October 27, 2005


Queen Bee. By Chynna Clugston. Graphix/Scholastic. $16.99.

Billy Clikk: Rogmasher Rampage. By Mark Crilley. Delacorte Press. $10.95.

     Anyone who has seen or even heard of the movie Mean Girls will immediately understand most of the plot of Queen Bee.  Transfer the movie’s high-school setting to middle school and you’ve got it: new girl in school, unsure whom to befriend and how to be accepted, gets involved with the officially most popular girls and dumps the better kids who were first there for her; then she succeeds on her own and finds out who her real friends are.  That’s most of the plot here, but there’s an extra wrinkle: this new girl in town, Haley Madison, has psychokinetic powers – she can make things move through the power of her mind.  The powers are rudimentary and a source of embarrassment to her – she makes the wrong things happen at the wrong times – but things get really sticky when it turns out that her major rival, Alexa Harmon, has powers of exactly the same type, and can control them better than Haley can.  This is pretty good fodder for a graphic novel, and Chynna Clugston is very good at putting it together.  She has an appropriately brash, manga-influenced black-and-white style, constantly mixing up squared-off panels of various sizes with scenes in which characters move outside the panels, ones in which there are no panels at all, and ones in which the panel shape changes as the action progresses.  The result is a book that is actually more fun to look at than to read – the plot, despite its telekinetic twist, is really pretty obvious.  Still, this first book in a new series for girls ages 9-12 is an entertaining start.

     Also for ages 9-12 are the Billy Clikk books, of which Rogmasher Rampage is the second.  These are not graphic novels, but they might as well be.  They are cartoonishly written and equipped with comic-book-like sound effects: “GGGRRREEEEEEE-YYYYOOOOOGGGHH!” and many more.  Mark Crilley’s Akiko series, which contains seven books so far, did get its start as a comic, so the Billy Clikk books share a heritage.  Like Creatch Battler, Billy’s first adventure, Rogmasher Rampage takes Billy from his home in Piffling, Indiana, on round-the-world adventures battling dangerous aliens as an agent-in-training for AFMEC, the Allied Forces for the Management of Extraterrestrial Creatches.  Billy’s partner, Ana Garcia, is Billy’s age but is already a full-fledged AFMEC agent (“Affy”) – a source of some hard feelings for Billy.  But there is little real human interaction here, the focus being on Billy’s battles with the huge and hyper-violent Rogmashers of the title and on his piecing together clues that everyone else, Ana included, misses.  It seems strange that Billy gets little credit and no advancement for solving a mystery that threatens all of AFMEC and that no one else has figured out – but that’s comic-book thinking for you.  The patently unrealistic action scenes are fun if you ignore their inherent silliness, and Crilley no doubt has many more Billy Clikk adventures up his sleeve.

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