Recently, I’ve been very interested in kid-friendly comic books for several reasons. First, my fiancee likes to read books, but she grew up on Archies. Second, she’s a schoolteacher, and she likes to pass the comic books we’ve read to her pre-school to 1st grade students as a reward. Last week, she was passing around a copy of “Marvel Adventures” that we picked up on Free Comic Book Day to the delight of her students. Man, and I thought kids didn’t care anymore, what with their video games and their manga.
The third reason is the most important: I think there’s a lost art in being able to tell fun stories without resorting to gratuitous violence. Sure, superheroes were never shy to introduce villains to their fists, but there was always more a sense of adventure than punishment or vengeance. Batman, who may have one of the darkest back stories in comics, was still more of an Errol Flynn daredevil in the old stories up until Frank Miller got a hold of him. There’s nothing wrong with dark, brooding heroes, but lately it seems that they’ve been dominating every comic book these days.
That’s why I decided on this “Comics, Are They For Kids Anymore?” series. I’m looking for comics that are fun and imaginative, yet don’t insult the intelligence of young kids. In other words, the comic version of “Harry Potter” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
Strangely enough, the first comic on my list is the one starring the superhero with some of comicdom’s most violent powers: Wolverine.
“Wolverine: First Class” is part of Marvel’s “First Class” imprint. “X-Men: First Class” saw a revisionist take on the days when all the X-Men wore the blue and gold, and when Beast was simply a guy with oversized hands and feet. “Wolverine: First Class” fast forwards to the Claremont years, when a little Mary Sue named Kitty Pryde won the hearts of comic book geeks everywhere. Starting at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, Kitty feels a sympathetic kinship toward the similarly out-of-place curmudgeon, Wolverine. While Kitty’s out of place because she’s a normal girl in a world of gods and goddesses and demons, Wolvie stands alone from the group mainly because he’s a loner. While the two are at odds with each other, they quite quickly develop a mentor/student, father/daughter relationship.
Kitty is better portrayed as a teenage girl here than she was in her original incarnation. The second issue, for example, sees her scheming to get into the “Dazzler” concert. (And this is disco rollerblad Dazzler, not the Ultimates punk rock Dazzler.) She’s a fan, sure, but she wants to secure a limo just so she can show up the other girls in dance class. Wolvie is portrayed as his more recent incarnation — that as a lovable, grumpy guy rather than the more mellow Clint Eastwood type from the 80’s run. (One of my favorite parts? Wolvie is called to take a mission, and he grumbles that he won’t be able to catch the Leafs-Penguins game on TV.)
Despite the rather bloody nature of Wolvie’s powers, the comic never indulges in violent scenes. His battle with Sabretooth, for example, results in a series of closed punches rather than the unsheathing of the three blades of fury.
Still, it’s a very fun series so far, and the emphasis is on the Kitty-Wolvie relationship and adventure. Reading “Wolverine: First Class” was like reading one of the Marvel Comics from the 1960’s without the grandstanding villains and the naivete. I can’t wait to see these comics pass into the hands of eager kids.