Cartoonist: Mike Barry
Publisher: Originally self-published, picked up by Scout Comics
WHAT IS IT?
The second installment in an exciting space odyssey aimed at younger readers, roughly ages 7 to 12. The book opens up precisely where the previous story left off, and continues it over a page-count almost twice that of the original.
The sci-fi action and adventure, combined with themes of connecting with other people and doing what’s right, are very similar to works like the Zita the Space Girl and Hilo graphic novel series.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
The unnamed boy, now a Super Adventure Pilot, has finally escaped Pluto and is racing home in the star ship Verity. Alongside him are the robed figure of the mysterious Rex Quattricorn and the deceptively powerful yellow bird he rescued at the end of the previous story, while before him is a straight shot to home and the dinner he hopes is still waiting for him.
And then, a galaxy-roaming warlord in a battleship the size of a small moon blasts them out of the stars.
Crash-landing on Neptune, the boy and his allies face greater challenges than ever: deadly conditions, violent scavengers, and the scars of an ancient conflict. Their only chance at escape is learning to rely on each other, pushing themselves to the edges of their abilities, and making new allies.
Can even a Super Action Pilot survive the bleakness of Neptune? What secrets lie buried under its surface? And, even if our heroes manage to escape, can they withstand the might of Mokoto the Magnificent?
Barry resists the urge to over-complicate his story, trusting in a structure that shows who the characters are and what their world is like over the course of a series of challenges, and it absolutely pays off.
There are some wonderfully striking action scenes, the art not only selling the weight of the action—crashes, people leaping or being thrown about, bolts of energy striking—but leading to some incredible images.
Something about how Barry uses colors for this space adventure just works perfectly; backgrounds are almost always things like broad starscapes, dark caverns, or gray-white wastelands, but with textures and colors that make sure the hint of the otherworldly is always present.
As in the previous book, the page layouts and panels have clearly been thought out and carefully crafted for each page. Even when this leads to a page that’s a bit more complex than it needs to be, there’s some clever element put there to make sure no one gets lost in the flow.
A book aimed at ages 7 to 12 that tried to sit safely in the middle probably wouldn’t capture the majority of its audience, and I like that Barry builds on the last volume’s foundations to add depth to the art and characters.
I am deeply amused that the book managed to pull off an after-credits scene, and one that deftly builds on little hints about the setting while building interest in the next installment.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
The story gives us hints at the history of Neptune’s underworld, Downtown, but without more context or buildup the climactic moments feel rushed.
Introducing an important female character, Alice, would’ve gone a long way towards balancing the book’s cast if she had gotten more time on-panel.
The Action Tank manual spreads “instructions” that show up when the hero interacts with his suit, didn’t really work as well this time. The humorously flippant “it’ll all work out” tone felt forced rather than charming.
The more that the book loses the fairy tale “this is just how things happen here” vibe, the more the story needs answers to some pretty big questions—”How did a bird change the atmosphere of Pluto?”, “Why did a kid wake up on another planet?”, etc.—that are largely ignored, so far.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
The field of “science fiction graphic novels aimed at young readers” seems to be pretty crowded, and while many of those books are quite good, Action Tank stands way out. Not only filled with strong messages of perseverance and the value of helping those in need, it pairs these concepts expertly with bold splash pages and plenty of high-adventure.
Barry’s art style and coloring, especially the simple lines and vast backgrounds, add a feel of cosmic energy to most pages. Perhaps more than even in Book 1, the pages attempt to convey what the experience of these alien places is for the protagonist as much as they work to describe the action for the reader.
This, combined with a dedication to making the panels themselves a part of the storytelling on every single page, helps Barry give the simple characters and simple story room to grow into more than the sum of their parts. If the first book used archetypes to tell you who the characters are, this installment shows you who they are through their words and actions.
Altogether, this makes for a unique story crafted by a single and talented creator with a clear vision. I’d recommend it for any reader in its recommended age range, and any older readers looking for a well-told science-fiction adventure wouldn’t go wrong in giving it a look.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
How Mirka Got Her Sword (Hereville Book 1) by Barry Deutsch
Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick
Target Practice (Cleopatra in Space #1) by Mike Maihack
If you like the art:
Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
Amulet: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi
Kahil by Kumail Rizvi
ABOUT THE CREATOR
Mike Barry – Writer, Illustrator, Colorist, Letterer
New Face: His first book was Action Tank Book 1, in 2017!
He’s worked in a number of positions, and had numerous hobbies, but has mostly supported himself as a commercial illustrator.
Outlander: Barry lives and works from Sydney, Australia’s Northern Beaches!
HOW DO I BUY IT?
Click one of these:
And, starting in August 2021 as monthly issues, from Scout Comics!
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All Mike Barry characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright Mike Barry or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED