

Tigra buys an amulet, rubs it, and Brank the genie leaps free and offers her three wishes. Tigra is speechless, while Wolverine and Spider-Man crack jokes. Brank has no patience for Tigra's reticence, as he needs to take "vengeance from the evil green ogre who trapped me, centuries ago!" Yes, Brank was trapped by the Incredible Hulk. Only in comics, my friends, only in comics. Wolverine thinks a fight between Brank and the Hulk could be fun, while Thor and Captain America fly off to find him (Storm suggests the petting zoo, as "Hulk loves it there"). Tigra snaps out of her trance to remind the remaining Avengers that wishes from a genie always go wrong, so they have to tread carefully. Wolverine manages to get Bruce Banner on the line, and through the magic of "holo-speak," we get to see him:

They race off to Avengers Tower but reach it too late, as Bruce comes crashing out of one of the higher windows. They rescue him, of course, and then Brank attacks them. Spider-Man asks why he hates the Hulk so much, so it's time for a villain soliloquy! Yay! He tells them that Bruce Banner traveled back in time from 2021, meaning he hasn't even done what he's going to do yet! Brank lived like a king, but Bruce challenged him to a duel, and if he lost, he'd be confined to the amulet. Brank thought it would be easy, but then the Hulk appeared, and things went poorly for him. Now he wants revenge! When Bruce learns that Tigra has wishes to spare, he joins the chorus in begging her to use them, but she's still reluctant. As she jumps out of the way of a giant fist, she inadvertantly wishes that they would all understand that wishes are dangerous. So Brank grants that, and the Avengers suddenly agree with her. Brank realizes that he's a bit outclassed, decides discretion is the better part of valor, and disappears. The Avengers adjourn to Iron Man's mansion in the Catskills to make sure they're away from innocent bystanders.

Tigra thinks about various wishes and all the ways they can go wrong, and in the morning, the Avengers have breakfast. Yes, it's another nice, humorous scene, as Spidey wants sausages but discovers that Wolverine has eaten them all. When Tigra finds out, she says "I wish he hadn't done that," and voila! more sausages. She's down to one! As they discuss what to do, Spidey looks out the window and sees a giant Brank bearing down on them. That can't be good.

Brank smashes the house, Bruce turns into the Hulk, and it's on! Brank, unfortunately for the Avengers, can become intangible if he wants to, and when he gets his hand on the Hulk, he begins to change him back to Bruce Banner, which kind of sucks. As Tigra runs from disembodied purple fists, she trips and falls right in front of Brank. Then she uses her final wish:

Well, that works out well. And ... cut! Nice and quick and fun. Let's move on!

DC Super Friends #15 came out even before the Marvel book, so it might even be time for another issue to come out! But this one, with the great J. Bone cover (who also does the interior art), is the one you should check out. Sholly Fisch writes this sucker, and it's an example of a Batman/Justice League story we rarely see anymore; i.e., one that has very little consequence because it doesn't feature a villain. But I'm getting ahead of myself!

The Justice League (or Super Friends, I suppose) are sitting around the satellite debating their toughest bad guy. Well, of course they are! Suddenly a hooded figure appears on their video screens, calling him(her?)self The Unknown and claiming to be their greatest opponent. The Unknown leaves them a clue about where their "game" will continue, a clue Batman figures out easily (as would anyone over the age of 5 who reads this book, but that's okay). They head to Finger's Toys, where The Unknown springs a bunch of giant toys on them. Gasp! We also find out that we can't even learn the name of this story, as it will give too much away. Yow! The Super Friends, of course, fight fire with fire:

The Unknown leaves a fake bomb for them, which is meant only to distract them, as Superman suddenly disappears. The Unknown says that the Man of Steel is his prisoner, and leaves another clue - which leads to the Batcave! Who is this dastardly villain? How does he know where the Batcave is?

In Chapter 2, they arrive in the Batcave (prompting the Flash to say, "I have got to get myself a cave!") and look at Batman's villains to see if one of them is The Unknown. Said villain then appears on the screen, mocking them. He activates the mechanical dinosaur in the cave (I never knew it moved!), which attacks them. Green Lantern wedges the giant penny in its jaws, and then Batman uses the Penguin's "grease umbrella" to make the floor slick, leading to way-smug Batman:

Batman notices that someone took the metal ribs out of the umbrella - is that a clue? The Unknown reappears on screen and tells them they may have defeated the dinosaur, but they've lost ... the Flash! Oh dear. Batman traces the messages The Unknown has been sending, and discovers they're coming from ... the satellite! What the heck? In Chapter 3, they arrive back at the satellite, and Green Lantern spots something ahead. When he flies in front of everyone else, he too disappears. The Unknown locks them in the fitness center, and when Wonder Woman opens the door, they find that Aquaman has disappeared as well. Batman gets angry and shouts out that they're not playing The Unknown's reindeer games any longer, and the lights go out. You know what's next - Wonder Woman has vanished!

