4 out of 5
We’ll give the subtitle a pass because it’s a kids’ comic.
Action Lab (the publisher) has put out several delightful youth-geared comics, but thus far, most of them haven’t quite hit the right blend of accessibility that appeals to me for this kind of stuff. I acknowledge that the books are probably great for their intended youngster or teen audience, but they don’t hold much sway over me. I still keep trying though, because, like, I like funny animals and pirate adventures.
Conceptually, A.L. is pretty straight-forward: A James Bond-esque dog named Percy, rescues unjustly locked up or abandoned dogs and ropes them into his Action Lab League of fellow dog-abuse fighters. Superhero animals; easy pitch, yeah? And with Rosy Higgins’ and Ted Brandt’s delightfully bright art, it’s eye-catching as well. But from the first few pages, it’s clear that there’s a bit more ticking ‘tween the covers than just entertainment, as we’re introduced to a dog named Lucky, and witness his quick descent into dog fighting – losing an eye in the process – before being picked up for the pound in Canaan City. Delsante’s / Fogg’s non-melodramatic handling of this grounds things right away, but there’s amazing restraint to not lay on black-and-white blame, either: the pound’s head, Clancy, disparages those who can’t take care of their animals but understands his job of maintaining the dog population as well via, when required, euthanasia. A dose of reality and a non one-dimensional adult character? Pretty bold stuff. All of the messaging about dog care is properly massaged into the story, kept as important to the plot but not in any way overwhelming the adventure or good cheer. The last bit is especially clever. The dogs of Action Lab are in generally good spirits whilst doing their derring-do, which allows us to have quite a bit of comedy that’s not in any way disruptive to the underlying principles being preached. Our art team services these different aspects of the story wonderfully, with excellent comic timing (I sincerely laughed out loud at a couple of bits which are nailed due to this timing) and concise characterization with minimal – but precise – linework, almost cel-shaded looking but then rendered even more flat by the near absence of shadows. That might make it not sound very engaging, but the pages are pure animation.
The jailbreak that takes up this first short arc does a good job of setting up the League and Clancy and more to come, although Percy has a deus ex machina backpack with all types of robotic gadgets in it that could’ve been spoken to a bit (so we have an understanding of what it can and can’t do, even at a basic level), and I was hoping that said jailbreak would have a bit more to it than how it plays out, but by the same token, the team manages to stuff a surprising amount into these issues. Hopefully this is another hit for Action Lab (…the publisher) so we can let A.L. (the title) grow!
(An agency that educates the public on the misconceptions regarding Pitbulls – StubbyDog – is represented by Mitzi Bolános in each, for a backpage Q & A, and these informational bits also retain the same tonal non-judgemental but straight-forward balance as the rest of the book.)