Welcome back to the Batman News Quarantine Book Club, where this week we will, once again, be covering two young reader titles. First up, Dear Justice League by Michael Northrop and Gustavo Duarte. This story is definitely targeted to the younger audience of the young reader line, and really dives into some cute scenarios and themes that are brought to light when kids write the Justice League.
Josh: When it was presented that we cover some young-reader lines, I immediately thought of a number of young adult titles that I was interested in, but I also knew that we would need to cover books targeted towards younger audiences as well. That being said, I wanted to find books for younger kids that are not only enjoyable for the “little hero,” but also the parent as well. I remembered hearing good things about Dear Justice League, so here we are!
As always, I’m curious to know your thoughts on selecting this book before we dive into things.
Casper: I read Jay’s review right after we published it, so I knew a little bit about this book, but I hadn’t read the book itself. So, I was curious to see what exactly it would be like. I’m not entirely sure if this is the type of book that I would’ve liked to read when I was a kid — I find that really hard to judge for some reason — but I think it is a pretty cool kid’s comic with a clear message (which we’ll get to later).
Michael: Jay’s review made me interested in giving this one a shot so I’m glad this book was chosen. At a glance I thought the core premise was pretty interesting though I wasn’t sure the focus on gags over a more complex storyline would pay off. I can’t remember what captured my interest as a child, but I’d like to think if a book kept me laughing throughout like this one did, then any age could enjoy it.
Matina: I knew very little about this going into it, and actually assumed it was going to be all individual stories, so I was happy to find that it built into a bigger tale. Fun fact, I didn’t read a lot of books like this as a kid, but the moment I started working at a public library I tore through children’s books and this is exactly the type of book I would have tried to get every kid or parent who came in looking for a book to read.
Josh: I completely agree with you, Matina! My mom works for an elementary school, and over the years, I’ve received more and more questions about comic books. They mostly resulted in my saying, “No, I would not let young kids read ____.” Which was then followed with the question, “Well, which comic books would be good for them to read?” And these questions tend to come about because kids will have a lack of interest in reading, but love superheroes. Or the child struggles with reading, and the teacher wanted something that would interest the kid, be a little easier to read than a standard book, and would still be enjoyable for the parent reading with them.
Alright, let’s go ahead and jump into things. Dear Justice League is pretty much broken down into individual mini-stories for each character, then has a thread that runs through each of them, so I figured we’d focus on each character, then look at the overall story and message. So, let’s start with Superman!
Michael: I think this was a great opener since it established the premise of the letters as a framing device and didn’t focus at all on the larger bug invasion storyline.
Josh: Agreed! I think the kids, their perception of superheroes, and that overall framing of the story is what drove me to want to read this book, and ultimately enjoy it, along with the art. There’s just so much personality here. And it only got better when you reached the “chaos” of Superman’s story.
Michael: Yeah, first impressions are extremely important and the art here really captured my attention. I love this style and the focus on the action and slapstick over dialogue was a smart choice to draw readers in. It’s basically a G-rated Final Destination scenario with cute animals.
Casper: A G-rated Final Destination scenario. I love that — haha!
Josh: That actually is a good way of putting it! Haha!
Casper: Yeah, this segment is kind of slapstick, and I like that about it. Superman saving this dude sets off this hilarious chain reaction.
Josh: Well, it’s not even the fact that Superman has to save this guy (a window washer for a high-rise), it’s that he is texting while flying, and that causes him to fly into a building by mistake, knocking the window washer from his lift… The simple fact that all of this is Superman’s fault, to begin with, makes it even better.
It kind of reminded me of Saturday morning cartoons from when I was a kid. This entire sequence is similar to Bugs Bunny or Wylie Coyote and Road Runner, but at a faster pace and Superman-related.
Casper: I would’ve liked to see more of a story, or adventure, though. That’s something that struck me while reading this book. I don’t know if you guys feel the same way about that, but as a kid, even as a little kid, I always wanted stories with lots of adventure. I’m not necessarily talking about complex storytelling, but just adventure, and I feel like these read more like gags than adventures. They’re still fun, though.
