Young Shadow review – a fun take on a teen superhero

Cartoonist and musician Ben Sears’ acclaimed teen superhero comic Young Shadow makes its collection debut from Fantagraphics. Young Shadow usually protects sci-fi Bolt City by making deliveries for the food bank and rescuing pets. But one night, he discovers the Sludge Team, a conspiracy composed of a CEO of a chemical plant, trust-fund punks, and suspicious cops. To stop their evil plan, Young Shadow must don a couple of batons, knee pads, and a small black mask, and team up with Spiral Scratch – another benevolent protector in the fight – and metal-clad nuns.

Young Shadow is one of the most enjoyable takes on superhero comics in recent memory. The main thing working for it is it wears its genre proudly on its sleeve. This isn’t an attempt to deconstruct or subvert superhero tropes. What we have instead is a fun teen adventure that doesn’t fall into the trap of being overly cynical. There are certainly elements of classic superhero tropes on display and even some of the darker ones you’d find in Frank Miller’s Batman work, but it never loses sight of what its supposed to be. Young Shadow and the other main characters of the series are mainly young children. There is no attempt to make them seem to be wise beyond their years, they are just more often or not more intelligent than the perceived adults. These are children who have jobs and are constantly at odd with privileged teenagers and working adults, most of the time being several steps ahead of their elders. Cops are a particularly strong target, with Young Shadow himself not being a fan, which feels extra relevant given current events.

Ben Spears has a lot of experience work on working all-ages comics which shines through in this collection. There are many influences at work when it comes to the art and storytelling, with Spears having described the main ones as Peanuts, John Romita Jr.’s work on Uncanny X-Men and Nick Park’s work (Wallace and Gromit in particular). You can see the Romita Jr. style in the layouts and action sequences, and there is a definite Aardman Animation feel to the characters. The storytelling style will appeal to those who grew up with Cartoon Network in the 90s and mid 2000s, as there is a somewhat sardonic tone to the comic but again without becoming too cynical.

This is a great superhero comic for younger readers that doesn’t fall into the trap of taking itself too seriously. Definitely perfect for teenagers with a well-developed sense of humour!

Young Shadow is out now from Fantagraphics
(9781683964124, p/b, £14.99)

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