Hey kids! It’s good ol’ Uncle Andy back for another rousing game of comic books keep flying at my head, and I either duck or let them crack me in the skull before picking them off the floor and reading them.
I will say for the most part I have a pretty sore noggin as I don’t do much ducking. However on the plus side it does mean that I can share all kinds of great stories for all ages given I took the time to read whatever was flung in my direction.
For today’s read pile, I’m taking a page out of my wife’s playbook though. As some of you might know, my wife, Nicole, has her own little niche here at GotS carved out for reading comics aimed at young adults and children.
Unfortunately, she’s had a change of jobs recently which hasn’t given her a lot of free time to much of anything, let alone review comics for kids. Therefore she asked me to pick up the slack a bit for her in this regard, and as her husband, I’ve always got her back. So on today’s blog, we’ll be reviewing Nathan Hale’s “One Trick Pony”, a fabulous little graphic novel which I found in the young adult’s section at our public library.
It’s the end of the world! Well, actually that’s already happened in this story set in a post apocalyptic future in which our civilization which had advanced to the point where we had created robotic AI including people and animals had been destroyed by an invasion of extraterrestrial creatures called “Pipers”.
It seems like “Pipers”, which are called that because of the “Pi Pi Pi” sound they make, are not so much interested with us as a species but rather with the resources we have created. Namely, they have ravaged our planet stealing anything mechanical in nature, placing it in their corrosive bubbles, and sending it to their mother ship in space.
Many years after their initial invasion, a group of humans in a mobile community called “The Caravan” live a nomadic existence moving from place to place rescuing any piece of technology they can find. In this way they have become saviors in a sense to the robotic community and the enlightened keepers of the torch of knowledge in a world descending back into the stone age.
Three young adults from the Caravan named Strata, Auger, and Inby begin our story by finding a secret underground bunker full of robots that was left undiscovered by the Pipers. Among these robots, the young girl, Strata, finds a soulmate in a robotic horse named Kleidi which she refuses to let the others destroy despite making them a very dangerous target for the Pipers and their killer bubbles.
Determined to return Kleidi to the Caravan with news of the underground technological treasure trove, the three join forces with another young woman named Pick as they navigate “hot zones” filled with not only ever increasingly strong Piper creatures but also blood thirsty tribal humans all hell bent on eliminating the threat Strata and her new found horse friend pose to this savage new world of the future.
Will they survive the journey back to their families? Or is it just a matter of time until Kleidi and Strata have to “pay the piper”???
Things I Liked:
I honestly can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s by far one of the best I’ve read this summer, and that’s saying a lot given I’ve also read things like Doom Patrol and such.
Let me first say that I absolutely loved the art, as everything had such a unique style that was hard to categorize. It was both photo realistic but also very dreamlike and sketchy, which made for a very engaging visual treat. Even the colors matched perfectly the muted slag heap style that the future as become without losing an inherent sense of style that makes it relatable.
In fact, probably my favorite part of the story was when Strata and Kleidi are separated from the rest of the group and have to outrun and outlast exponentially stranger and more threatening forms of the Piper creature, which not only provides a opportunity for us to get some really wild action set pieces but visually challenge the reader uncanny monster design work.
Speaking of Strata and Kleidi, another great thing about this book was the way that it didn’t smack you over the head with a lot of exposition on their friendship or why they meant so much to each other. I’m sure Nathan fully understood the notion that you don’t really have to explain a connection between a young girl and her horse, no more than you would have to explain a connection between a young boy and his dog. Some tropes are some universally and culturally ingrained that you have the freedom to just run with them, and in doing just that, he got to spend more time focusing on the other interpersonal dynamics of the rest of the characters.
Which brings me to probably one of my favorite characters in the story in the young woman, Pick, who they meet on their way back to the Caravan. The prototypical “seasoned” street smart kid with a heart of gold, Pick manages to save the groups bacon on more than one occasion, and through a great mix of determination, heart, and humor, really endears herself to the reader in a way that both enriches the story but also elevates the other characters.
Especially Inby, whose constant “put upon yet cheerful” attitude really contrasts well with Picks pragmatism, and makes for a interesting couple.