The Unknown shows up again on yet another video screen (how many of those are on the satellite, anyway?) and mocks Batman yet again. He tells Batman they'll end where they began, which is the meeting room. Batman opens the door, and ...

Yes, it's his birthday. And look - Bat-Mite and Ace are there too! Batman even knows that The Unknown is Robin! The Super Friends tell him they wanted to get him something special for his birthday, so they got him a mystery. Then Batman tells them how he solved it. It's actually kind of clever. I mean, it's not the greatest mystery ever, but it's still nifty. DC, inexplicably, gave the mystery away in the solicitations for this issue, as they wrote about it being Batman's birthday. Why would they do that? The cover certainly implies something sinister is going on!

Let's consider these two issues. They're both single-issue stories. The first features an actual villain, and although the focus is on Tigra, every Avenger contributes to the story somehow. And they don't just beat the villain up - Tigra has to figure some way to defeat him without fighting. The cover says it's for "all ages," and it's definitely a bit more "adult" than the DC book, to the point where it probably wouldn't need any tweaking to be a regular Avengers comic. There's no "darkness" or gloominess to it, and although the villain isn't trying to take over the world or anything and is only trying to get revenge on the Hulk for something he hasn't done yet, Brank is still a good bad guy. There's plenty of action, and Camagni does a nice job with the composition of the fight scenes and the way the characters interact with each in the fight scenes. The Avengers are veterans, so they know what they're doing and don't panic when things don't go their way. Plus, Tobin understands the basics of the characters, so Wolverine is still "Wolverine" without being the brooding grumpus he often is in the "real" Marvel U. It's a refreshing superhero comic, free from the angry groups of heroes running around the Marvel Universe these days.

Super Friends is bit more childish, but that doesn't mean it's unworthy - in fact, I enjoyed it more than the Marvel Adventures book. It doesn't tell a story of the Super Friends defeating a world-beating villain, or any villain at all, but it does a nice job showing how the group interacts and how cool Batman is. Of course we know he's cool, but it's still nice to see a story that effortlessly shows it. The reason why I love this book so much is precisely because there's no villain. Mainstream superhero comics used to do this far more often - have an issue where there's no big threat, just the characters doing things that they'd do on an off-night. It still happens occasionally, but it seems that the Big Two are so concerned with the big events that they forget that the reason many people buy these comics is because they love the characters, not necessarily the events (well, it's true for me, but the way the events sell, it might not be true of many others). I wonder if the obscene prices they charge for single issues plays into it as well. If fans are spending 3 or 4 dollars for a funny book, they want shit to happen, man! So issues that focus on, say, Batman solving a "mystery" that leads to a birthday celebration just wouldn't fly, because it's a "waste" of money. I think that's crap, but what the hell do I know?

Don't get me wrong - I love "dark" comics. I love long-term story arcs. I love "consequential" stories. I don't like when they're done poorly, but that's a matter of taste. What bugs me is that there seems to be no room for these kinds of stories in mainstream superhero books, unless it's an unpopular character in a minor, quirky series that no one buys. I often mention how the last time I can remember the X-Men not taking themselves deadly seriously is in issues #244 and 245, which focused on the women and then the men of the group taking some time out. In the first one, the women went to the mall. Yeah, that's pretty much it. In the second, the men fend off a riotously funny alien invasion, parodying DC's Invasion! mini-series. Yeah, that's right - these issues came out 20 years ago. That's how long it's been since the X-Men could take some time ouot and have some fun. (I could be wrong, but I don't recall any "goofy" issues since then.) I don't necessarily want, say, Moon Knight to have a "fun" issue (he has some problems, after all), but would it kill Batman to smile every once in a while?

These are two comics that, frankly, embarrass the "adult" comics that the Big Two bring out. They're solid superhero stories that don't require a second mortgage and months of your time to read. DC's even features Batman figuring out clues to solve a mystery - something the "world's greatest detective" ought to do every so often, right? Anyway, if you're looking for an antidote to the latest Norman Osborn killfest, check these comics out. They're a fine palette cleanser before you sample the next comic in which Wolverine slaughters everyone he sees!

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