Matina: I agree, I was that kid who wanted a lot of action first, and humor or gags later, so I’m not sure if starting off with a story like this would have kept my attention for very long. That said, presently I enjoy a good gag and I found that starting off the story with Superman causing a chain reaction of chaos and learning a lesson was the perfect way to tell me exactly what the rest of the book had in store.
Josh: This is one of the things that I’ve found interesting while reading these young-reader titles. I find myself trying to think of how I would’ve perceived the book as a child. But at the same time, I keep looking at these books from my current perspective, and appreciating the mere craft of them.
What I mean by this is that aside from the cooky “incident” of Superman flying into the building, everything is essentially true to Superman. He’s heroic, caring, no mission is too small, etc. It’s always fun to see the chore and soul of a character translated for different ages.
Alright, let’s go ahead and move on to Hawgirl’s story.
Michael: Hawkgirl taking four hours to check her email once she gets on her computer is the most relatable thing I’ve read in a DC comic.
Matina: Haha, it is! The panel of her bleary-eyed, computer surrounded by empty cans, and her task still unfinished was the moment I thought that maybe the book was not written for children at all, but as a direct call out to me.
Josh: Tell me about it! It was one of those moments where I had to lift my head and look around because I’d let social media distract me for an hour before reading this. And then the fact that Kendra acknowledges, “Enough wasted time! I’m starving!” I died. Haha!
Matina: Jokes aside, this brings up something that I really enjoyed about Dear Justice League in general, which is how many of the jokes felt added specifically for older readers and fans who might be reading this with their kids. While it is indeed a book geared towards kids, it’s also something that’s packed with details to make anyone enjoy reading it.
Josh: We talked about this same topic two weeks ago, and it’s precisely why I say writing children’s books or films is so hard. You really need to find a way to make it enjoyable for both the parent and the child if you want the story to have a long shelf life and get re-read or re-played.
Any other thoughts on Kendra’s scene?
Michael: I liked that the pacing slowed down and Duarte got the opportunity to sprinkle in some simpler and cute visuals like Kendra’s mask hung up on a coat rack and her mace in a bin with an umbrella.
Josh: I completely agree with you on the visual storytelling.
Michael: The letter here isn’t connected at all with the plot which threw me off at fist, but it’s probably a good idea to not follow such a strict formula with each segment. Having said that, the punchline isn’t all that funny but we do get an absolutely adorable hamster to close it out.
Casper: I think the hamster is cute, but other than that I wasn’t feeling this one. Yes, seeing Kendra procrastinate is relatable, but they’re just isn’t much going on here that speaks to me personally. It probably would’ve bored me as a kid. There’s a message here, but all things considered, it doesn’t really go anywhere…
Josh: I’m not going to lie, other than the relatability of procrastinating, and the cute hamster/ fun art details, I’m with Casper. Kendra’s story didn’t really do much for me, nor did I find more of an actual theme to her story, so I, too, was left wondering what the point was.
I really wish they’d played more into who Kendra is as a character – like they did with Superman – and touched on the many lives she’s lived, or how she knows so much because of those lives. That would have allowed Northrop to create a better letter from a kid who is teased for being smart or liking history… Overall, I just feel that this story was a missed opportunity.
Someone that didn’t feel like a missed opportunity though, was Aquaman! Now, I’m just going to come out and say it, this was easily my favorite story out of the lot!
Matina: I really enjoyed this segment.
Michael: This one is very similar to the Hawkgirl segment in its structure but overall just a little bit better across the board. You get the fun slice-of-life vibe as Aquaman roams the Hall of Justice, talks to his fish (which is a funny moment), and shows off his dope stickers on his laptop.
Josh: I literally laughed out loud at the, “What am I going to do? Rob the little castle?” line from Purdy! Honestly, I laughed my way through this entire story. From being paranoid that you smell, to the fish puns, Justie following him because he potentially smells like tuna, Cyborg’s “Something is fishy.” I loved every bit of it. I felt like every panel was gold – whether it be from the script of Duarte’s visuals!
Michael: Yeah, much like the Superman segment, Duarte also gets to show off some action chops here and makes the fight between Aquaman and Black Manta’s minions fun without being overly violent and scary for younger readers. What I really like here though is that the story has a nice message of being comfortable with yourself, but still manages to have Aquaman be a bit of a jerk.
