These superhero comics are kid-friendly, and many are also our grownup favorites. Even if the young reader in your life doesn’t have a superhero addiction, the books below are lots of fun, with great stories and art.
Avengers and the Infinity Gauntlet, by Brian Clevinger with art by Brian Churilla. This is the silliest Avengers book we have ever read. It’s probably not for superhero purists. C-Man and I couldn’t stop laughing, whereas the guys at our local comic shop looked at us funny for loving it. I honestly can’t tell if someone not familiar with Marvel characters would get the full depth of the humor here, but it’s a well-told story with plenty of fun even if you don’t. The plot is basically “something bad happens, an Avengers team saves the world” which is no surprise. The interstellar 18-wheeler and the space pirates, though, are not normal. For those who ARE familiar with Marvel characters, you can tell that Clevinger has a special place in his heart for Dr. Doom. We would own this even if we didn’t have a kid.
Those familiar with Atomic Robo will recognize Clevinger’s name; those not familiar are missing out big time. We’ll talk about that in a later post!
Evil and Malice Save the World by Jimmie Robinson. This is almost unique among superhero comics. It’s about girl superheroes, and it’s actually about being a superhero, NOT about who likes who and interpersonal drama. Evelyn and Malinda’s dad is a supervillian, but he’s kind of old school about it. Lots of mwahaha, no one gets hurt. When a new group of supervillains shows up with a darker take on evil, the girls decide it’s up to them to save their dad. As superheroes called Evil and Malice. Their new secret life also leads to some unexpected discoveries about their past.
Interestingly, the cover for Evil and Malice depicts a belly-revealing costume that the gal in blue does NOT wear in the book. She wears a knee-length dress normally. Jimmie Robinson also creates the VERY for adults Bomb Queen, but he has a very firm grip on “this kind of art for this project, that kind of art for that project” so I’ll always be curious about why that image ended up on the cover.
Fashion Kitty by Charise Mericle Harper. I read this on my own just to find out what it was like. I couldn’t figure out how a fashion superhero was going to save others from fashion faux pas without being judgmental. It turns out that Fashion Kitty’s mission is to Fight for Fashion Freedom. It’s a mission that begins when Kiki Kitty, who does have the habit of being judgmental about her little sister’s clothing choices, is hit on the head with a pile of fashion magazines while making a birthday wish. When she wakes up, she has super fashion powers and chooses to use them for good. Kiki is a sympathetic character even though she’s not perfect (who is?) and Harper writes with a quiet humor I really enjoyed.
I also read Fashion Kitty Versus the Fashion Queen. Across both books, I liked the evolution of the sibling relationship, which shows that it’s not always easy to get along but it’s worth the effort.
As I type this, Boy Detective is sitting in my lap paging through them. He is very intrigued. I’ve described the books to him and he says Fashion Kitty uses the power of friendship “just like the ponies.”
Franklin Richards: Son of a Genuis, Ultimate Collection volumes 1 and 2. Written and drawn by Chris Eliopoulis, with some co-writing by Marc Sumerak in the early issues. C-Man and Boy Detective are big fans of this series. C-Man says it’s basically Calvin Hobbes in the Marvel Comics Universe. Franklin Richards, you see, is the Calvin-esque son of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, also known as Reed Richards and Sue Storm, two members of the Fantastic Four. His constant companion is Herbie, the robot his dad built to keep him out of trouble… which obviously does not work.
C-Man also says it has more gross-out humor than Calvin and Hobbes. That’s probably accurate, though it can’t be super awful, because I don’t remember any of it. I’m easily bothered by these things.
G-Man, volumes 1-3, by Chris Giarrusso. We found G-Man after reading Giarrusso’s Mini Marvels, a set of tales about Marvel Universe characters. G-Man is his creator-owned series about two brothers who acquire superpowers from a magic blanket. Their last name is G, so they become G-Man and Great Man. The first book is a compendium of short stories, then the second book kicks off a longer story arc that continues into the third book. It’s so fun, and so funny, and so entertaining. Giarrusso really knows what he’s doing as both a writer and an artist.
