Friday, March 18, 2016

Attack of the Alien Horde (Miles Taylor and the Golden Cape #1) by Robert Venditti, Dusty Higgins (Illustrations)

This superhero book has a strong character arc, layered themes, and hero's journey to create a humorous and entertaining read that mixes comic illustrations with narrative text. The technique strengthens the story and will help readers because every time Miles turns into a superhero the text becomes a comic strip with speech bubbles. It works particularly well with the story and is funnier because of the visual of a small middle school boy turning into a six foot five, muscular caped crusader. Seventh grade was the ultimate in awkward periods for me and I would have loved this book with its alter-ego protagonist who deals with middle school peer pressure and identity that is grounded in strong morals.

Miles Taylor is the new kid in school and he is bullied by the star football player and his flunkeys. If it isn't coke dumped on him, it's food getting stolen, or verbal abuse. He takes it as best he can and even tries to fight it but always ends up on the losing side. Worse, Josie sees it all - the girl he has a crush on at school. Top that off his parents have gotten divorced as his mom ran off with another man. She calls once a week and Miles feels angry and frustrated. The divorce has meant his dad, an electrician, has had to move into a small apartment and they don't have enough money to pay the bills. The reader never learns the mom's career or even if she had one, but I assume so since Miles and his dad are so short on cash.

The strong character arc and definition of what makes a hero is what kept me engrossed in the story. Miles is pretty clueless and downright stupid at times which makes him the antithesis of the conventional superhero. When he goes with his dad on a job and ends up with a magical cape in his hands from the previous superhero, it is obvious that its going to be hard to save the world when you have to be in school all day long. Miles hooks up with genius and superhero aficionado, Henry Matte, who helps him discover and manipulate the powers of the cape (and use his brain power more efficiently).

The two figure out that in order to use the cape, thoughts must be on others and not oneself or the promotion of oneself. The cape will not work if the user has any thoughts on pride, domination, or using it for personal gain. Miles learns to deal with power humbly. He also learns that to be a hero he must be willing to die even though the odds are so against him. He must act because to do nothing is unacceptable. At the climax Miles realizes that he might not be the smartest, or best looking, or athletic, or exceptional, but he is good and he can use that to better the world. When he fights the Gaarls and the odds look bad, it is an outside force that rescues him. This is like the hero's journey in the "Lord of the Rings." It involves a character dealing with the corruption of power and going on quest or journey that will most like fail and being rescued by others.

The play on words and cartoonish villains are a hoot. The Unnd's not only stand for the prefix "un", or not, their name is used in all the words such as unhappy- they are un(nd)happy, un(nd)friendly, un(nd)inviting, un(nd)amusing. It reminds me of "ikke" in Norwegian which means "not" - an influence on Midwesterners use of the phrase, "ick!"when Scandinavian immigrants moved there. And while the villain, Commander Lord Calamity, is a tyrant that kills a servant that displeases him in a cruel way, he bows to his mother who calls him "Oggie" and makes his favorite rancid soup. Calamity is evil incarnate and quite silly. When he sees Earth for the first time he feels moved by its beauty but he has no inkling what the concept means. One of his soldiers has to explain it to him. The Commander might have a thing or two to learn from the earthlings and suggests that he is not beyond redemption and the ending shows that evil exists on Earth too as well as with the aliens. The General (from Earth) sees his rescuers as aliens with too much power (reminds me of the Transformers movie plot). The end definitely implies a sequel. Nothing too serious here, folks, and one that young readers will find fun and funny.

4 Smileys

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