Matina: I liked that it had a little adventure, and humor, and haha yes Aquaman being a bit of a jerk.
Casper: I pretty much agree with you guys, but Aquaman being a bit of a jerk… It’s played for laughs and I’m not taking it seriously at all, but if I think about it, I don’t really like that they portray him like this in a book for children. I don’t really see the point in making an otherwise pretty cool hero look like a bit of a jerk. The action sequence is a lot of fun, though!
Josh: What? What are y’all talking about? I didn’t get jerk vibes at all. I got some surfer vibes, and yeah, the humor was amped up, but I never felt like he was a jerk. Did we read the same story? Haha!
Oi… I’m scared to keep talking about him. Why don’t we move on to Wonder Woman?
Michael: This segment does a lot of heavy lifting in setting up the overarching story about the bug invasion. Casper brought up before about how the book is mostly gags over a more complex storyline and whether or not that really works. This segment made me think that having a book of shorter, punchline based stories can actually work since all the bug talk here wasn’t as much fun as everything else. Am I going to remember the bug invasion or am I going to remember Diana throwing up after Antiope smacks her stomach with a staff? Probably the latter.
Casper: For me it’s 100% the latter, haha!
Matina: See, I’m in the opposite boat on this one, I found the bug talk to be what I locked onto here, and I preferred seeing Diana older and running the meeting. I was also excited to see the team together and interacting, and I was amused by many of the little jokes here and there, and of course, Batman’s nameplate being changed to Batdork.
Josh: I wasn’t crazy about the bug talk, but I did enjoy seeing the entire League together. They all played off of each other very well, and I appreciated the jokes that tied back to previous stories in the book (Superman’s “Wasn’t me. Bye.” and Kendra’s mace). There’s just a certain energy that came to life because of Northrop and Duarte’s style.
Casper: I do agree with Matina here, though. I feel like this is the turning point for the book, where the actual story starts off, even though the majority of this segment is dedicated to Kid Diana.
Josh: Oh, definitely. There’s no denying that this is where the arc starts coming together.
Casper: From a storytelling standpoint it would’ve made a lot more sense to have this meeting at the start of the book, but then again, as you said, Michael, that Superman strip makes for a fantastic start as well.
Josh: You know, I hadn’t really of thought of rearranging things for the arc of the story, but I think you’re right. I came into the book expecting it to have an arcing story, but then after the first three stories, I didn’t necessarily feel there would be, and then there actually was… So, yeah, if they’d led with the League discussing the bug invasion, then had a quick action sequence of them taking care of them before heading into the narrative of the letters, the structure would’ve been much stronger. It also would have introduced or reminded readers of who the Justice League is and why they’re so grand from the very beginning. After that, you still could’ve started the letters with Superman, and played into the angle that they’re normal as well.
We’re probably overthinking it here a little, but I feel like that’s what we’re here to do to a degree. Anyway, Casper is right. Haha!
Casper: In any case, this section might be my favorite, because Kid Diana’s shenanigans are hilarious. Also, I never thought of Wonder Woman being the one to lead Justice League meetings, but — even though this is mostly played for laughs — it does work pretty well. I can see her being the JL chair in regular continuity, too. She’s always been about compassion and unity, and I think she could be a great leader if the right writer’s on the job.
Josh: Oh, Casper, you’re on fire right now! Yeah, I actually love the idea of Diana leading the League. I feel like it’s usually Superman or Batman, but she’s probably the best balance of both, and definitely a better option.
Alright, next up is the Flash.
Michael: I don’t know if this is a weaker story because the Flash is barely in it, but I found T-Bone and J-Dawg to be endearing enough to carry the story. This one might be just a bit too slight to really register, but I’m glad not every kid in the book is an adorable angel and we get some “bad” kids to not make everything too saccharine. We don’t learn much about the Flash here though, other than he’s petty enough to troll a couple of kids and get them grounded.
Casper: Yeah, I’m a little bit surprised we don’t get to learn much about Flash, although we do learn that he’s too cool to mess with.
Matina: While we didn’t learn a lot about Flash, it gave me the feeling that he’s a bit of a prankster himself and willing to respond to things that aren’t always standard letters.
Casper: Flash was being kind of brutal here! I did like this segment, though.