There are a couple of warning labels on this one from us to you, though. It’s very realistic about the fighting between siblings. Almost too realistic. Like, since Boy Detective has no siblings and we read it to him when he was very young, we actually skipped the “Mean Brother / Idiot Brother” mini-comics that present as drawn by the kids, because he lacked the sense of perspective needed to – for example – not go repeating everything in them both in word and deed with various other kids at school. And Boy Detective did get completely spooked by part of the third book, where the art style changes and the brothers think they’re dead. He’s asked to wait until he’s a couple of years older to read it again. Just FYI.
Side note: A big THANK YOU to Mr. Giarrusso for letting me name my blog Planet Jinxatron! More about that here if you’re curious.
Incredibles: Family Matters by Mark Waid, with art by Marcio Takara, and and the second book City of Incredibles. I was skeptical initially because books licensed from movies can often be simply money-makers. Kids like the topic, so parents buy it, but there’s no “there” there. But Waid has done a great job telling fresh new stories with characters someone else created. The Incredibles family members in these two books have lots of love for each other, and for saving the world. They’re not perfect, but they do their best. The stories are fun and accessible.
After these two volumes, though, it goes downhill fast. Waid wrote Revenge from Below which was WAY darker and scarier. The early scenes with Mr. and Mrs. Incredible doing mean and frightening things to Dash (under mind control, but you don’t know that) were a big change from the first two books. Too creepy for many little kids and we wouldn’t re-read it. Landry Walker took over for Secrets and Lies in which the characters changed – and not in a good way. The moral core of the family is basically gone. We regretted reading it and didn’t go any further.
Lunch Lady by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. The Lunch Lady series is the only kids comic I can think of which stars two middle-aged women as superheroes. She really is a lunch lady, and takes her duties in the school cafeteria very seriously. She also takes fighting crime very seriously, with the help of inventor Betty who would be Q if this were a James Bond film. A small group of friends who become known as the “Lunch Bunch” discover Lunch Lady’s secret. After that, it’s always a race for them to tell Lunch Lady when something bad is happening, and for her to deal with it before they get themselves in trouble since they insist she needs their help. Lots of food-themes gadgets, silly/menacing villains, and justice in this one.
Every single book in this series has some bullying, from a particular kid who has it in for the Lunch Bunch, and honestly I get a little tired of it. But they’re good books and it doesn’t take over the story. The one set at summer camp also has some romance talk among the counselors which I think mystified Boy Detective a little bit at five years old.
Luke Skywalker and the Treasure of the Dragonsnakes (Star Wars Adventures), by Tom Taylor with art by Daxiong. I didn’t have high expectations for the Star Wars Adventures books. At most, I hoped they’d be passable comics, because Boy Detective was begging for more Star Wars content and all we had found was mass-market products that barely qualified as books, or encyclopedias. He wanted story. I wanted something that a human who cared about the characters had actually crafted – not just screenshots of a cartoon plastered onto a page.
It was a lovely surprise that ALL of the books in the series are at least passable, but some are truly good. They’re set within Star Wars continuity, including a note at the front explaining when the story happens. We read Dragonsnakes first and it’s one of the best. Luke is in training with Yoda in the swamps. Yoda sends him on a mission to help re-balance the ecosystem, and teach him a lesson about the Empire as well. This book was the impetus for Boy Detective to learn Yoda-speak.
The Darth Vader book from this series will be covered in a later post because it’s a bit darker. The Boba Fett book is a solid, amoral bounty hunter tale. The Princess Leia book isn’t really about Princess Leia and focuses mostly on romantic jealousy. I found it very disappointing that’s the best they could come up with for her book. The Han Solo and Chewbacca books are pretty forgettable but if your kid’s a Star Wars fan, anything in this series is way better than many of your alternatives.
