Pet Avengers: Eat Your Heart Out

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Sidekicks by Dan Santat

From the jacket flap: “Captain Amazing, hero of Metro City, is so busy catching criminals that he rarely has time for his pets at home. He doesn’t even notice when they develop super powers of their own.

So when he announces that he needs a sidekick, his dog, hamster, and chameleon each decide to audition. But with each pet determined to win the sidekick position, the biggest battle in Metro City might just be at the Captain’s house.

Then archvillain Dr. Havoc returns to town, and suddenly the Captain’s in serious trouble. Can the warring pets put their squabbles aside? Or is it curtains for the Captain?”

Sounds like a fairly stereotypical superhero story, doesn’t it? And on one level, it is. In this fun romp of a story, just like Pixar did with The Incredibles, creator Dan Santat is playing with common superhero stereotypes (as well as pet stereotypes, animal stereotypes, friendship stereotypes, etc.) in order to give everyone something they’re familiar with and provide a springboard for the subtle humor woven throughout these pages. Because we’re all on the same page when the story begins, Mr. Santat can take us deeper to tell us a story about relationships and how important the connections we establish with each other are.

This theme is helped along by one thing in particular: Dan Santat has a strong grasp of character and knows how to quickly establish ones that readers can relate to. In particular, he knows that it’s the little things that draw us in. For instance: how do you make a typical white, male superhero with amazing strength relatable? Give him a peanut allergy and a love of pets. Why do we fall in love with Manny, the secretive alley cat lurking in the shadows? Because, out of many other traits, he’s in love with his stuffed teddy, Nummers. Its little things like this that help us instantly identify with characters and make them unforgettable to us.

On top of all this (or maybe because of all this), Sidekicks is straight-up-old-fashioned-comic-book fun. And we the readers are not the only ones along for the ride. With every page you can easily see that Santat himself is having a blast. Whether he’s drawing frightened criminals- hilariously screaming “Ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh!”- escaping our heroes-in-training or depicting Fluffy the Hamster, in his stars and stripes costume, challenging a giant Hippo hording herring (alliteration!) it is readily apparent that Santat is loving every minute of the story he’s drawing for us. This allows for a unique interplay between reader and author: because we know he’s having fun, we can let ourselves do the same, and maybe all the more.

So for a refreshing take on the superhero story, and for characters that you won’t soon forget, check out Sidekicks. It’s a book that makes an impression without making any apologies for the sheer pleasure it provides.

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