Josh: Same. It was brutal, especially for an adult to do it to kids, but I loved it. Sometimes bullies need a taste of their own medicine. Haha!
Casper: T-Bone and J-Dawg are just really funny characters.
Josh: Dude! Even though they’re “bad,” I loved them! I’d actually love to see more of them.
Casper: I could see them working really well in a kids cartoon as kind of the comic relief duo that always gets into trouble. In any case, it’s fun that this is a bit of change of pace, in the sense that it moves away from the standard format that we’ve seen so far: a kid sending a letter to a hero, asking a certain question, out of genuine curiosity. Also, the sentence that T-Bone and J-Dawg come up with made me laugh out loud!
Josh: Haha! Yes!!!
Matina: I also liked that it kind of took a break from the honest questions and switched things up a little bit to show us how someone would react to a more prank-styled letter.
Josh: Oh, yeah! Especially with how things are today. *Cough* I’m looking at you, Twitter. I don’t know if I fully appreciated this scene in the moment, but I’m definitely enjoying it more now that I’m looking back on it.
Alright, Green Lantern!
Casper: I was really surprised that this is Simon Baz!
Josh: I was too!
Casper: I expected Kyle or Hal to be in this. But to be honest, I don’t think it really matters which GL stars in this, given that this segment is just about GL trying out a new outfit.
Michael: Yes! Seeing Baz here was a pleasant surprise but like you said this one was fairly interchangeable no matter who was represented here. I think this one is probably the weakest overall.
Casper: Yeah, I think this is a rather forgettable passage. Quite literally, because I had to actually open up the comic again to remind myself what was going on here, so I could write this comment.
Matina: I feel the same as you guys, I thought this was probably the weakest section for me as well. I think it missed the mark with the lesson.
Michael: The message isn’t really all that clear. The gags don’t land cleanly, and there isn’t much in the way of excitement to distract. I do love the subtle bit where Baz pulls up his pants to hide his underwear when Kendra shows up – didn’t catch that the first time through.
Josh: I totally missed that.
Casper: I didn’t catch that, either, but that’s actually a funny detail.
Matina: I really thought the story was going to have it turn out to be something like being comfortable with your own personal style or maybe to be happy with your own creativity even if other people think it’s odd. I know they did confidence with Aquaman, but I think it starts with a girl who loves fashion, and having this be the Green Lantern story might have been a great place for something to do with creativity.
Josh: Oh, I like that, Matina. That would’ve been good.
Casper: Something I wanted to mention, though, is I thought about this segment a little more, and I think my biggest disappointment here is that we’re presented with a really cool image of Simon with a sword and a shield at the beginning, and it makes me wonder: what kind of cool cosmic adventure are they going to show to the kids? And then it turns out to be… whatever this is.
Josh: There was definitely a sense of, “crazy, creative cosmic adventure coming up!… Psyche!” In general, I think there’s a lot you could have done with this. Like Kendra, I think had the creative team taken a little more time to really think about the core of the character, then this could have been executed better.
Moving on to Cyborg!
Michael: So this one breaks the structure in lieu of setting up the bug invasion properly, but we do get another case of a superhero being a little petty to a kid online so that’s funny.
Josh: See, this was the one instance where I thought a character came off as a jerk. I just didn’t find any humor here to write it off another way. Maybe it was just me, though.
Casper: As for Cyborg being a little petty to a kid online… I’m not sure how funny that is. Imagine being that kid, and you are able to talk to your hero, and your hero dismisses you like that? I mean, this is yet again an instance where it’s just a joke and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but I do wonder about these things. Would kids enjoy seeing Cyborg react like that? Of course, every kid is different and will respond differently, but it does make me wonder… For the record, I’m not saying that all these heroes should be presented as paragons of light and all that is good in the world, they can definitely be a little flawed, but Cyborg’s just being unnecessarily mean to a kid!
Matina: Yeah, Cyborg’s response to the kid felt a bit off to me too. I think it was a missed opportunity to show how we can be kind to others when playing online, or even to not let being competitive make us into jerks. I don’t mind him being shown as not perfect, but in a book that feels like it’s trying to do something positive with each story, this one lost its way for me.
Josh: Agreed. I kind of get what they were going for here, but it didn’t quite land.
