Sunday, January 17, 2016

Pre-Order Pick: ACTION LAB, DOG OF WONDER

EDITOR’S NOTE:  We begin a new monthly feature here where we recommend some upcoming titles from the current PREVIEWS catalog.  These are not going to be Marvel or DC titles, as every self-respecting comic book store will have every single issue available on their shelves.  This has more to do with current comic shop economics.  Since retailers cannot return unsold books, titles from lesser known publishers are not as well-represented.  Sometimes stores can’t afford to take a chance on a new book, so they order few or no copies.  By highlighting some titles worthy of attention, we hope to take a step to correct that mis-representation.  The rest is up to you, the reader.  If you are interested in a book you learned about on our site, then you need to pre-order it through your local comic shop.  That’s the best way to make sure you will get a copy. ACTION LAB, DOG OF WONDER is offered through Action Lab Entertainment and can be found on Page 268-269 of the current January 2016 issue of PREVIEWS.  A review copy of Issues #1-3 was provided to us courtesy of Action Lab Entertainment. 

 

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         ACTION LAB, DOG OF WONDER fills a gap in the current crop of comics designed for younger readers.  Man’s best friend - - the lovable dog, puppy, or mutt - -  is not featured enough in comics for kids.  

     A quick look through the current PREVIEWS catalog reveals an admirable assortment of kids comics featuring animals, but not enough dogs.  DC offers SCOOBY-DOO but that is the sole dog book.  Marvel offers ROCKET RACCOON and HOWARD THE DUCK, but these are hardly books for young readers.  IDW has the best assortment of funny animal books, but no dogs:  DONALD DUCK, MICKEY MOUSE, UNCLE SCROOGE, MY LITTLE PONY, ANGRY BIRDS and PIRATE PENGUINS VS. NINJA CHICKEN (through Top Shelf).  There’s more penguins at Titan Books with PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR plus KUNG FU PANDA; and Archie offers SONIC THE HEDGEHOG.  Even cats fare a little better than dogs, with AW YEAH ACTION CAT at Dark Horse and HERO CATS OF STELLAR CITY from Action Lab Comics.

     Young readers need stories of heroic dogs as well.  Throughout comic book history, there are some great examples of the noble beast that can be used as a template for a new start:  Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Krypto, even Rex: Zombie Killer  (Big Dog Comics). 

     ACTION LAB, DOG OF WONDER also answers a question that regular readers of Action Lab Comics have often wondered about:  who is that dog with a jet-pack featured as the official mascot on the company logo?

ACTION LAB, DOG OF WONDER #1  (Action Lab Entertainment, March 2016 cover date)  “Who Let The Dogs Out?: Part One”  Written by Scott Fogg and Vito Delsante.  Art by Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt.  Letters by Full Court Press.  www.actionlabcomics.com

 For a book designed for young readers, ACTION LAB, DOG OF WONDER has a lot going for it.  It’s been quite awhile since we’ve been this impressed with a children’s title.

 Even though the book carries  a rating of E  (under Action Lab’s rating system, E is for everybody) it is more challenging and has something to appeal to readers of all ages.  Compared to other books for younger age readers, it tackles some deeper subject matter that is not usually found in these types of comics.  While it contains more than the regular amount of likable and engaging characters and eye appealing art, what impresses most is the way some serious issues related to the treatment of animals is presented.  This is done in such a way as to make it palatable to younger, sensitive minds without watering down or glossing over the issue.  ACTION LAB, DOG OF WONDER can very easily serve as a book to give to children and follow-up with a parent-to-sibling discussion.  It’s a book that parents and grandparents should read aloud to the very young, as they begin their introduction to the wonder of books and literature. 

     It’s remarkable to see a debut issue attempt to stretch the boundaries of acceptable subject matter rather than go for the safety of telling a tried and true story about a dog having silly adventures.  It also takes some considerable skill to do so without coming off as preachy or worse-case-scenario offending or disturbing a young reader and/or their parents.  We cannot imagine anyone being bothered by what occurs here.  That’s what makes this such a compelling new title that deserves a large audience across readers of all ages.  The message comes across but in a pleasant, objective and diplomatic manner. Kudos to the writing team of veteran Vito Delsante and newcomer Scott Fogg.  

