Super Dinosaur (Vol. 1) by Robert Kirkman (writer) and Jason Howard (artist)
Super Dinosaur is a fun, fast read for kids. I bought this one for my eight-year-old son, and he devoured it in only two sittings. He took breaks only to run over to me to show me his favorite pictures and dialogue. Though the book is no work of genius for kids — as is Bone by Jeff Smith — it certainly reaches its intended audience. Robert Kirkman — author of The Walking Dead, the horror comic books on which the TV show is based — clearly wanted to write for a younger audience, and he succeeds with this first volume of Super Dinosaur.
Just as The Walking Dead translates well to TV, one can imagine Super Dinosaur being made into an animated, big-screen movie — in fact, it almost seems designed for that purpose. It’s got snappy dialogue, non-stop action and explosions, and large, cinematic panels. Those large panels are what caught my son’s attention. He showed me most of them before I ever got a chance to read the book!
The plot of Super Dinosaur lacks sophistication or surprise (until the end), but I think that is fine with this type of book, and anyway, Kirkman clearly wasn’t aiming at complexity with this book. The premise is simple: We are told the story from the perspective of Derek Dynamo, son of Doctor Dynamo. His best friend is SD, or Super Dinosaur, and the two of them must battle the evil Dino-Men created by the sinister Doctor Max Maximus, the previous partner of Doctor Dynamo. A third party of evil characters enters the story, but we get a sense that they will be more important in the second and third volumes (currently available — the fourth volume comes out later this year).
Most of the book involves Derek and SD rushing into battle, but Kirkman attempts to add a little more human interaction by having a family of four join Derek, his friendly dinosaur, and his father. The mother and father are technicians who come in to help Derek and his father in developing and maintaining Super Dinosaur’s battle armor, weaponry, and other related technology. With them are their two daughters, only one of whom is optimistic about this new adventure. The other daughter is incredibly angry about this sudden move away from her friends to an isolated, secret lab.
Much more could have been done with these characters — a few less battles and a little more interaction between Derek and the young girls would have made the book more interesting to ME, but I don’t think my son would have liked the book any more than he did. So, I think Super Dinosaur could have been a greater, subtler work of art, but sometimes we just need good, fun entertainment, and that’s what this book is for an eight-year-old.
Since I recommend you buy this book for children to read, the question that really matters is, “What in this book really appeals to an eight-year-old?” First, the hero is a ten-year-old boy who is very smart and very confident — though I like that Kirkman adds a little complexity by showing that there may be some unsettling reasons why Derek is perhaps trying to OVER convince himself that he is self-sufficient (to me, the most nuanced part of the book). Derek’s dialogue, which sounded too silly to me at times, I think was great for my son, who loved the nickname of SD. Derek sounds COOL to my son.
I think the other major component of the book that appeals to a child is all the technology. I kept finding it somewhat ridiculous that every time they had to have a new type of battle, the new designers had JUST happened to finish a new prototype. But, once again, an eight-year-old just wants to see cool gadgets, and Kirkman delivers in writing them in. But artist Jason Howard really shines in this department since he has to come up with all the visual elements on the page. He does a great job with both the technology and the action scenes in which the technology is used, particularly the ever-present WHEELS, Derek’s self-designed, tiny robot transportation. What kid doesn’t want his own transportation? And it flies! It also works well indoors and outdoors. Yes, I think I can safely say Kirkman and Howard have designed a perfect dreamworld for a child because he’s given a life in which he is independent, is smart, has gadgets, has purpose, and most importantly, is needed.
I’m really torn in giving a rating to this book. I think it’s a 3 1/3 star book for me personally, but Kirkman did not have a 43-year-old in mind as the prime audience. Yet, I can’t give it the full five stars I give a book like Bone that somehow manages to truly reach audiences of all ages. I think my son would give it 4 1/2 stars, so I’ll compromise and give it 4 stars. It truly is a fun book for a young child, particularly a boy. I’ve already ordered the next two volumes. Kirkman ends on one heck of a cliff-hanger, and I suspect that the plots of the next books might get more interesting. Other than superhero comics, it really is difficult to find good comic books for boys under the age of ten or eleven. I think Super Dinosaur is one of the better ones.