Michael is right though, this does break up the structure again.
Michael: Yeah, I mean, there isn’t much here other than Cyborg discovering the bugs are self-multiplying, but the cartooning is fantastic in that scene. The bugs multiplying is funny, cute, and just a little disturbing to see unfold. If anything, those big-eyed bug fellas are just a tiny bit too cute that I feel bad the heroes have been killing them the entire book.
Casper: The bugs multiplying reminded me of a certain Rick and Morty episode, except here it’s less disturbing, but still a little bit disturbing.
Matina: I did enjoy the bug portion of it, I too really enjoyed seeing the way the bugs were drawn to multiply. It was a weird and unnerving little scene that I think worked to kind of balance out their cuteness a bit and show the bugs as something that was a threat (even if they were drawn adorably).
Josh: I laughed at the bugs multiplying. It was funny and unexpected, but yeah… There wasn’t really much else to this story. Should we move on to Batman? I mean, he’s our site’s namesake, so I think we should all enjoy this portion!
Michael: This, along with the Superman segment, was one of the most well-rounded stories.
Michael: Unlike some of the others, the letter connects very well with Batman’s mini adventure and the action gags are very charming throughout. I love seeing Alfred play caretaker for Batman and cut the crust off his sandwiches as he signs publicity photos for his fans.
Casper: Batman is definitely the coolest hero in the entire book, and his segment is probably the best. I also like how the creative team pokes fun at the Batman mythos. For example, like you say, Michael, the dynamic between Alfred and Batman — that’s gold, haha!
Matina: I thought him signing cards and writing letters was a really great element, even if it was played up for laughs. There’s just something neat and personal about taking the time to write something on paper that makes the way Batman does it stand out to me here.
And the jokes the team poked at the Batman mythos were wonderful, I loved the solid couple pages of Bat-things. It’s always fun to take something that’s played as normal everywhere else and point out how wild it is that he adds Bat to so many things.
Josh: Yes to all of this! I especially laughed at the, “I’m a creature of the night!” bit! You can never go wrong with banter between Batman and Alfred. Never.
Casper: I also like how Batman gives some solid advice to the kid that writes him. Of course it’s very comic booky, but what kid wouldn’t want Batman to be this totally awesome dude that you can hit up, and then have him give you advice, especially on a topic like being the new kid in town?
Matina: Yeah, I would totally be that kid (or adult!) writing to him for some advice. I also think it would have been super cool to get a handwritten letter from Batman.
Josh: Uh, yeah! If I ever got a handwritten letter from Batman, that sucker would be framed and hanging in my living room! My significant other would have no say in the matter. Haha!
In general, I do think this is one of the stronger stories. But, I think we need to talk about the thread that ties all of this together… The bug invasion!
Casper: This is the moment that Mini-Me would have been waiting for!
Michael: There’s a time for moralizing and there’s time for action and the time for action is now! And luckily the bug invasion action scene is really quite good.
Casper: The creative team does such a great job of showing this battle, but still keeping it light-hearted and funny and engaging (for kids). It even makes me think of the state that many regular comics are in these days, how so much of it — particularly the Batman titles, but I suppose even Superman titles — are so dark. Even if there’s camp or humor, the darkness, in the end, still takes over. But, ironically, the characters seem more like heroes to me in this kids’ book, than in some of those grimdark adult comics, and that’s not because they are less flawed or anything like that here. These characters are definitely flawed throughout Dear Justice League. I think it’s in part because there’s this cool Superfriends vibe here, where it really feels like they are a team and a family, as opposed to a bunch of depressed people in crazy outfits. But I think it’s also because this book doesn’t take itself too seriously, and allows itself to be a colorful, wacky ride through the DC Universe. I wish regular continuity books would embrace more of that silliness again. We do get that in some comics, but I feel like there could be more of that. But maybe that’s just me. At the end of the day, it’s all subjective.
Matina: I feel much the same way, Casper. Reading this book often felt like I was reading an episode of Justice League Unlimited (or the Teen Titans Go! version of it anyway) and the big battle here definitely gave me that same feeling. I really enjoyed the lightness to the story, but that none of the characters are perfect. I would love to see more regular comics play with lighter stories more often.