   Only two pages into Issue #1, and we get right to the heart of this book.  Despite his name Lucky is ironically a rather unfortunate dog, bruised and battered and wearing an eye patch.  He was victimized by illegal dogfighting prior to his landing in an animal shelter.  Because of his less appealing appearance the amount of time for adoption has passed and he’s scheduled to be put down.  This disturbing subject matter is presented with careful consideration, and spares the gruesome details.  The brutality and cruelty of dogfighting is implied through figures in shadows or simply alluded to. The animals do not display anger, fear or howls of pain.  Rather it is through the sadness in their appearance that the message comes across.  The art team has a remarkable way of getting the point across throughout this book while still maintaining that reader-friendly appeal that is a requirement of children’s comics. 

   One of the best lACTIONLAB DOG 1 VAR B CVR SOLICITines of dialogue in Issue #1 occurs during this sequence, as a fellow kennel mate of Lucky tells him:  “You are not defined by your scars."

     Enter Percy, the Action Labrador as he frees Lucky from confinement using a clever disguise and deception, in a manner that reminds us of the Inspector Gadget cartoon series.  Indeed, inside Action Lab’s backpack is an apparatus that allows him to walk erect like a human and even transforms into other useful items such as a pontoon boat with above-water propeller.  Do not be deceived by the subject matter.  This remains, first and foremost, a funny book.  

   There’s a very amusing scene during a chase where Percy runs down a street past a hot dog vendor and does a double-take.  After the nervous street vendor explains that he’s not cooking “dogs”, Percy silently responds by paw pointing that is straight out of the Robert DeNiro school of “I’m watching you” (from the movie Meet The Parents).  There are several literary references peppered throughout this series, and adult readers will have fun trying to spot the influences.  

     Percy later meets a cute French poodle named Marguerite and is persuaded to help with another problem. Her brother, confined to a pound and accused of biting the young daughter of his owners, is scheduled for termination.(Another touchy subject being explored in a kids comic.)   Percy, a.k.a. Action Lab, explains that he’s named after one of King Arthur’s Knights and needs to refer the matter to the other members of his group.  Percy is a very talented and intelligent dog.  In addition to his escape skills, he can write and leaves humorous notes (with some backwards spelling, so maybe he didn’t pay full attention in school) after helping other dogs achieve freedom.   Another supporting cast member is Clancy Jackson, head of the Canaan City Animal Care & Control, and owner of Marguerite.  He’s a conscientious shelter manager who takes his job seriously, but hates having to put dogs down.  Clancy also makes a side reference to Stellar City, home of  Action Lab’s HERO CATS. 

     There are some interesting comments throughout the book, from Clancy as well as the dogs, about trust, dog owner responsibility and belief and support for the right causes.  We appreciate that they are not preachy and compliment the story rather that slow down what’s happening.  The art by Higgins and Brandt has a friendly cartoon feel to it like Scooby Doo or other Hanna-Barbara series. 

     There’s a lot to appreciate in Issue #1.  We were provided a look at the next two issues, which conclude the first story arc, introduce more characters, and add more funny interludes. While Issue #1 served as a good introduction, this book really hits its stride in  the next two issues and provides a better glimpse at what’s to come later. 

     We learn that Percy lives with the Baker family at Fenris (the mythological wolf?) Estates along with many other adopted dogs  The Bakers understand dog language; and Percy obviously understands human speak. We learn that Percy is but one member (but perhaps the most powerful) of the Action Lab League, who secretly meet in the “Shed”quarters (an outdoor storage shed on the Baker property).  The members of the Action Lab League are all cute and distinctive with specific abilities and skills:  Sniffles, Kasey, Skeeter, Lucky (from Issue #1, now a member), Detour, and Stash.  

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  Issues #2 and #3 do a nice job of blending the funny with the thought-provoking.  During the decision to help Marguerite rescue her brother Armand, one of the Action Lab League states: “We think that just because we’re different or better . . . that we can judge someone based on who they were, not who they are.”  During the break-out attempt at the St. Roch dog confinement center, Marguerite signals the others by using her tail for morse code but mixes the sign for “hours” with “horses.”   In a moment of plotting against desperate odds, Percy tells the others “haven’t I always said ‘Never tell me the odds’?  The expressions of his fellow conspirator dogs in the wordless panel that follows is hilarious.  Then they respond, “Nope”, “I never heard you say that”, and finally “Wasn’t that Han Solo?"

     There’s also a cool variant cover for Issue #1 drawn by the iconic Neal Adams and available through pre-order

     We recommend pre-ordering Issue #1 through Issue #3 to get the full benefit of the ACTION LAB, DOG OF WONDER experience.  

     NEXT:  INTERVIEW WITH CO-WRITER SCOTT FOGG

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