Cactus Kid And The Battle For Star Rock Mountain by Emmanuel Guerrero

This is one of those delightful graphic novels that plonks you into the action in media res, then skillfully unfolds a ton of world-building around you. Aimed at a middle grade audience, this is a terrific way to introduce that plot device to young readers, while immersing them in a wholly original fantasy world.

Cactus Kid isn’t really a kid, but definitely looks (and acts) like he’s on the younger side. He’s certainly old enough to have felt real heartbreak, which perhaps fuels his somewhat megalomaniacal quest to become the greatest wizard in the world. To that end, he’s acquired a book of magical recipes, and rides his motorbike across the Neverending Desert in pursuit of the exotic ingredients that will help him master, first, fire spells and then who knows what else. And perhaps once he’s proven himself as the greatest wizard in the world, his dad will respect him and the mysterious Ruby will allow him to join her in fighting crime back in their hometown of Florencia.

But for now, he’s in search of Star Rock, a powerful ingredient that will level up his fire potion mastery. He thinks he’ll be able to find some at the mountain named after it, so is dismayed to find the area virtually strip mined and definitely empty of any of the valuable substance. While there, he’s accosted by two rival motorcycle gangs, the Shells and the Clams. An accident causes an explosion, and Cactus Kid barely makes it out on the back of the bike driven by Freddy, leader of the Clams.

Impressed by Cactus Kid’s abilities, Freddy attempts to woo him into allying with the Clams for the upcoming 12th Annual Moto Brawl. The winner of the deadly motorcycle race through the treacherous Bone Trench wins 5 ounces of Star Rock. Cactus Kid is resistant, as he has the idea that heroes only ever go it alone. But with the Shells having stolen all his stuff and a mysterious figure hot on everyone’s trails, maybe an alliance is the best shot Cactus Kid has at truly making something of himself.

This is a very cute, surprisingly layered story that takes a bunch of tropes of a dystopian West and makes them easily accessible for younger readers. Cactus Kid’s fervent desire to prove himself is highly relatable, as is his discovery that you just can’t go through life depending on yourself alone. There’s treachery and deceit and the discovery of cool and scary new abilities, making for a fun, fast-paced read that promises many more thrills in future installments.

The art’s bias towards cuteness helps leaven some of the Mad Max shenanigans that take place, but it was really the richness of the colors that sold the art to me. Pinks, purples and oranges dominate the backgrounds behind our green hero, really bringing out the stark beauty of the desertscapes. None of the art feels conventionally attractive, but it’s still hard to look away, especially with how surprisingly expressive and kinetic many of the panels feel.

This is perhaps the most original middle grade graphic novel I’ve yet to read, and I’m super thrilled more weird, fun stuff like this is coming out in that market. Oh, and a Happy Middle Grade March to all who celebrate! You can’t go wrong with this graphic novel if you want to dip your toes into what’s new and exciting in the field today!

Cactus Kid And The Battle For Star Rock Mountain by Emmanuel Guerrero was published today March 5th by Flying Eye Books and is available from all good booksellers, including

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