Michael: It kinda frustrates me that the young adult books actually have really great cartooning in their action scenes that I think sometimes more “mature” books lack. Each character gets a moment to shine, even if most of the action takes place in brief snapshots. The bug invasion plot does feel like an obligation for the book to have a semblance of a storyline, but I understand the hesitation to have a book that only contains shorts. Thankfully, the action hits quickly and ends quicker.
Josh: I think you captured all of my thoughts. Michael mentioned the art, so I think it’s a perfect time to focus on the art specifically! I know we’ve made comments about it throughout, but man, Duarte’s work really does bring this book alive!
Michael: Simply put, I love the art in this book. It’s so expressive and light and fun to look at. Tons of pages have great visual gags in the background, the character designs are true to the characters but softened just enough for the younger crowd, and the brief action scenes are dynamic despite their simplicity.
Casper: That’s how I feel about the art, too. It’s really fun! I also enjoy the level of consistency. Throughout the book, from the quietest moments to the biggest action sequences, the artwork is vibrant with upbeat energy. I’m sure that kids will love seeing all these awesome characters in their costumes, and I’m sure they’ll laugh at many of the visual jokes, from the wacky expressions on characters’ faces, to Diana throwing up, to the entire Superman segment where Murphy’s Law kicks in and everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, until Superman manages to fix it. It’s wonderful stuff.
Matina: Agreed. I loved that there were so many details spread through the book that you don’t always catch on the first glance, making them fun to look for later on.
I think that the lettering in this book really just makes it though.
Josh: YES!!! The lettering jumped out at me from the beginning, and I’m not usually one to notice the lettering. But this… This work is gold. I don’t know if Northrop scripted this or if Duarte was just having fun, but I loved all of it!
Matina: Just about every page is filled with fun onomatopoeias and creative effects and sounds that make everything even more delightful. It adds a dynamic element that both leads the eye and is engaging in a way that makes you feel a part of the book. Like when we follow the loose bike wheel’s brong-bronging of chaos in Superman’s story or the moment where Diana is spun around before firing off her arrow during her party.
Josh: It also allowed me to read the book and hear the sound effects that would accompany it if it were a cartoon. That’s not an easy task to do, and it’s even harder to do well. Bottom line, Northrop and Duarte complemented each other incredibly well, and it allowed the book, as well as the two of them, a great opportunity to shine!
We’re reaching that time to wrap things up. Rather than just give our final thoughts, I’d liked to end this by discussing the message that’s found in this book. I think Matina mentioned it earlier, but Dear Justice League is all about sending a positive message, and I can’t think of a more perfect way to end this discussion than by focusing on that.
Michael: The last page gives a good summary of the book’s positive themes that I’d imagine parents or teachers would reference when talking to a younger reader. It’s a good summary, but the real value is in about four of the shorts that I think have strong and unique messages for children. For me the most effective messaging was in the Superman (nobody’s perfect), Batman (be brave and prepared), Wonder Woman (don’t overindulge), and Aquaman (be confident in yourself) shorts.
Josh: Completely agree!
Casper: Definitely. Especially Superman’s, Batman’s and Aquaman’s messages seem to be the ones that resonate the most. But of course Cyborg’s message about teamwork is really important too. I think it’s good to teach kids at an early age that, together, you can accomplish so much more than when you are alone. Particularly in a world where so many people have big egos, or behave selfishly. And this message lies also in these heroes coming together as the Justice League, working together to save the world. They’re not trying to steal each other’s thunder or be the best, but join forces to get the best results. If there’s one thing that the world needs, it’s more unity and less division, and I think that’s what the Justice League really is about in the end.
Josh: Good point.
Matina: Yeah, you said it, Casper. The idea of unity, teamwork, and bringing people together is really what the team is about, and I think it’s a great message to get out to kids. I also think that each story compounded really comes together to give a lot of great advice that kids can take away, even if it hadn’t been summarized at the end. I feel like no matter who you are, coming away from this book you’ll feel inspired, and more comfortable with who you are and what you can do in the world.
Josh: Perfect way to end!
Thanks for joining us for our coverage of Dear Justice League! We’d love to hear your thoughts on the book, as well as your kiddo’s thoughts if you read it with them! Make sure you check back later today for our discussion on The Shadow of the Batgirl!