Stack Overflow: 9 Comic Books for Young Readers

I’ve been on hiatus for several weeks this summer, with various people filling in for Stack Overflow—hope you’ve enjoyed the variety! I’m working my way through some middle grade series, some more time travel books, some adult fiction, and I’ve still got this box of space-themed books that I’ve been meaning to start reading, just as soon as this next thing is done… You know how it goes. For today, though, I’ll share with you a few of the comic books I’ve read lately, for kids and young adults.

CatStronauts: Mission Moon and CatStronauts: Race to Mars by Drew Brockington

The Earth is in crisis! All the gadgets and devices are using too much electricity, and the world is facing a global blackout. So the World’s Best Scientist comes up with a plan: go to the moon, and build a giant solar array that will beam energy back to Earth. Oh, and I forgot to mention: everyone’s a cat.

CatStronauts: Mission Moon is a silly book about a world of cats … in space! The team of CatStronauts has a rough start: Blankets is sleepy during training because he just wants to work on his robot, and Waffles is too hungry to sleep. But eventually the team pulls together and manages to prevent a worldwide catastrophe.

In Race to Mars, the Russian CosmoCats are envious of all the attention the American CatStronauts have been getting, and decide to be the first cats to Mars. The CatStronauts are months behind the CosmoCats and two other organizations that have launched cats into space. Will they win the race? And what unforeseen disasters will they run into this time?

The CatStronauts books are targeted at middle grade readers and are fairly light, with a lot of silliness and a few references to real space exploration history. And there’s more where that came from: Space Station Situation arrives in October.

Secondhand Heroes: Brothers Unite and Secondhand Heroes: In the Trenches by Justin Larocca Hansen

Tucker and Hudson are just ordinary kids, until their mom picks up a few items from a yard sale at Old Man Marlin’s, whose absence is a little mysterious. She comes home with an umbrella and some scarves, and soon Tucker and Hudson discover that they’re filled with magic—as is a squirrel that happened to be near Old Man Marlin’s the night before his disappearance, and now has the ability to talk. With their squirrel sidekick, they become Stretch and Brella, using their newfound powers to help people in need. They even have a sort of time-traveling adventure, where they learn more about their powers and their capabilities.

In the meantime, Mr. Motstander, the middle school history teacher, has discovered some magical items of his own—but the results in his case aren’t quite so heroic. When the brothers return, it seems that history has changed around them. In the Trenches picks up where the first book left off, and focuses on the brothers’ battle against Mr. Motstander’s supervillain identity, Trench. The brothers discover more yard-sale superheroes and try to recruit them to their team, with mixed results.

The idea of yard sale items giving kids superpowers is fun, though I wasn’t a huge fan of the illustration style. These books end on a cliffhanger; The Last Battle is expected in April 2018, so I guess we’ll have to wait to find out how it all ends.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn: The Magic Storm by Dana Simpson

Phoebe and Her Unicorn is a fantastic (in both senses of the word) comic that you should definitely be reading—it’s about a smart, geeky girl and her unicorn best friend, and while it has some great comparisons to Calvin and Hobbes, I think it also does well not trying to be a replacement for Calvin and Hobbes.

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Unlike the previous books in the series, The Magic Storm (out in October) is not a collection of strips, but rather one continuous storyline. There are still jokes and lots of humor, but it’s not a gag-a-page format, so there’s a little more room for developing the overarching plot. The weather this winter has been really strange, and Marigold (the unicorn) discovers that the ongoing storms have a magical cause, because it’s also messing with her ability to perform magic. They team up with Dakota (Phoebe’s frenemy) and Max (Phoebe’s geeky friend), plus a bunch of goblins, to get to the root of the problem.

It’s a fun story, though I have to admit I did miss the frequent punchlines, too. If you’re a fan of Phoebe and Marigold, though, you’ll definitely want to check out this storyline.

Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties by Dav Pilkey

I mentioned the first two Dog Man books in a previous Stack Overflow column; it’s a comic book purportedly written by George and Harold, the kids in the Captain Underpants series. The premise is that a cop and his dog are both seriously injured, so to save them the doctors put the dog’s head on the cop’s body, creating the world’s best (and only) cop-dog. He’s a cop, but he also likes to roll around in dead fish and chew on the furniture.

In A Tale of Two Kitties, the boys have been forced to read Charles Dickens, so they’ve written this comic that makes several references to the classic, even though it’s about an evil cyborg fish, a cloned cat who isn’t interested in being evil, buildings come to life, and other ridiculousness. Despite the silliness of it all, though, there are some good underlying messages about identity and self-sacrifice and being a friend.

Knife’s Edge by Hope Larson, illustrated by Rebecca Mock

The second book in the Four Points series was released in June (I mentioned the first, Compass South, in this Stack Overflow). Knife’s Edge follows the twins Alex and Cleo as they are reunited, and figure out the clues to the treasure. Tensions build between them as well, because Cleo is expected to work in the kitchens even though she wants to learn to swordfight. We find out more about the origins of several of the characters, too. It’s hard to tell you more without spoiling the story (or the first book), but if you like action and adventure on the high seas, this is a fantastic series to check out.

GeekDad Jamie Greene interviewed Larson and Mock for the Great Big Beautiful Podcast last month, so check it out!

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke

Jack and his friend Lilly have figured out a lot of the magical plants and how to use them, and now they have a very serious mission: to find Jack’s little sister, who has been carried off through a portal by an ogre. They follow it through, winding up in a magical world filled with goblins and giants and beanstalks. Jack and Lilly are separated, and each of them gets to be the star of their part of the story. It’s a story about growing up, growing apart, and growing closer.

There’s a pretty fantastic epilogue, too, and if you’re a fan of Ben Hatke’s stories, you won’t want to miss it!

Pigs Might Fly by Nick Abadzis, illustrated by Jerel Dye

The land of Pigdom Plains is startled into action when some mysterious planes emerge from beyond the mountains. Warthogs are spying on the Pigs, but for what reason? Lily Leanchops is a mechanical genius, working secretly on a flying machine that runs on scientific principles instead of relying on magic, and the appearance of the Warthogs has suddenly made her task even more urgent.

Pigs Might Fly shows a world of anthropomorphic pigs (and warthogs) and there are plenty of punny names, but the storyline is more serious than silly. Lily has to face not only the Warthogs but also her own father, who doesn’t believe his daughter should be out flying airplanes and putting herself in danger. The book is filled with aerial action, adventure, and magic.

Disclosure: I received review copies or advance reader copies of these titles.

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This post was last modified on December 30, 2017 3:14 pm

Jonathan H. Liu

Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, who loves to read, is always up for a board game, and has a bit of a Kickstarter habit. I can be reached at jonathan at geekdad dot com.

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