Review: Junior Braves of the Apocalypse Volume I: A Brave is Brave (2015)
Packaged beautifully in a slick hardcover, Greg Smith and Michael Tanner's graphic novel, Junior Braves of the Apocalypse Volume I, is a fun, rambunctious, and at times playfully gruesome take on zombie fiction. While audiences worldwide have enjoyed the heavy doses of bloody violence that stories like The Walking Dead and Resident Evil provide, they will undoubtedly take great pleasure in the lighter side of the genre, as Smith and Tanner tell the tale of a rowdy group of boy scouts confronted with disfigured monsters, deranged adults, and a society that has become unpredictable and anarchic.
After a rather haphazard week of camping out in the wilderness, earning merit and skill badges, and learning how to be away from their parents, the Junior Braves return home to find their neighborhood abandoned and destroyed. Mutants roam the land, taking over churches, schools, and private homes with only their thirst for human flesh and garbage to satiate them. As the young boys and their troop leaders fight to survive, they stumble upon an unexpected side effect to all the madness: some of the adult survivors they meet seem bizarrely impacted by the turn of events, and the boys soon realize that the only people they can trust are themselves.
Peppered throughout the story are subtle suggestions that Junior Braves of the Apocalypse intends to explore more than just dystopian or "undead" themes. Handwritten notes from the boys imply that they are learning about the natural world around them, while other pages include the rules for marking a trail in the wilderness and various survival tips. Culturally, the troops understand and accept the differences between them, and their dialogue with each other is realistic without being hokey, colloquial without being crude. It was a joy to read an apocalyptic story that not only features likable characters and action-packed scenes, but also crisp dialogue that keeps the story moving at a fast clip.
Junior Braves of the Apocalypse is illustrated by Zach Lehner, whose black, white, and green shades capture perfectly the overcast landscape and rotting skin of the monsters. Some panels were reminiscent of Tales from the Crypt and the other EC Comics of yesteryear, which contributed to the lighthearted tone. At the same time, the creative forces behind this impressive graphic novel know that their audience is going to expect some good old zombie violence and bloodshed. On this front, Junior Braves of the Apocalypse delivers in spades (in probably my favorite sequence, a mutant breaks out of its straps and goes on a rampage throughout a school). Lehner keeps the action moving with straightforward artwork and a clear visual narrative.
Naturally, at the conclusion of this first volume, many questions are left unanswered , compelling readers to anxiously await the next installment. But with well-written dialogue, effective illustration, and plenty of zombie/mutant horror to go around, Junior Braves of the Apocalypse Volume II is well worth the wait.
Junior Braves of the Apocalypse Volume I: A Brave is Brave is published by Oni Press and can be picked up here.