All Ages Roundup 10.09

knights-header.jpgSarah Boslaugh checks out the Cartoon Network adaptation The Secret Saturdays: The Kur Stone Part 1 and Frank Cammuso’s kid-friendly King Arthur update Knights of the Lunch Table Vol. 2: The Dragon Players.



The Secret Saturdays: The Kur Stone Part 1 (Del Rey)

96 pgs., B&W;  $7.99

(W & A: Cartoon Network, adapted by Elizabeth Hurchalla)


Knights of the Lunch Table Vol. 2: The Dragon Players (Scholastic/Graphix)

128 pgs, color; $9.99

(W & A: Frank Cammuso)


Click for a larger image.In case you’ve missed it so far, The Secret Saturdays is an all-ages franchise created by Jay Stephens which began as a Cartoon Network show. It’s all about the Saturday family: father Doc, mother Drew and 11-year-old Zak. The "secret" part refers to the family profession of cryptid research: they study creatures whose existence is not yet accepted by science.  The Saturdays are humans but have weapons which give them the next best thing to superpowers: Doc is a martial artist but also has a Battle Glove which channels power into his right fist and has the powers of freezing, heating, shocking, and sonic vibrations. Drew speaks 37 languages has as a Tibetan Fire Sword which turns light into bursts of flame. And Zak is not only psychic but has a staff with a three-fingered claw at the end which helps focus his powers and is called, appropriately enough, the Claw.  So you have a precocious kid and two cool parents plus an assortment of household pets including the Fiskerton Phantom (sort of a cross between a gorilla and a big cat) and a friendly Komodo Dragon who can blend into his surrounding like a chameleon.

The Kur Stone is the focus of the character’s attention in this installment: it holds the key to the location of the ultimate cryptid, the Sumerian Kur. The Saturdays have one piece of the stone which their old enemy V.V. Argost is trying to find so he can reassemble the whole thing; when they’re not fighting him off, they do research and deal with the usual family conflicts. This episode ends with a cliff-hanger so if you’re going to start with this franchise, you’d better count on buying more than one volume. The art has a retro character (the costumes are right out of Lost in Space) and although the book is created using stills from the Cartoon Network show, it uses them pretty effectively so the end result is a real book rather than a collection of recycled leftovers (Ben 10, I’m talking to you!).  It’s definitely kiddie stuff and will particularly appeal to boys (it’s suggested for grades 3-6) who like a little pseudo-science along with their tales of adventure.

Cover to the 2nd Knights of the Lunch Table book by Frank Cammuso.Knights of the Lunch Table Vol. 2: The Dragon Players is a franchise-in-the-making: it’s the second in a series of junior high school tales by Frank Cammuso (who also created the Max Hamm: Fairy Tale Detective series). Arthurian references are everywhere: the main character is Artie King, he attends Camelot Middle School, and the science teacher is named Mr. Merlyn. In this episode, Artie  breaks the principal’s windshield with a bowling ball and must come up with $300 to replace it; by complete coincidence that’s the prize for first place in the school’s robotics contest which takes place during the annual Dragon Day celebration. Artie and his friends must face down temptation when offered a universal remote which will disable the other robots, but since this is an all-ages comic so you can be sure they do the right thing and succeed on their own merits.

The Dragon Players is an enjoyable story aimed at kids ages 7-10: parents will like it because it makes science look like fun and because of the Aesop-like moral lessons (bullies and cheaters never win). It’s also very multi-culti: the science teacher is African American as is one of Artie’s best friends, and the fellow student Gwen who helps him build his contest robot is Asian. It’s great for boys because they get to see a plucky little guy succeed against the big bad bullies. For girls it’s not so great: almost every female character is negative, from Artie’s bossy big sister Morgan to the mean old-lady school principal and her cowed assistant Miss Flunke.  Even though it’s clear that Artie wouldn’t have had a chance without the assistance of Gwen, the actual robot-building happens off-stage and during the contest Artie’s the guy manning the controls and accepting the congratulations after winning. It’s bad enough that women occupy mainly supporting roles in scientific research today. Do we have to keep modeling that behavior in children’s books? 

Cammuso’s art is endearingly goofy and he has a nice feel for keeping the story moving across frames. Of course that’s no surprise when you consider that he’s a professional cartoonist (among other things he’s been political cartoonist of the Syracuse Post-Standard for 20 years) and author nominated for an Eisner for the Max Hamm series. You can check out some of his work at his web site | Sarah Boslaugh



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