Review: ‘Star Scouts’
by Mike Lawrence
First Second, $14.99
Avani doesn’t get along with the other girls in the Flower Scouts troop in her new neighborhood. They only want to talk about boys and makeup, while she’s interested in rodeo, which means they put her down with country wisecracks. Then Avani is abducted by a Zirdonian Star Scout named Mabel who is trying to finish her collection badge by teleporting an alien.
The Star Scouts “learn how to fly ships, build robots, survive on the wild worlds…” which makes them much more interesting to Avani. Soon, she’s joined the troop of misfits to explore new worlds and go to scout camp.
Star Scouts is a welcome twist on the classic “earthling taken to space by mistake” premise. With boys, it’s usually “because they’re a video game champion,” as in The Last Starfighter. This version is more inclusive and practical. Avani doesn’t have any special skills, just curiosity, determination, and her natural intelligence.
Mabel and Avani quickly become friends, which helps when they accidentally develop a rivalry at camp with a troop of methane breathers, leading to a badge competition. While the topics include robotics, teleportation, and jetpack flying, the real lesson is how to be a good winner or loser and how to get along with a variety of fellow scouts.
Teamwork and cooperation are hard-won, with the troops seeing how badly they’ll be humiliated without working together. A lot happens in this book, making it a rewarding, substantial read, and Lawrence does a great job weaving all the plot strands together.
It turns out that there’s another Flower Scout who might have more in common with her, but early on, Avani is too wrapped up in her own grumbles and preconceptions to notice. That’s a nice touch, to paint the group in more subtlety than “these scouts interesting, that other group boring.”
Lawrence’s characters, all vaguely humanoid, vary in shape, color, size, and personality. He’s built an imaginative, wide-ranging but comfortable galaxy with plenty of humor. (The robot named GOOSE whose only function is to pinch people’s butts will be a favorite of young readers.) Avani is clearly of color, and her family speaks Hindi, but her ethnicity isn’t explicitly foregrounded. This is a story where the lead just happens to be Indian instead of the default white.
This is Lawrence’s first solo graphic novel, after illustrating for other writers, and his plotting and characterization are outstanding. There’s a sequel, League of Lasers, due out next spring. As a series, Star Scouts has plenty to recommend it.
Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics for over 20 years. She manages ComicsWorthReading.com, the longest-running independent review site online that covers all genres of comic books, graphic novels, and manga. She has an MA in popular culture, studying online fandom, and was previously, among many other things, webmaster for DC Comics. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
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