Let me tell you a story about a girl named… let’s call her Dana, changing it for propriety’s sake.
A few weeks ago, my family and I were having breakfast at Chick Fil A and my son wanted to play in the play area. I was in there, playing Batman and Robin with him (in an uncommon reversal of identities, I was Batman and he was Robin, of the other way around per usual) when in walks a little girl. She was a few years older than my son, about five or six, but she was excited to get to play with another kid. When my son assigned our heroic identities, he said that Dana could be Catwoman.
Dana, however, said that she wanted to play as her favorite character from her favorite show. Instead of Catwoman, Dana wanted to be Poison Ivy.
When I asked if the show was DC Super Hero Girls, she got excited and said yes, then began to tell me all about Poison Ivy’s powers and the adventures that her heroes go on.
It was then that I gained a new appreciation for this line. I’m not anywhere near the target audience for the cartoon and merchandise that this series is aimed at, but I liked the fact that there was comics-related material being put out for girls to enjoy. Seeing an actual child who was in love with these characters because of the Super Hero Girls, though, put into perspective just how effective it is.
So, with that newfound perspective, I’ve decided to review this book with a fresh mindset. I’ll say right up front that, no, the book isn’t “for everybody,” but that’s okay. It’s innocent, harmless and charming, and for its target audience this is a good read and a fun adventure.
Right from the beginning I’m already impressed with the cast of characters, mixing in obvious choices like Batgirl and Wonder Woman with a few surprises like Katana and Bumblebee. They’re all re-cast as either high schoolers or members of the Super Hero High faculty, and if you read the Free Comic Book Day issue that was released earlier this year you’ll have a good idea of how this world is portrayed. In fact, that Supergirl-centric issue is the opening chapter of this graphic novel, so if you’ve already read it you have a nice head start.
The titular heroes are waiting for their final “superhero exams,” where they use the techniques and skills they’ve acquired over the school year to prove that they’re worthy of being called superheroes. Each character shares traits with their source inspirations, but some personalities and powers are toned down to be more kid-friendly. To Shea Fontana’s credit, the book rarely comes across as cutesy or pandering, as she and Yancey Labat use the opportunity to put a new spin on familiar characters to their advantage.
Sure, Katana is skilled with a sword that traps the souls of her fallen foes, but really, who among us wouldn’t use the Soultaker to make a sweet fruit salad.
Just me, then? Well okay.
The story, divided into chapters that each focus on a different character, follows the girls as they prepare for their finals and try to find out what happened to the kidnapped Supergirl. In turn, each hero is apprehended by a mysterious assailant. It’s fairly straightforward, and the final reveal is pretty predictable, but the true joy in this book is the details. Each chapter, as I said, follows a separate character through their own day before they all wind up in the same place, but there’s some surprisingly great internal continuity running throughout. Batgirl pops-up seemingly at random in Ivy’s chapter, only for us to find out the context of her appearance later on in her installment. It’s little things like that that show that the creative team put some thought into the narrative and sequencing rather than just phoning it in.
The writing is pretty funny as well, with some jokes that genuinely had me laughing out loud. Some of the dialogue is a little too cute, and the main villain is just flat-out annoying, but the whole sequence where Harley figures out something is wrong because her friends didn’t show up to her party was hysterical. Funnier still because there are dozens of people gathered around her, but she almost immediately notices that Ivy is missing. Imagine Arleen Sorkin saying “hold the phone” and “WHERE MY GIRLS AT?!” and you’ll have an idea of how great that scene is.
Speaking of the large cast of characters, as a longtime fan, some of the cameos were surprising in the best way. Having characters like Gorilla Grodd be the vice principal or casting Crazy Quilt as the costuming instructor are inspired choices, but there are some inclusions that I never thought I’d see in a kid-oriented comic book. Animal Man pops up, and he’s always been a personal favorite of mine, and Doctor Fate has a little cameo. The best cameo, in my book? Lady Shiva.
She doesn’t really get to wreck anybody, which is a bit disappointing, but hey: Lady Shiva in an all-ages comic book. Awesome.
The book is nice to look at as well, with simple and effective character designs and some truly excellent coloring from Monica Kubina. If nothing else, it actually makes me want to track down these shorts to see the characters in action.
Also great: Easter eggs.
This is lightweight, breezy fun. It isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s harmless and enjoyable. In the end, it may not be for you, it may not be for me, but it is for kids like Dana, and for that I’m glad it’s available.
Value: It’s 128 pages and can be snagged for less than $6 on Amazon, so I’m going to say full price.
Overall: While it may be for a specific demographic, this is inoffensive and surprisingly enjoyable for what it is. It’s bright and colorful, charming and fun, and it will take maybe a half hour to read. Judged solely on what it is and who it’s aimed at, I enjoyed reading this. While I may never return to it myself, there’s a little girl out there who will get into comics because of this book, and that by itself makes Finals Crisis worth it.