August 02, 2018


Sweet Success. By Liz and Jimmy Reed. Harper. $17.99.

The Bad Guys #7: Do-You-Think-He-Saurus?! By Aaron Blabey. Scholastic. $6.99.

     It doesn’t get much sillier than this: Sweet Success features a worried ice cream cone attending a party for a couple of smiling cherries along with a banana, a waffle and other friends, then joining a race featuring a glass of milk, a cookie, a bowl of cereal and – well, these are not your everyday characters. And they do not look like everyday characters, either, being made from various combinations of polymer clay, paint, sandpaper, dental floss, coffee grounds, recycled cardboard, foam, wood, turf, rocks, aluminum foil and many other thrown-together ingredients that collectively create the sort of attractively mismatched mishmash that you usually find only on the Internet. In fact, the wife-and-husband team of Liz and Jimmy Reed is responsible for a webcomic that is the inspiration underlying Sweet Success, whose success as a book will surely be sweet for them. The main attraction of the book is strictly visual and is silly in an oddly endearing way. The created characters even have speech balloons that reflect what they are made of – each balloon has the look of flattened clay on which words appear. And in addition to the visual interest, focusing primarily on Scoops the ice cream cone, the book has a bit of a plot and a bit of a message. The plot has to do with a surprise birthday party for the Cherry Twins, for whom Scoops has started making a special gift: a painting. But Scoops is good at starting projects and not so good at finishing them, getting easily distracted into starting something new again and again. So the painting is still wet as Scoops heads for the party, and it gets smudged and gooey as Scoops runs with it, and it is all so sad that Scoops runs away from the celebration because “she didn’t want anyone to see her meltdown” (joke: she is an ice cream cone). As she runs out, she says, “I have to split,” to a banana (joke: banana split). Scoops dumps the messy painting in the trash and runs, crying sprinkles, right into the start of a race where characters cheer on the runners with signs such as “Last steps are a piece of” – and an arrow pointing to the sign holder, a cake slice (joke: piece of cake). Scoops wins the race, which of course means she has finished it, and that makes her think of finishing other things as well, so she makes a new painting and somehow gets it almost immediately done and dry so the Cherry Twins can get it for their gift, and then she creates a big new project in the form of a garden, and all her friends pitch in so the whole thing gets started and finished in record time. True, the different elements of the book do not fit together very well; and true, the book’s main reason for being seems to be to show as many possible sort-of-claymation characters doing as many things as they can. But this matters very little, since the amusing way the Reeds make the characters and show their activities and interactions makes Sweet Success a tasty treat, even if not a particularly nutritious one.

     But Sweet Success is the Encyclopedia Britannica beside Aaron Blabey’s latest entry in The Bad Guys series. This seventh volume is the wildest, weirdest, wackiest and altogether strangest of these already wild, weird, wacky and strange books. Blabey has been getting further and further away from the original premise of the books as the series has progressed. That original idea was that characters generally thought of as bad guys – the Big Bad Wolf, a snake, a shark, a piranha and a tarantula – decide to change their lives and change their images by becoming good guys and helping out rather than harming, for a change. Doing this requires them to overcome some basic elements of their nature, and this proves difficult enough (especially for Mr. Snake) to be hilarious each time things almost have the guys returning to their original bad ways. But here, in the improbably titled and peculiarly punctuated seventh book – Do-You-Think-He-Saurus?! – matters have gone off the weirdness scale. In the previous book, the Bad Guys escaped the clutches of an evil, gigantic, multi-armed-with-butts-for-hands alien that had been disguised as Dr. Rupert Marmalade, an adorable guinea pig. The escape was from the moon, lair of the evil alien, back to good old Earth. Unfortunately, the escape pod traveled through time as well as space, so the Bad Guys ended up in Cretaceous times amid dinosaurs; this starts to make the new book’s title almost make sense. However, the story here goes so far off the rails so quickly that “almost makes sense” is as close to making sense as it ever gets. Among the elements here are an alien invasion of 21st-century Earth, and the necessary escape from the dinosaur era, and a scene in which Mr. Piranha gets stuck in a tyrannosaur’s nostril, and a time portal whose wiring contains a button marked “do not press” that is obviously going to get pressed, and a hysterically funny passage through the ages in which all the characters (except the sensible non-button-pushing tarantula) metamorphose in a host of hugely improbable and inventive ways. Eventually, everyone returns to the 21st century, inadvertently bringing along a Velociraptor who now can speak and who politely announces that his name is Milton. Then there is the discovery of newly acquired superpowers. Oh, and the whole book ends as the evil alien hosts his very own reality TV show, which is so accurate and spot-on a parody of that noxious format that adults, if not necessarily kids, will have trouble holding in their hysteria. And then, after the story, there are some games and quizzes and – well, suffice it to say that this seventh and certainly not final entry in The Bad Guys is completely out of control, totally different from all the earlier books, and actually deserves to be called a special edition (which, lo and behold, it is, right on the cover). Actually, Blabey only seems to have lost control of the story and the characters. In reality, what he has lost control of are some of the more-adult areas of his mind, assuming he has some. But readers of The Bad Guys will care not a whit, or wit, as the case may be. Whatever Blabey saw, and whatever he ingested to see it, before putting together this book, he will need a lot more of it to top Do-You-Think-He-Saurus?!

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