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The most important birthday of your life is your twelfth, or at least it certainly seems that way when you are twelve years old. It’s the year when the concept of a birthday is still novel enough in your life that it feels like a national holiday, but it is also the year when you receive dire adult warnings of impending changes, and the year when it feels the most certain that, by the time you celebrate your next birthday, you will not recognize the teenager you are about to become.

My twelfth birthday was spent with family on Cape Cod, and it was the first summer vacation when I was allowed to wander off on my own recognizance down the beach. It was cloudy and cold, about to squall, and just as the first raindrops fell I found a horseshoe crab in a tidepool. This felt like a very magical encounter with a wild animal, and I gingerly approached the crab, then prodded it to see what wisdom it might impart. The shell flipped over — it was empty, the crab having molted and fled its old outgrown shell. It was time for me to do the same.

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This week’s comic books lean heavily on the changes associated with returning to school at the start of your teens, with a helping heaping of middle-school books. But there’s also a tale of pivoting into adulthood, starring the new Aqualad, and another about what comes next after you’ve been an adult for longer than you can bear. Thanks as always to Phoenix for helping to pick out the gems!

THE FRONTIERSMAN ISSUE #1

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A disillusioned former superhero has comfortably retired from society and now lives happily off the grid in the forest — until he’s called back to action by the forest itself. Well, technically, he’s called upon by a group of environmentalists who want him to be the figurehead of a “save the trees” campaign; but for the faded Frontiersman, it’s also an opportunity to recapture the vitality of idealism of his youth. Now grizzled and lined, the Frontiersman sees a changed world from his youth, when he and his friends fought alien invaders — he’s seen ideals come and go, causes rise and fall, and he questions whether individual acts of heroism have a place in this Troubled Modern World. The fact that his greatest exploits seem to be behind him means that we get very little action in this first issue; the story mainly involves ponderous dialogue and the occasional single-panel flashback to more exciting times. This first issue concludes with a twist, though — one that either suggests more explosive action on the way, or more philosophical musing. Here’s hoping for a bit more of the former, because so far the series enjoys an excess of the latter.

Rating: 🌲🌲🌲🌲 (4/5)

Writer: Patrick Kindlon. Art: Marco Ferrari. Letters: Jim Campbell. Alt cover: Matteo Scalera. Editor: James Hepplewhite.

SUNNY MAKES A SPLASH

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Sort of a “my first memoir comic,” the Sunny series is a perfectly pleasant collection of stories about a tennish-year-old girl muddling her way through middle school in the late 1970s. If you grew up on Ramona Quimby or Diary of a Wimpy Kid, you’ll be glad to hand the latest installment over to the 3rd-to-7th-grader in your life, or to reminisce about your own late-70s childhood. In this book, Sunny searches for something to occupy her time during summer vacation, when all her friends seem to have structured activities. She eventually settles in with a friendly community of youth who work at the local pool. Sunny’s dilemmas are all very low-stakes: She’s bored because her friends are away on vacation; she wishes she were brave enough to jump off the high diving board; the hot dog stand is out of sauerkraut; a boy was nice to her. But these little slices of life may take on overwhelming importance when you are a youngster whose remembered summers can be counted on two hands, and your recent arrival into double-digit age comes with a glimpse across the pool at even more important concerns of teenagers. A mild-mannered slice of everyday life, Sunny Makes a Splash may intrigue young readers who have yet to grow accustomed to having an “everyday life” of their own.

Rating: 🌞🌞🌞🌞 (4/5)

Writer: Jennifer L. Holm. Illustrator: Matthew Holm. Color: Lark Pien.

AQUAMAN: THE BECOMING ISSUE #1

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Also having a difficult transition into summer fun is Jackson Hyde, the young Aqualad introduced in 2010 who is on track to eventually take on the mantle of Aquaman. Issue #1 provides a nice cozy introduction to Jackson’s world — a seaside town where he enjoys strong role models, a loving mom, and a cute boy at a diner who would like very much to flirt. The art throughout is lovely, but truly shines in the nicely-paced action sequences. The book’s marketing has it positioned as a coming-of-age story, a transitional point between Jackson’s life as eager, carefree Aqualad and the more perilous life that awaits him as Aquaman. The character has been featured prominently in various books and TV shows, so this series is likely to be required reading for those following his arc — or looking forward to seeing him hitting the screen in future DC projects. A fun summertime adventure to enjoy before autumn descends.

Rating: 🔱🔱🔱🔱 (4/5)
Writer: Brandon Thomas. Art: Diego Orlotegui.

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ALSO: ANIMAL CROSSING TALES, SEXY SURPRISES, and BACK TO SCHOOL

Lots of great back-to-school books this week: Other Boys is a moving, dramatic memoir about a gay middle-schooler dealing with grief. Muddle School’s a bit more lighthearted: A kid inventor goes back in time to his first day of school to correct all his screwups. Wrassle Castle pushes the imagination even further, with an all-ages story set at a wrestling competition in fantasy times — a cute book, and very funny. Queer in Asia is a decidedly more adult take on coming of age, with occasional emphasis on the coming. That pairs well with Our Stories Carried Us Here, an anthology of immigrant and refugee stories. And I dare you to resist the charms of Animal Crossing: Deserted Island Diary, an extremely cute manga based on the video game that you forgot you were completely obsessed with last year.

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