Somehow, I overlooked this book in all the shuffle of recent months, but was so very pleased to finally be able to crack it open and discover that it was written by a Malaysian team! Reading the book made me feel like a kid again, sneaking my comics away from my mother’s disapproving eye, much like countless other young Malaysians whose parents thought comics were lowbrow entertainment. In fact, I’m pretty sure that attitude was behind this comics team’s emphasis on how educational X-Venture Xplorers: The Kingdom Of Animals is meant to be, complete with a preface on the subject, numerous factual interludes on the various feline species, as well as a quiz at the end. “See, parents,” it seems to claim, “Comics aren’t just mindless fun! You learn important facts and figures too!” Rigid parents will hopefully be fobbed off with same while avid readers are allowed to enjoy both the educational aspects as well as the just plain fun story being told in these pages. And don’t get me started on all the things readers learn that aren’t just “scientific.” God, I hate when people are snobs about comics. For the record, while my mom was sniffy about them, my dad encouraged me, recognizing my voracious appetite for reading as the hallmark of a mind hungry for a broader range of knowledge that what the received wisdom deemed suitable. My dad rocks.
Anyhoo, Jake and Louis are long-time rivals in the Xplorers teams, a group of children mentored by Dr Darwin, a renowned zoologist and biologist who isn’t above getting even louder than the kids in order to end their ridiculous fighting. Sherry is the lone girl, the peacemaker between Jake and Louis. Bean is the small, shy genius of the group, and Kwame is the one with the most actual experience out in the wild. When Dr Darwin sets the kids the task of completing an Encyclopedia Animalia, they must split into two groups to not only track and chart their first animal family, Felidae, but also settle the argument that Jake and Louis have been having: whether the lion or tiger is the more powerful animal king.
It’s basically Pokemon but with real animal stats and super cool holographic composites showing what a virtual fight would look like. It reminds me a lot of the Who Would Win series of books pitting similar creatures against one another that my eldest child loved in first grade. The kids are cute and obnoxious and silly and sympathetic: no one’s actually a bad guy, everyone’s just a person with strengths and flaws. It’s very much an Asian manga (from 2012!) translated into English for the American market. There are panels that could raise Western eyebrows, when the languages of minority characters in communicating with animals are depicted as gibberish. It’s hard to explain how that isn’t as offensive to continental Asians as it is to those who’ve grown up in colonizer cultures, who have a history of belittling the foreign as part of their methods of conquest. Asians don’t see making weird noises when doing supernatural things as a value judgment: it doesn’t make the (minority) caster seem savage or dirty or unsophisticated when it’s everyone else who can’t understand what the caster is saying.
I really enjoyed Rage Of The Kings and am looking forward to sharing this with my kids, tho since they’re also growing up in a colonizer culture, I need to make sure they get the necessary perspective regarding the issues I just mentioned. Have I mentioned that the art is really terrific? The animals are gorgeously drawn in arresting action shots. My only quibble is with the choice to have red text on the first page, rendering those panels difficult to read, a design that is fortunately not repeated in the rest of the book. I also admit to skipping over some of the educational interludes: shh, don’t tell my Mom!
X-Venture Xplorers: The Kingdom Of Animals #1 Rage Of The Kings by Slaium, Meng & the Black Ink Team was published in the US on October 13th, 2020 by Papercutz Press, and is available from all good booksellers, including
Want it now? For the Kindle version, click here.