‘Herobear And The Kid: Saving Time’ #1 Shows How All-Ages Comics Are Done [Review]
A common lament among comics lovers is that there aren't enough books for kids anymore, and it's a valid one. The average comic is written to be understood by preteens and up, while the average reader hovers somewhere around the age 30, and it’s unlikely that this trend is going to reverse anytime soon. But most of those 30-year-olds aren’t readers today because they started in their late teens or early twenties, they’re readers today because they had their initial exposure to comics probably before the age of ten. Even though we’ve been trying to convince the rest of the world that comics aren’t for kids anymore since 1986, kids are absolutely necessary to the medium’s survival. If comic books hope to have a future amidst rapidly-evolving children’s media and Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! program, then a healthy percentage of comics published today need to be geared toward the under-ten crowd, and they need to be good.
Fortunately, we have Mike Kunkel’s Herobear and the Kid: Saving Time #1 to show everybody how it’s done.
When Herobear and the Kid debuted in 2002, it quickly became a favorite of children of all ages. The setup is a simple one that hits the familiar all-ages notes of family, adventure, and responsibility hard while putting an entirely new spin on the form. After the death of his grandfather, a young boy named Tyler and his family move into a splendid old mansion, where Tyler finds his inheritance: a broken pocket watch and a stuffed polar bear. With the press of the bear's nose, the stuffed toy springs into life as Herobear, a walking, talking, super-powered polar bear with a long red cape. Naturally, they team up to fight crime, and if your childhood fantasies aren’t already leaping for joy inside you, it turns out that Tyler’s grandfather was none other than Santa Claus. Really, aren’t all grandfathers?
A witty, high-energy, and beautiful all-ages book stuffed with the magic of friendship and the power of imagination, it captured the hearts of old and young readers alike, and two Eisner Awards for Best Comics Publication for a Younger Audience. And then, it completely disappeared.
Kunkel went on to do more in animation, some children’s books, and a fantastic run on Billy Batson and the Magic of SHAZAM! for DC, while Herobear and the Kid was left untouched for nearly a decade. After the initial six-issue mini-series, there have only been a few more stories, most of them appearing in the last couple of years: some online comics, a Free Comic Book Day entry, and an Annual, all from the BOOM! kids’ line, KaBOOM! Now, after a long enough wait for young readers to have become old ones, Kunkel returns to his greatest creation for the five-issue Herobear and the Kid: Saving Time, picking up where he left off like it was yesterday.
In the newest entry in the Herobear catalogue, Tyler discovers even more secrets about his inheritance, his family legacy, the origin of his nemesis Von Klon, the true nature of the family servant Henry, and the importance of responsibility. In addition to that, there are Saturday Morning Cartoon levels of Herobear action, big philosophical questions about the meaning of time, and a fight with a talking alligator. Again, I have to stress that if your inner child isn’t smiling, it’s because you’re an empty husk of meat pretending to have a soul.
Like the best examples from classic Disney or modern-day Pixar, Herobear and the Kid: Saving Time is just as much fun for adults as it will be for children. has a way of crafting a story that appeals to both children and adults. While kids can sit back and absorb the pure magic of such a wild story, adults can get carried away by the energy and whimsy printed in these pages while learning lessons about the significance of their own lost childhoods.
Herobear is narrated by adult Tyler, and his ruminations on friendship, memory, responsibility, and magic are so nostalgic, they could easily be mistaken for a classic Faces song. But Kunkel’s adult Tyler doesn’t necessarily see his youth through rose-colored glasses -- and applies the perspective of adulthood (and probably being Santa Claus) on his childhood adventures. While young Tyler and Herobear rip through the story like a pair of hurricanes, old Tyler’s words are there to keep the story centered, to give it the weight and philosophical depth that hooks older readers. And even though messages are being imparted to the young -- the importance of friendship and imagination, the necessity of responsibility, the awesomeness of homemade capes -- it’s never heavy-handed or pedantic, and there’s nothing in Kunkel’s teachings to turn you off.
What’s amazing about Kunkel’s storytelling skills is that he’s able to accomplish all of this at such high speeds. An accomplished story artist with a resume that includes the likes of Disney, Warner Bros. Animation, Sony Imageworks, and Paramount Pictures, Kunkel has an understanding of movement and energy that only a select few in comics possess. Even though he doesn’t spend much time on the backgrounds, Kunkel’s pages are still saturated with information. Using small animatic sequences with the panels, he conveys little moments in character movement that are usually left to the imagination in comics. Occasionally things get a little too busy, or look more like storyboards than comics, but overall he maintains a loose, jazzy layout style that keeps the eye moving. His lines are sketchy but not unfinished, and he occasionally leaves a faint after-image of thumbnails behind his inks and subtle gray washes that almost gives you a since that you’re in the work as it comes together, the lines assembling while you read it.
There’s been enough time between The Inheritance and the new series that it’s entirely possible that somebody who read it when they were eight might now be reading it when they’re 20, and I have to admit that I hope that’s actually happening. A rollicking, cavorting piece of wish-fulfillment, Mike Kunkel’s Herobear and the Kid: Saving Time will make you feel like a kid again. By all means, do your job as a comics pusher and go buy some copies for your sons and daughters, nieces and nephews to help get the next generation going. Just be sure to save a copy for yourself.