Things I Didn’t Like:
The only thing I can seriously say I didn’t like was the fact that this book was a graphic novel versus being a full ongoing series. I really hate the fact that it ended because I was so caught up in the world that was created in this book, that I really could have spend like 30 or 40 issues here.
Nathan Hale masterfully crafts a post apocalyptic world which on one hand does not glorify in blood and death, but at the same time does not pull punches with it being a very stark and dangerous place.
That’s an extremely hard line to walk I feel, but with this book, Nathan manages to include important tropes from other science fiction works about the end of world, such as the savage tribal nature of the Salt Clan, without including more distasteful aspects of these groups such as cannibalism and human slavery. I mean the Salt Clan is deadly serious as you can see from the panel below, but they are no more evil than a group of modern day gang members which still keeps the story from getting too dark for the target audience.
I will say that I’m sure there will be some readers out there that will scoff at what they will consider the “dumbing down” of this trope, by removing the gory teeth from a group of skull wearing Mad Max style barbarians, but I feel like those readers are missing the point.
Things don’t have to be “dark” and “mature” in order to be intense and suspenseful. Trust me the threat of the Salt Clan is not lost on the reader just because one of them doesn’t stab Inby in the face with their spear or rape Pick for stealing their cattle the moment they show up. They are a force to be reckoned with, however their willingness to work with the Caravan against the Pipers in the end does speak to the hope that we should all have that if the chips were ever down, that despite differences, humans would band together to fight common threats like they did with the final showdown.
Plus despite what some might say, I liked their obsession with the Alpacas. Again, I wish this series would have continued as a series just so I could see more of how the Salt Clan interacted with “the regular folks”.
One of the major reasons I picked up this particular book (aside from the gorgeous art work as I mentioned before) was because I had heard of Nathan Hale before thanks to his line of historically themed graphic novels for kids released under the umbrella of “
Paging through that book upon finishing “One Trick Pony”, I can see why the series is not just a New York Times bestseller but has been nominated for Eisner awards several years in a row for some of these volumes including Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood in 2015 and The Underground Abductor in 2016. These books manage to tell engaging, action packed stories while at the same time delivering the goods with some quality historical facts which for a parent makes for a winning combination every time.
Now some parents might still get wrapped up in the old fashioned notion that comic books are inferior to real books when delivering educational content, but I strongly disagree. More than ever, the combination of the visual arts AND more traditional forms of learning as been shown to help in cognitive recall and retention. As a parent that really believes that STEM learning should actually be STEAM learning with the addition of an emphasis on the Arts & Humanities, I really feel that books like Nathan Hall’s Hazardous Tales can be very useful in helping kids and young adults make connections with visualization of learning concepts and imaginative problem solving through the application of art as a way to communicate ideals.
However, you can be the judge of that yourself. I’m not some sort of expert, but I am a parent and I personally put feel that these kinds of books have incredibly strong value as not only entertainment but solid educational supplements.
As I mentioned earlier, this book really did scratch a serious itch. As a fan of science fiction and the apocalypse genre in general, I personally welcomed the rich and complex world that Nathan Hale built around the relatively simple notion of a young girl finding a robot horse. The Pipers were downright scary as a threat and I rank them right up there with some of the most memorable from other media such as the Terminator or Matrix robots.
Their complete disregard of the human race and seizing of our resources reminded me a lot of an old book I read called “The Genocides” by Thomas Disch, which also featured harvesting style robots that indiscriminately killed humans as we would ants on a picnic spread.
However, the fact that Nathan’s book never really gets very dark despite the very dire and depressing world the characters live in was refreshing especially in face of other books like “The Walking Dead” which play up the more graphic aspects. This allows the tale to focus more on the adventure rather than the gore, and in fact hooked me so much more into the tale they were telling than other books, games, and movies which are more interested in blood splatter at the end of the world, rather than the human drama.
I can definitely not only recommend this book to all of those that might have children or young adults, but also just fans of good science fiction or fantasy in general. It’s jammed packed with thrills, compelling drama, and a final climatic scene which will really give you feels. In short, it’s not just a great kids book, but a great comic book in general!
Andy’s Read Pile Grade: A