Scribblenauts Unmasked: A Crisis of Imagination– “World War i/The Shadow Falls”

Written by Josh Elder
Illustrated by Adam Archer
Colors by Ian Herring

Full disclosure: I have not played any of the Scribblenauts games. Instead, I picked up this title to have another all-ages book to read with my family.

The problem, though, is it isn’t really an all-ages book. Die-hard fans of the game might enjoy it, but this is a book that is strictly for kids.

If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you know that I’m a fan of books like Tiny Titans and Batman ’66, the latter of which I would consider to be perfectly fine for even young children. What’s great about those books, though, is they’re smart and they don’t talk down to the audience, with engaging plotting and sharp dialogue that anyone can appreciate. This book, on the other hand, is plagued with obnoxious slang, cliched axioms, and worn-out pop culture references.

Save for the insufferably long “Scribblegram” opening, the script in this issue isn’t as bad as previous issues, but that scene goes on way too long and the issue never recovers. I’m giving Elder the benefit of the doubt, as I’m sure he can be a great writer with the right material. Here, he’s probably under strict scrutiny from both DC and WB Games regarding how he handles all of the characters from the separate properties. Saying that, with how much the Justice League and other heroes almost completely rely on Maxwell and Lily to save he day, it reads like something a kid projected himself onto and wrote as he went along, and not in a good way. Again, this is hardly Elder’s fault, I’m sure, but the protagonists are so obnoxious that it’s hard to really get involved with what’s going on, especially with the one-dimensional characterizations of the DC heroes.

Like I said, I haven’t played the game, and to the book’s credit, the basic mechanics are pretty clear when they’re actually utilized: Maxwell scribbles a phrase in his notebook and it happens. An impressive tool, no doubt, but it’s treated like it’s the most powerful weapon in the universe with very little to back that up. It’s never made clear just how much he can do with it; sometimes all Maxwell will write is, say, “jetpack” and one will appear, while there are other instances where it’s so powerful that he can change the sun from yellow to red to rob Kryptonian criminals of their powers. It’s wildly inconsistent, and while it may be explained in the game, there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t just write “good guys win” and be done with the whole thing.

As far as the actual plot goes, the broad strokes aren’t terrible, but everything has been seen before; it’s effectively a kid-friendly Crisis on Infinite Earths, complete with the same antagonist. It’s pretty standard stuff, with a few compelling moments that are lost between uses of the terms “totes” and “cray cray.”

Archer’s art is fine, if unremarkable. The character designs are cute, with action figure-like joint pegs and large heads, but the lack of mouths on all but a few characters is kind of strange. It makes some characters, especially females, really difficult to identify.

The real saving grace of the series, though, is the amount of cameos. There are some lesser-known characters that pop up, like Ambush Bug, Booster Gold, and the Metal Men, but it’s not entirely unexpected to see any of them. The real joy is in not only seeing someone like Space Cabby, but having him play an actual part in the plot. That right there earns at least two points. This issue is relatively light on guest appearances, but having Wonder Woman fight Circe instead of the expected Cheetah was a nice change.

I really wish I loved this series, but I honestly don’t. Forgive me for sounding like a grouchy old man, but the forced “cool attitudes” and lazy plotting really detract from what could have been a good book.

Overall: A better issue than some of those that have come before, it is still hampered by weak pop culture gags and bad dialogue.

Recommended if:

  • You have played Scribblenauts
  • Multiverse stories interest you

SCORE: 4/10