Friday, May 11, 2007

Buzzboy/Roboy: The Buzz and the 'Bot #0: FCBD Exposed! part 8a: Remember the Children!

Buzzboy/Roboy: The Buzz and the 'Bot #0, 2006, Sky-Dog Press
by John Gallagher, Rich Faber, and John Green

More so than any other medium, children have always played a critical role in comics. When the industry became mainstream in the early '40s, comic books translated a difficult era in America's history for an entire generation of kids to understand; before Cartoon Network and YouTube, comic books weren't just the primary but the only conduit of information exclusively for kids. No wonder Superman was an infant when he rocketed to Earth, or Bruce Wayne was a child when his parents were murdered, or even Peter Parker was an awkward adolescent when that radioactive spider bit him. Children could relate to them, and even understand their simplistic, morale-based motivations. "Truth, justice, and the American way" and "With great power comes great responsibility" are just modern Aesop riffs, like, "Slow and steady wins the race." Unfortunately, comics didn't evolve quite so steadily, and the industry has grown with its original readership, adapting more mature and even controversial situations for those once childlike icons. Primary colors have receded for moral shades of gray, and, as a person that works with children, I've often wondered why I can't share my medium of choice with them, especially when many of their heroes still come from it. Can I really just grab the latest issue of Spider-man, fresh from the "Civil War" and "Assassin!" story arcs and share it with an eight-year-old? Fortunately, Free Comic Book Day realized this dilemma and offered some youth-oriented alternatives. Aside from the Legion of Superheroes and Marvel Adventures comics, timeless characters like Micky Mouse, Archie, Charlie Brown, and Gumby all made worthy contributions (which I will review this weekend), and other alternative titles like Owly, Amelia Rules!, and Buzzboy offered a different avenue of innocent adventure for readers of all ages.

And let me tell you, I appreciate a comic book that addresses childlike antics with some maturity . . .

Buzzboy/Roboy: The Buzz and the 'Bot #0 is a jam piece starring two fresh adolescent characters, and although their adventures were action-oriented and lingually shallow, Sky-Dog Comics' corporate identity was the most substantial of all of the comics I've read thus far. Both in the inside cover essay and on the back cover, publisher John Gallagher asks, "Who knew comics could be this much fun again?" With that simple mission statement, all presuppositions about what this issue is supposed to be fade, leaving only an anticipation for rollicking frivolity, and sure enough, these short stories deliver. Sure, Buzzboy and Roboy don't pack the emotional wallop of their teenaged superhero peers like Robin or Marvel's Runaways, but they deliver in pun-riddled wisecracks and high flying fisticuffs, which, for a kid, is a very worthy introductory course in the pure escapism of the medium. Why muddle a young person's mind with continuity when the fine art of sequential storytelling is enough to convince them that comics are a valiant alternative to the Internet? Not that Buzzboy and Roboy don't exploit the technology angle: the former depends on his "buzzbelt" for his powers, and the other is a little android with the downloaded abilities and personalities of a cartoon character. So, naturally, these characters feel right at home fighting big city-stomping robots or flying through space to recover broken satellites -- things kids would do, if they could. See, while Batman and Spider-man grapple with their inner demons, which is certainly one form of evolution from whence comics came, Sky-Dog went the other way, simply manipulating the window-dressing; fighting big robots is today's suction-cup climb up a building, you know?

Owly is a bit more existential in its approach to appealing to youth. While Buzzboy earns his name and his issue is generally very busy, Owly is void of narrative and instead tells its tale via its characters' melodramatic expressions, which are effective is not a tad exaggerated for kids' sake. As an adult male reading this comic book alone, I confess a sense of awkwardness, as if I were partaking in something not meant for me. I mean, how would you feel if you saw a guy at your local Starbucks reading a comic about an owl and his rabbit friend trying to present a potted plant to the rabbit's grandfather for his birthday? Little tragedies throughout this issue intended to elicit sympathy and propel the plot forward are actually kind of pathetic through a casual reader's perspective, but from a purely storytelling point-of-view, Andy Runton has mastered his role as an artist of few words, and in fact I hope his style inspires a generation to consider the same technique. Indeed, a script can be overrated if pictures can tell a story so vividly the absence of dialogue is an after thought. Further, since language is a skill humans develop, albeit early in their lives, I wonder if Runton is sending a subliminal message to his readers to embrace the simpler things in life. Leave it to an owl to be so subversively wise.

Finally, Amelia Rules! is a simple story about childhood relationships. As I've mentioned, since I work with kids, I'm very cognizant of how children are depicted in comics. Needless to say, we've come a long way since a tear-streaked Bruce Wayne praying bedside vowing his parents' revenge. In many comics, the modern comic lets kids be kids, and in this case, when Amelia double books a play date with a study session, everybody reaction seems particularly appropriate. Though the language could stand some "dumbing down" (kids in comics are always too smart for their own good), I think a child would completely relate to this material, and in fact might have some similar stories of their own to share. If Amelia Rules! offers anything to the medium, besides fun, cartoony art, it's the inspiration that a young person doesn't have to turn into a superhero with a bolt of lightning to have significant experiences to offer -- and experience through artistic expression. In comics, regarding content, thanks to the independent scene, there are no rules anymore.

Offered alongside the likes of Micky Mouse and Gumby, Buzzboy, Amelia, and Owly had some tough competition. Archie and Snoopy have decades of successful history behind them, and on Free Comic Book Day, I can imagine that a parent accompanying their child would've encouraged one of those old standards: "Oh, look, I read Charlie Brown when I was a kid! Read this!" Fortunately, the comic books I read and reviewed today were so handsomely packaged, with cover illustrations too vivid to ignore, that I think they stood up to their predecessors, hopefully laying the foundation for their own respective legacies. Just like us, comics have to grow up sometime, and when they do, they'll wish they never did.

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