25 November 2009

Take Offs

Kids suffering from a shortage of even newer Wimpy Kid books could do a lot worse than Chris Giarrusso’s G-Man: Learning to Fly.

Overbearing older brother? Check. Clueless parents with unrealistic expectations? Check. Strange but loyal friends? Check. Lots of elementary-school humor? Check.

The big differences between Giarrusso’s story and Jeff Kinney’s are that:

  • Mikey (G-Man), his brother David (Great Man), and their young friends have superpowers.
  • G-Man is actually told in comics form, and hasn’t simply been labeled a “graphic novel” because it has lots of cartoons.
G-Man: Learning to Fly isn’t a “graphic novel” by my definition, either; it’s a collection of stories. The brothers’ origin tale (“Hey, Mom, where’s our magic blanket?” “Check the hall closet.”) takes up about 40% of the book. The rest is a series of G-Man’s adventures at school, at superhero camp, and in strange alternate dimensions.

Some of those tales are as short as a single page originally published in the back of Savage Dragon and other Image comics magazines. Others are longer, though still made up of collections of such pages. Different adventures appear to have been initially printed at different sizes, and the G-Man/Skullboy crossovers are co-created by Jacob Chabot. Giarrusso is now publishing a G-Man miniseries which could lead to a more unified second volume.

G-Man’s stories find most of their humor in kids’ lives: sibling relationships, parental nagging, playground fights, incompetence in all forms. Superpowers and attendant expectations are just frosting on the cake. Anyone can get those jokes.

Other jokes—especially in the latter half of the book—rely on readers’ knowledge of comics history. There’s an homage to the cover of Flash, #123, and another of DC’s Infinite Crisis, for example. The reaction to G-Man’s new outfit is a parody of how comics publishers use costume changes and how fans react (“It sucks!” Super Cardinal keeps yelling). These details will fly over the heads of readers who haven’t immersed themselves in superhero history, but, having run the experiment, I don’t think they’ll interfere with their enjoyment of G-Man.

(Extensive previews available at Giarrusso’s website.)

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