DC Super-Pets: The Fastest Pet on Earth; Heroes of the High Seas; Midway Monkey Madness; Pooches of Power; Royal Rodent Rescue; Super Hero Splash Down. Illustrated by Art Baltazar. Written by J.E. Bright (Fastest; Heroes); Sarah Hines Stephens (Midway; Pooches); John Sazaklis (Royal); Jane Mason (Splash). Picture Window Books. $4.95 each.
Superman: Superman versus Mongul. By Michael Teitelbaum. Pictures by MADA Design, Inc. Harper. $3.99.
Transformers: Hunt for the Decepticons—Prime Target. Adapted by Susan Korman. Illustrated by MADA Design, Inc. HarperFestival. $3.99.
Notch up the inherent absurdity of DC Comics’ superheroes a bit, turn traditional comic-book writing into chapter-book form, and make the whole arrangement adorable, and you have the basic idea of the DC Super-Pets series, roughly for ages 6-8. The idea is sort of sweet: imagine super-pets that superheroes might have, and put a cartoon of each superhero on the back of each book – with the speech balloon, “Aw yeah, PETS!” Each book includes a multi-chapter (but very simply written) adventure in which a hero’s pet successfully outwits a villainous critter. As usual in DC plotting, the bad guys are bad because they are bad; there isn’t much thought given to motivation here (this is why Marvel was able to carve out a niche years ago by introducing “superheroes with super problems” – they actually spent some time thinking). There are some bad joke at the end of each book, and pictures of all the super good pets and super baddies, and (in a slight bow to education) a short list of words used in each book and their meanings. Not included in the word lists are “BOING!” and “SHHIVVERR!” and “GROOARR!” and other exclamations that appear very frequently in the stories, usually in bright colors and larger type than the narrative (and yes, in all caps). The stories themselves are simple and enjoyable enough: a kangaroo (sorry, “kanga”) outraces and outthinks a cheetah to protect a rare golden tortoise; good pets Topo, Ark and Storm prevent the sinking of Atlantis by manta rays Misty and Sneezers; Beppo the Super-Monkey proves more than a match for Gorilla Grodd; and so on. The interchangeable writers follow the books’ formula with apparent ease, and the fact that all the illustrations are done by a single artist, Art Baltazar, gives the series a unified look. The whole setup is actually rather cute – cutest of all is the book pitting Ace the Bat-Hound and Krypto the Super-Dog against the Bad News Birds: Waddles, Griff and Artie Puffin. The threats and adventures are mild, the writing is easy to follow, and the illustrations are quite colorful – kids who enjoy any of these books will likely want them all.
For even younger readers, or ones not yet interested in chapter books, there is also plenty of superhero action available – using the original characters, whether from DC or elsewhere. Superman versus Morgul is a Level 2 book in the “I Can Read!” series, featuring a typical plot: alien aboard a planet-size warship travels through space to conquer Earth because…well, just because. Superman fights the alien, wins, destroys the ship’s engines, then hurls it out of the solar system (although the craft certainly does not look planet-size – small-asteroid-size, maybe). The bright and stylized illustrations are right out of DC Comics in its current “chiseled” phase. And for kids who are more interested in DreamWorks’ Transformers franchise than in DC’s heroes, there is Prime Target, which features the evil Megatron tricking the good Optimus Prime into a magnetic trap that prevents the Transformer from, err, transforming, leading to a battle that is not between robots but between a bad robot and a good, well, truck. Kids familiar with the Transformers will know just how this one is going to turn out, just as kids who know DC superheroes will be unsurprised by Superman’s latest triumph. But surprises are not the point of these simple, illustration-heavy stories – the idea is to use young readers’ familiarity with and enjoyment of the characters to pull them into a much wider world than the superheroes live in: the world of reading. And pretty much anything that does that is worth considering – if your children happen to be fans of these characters, then the books that encourage real-world kids to do more reading really are just super.