The MegaMan series by Ian Flynn, with art by Pat Spaziante. Comics licensed from video games are an even bigger risk than comics licensed from films or television. Boy Detective had played Mega Man extensively with his dad, and like with Star Wars, he was in desperate want of additional media about these favorite characters. (He’s dressed up as characters from the game for three consecutive Halloweens.)
Thank goodness for Ian Flynn and Pat Spaziante! The Mega Man game has almost no content about the characters except for them battling each other. Mega Man is the good guy, and he fights the evil Robot Masters. The Mega Man books give us actual people (okay, most of them are robots), an exploration of the risks of power, the importance of friendship and family, and making a difference in the world with whatever gifts you have. The series is up to five collected paperbacks as of Fall 2013, and there is no drop in quality so far. Volume 4 even introduced additional female characters, which was long overdue IMHO.
There have been other Mega Man comics and graphic novels before this, but go for the Flynn / Spaziante series if you have young video game / robot / superhero fans to please.
Mermin by Joey Weiser. If you’ve never seen a school swimming pool invaded by fish, you should totally pick this up! Or if you would like a book about a fish guy who turns up on the beach hoping to hang out with people and do all the normal person stuff like play ball, go to school, save people from sharks… and hide from other denizens of the ocean for mysterious reasons he can’t explain. We bought this on a whim from the catalog at our local comics shop and are anxiously awaiting the second volume.
(Yes, comics geeks, I know, I should have said “from Previews at our LCS.” I’m trying to talk to the other people right now too, and they don’t know all of our lingo.)
Missile Mouse by Jake Parker. Missile Mouse is one of the darker kinda-superheroes I’ve seen so far in young people’s comics. He’s not the cranky guy with a heart of gold once someone finds it. He’s just a grim person. Err, mouse. He’s a special agent who fights interstellar crime. He has no friends and he doesn’t want any. His father was executed in front of him when he was a child. BUT this book isn’t about his angst. It’s about saving the world for great justice! There’s a lot of action, the stories are well-paced, and the characters are much more than one note. I was just as pleased with it as my son was.
The Star Crusher is linked above, the second volume Rescue on Tankium3 is just as good.
Power Pack: The Kids Are Alright and other stories, mostly by Marc Sumerak and Fred Van Lente. Four young siblings receive superpowers from an alien, but vow to keep their new abilities and superhero identities secret from their parents to protect them. Their last name is Power, they call themselves the Power Pack, and they don’t wear masks, so I’m not sure how well thought out that plan is. BUT most of the books in this series are really solid superhero fare, with a treat of seeing Power Pack interact with many of the superheroes that children will be more familiar with.
Different writers have done different things with this series, and some volumes have more “dating” content for the older siblings, and a surprising recurrence of anti-school sentiment when it comes too bookworm and straight-A student Julie Power. Younger brother Jack is the kind of kid you only put up with when he’s related to you, so there are a lot of sibling spats instigated by his behavior.
To make things complicated, it was run as a set of 10 miniseries, not one continuously numbered comic series. Our library has almost all of the miniseries packaged as small paperbacks which is how I recommend reading them. Simply for convenience, we bought Power Pack: The Kids Are Alright, linked above, which collects the first three miniseries: Power Pack #1-4 (sometimes collected as Power Pack: Pack Attack), X-Men/Power Pack #1-4, and Avengers/Power Pack Assemble! #1-4.
Here are the rest:
- Spider-Man/Power Pack: Big-City Superheroes
- Hulk/Power Pack: Pack Smash!
- Fantastic Four and Power Pack: Favorite Son
- Iron Man/Power Pack: Armored and Dangerous
- Power Pack : Day One
- Skrulls vs. Power Pack
- Wolverine/Power Pack
- Thor and the Warriors Four (Hercules babysits Power Pack in this one, and it’s hysterical.)
