Tails of the Pet Avengers
When Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers was first released, I praised it for it’s ability to be a truly All Ages comic. Very few comics can be enjoyed by weird twenty-five year olds like me as well as my 9 year old little sister, the exceptions really being Bone and maybe that's it. I spent a lot of time here in Hoth, Maryland snowed in with my little sister enjoying shows like Nickelodeon’s action and continuity heavy Avatar: The Last Airbender and weird as hell Spongebob Squarepants and it became clear to me, how similarly children digest the stuff they read and watch.
It’s important for kids and their parents to be able to enjoy the same things, to enjoy things together. Kids know when they are being spoken down to--it’s why when I was young I refused to order off the kids menu, even at 6 I wasn’t going to degrade myself by ordering a “Buckaroo Burger”. You want to be treated grown up and respected. My experience back in my mom's house, back as kinda sorta "the parent", would do a lot of comics writers, artists, and business types a lot of good.
Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers did a great job of being something I could share with my younger sibling, not only because it was ageless, but it was genderless and therefore could actually be for everyone. Things being so un-gender neutral in the world of children’s entertainment lead to her saying “This is a boy show” when talking about Star Wars. She constantly reminds me of this while watching shows like the above mentioned Avatar as well, even with one of the main characters being a strong female lead. Action and bad guys="Boy show". Buying her Pet Avengers and talking to her about the characters, seeing her draw them and be interested in where they came from was awesome, I’m glad I could share something like that with her.
What made Pet Avengers so special was that it was like this strange comic you'd find only the third issue of in a quarter bin: Animals with super powers collecting the most powerful items in the universe to keep their master's safe. Relationships and characters were defined on a single page, the usual over complication of origins is ignored to make room for the story. Take Blackbolt, the Inhuman's dog Lockjaw can't speak. Naturally, Thor Frog--the only non-sidekick of the bunch-- communicates for him. They search out each of the four infinity gems, fighting Devil Dinosaur, Giganto and even Thanos, and even meet the president, all in four issues. It's simple, fun and perfect. You didn't need to know or understand anything to enjoy it.
Then, Tails of the Pet Avengers came out, and I will not be buying it for my sister. What the first volume of stories achieved in all ages comics, the second fails miserably. Instead of a single story with the group of animals fighting together, each Pet Avenger has been given it’s own “tail”. Not all the stories are bad, but one in particular, one that I’ll assume was geared towards little girls who read comics, upset me knowing that I wouldn’t feel right giving it to my younger sister.
Drawn by Chris Eliopoulos and written by Buddy Scalera, Prom Queen is the Lockheed story, about not a little girl, but a senior in high school who is obsessed with dragons. Her obsession has caused her to be an outcast amongst her peers, and has earned her the name “Dragon Girl”. Eventually Lockheed flies in and oh boy, she learns that Dragons are real! With Lockheed now at her side, she’s proud to be called Dragon Girl, moral of the story is that it’s okay to be different kids!!
Unfortunately the strength a real "Dragon Girl" would need couldn't be given by a dragon because they aren't real. The very real problems--her only friend in school is a teacher, being an outsider, etc.--aren't solved at the end of the story, she just has a dragon now. The ridicule she has been receiving presumably her whole high school career will continue, kids just aren't nice.
The artist, who's well-known for this work on Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius, draws overweight Dragon Girl surrounded by thin "pretty" girls who are decorating the prom she doesn't have a date for, suggesting further insecurities on Dragon Girl's part and more underlying problems with the story itself. This girl is given no redeeming factors, nothing to make you care about her, and you are left not understanding why you were supposed to care in the first place.
It's important to teach kids that it in fact is okay to be different, it's also important, like I said, to respect them. The depth given in a story like Bone or even Disney and Tokyopop's Kilala Princess is important to them. For a $4 comic the lack of actual content in a comic like this is appalling, and I know what you're thinking "Sammy, dude, it's a kid's comic, give it a break", but kids don't want that, they accept it. Children don't have the options and resources adults have and so, all too often, they have to "settle" for what entertains them. They'll read bad comics and see Beverly Hills Chihuahua because it's all they got, but when something smart and complex comes along they flock to it. This is whyHarry Potter is so big. Surprise, surprise, adults love Potter too. Kids are starving for stories with depth, something that they can return to in a week and still enjoy.
A disposable, forgettable story like Prom Queen doesn't stick with kids, they don't feel the intended impact of the message, and will just move on. Nerdz can talk shit all they want about novel series like Twilight, but the positions those characters are placed in are what kids want, things that give them a sense of adulthood or escapism and reality.
Pet Avengers could, and should be stories that while tackling "issues" kids care about can also be fun and weird. It's why Goonies and Labyrinth are popular--they are stories about loners and outcasts that don't take shortcuts, that don't write in too much shorthand, that let the stories play out. Tails of the Pet Avengers could have been a continuation of the first series, something I could be proud to give to my sister, but is instead something I won't buy her. There are enough pieces of mindless entertainment for her to enjoy already.