Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Astronaut Academy: Re-Entry

I called the first volume in this series "terrifically fun," and I am happy to report that the good times keep rolling in this second volume. From the outset, it is apparent something is off at the Academy at the beginning of the school year:

The problem is that there is a monster lurking in the school that can appear to a student to be the person they have a crush on, and when they give their hearts to it, it devours them. This is not figurative but literal because, like video game characters, the students at Astronaut Academy have and can earn multiple hearts. They need at least two to participate in team sports, so the loss of hearts threatens their participation in the annual Fireball tournament, but the loss of hearts also can bring more dire circumstances:

Luckily, the students are resilient and have methods for dealing with adversity:

Words of wisdom from a little boy in a spacesuit
Unfortunately, the administration takes a hardline stance to the situation, banning love at the school. Simple flirting results in detention, and the watchbears are vigilant about making sure the students do not become too chummy with each other. I cannot help but notice a sort of meta-commentary here with clueless adults over-reacting to situations and analogues to real-life issues such as a perceived need to protect students with armed guards. So there is also some veiled social commentary folded in with all the fun, frivolity, and fantastic elements of the school.

In all, these elements combine to make a very compelling and fulfilling reading experience. I thought the characters are all given their own moments, and their personalities are well-defined. Their interactions are hilariously familiar, with the ways that they speak to each other being both realistic and witty. If I were a kid again, I would totally want to attend this school.

Dave Roman created this second great romp, which was originally begun online as Astronaut Elementary. He has created a number of other webcomics, including the Harvey Award nominated Quicken Forbidden and Agnes Quill. He won the 2005 Web Cartoonists' Choice Award for Best New Character Design for his work on AE. Reportedly, he is also well on his way to planning a third book in this series.

There are many fun elements in this book, like I have said, and the reviews I have read comment positively about them, though some hedge that perhaps there is too much going on. Kirkus Reviews called the book "definitely goofy," and commented on how deceptively complex it is. Charlotte also commented that the book is potentially convoluted and may not be so accessible to those who have not read volume 1, but she also added that it would be difficult to dismiss the "combination of words that read themselves out loud in your head and pictures that make you smile like crazy."

There are previews, extras, and much, much more at the book's official site. This version was published by First Second.

Gina is an awesome person, and I must thank her for this review copy!

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