Last week I highlighted the best Batman writer of the moment. I knew before writing it the majority of people would not know who Scott Snyder is. This fact captures the problems faced by comic books. The character properties are bankable in Hollywood but the comics themselves are very much a niche hobby. I understand getting into comics is an intimidating thing, as a medium it gets away with stuff that television and movies cannot. I mean a movie or television show about Batman would never have a teaser like this. There is an abundance of history and continuity with comics that it can be overwhelming to just dive in and try to figure things out on your own. This is a sad deal because comics have fantastic stories and when done right they rival any classic book or movie. Like any other medium it has it’s strengths and weaknesses but when it finds the perfect balance of writing and artwork it is awe-inspiring. Do not worry, this week is not about my recommendations in terms of what comics you should read, that post is coming later. Today rather is about a free weekly web-comic you should take a peek and give a chance. If you read only one comic related thing for the rest of your life have it be Yale Stewart’s JL8.
In the comic Yale brings you back to the days when you would check out the comic strips in the newspaper. The full strip never takes up a full page rather focuses on a single conversation or action which advances the story. The premise of JL8 is it takes classic DC Comic heroes (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Powergirl) and re-interprets them as elementary school kids and follows their adventures in the classroom and playground. If it sounds cheesy, campy, or for little kids, fear not. Each strip is packed with equal parts humour, cuteness, and emotional depth. As much as I love monthly comics which come out, a fantastic JL8 strip will make my night.
Whether you’re super familiar or not with the cast of characters it doesn’t really matter. Yale distills every character down to their core and in the process of turning the heroes into kids, he humanizes them. In the comic they do not call each other “Batman” or “Superman” but rather “Bruce” and “Clark.” You never forget the kid is Batman or Superman but at the same time you understand that they are still kids. It is refreshing that the strip has an innocence to it. Batman isn’t worried about the Joker poisoning the reservoir. Green Lantern isn’t rushing off into space for a galaxy spanning war. Instead, it’s Clark asking Bruce what’s he doing walking down the hallways swinging his arms and making “Tchoo” sounds. With Bruce replying “I’m playing Spider-Man, duh,” and Clark joining him.
It may look as if Yale just picked the most famous characters from the DC stable but once you start reading you understand that each character serves a purpose to the story. Each character fits a type of kid from your classroom. Hal is the cocky know it all who dreams of going to space. Barry has an over abundance of energy, that he does not know how to channel it all. While the strip might focus more on the friendship between Bruce and Clark, the dynamic duo of the comic is Hal and Barry. Diana never fails to lay down the law, the boys don’t even mess with her. Karen is the girl who tackles the world with an open heart, she loves too strong, takes things too personally, and you hope that through all her trials and lessons she never changes. J’onn is the new kid, who is literally from Mars. If Karen faces the world with her emotions, J’onn faces it with a steady gaze of wide eyed wonder. Finally there’s Bruce and Clark. Every character gets their chance to shine throughout the series but just like at DC there is no debate for who the two stars are. Bruce is the kid who wants to grow up as soon as possible but by doing so he sometimes acts the most childish out of everyone. And Clark, he’s the one that keeps everything in perspective because he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks, he just wants to do the right thing. When he needs help doing so well he has a class full of friends who will always have his back.
So why this comic strip about kid versions of DC characters? Because this strip hits the perfect balance of writing and artwork. This is Yale’s love letter to the heroes of his childhood. He has taken the characters off the billboards and out of the big screens and sat them down in a classroom. He has distilled everything you would need to know about these characters and re-imagined them as kids who get nap time, get sent for time-outs, and go to birthday parties. They might be Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman but they are kids. Like kids sometimes we wish we can grab them and expose them to lessons without the pain and heart ache. While, other times we want to hug them and promise that everything will be alright. Most of all they give us tiny glimpses of the people they will become and in that moment of clarity, we see through all their ups and downs, and realize they’ll be okay. In that moment all the good, all the bad, it is worth it. Heroes are supposed to give us hope, Bruce, Clark, and the rest of the class still do in JL8, just in a different way we are used to seeing.
It’s Like I Have ESPN or Something – Nicole
So, I actually have to say that Yale’s comics are, in fact, bookmarked on my computer. Occasionally when I need a good chuckle that isn’t laced with sarcasm, I head over in that direction. Irving is entirely right – these are something special. Yale has this killer balance of funny, witty, cute-kid content, but he isn’t afraid to risk a gesture towards heartbreakingly relevant issues.
He seems to be doing everything right. How can you not appreciate that?