Sidekicks by Dan Santat. When a superhero needs a new sidekick, who wants the job? Younger superheroes? Those who aspire to fame? And, um, his pets? Yes, it’s true, when you live with a superhero, you get inspired! Even if you’re a hamster or a gecko. The Amazon summary calls it “sibling rivalry royale” and that’s definitely true, but it’s also about friendship and family. Dan Santat is one of my favorite children’s picture book illustrators, and it turns out he also spins a good yarn. Both Boy Detective, age 5, and his several-years-older cousin N. got a kick out of this book.
There is maybe one instance of a character saying he “wet himself,” and maybe a couple of other minor things I’d have preferred not to see. (My personal setting is for NO potty or gross-out content.) Not enough to spoil the book for me.
Tiny Titans by Art Baltazar and Franco. Tiny Titans is basically an extended riff on the DC Comics universe, populated by child versions of the sidekicks and younger heroes from that world. They attend school at Sidekicks Elementary, have a Pet Club where the first rule is you don’t talk about Pet Club (but everyone talks about Pet Club), and they get in trouble with Alfred for flooding Wayne Manor when they try to wash squid ink out of their uniforms (Aqualad put the whole box of laundry soap in). When I started reading it, I wasn’t as familiar with the D.C. characters and history as many fans, but I knew a little, but I think it’s a charming little book even if you don’t get the extra levels going on for DC superfans.
It ran for so long, 8 trade paperbacks’ worth, that the content did get a little stale over time. Even Boy Detective noticed, and did not like the later books as much as the early volumes. We’d recommend Welcome to the Treehouse, linked above, as well as Adventures in Awesomeness, and Sidekickin’ It. And then I’d recommend switching to…
Superman Family Adventures. By the same creative team as Tiny Titans, and may be a little more accessible to non-D.C. Comics fans. I don’t think the humor is quite as inspired, but five year old Boy Detective and his several years older cousin N. were loving it this past summer. Especially once they picked up the gag that each chapter starts the same way. And there definitely are some nice bits for the grownups in here too.
The Word Girl series, by Chris Karwowski with art by Steve Young. Coalition of Malice, linked up there, is the first of the graphic novels, which are all in small “digest” format much to my eyes’ displeasure. They’re good enough to make up for it. Boy Detective first ran across Word Girl on television at his Grandma’s house. Becky Botsford is the 10 year old public identity of Word Girl, actually an alien who crash landed on Earth, got adopted by an Earth family, and developed superpowers. She also loves big words and tends to define them for bystanders. It sounds really hokey, but the books are super funny. Her villains are bizarre and ridiculous, and she’s a sweet smart kid who battles evil.
We had trouble telling the graphic novels apart from various other mass-made Word Girl content, so here are the direct Amazon links to the others: Fashion Disaster (featuring evil clothes and a playground menace), and The Incredible Shrinking Allowance (featuring giant robots and evil cheese).
Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke. Boy Detective spotted this book at the library when he was three or just four, and we were NOT allowed to come home without it. Just based on the cover, he had to have it. And once we read it with him, we knew he’d been right. This is one of the most wonderful girl superhero books of all times, and Zita doesn’t even have any superpowers! What she does have, though, is determination, and a knack for making friends, even when stranded on a strange alien planet that’s about to be destroyed by a comet, and her best friend has been kidnapped. It doesn’t matter what happens. She is going to get him back.
I could wax rhapsodic about Zita for quite a while, but if I had to pick one favorite part… it would be the giant stompy boots. You should see what I mean. Stop by and read ours, if you want. We had to buy the first book because we’d read the one from the library so many times. And then Boy Detective played pretend games of Zita. And made his Grandma color and cut out “portal buttons” so he could play more games. Then he realized he could wear his green blanket as a Zita cape. So don’t be surprised if you have to buy one as well. The second one is already out, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, and the third volume is scheduled for early 2014.
And that’s the list of our favorite superhero comics for kids (so far)! If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing on social media or with friends!