Image's "Danger Club" #1, by Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones, is a relentless and unique take on the "teen superhero team" genre -- but readers expecting a child-friendly follow-up to their 2009 cult hit "Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade" should look elsewhere. In fact, I was barely aware the duo was working on the issue (I had quickly pulled this off my husband's new comics pile looking for an interesting read) until about 1/3 through, at which time I exclaimed "oh my God these are the people who did that Supergirl book!"
Far more Rick Veitch's "Brat Pack" than Supergirl or Teen Titans, "Danger Club" tells the story of a world where all the adult superheroes have departed Earth to fight an alien threat several months ago -- and haven't returned. Left behind are their teen sidekicks, who have to fend for themselves "Lord of The Flies"-style. One such young hero, Apollo, tries to charm/mesmerize the rest of the kids to follow him (and prove their worth in an arena "Hunger games"-style). However, the quartet of Kid Vigilante, Fearless, The Magician, and Robot 9 fear Apollo's unchecked power, and decide to take him down. Spoilers ahead.
What ensues is increasingly grisly and violent, and especially shocking when you consider that it's essentially kids attacking other kids. Characters get shot in the head and chest, and Apollo is beaten so severely by Kid Vigilante that his face is literally and quite graphicly left like a hunk of raw bloody meat.
But it is this level of violence and gore that immediately makes "Danger Club" stand out from other teen sidekick books, indicating just how big the stakes are and how far removed the narrative will be from more familiar teams such as Titans, Avengers Academy, Legion of the Superheroes and so on. By the time Kid Vigilante threatens to blow up a stadium full of his fellow young heroes, we are firmly in "Brat Pack" territory here. With one major difference.
There are no adults to blame.
By all appearances, heroes like Kid Magician (whose family pics we see at the beginning) have had a healthy childhood with loving parents, and there is no indication that their superpowered mentors have horribly abused/exploited them in any way. So why are these kids so damn cold and violent? How can Kid Vigilante contemplate potential mass murder? How can these kids shoot other kids? What happened? Was it simply the fact that all the adult figures left their lives for three months?
It's like "Lord of the Flies" all over again -- but more than that, it is like us. We face a whole host of threats to our longevity on this planet (from terrorism to war to climate change), but we have a deficit of heroes and authority figures we trust to "tell us what to do." The temptation is to turn to a messiah-type god-figure like Apollo, and Kid Vigilante rightly concludes that mentality is dangerous. But with Apollo out of the way, who watches budding young sociopath Kid Vigilante? The threat of a theocracy headed by a Greek god ("the most powerful bastard on the planet") has been stopped, but will what takes its place be any better?
There's a lot of interesting ideas to consider and chew on with "Danger Club," and the art of Eric Jones is striking and effective with its high contrast of the cherubic and the grotesque. There are no easy answers here, and a lot of mayhem promised. Certainly, with books like "Brat Pack" and "Watchmen" we've visited themes before...but never in such an unsettlingly adorable package.