I had to look up the publisher to freshen up my memory of their other work. I had obviously heard of Oni Press, but I was not reading anything published by them on a regular basis. Turns out, Junior Braves isn’t the only interesting, hot ticket item they are slinging. Oni is also responsible for the Invader ZIM series of comics, which are fantastic. In fact, after breezing through their many titles, I want to read all of them. Yes, all of them! A cursory ComiXology search through their publishing profile had me salivating like a hungry reading-wolf.
If you have even been in the same room as a comic book in the last twenty years, then you will have noticed upon opening this book that Junior Braves bares a striking resemblance to The Walking Dead. Kirkman’s book was a big cultural phenomenon, so obviously it’s time to start cooking up some hot takes on this apocalyptic premise.
“What if the main characters...were all kids instead?”
It’s brilliant. With not a shred of irony, I can honestly say that, at its core, Junior Braves is a really good and fun idea. A group of children out on a scout retreat come home to realize the whole dang world has gone to heck. Their town of 20,000 people has been overrun by flesh-eating monsters. Perfect. The premise is easy. The plot is digestible.
Now, with a concept this sweet and juicy, all you need is a cast of great characters to complement the situation. Well, guess what...they’re all great. For the most part, yes, all of the kids in the book are fantastic. Some of them are mere serviceable replacements for other kids we have seen in other works from the genre (IT, Stranger Things, etc.), but some of the characters are fresh as flowers. For example, Johnny is a Native American kid whose parents have sent him out on the retreat because it’s “culturally important.” Native Americans are the least represented group in all of mainstream media, so this is neat! Pabir comes from a traditional Muslim household, and he is a sickly "mama's boy." Muslim families are also an underrepresented group in mainstream media, so this is doubly neat! Taking from the rich tapestry of our incredibly diverse American experience should be celebrated.
The writers, Michael Tanner and Greg Smith, are clearly having a great time playing with the tropes of a conventional zombie-apocalypse story structure. Though it never really strays too far from the basics, the circumstance is fun enough. And I do stress fun rather than unique, because Junior Braves is not particularly unique. Some of the elements are, but overall it is The Goonies meets Night of the Living Dead. Again, the emphasis here is on fun. There is a part where a kid ziplines off the roof of a church by using the power lines while holding another kid. It is awesome.
The art here is all hand drawn in black and white; however, the art is so vibrant that I could have sworn parts of it were in color. Then, I reread some sections of it and realized it is actually black, white, and green. This caused me to firmly facepalm my own face. Zach Lehner should get 100 high fives for making the children all look distinct. In black and white, it can be hard to tell people apart, especially children.
Junior Braves of the Apocalypse is the Coca-Cola of comic book zombie content. It’s not going to necessarily blow your mind or change the world, but it’s good. Really good. When someone asks you what to drink at a restaurant, you might be caught off guard, you might be unsure at the moment, or you might be distracted. In this case, Coca-Cola is a great choice, because it’s dependably good without any of the hassle. It’s not that adventurous, but so what? Sometimes, you just want a delicious zombie-Coke.
Creative Team: Michael Tanner (writer), Greg Smith (writer), Zach Lehner (art)
Publisher: Oni Press
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