Herobear and the Kid Special #1

By Mike Kunkel
32 pages, black and white, with spot color
Published by Boom! Studios

It’s been over a decade since Mike Kunkel’s original Herobear and the Kid comic was published. Running just five issues, it managed to make a huge splash as readers were wowed by the light story about a kid named Tyler and his stuffed bear that transforms into a superhero, as well as the animation-inspired art. Since then Kunkel’s had a couple of small projects here and there, but his comic book output has been few and far between. With a new Herobear and the Kid mini-series scheduled for later this summer, though, Kunkel and Boom! Studios are kicking off the comic’s return with a new one-shot to presumably draw in new readers.

The basic plot for Herobear and the Kid Special #1 is fairly simple; it’s school picture day and Tyler’s running late, and if that’s not bad enough, his trouble-sensing watch is going berserk. Before it’s done, Herobear and Tyler are fighting massive rubber duckies and an attempt to steal a boat full of antennae, all while trying to get back before the last snapshot is clicked at school. Throughout Herobear and the Kid Special #1, it feels like there are two different, distinct stories fighting each other trying to get out; Tyler and Herobear fighting crime, and Tyler trying to adjust with being a kid. With only one of these, though, does the book feel 100% successful.

I would cheerfully read an entire Herobear and the Kid comic where it’s just about Tyler trying to get through an everyday kid’s life, with the occasional assistance from the larger-than-life Herobear. Tyler’s Walter Mitty flight of fancy as he imagines swimming through the ocean while playing in his sheets is fun, and it’s that part that I think works well. In some ways it’s all very stereotypical—the school bullies, the geeky best friend, the beautiful love interest around whom Tyler is tongue-tied—but there’s a real charm to the way that Kunkel writes it. He has a light touch to his words, and there’s a certain joy that’s infused into every little moment of those scenes.

Less successful, though, is when Herobear and Tyler actually fight crime. It’s not bad, but it feels like a completely different comic that lacks the charm existing elsewhere. It’s at its best in that section when it’s Tyler and Herobear talking to one another; the "are you thinking what I’m thinking?" sequence, for instance, could have fit in just about anywhere within the comic so long as the final segment was tailored to fit wherever it needed to go. But when it comes time to fight an evil genius? Herobear and the Kid Special #1 loses a bit of the figurative spring in its step, and that’s a shame, because it’s merely good instead of great on those pages.

The art from Kunkel is great from start to finish, though. Tyler’s beaming face is hysterical, and I love Herobear’s big black nose that defines his face. Kunkel’s animation background is hard to miss here, with Tyler’s swim through his imaginary ocean feeling very energetic and easy to follow; you can almost feel him moving across the panels as he dives and kicks his way through them. Kunkel also uses the art to hit just the right punch lines for his jokes. Having an imaginary creature in a dream turn out to be the voice of a parent is hardly the most original moment, but Kunkel sells it by the disdainful look on the fish’s face as it says, "Your socks stink." That’s why it works so well, and in many ways it’s why even with some of the weaker parts of the comic, I’ll still cheerfully read.

"Remember your childhood?" is the tag line for Herobear and the Kid, one that’s used once more in the advertisement for Herobear and the Kid: The Inheritance #1. I’m pretty sure most of us didn’t actually have a childhood where we fought crime in anywhere but our imagination, though, and I’d love to see part of the book minimized over time. Until then, though, so long as we’ve got the sequences with Tyler just trying to survive being a kid? I’m in, and cheerfully.

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