A Beautiful Gory Display – Kickstart Comics’ DANGER ACADEMY
By EJ Feddes On December 26, 2011
It’s been quite a year for our friends at Kickstart Comics, and they have one more release coming out this year. Danger Academy comes out this Wednesday, and it’s a great way to wrap up 2011. Just to give you a taste, it is a book which includes a supporting character named “Doc Violent” who leads a group of ninja librarians. That, it should go without saying, is awesome.
Danger Academy is an action-comedy set at a boarding school for children of spies. It’s Hogwart’s with jet-boots and robots instead of talking owls. (Sample lesson: “When severing the carotid artery, it’s best to aim for an upward motion…”) It stars John, who is essentially the son of a female version of James Bond, after he’s forcibly transferred toSpychesterAcademy. And as you can tell from the name
“SpychesterAcademy” (and “Doc Violent”, for that matter), it’s very much tongue-in-cheek. (My favorite joke is the role call. All of the students are re-named “Smith” to preserve anonymity. The role call scene practically writes itself from there.)
It’s a really solid blend of action and comedy. Early on, John’s rivalry with Ernest is established. Ernest is the son of Danger Academy’s version of Blofeld, and he’s unrelentingly nasty. (And I just now realized that Blofeld’s first name was actually “Ernst”. Hee!) Of course, there’s some bad blood between John and Ernest from the very beginning. But it goes beyond simple bullying, as Ernest is still affiliated with his father’s organization S.M.A.S.H. (“Secret Militaristic Agency of Sadistic Hatred”) this results in an attack on Spychester with surprisingly devastating consequences, and the Spychester students set out for revenge.
There’s something kind of reminiscent of The Venture Bros. in Danger Academy – the style and the setting are very different, but the way they embrace the ridiculous genre tropes and then look at the relatable details behind them is similar. For me, that’s a winning formula. And I will always laugh when somebody shouts out what they’re doing in a fight – a favorite move in Danger Academy is for various characters to announce “Judo Chop!” while, you know, judo chopping. Cracks me up every time.
The action scenes are really exciting – the art by Dan Boultwood is more cartoony than anything we’ve seen from Kickstart so far, and I love it. There’s a strong sense of motion, and an exaggerated dynamic quality that’s tremendously appealing. It almost looks like a storyboard for a cartoon. The characters are really well-designed, too. They’re just detailed enough to be easily distinguishable without looking too busy.
Writer and creator Tony Lee has done a lot of work for various publishers over the last few years, and his scripts have always been clever. He’s come up with such a great premise here, one with seemingly endless possibilities. And if fact, though you get a complete story, Danger Academy is the only Kickstart book so far to end with a “To Be Continued…”. I’d certainly love another volume of Danger Academy, so I hope that’s a real teaser and not just a nod to the way James Bond movies used to end (“James Bond will return in….”).
There’s so much fun here, and when we suddenly learn how high the stakes are, it’s a shock. Not everybody survives the assault on Spychester, and it’s an effective dramatic moment in what had been a mostly light-hearted story up to that point. That said, it’s tastefully handled, and shouldn’t traumatize younger readers. Kickstart has done a fantastic job of aiming books at different audiences, and this one is completely appropriate for kids and preteens, while still being fun for folks like me. That’s a tough balance to find, but it was only after I was done that I realized how kid-appropriate it was.
And what kid wouldn’t love Doc Violent and the ninja librarians? (“Since he’s been in charge, we’ve never had a late book back.”)
I was looking forward to Danger Academy on the strength of the concept and my familiarity with Tony Lee’s work, and I was not disappointed. It’s funny, exciting, occasionally ridiculous, and it boasts some really appealing art. (I can’t tell you how much I love the way Boultwood draws punching.) It’s a great way to end a year of fine work.