Review: Picture Windows’ DC educational board books
DC’s superheroes are muscling in on the market for educational board books aimed at the youngest of children, and it’s not like Elmo, Dora and company can stop them from teaching readers about shapes, colors, letters and numbers.They’ve got super-powers! And bat-shaped gadgets! And they’re not afraid to play rough!
Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Catwoman are being aided and abetted here by Picture Window Books, a division of Capstone, which has had a pretty fruitful relationship with DC Comics when it comes to getting their super-characters into the hands of children.
Each of the four books in this board book line are $12.99, and are roughly 9.5″x10″, in the shape of a right angle adjoined to a curving, sloping top and side. The shape is somewhat suggestive of the dynamic curves of a comic book dialogue balloon or, when the books are opened, a huge, elongated slice of bread.
All four are written by Benjamin Bird and all feature the artwork of Ethen Beavers, save the Catwoman book, which is illustrated by Gregg Shigiel. The characters appear in their most familiar The Animated Series forms, while Wonder Woman seems to have come straight from the set of the Justice League cartoon…although Beavers draws her with a bit less va-va-voom than the Bruce Timm designs for the cartoon.
Each character teaches a different, albeit basic, curriculum, which is given in the title. In Superman Colors, each turn of the page reveals a two-page, landscape-image in which Superman displays a power or swathe of his cast, with a corresponding color.
For example, “Superman, the Man of Steel, flies through the BLACK sky of space,” the first page reads, next to an image of a smiling Superman flying through space, stars twinkling in the background around him, and a curve of Earth visible in the lower right corner.
Most of these facts are very specific to Superman: “Earth’s YELLOW sun gives Superman his amazing superpowers!” for example, or “Superman’s one weakness is a glowing, GREEN rock called Kyrptonite.”
My personal favorite is probably “Enemies in their PURPLE uniforms are no match for this mighty super hero,” which shows Superman confronting the Superman: The Animated Series designs for four of his biggest villains, all of whom wear an awful lot of purple: Mr. Mxyzptlk, Lex Luthor, Brainiac and The Parasite.
Wonder Woman ABCs is similarly disjointed, giving a series of facts rather than telling a story. Its 20 pages work their way through the alphabet, using some element of Wonder Woman, her basic story and her super friends to attach to each letter. It starts, for example, like so: “A is for the AMAZING Wonder Woman! B is for her shiny, silver BRACELETS. C is for CROWN, known as a tiara.”
And so on. If you’re wondering about the more challenging letters, “Q is for her mother, the QUEEN of the Amazons,” “X is for the X-RAY vision of Superman, Wonder Woman’s friend” (who sees her giving him a thumbs-up through a metal wall), “Y is for the YELLOW symbol she wears” and “Z is for ZOOM, and she’s off to save the day!”
The only other characters who appear are The Cheetah, who appears under V (which is, of course, for Villain) and Justice Leaguers Superman, Batman, Flash and Hawkgirl. In every case, they appear as they did in the Justice League cartoon.
The two books featuring Batman are a little bit more complex, and at least tell a story of sorts. Batman Shapes opens with a smiling Batman standing before his Batcomputer, which shows a variety of shapes: Square, Circle, Diamond, Bat.
“Batman needs help!” the narraion says “Track down these SHAPES with the World’s Greatest Detective.” Surely the “World’s Greatest Detective” doesn’t need our help finding rectangles and ovals, but whatever.
Batman studies his Batcomputer, jumps into his Batmobile, and then drives into town, climbing, jumping and swinging around for a while, the narration pointing out a relevant shape, and then asking readers to find more examples of it in the background art. “Batman climbs a RECTANGLE building wiht the Batrope,” one page says, “Find more rectangles!”
The penultimate page is the best, with the line “Batman’s favorite shape is a BAT, of course.” That’s a shape I never learned in school, not even high school geometry. “Point to each one you see!”
The most narratively complex of these is Catwoman Counting which, now that I think about it, should we really have a known supervillain teaching our children anything? She’s not exactly the best role-model, what with the catsuits and breaking and entering and the cat burglary.
It features a variation of Catwoman’s later design from Batman: The Animated Series (the all-black one with the pupil-less white eyes, rather than the original, gray suit), and tells the story of a jewel robbery she attempts, which is only foiled by the intervention of Batman and his winged friends.
Each double-page, landscape-style splash features a number 1 through 10, and a different part of the exciting chase.
Under a green numeral 1 on the first page, the narration reads “ONE villain has stolen a bag of jewels. It’s Catwoman!” Schigiel’s art shows her racing across a rooftop with a sack in one hand, a broken skylight just behind her. A silhouetted city skyline is in the background, and the Bat-signal fills the sky.
“Catwoman listens to TWO pointy ears. Batman is near,” reads the next page, and “FWIP! FWIP! FWIP! THREE Batrangs fly through the air” reads the next after that.
The chase continues—four rooftops, five windows, six footprints—until she’s finally cornered and raises “TEN claws in defeat.”
Each page offers the number written out in both numeric and word format and gives readers something to count. The other lesson, that crime doesn’t pay, that one’s just a bonus.
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About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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