Review: ‘Cosmic Commandos’
Writer/artist: Christopher Eliopoulos
Dial Books; $13.99
Jeremy is loud, arrogant, and always ready to leap into action without thinking. His likes include video games and complaining about the unfairness of his life, while his dislikes include school (especially homework), reading, and his brother. Justin is quiet, polite, and thinks before acting. His likes include school, reading, and spending time his brother. The two grade-school boys couldn’t be more different, which is somewhat ironic, given the fact that they are identical twin brothers.
The protagonists of Christopher Eliopoulos’s new original graphic novel for kids get something to share in the early pages of Cosmic Commandos—aside, of course, from a house, a family and their genes—in the form of a secret. Jeremy complains about the lame plastic ring he finds as a prize in the lame healthy breakfast cereal his mom feeds him, right up until he accidentally discovers it is exactly as advertised. The ring grants wishes, at the rate of one per wearer.
Jeremy’s wish is to become the cosmic commando character from his favorite video game, which gives him a power suit that can fly and shoot all kinds of energy weapons. It’s pretty awesome, but there’s a complication. The various obstacles and bad guys from the game begin manifesting in real life as well, and Jeremy is forced to play it for some incredibly high stakes, including, perhaps, his own life.
To succeed, he withdraws to his bedroom and practices on the actual video game, despite Justin’s insistence that he just read the games guide book, a task Justin ultimately takes upon himself in order to help his brother not get killed. The more Justin tries to involve himself however, the more stubborn Jeremy gets about accepting him as a coach or partner.
In one respect then, the central conflict of Cosmic Commandos isn’t too terribly dramatic, as it becomes clear all Jeremy has to do to succeed is accept his brother’s constantly-offered help. But the character remains so resistant to it, seemingly burning down every bridge, that Eliopoulos actually is able to wring a little drama out of whether or not Jeremy can change enough to accept his brother.
Eliopoulos’s name should be familiar both to comics fans and to anyone who spends much time around children’s books, and, if not his name, than likely his work. As a cartoonist, Eliopoulos has had a long and fruitful relationship with Marvel Comics, where he’s best known for his Franklin Richards, Son of a Genius comics about Mister Fantastic and Invisible Woman’s brilliant son, the unofficial fifth member of the Fantastic Four. As an illustrator, he’s best known for his “Ordinary People Change The World” series with writer Brad Meltzer, where he draws Peanuts-inspired versions of heroes like Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, and Amelia Earheart for little biographies of the historical figures.
If Charles Shulyz’s influence is readily apparent in those books, the even more palpable Bill Watterson influence is on display in Cosmic Commandos. Eliopoulos’s work bears a lot of visible touchstones from those two cartoonists, but in service of a story that has little to nothing in common with Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes, so the work can look comfortingly familiar without seeming derivative. And even if it were derivative, well, there are probably no better cartoonists to try to emulate.
Cosmic Commandos is a completely complete story, even if there’s enough of a suggestion of a sequel in the form of an epilogue that one could imagine it turning into a series (on the last page, an unrevealed character finds the ring after Jeremy and Justin lose it during the climactic battle against the video game’s final boss). That said, it’s harder to imagine how it could turn into a series, given that the ring and the video game-turned-real it created are tangentially related, and it’s unlikely that every kid who gets the ring would make the same or even a similar wish.
Whatever the potential future of a potential series, it doesn’t have any impact on the quality of this particular book in the present. It’s a solid action-adventure with an interpersonal conflict at its core, one with surprisingly high emotion involved given the young age of the participants. Cosmic Commandos is therefore a pretty good example of the best kind of all-ages comic—the kind that can literally be read and enjoyed by all readers, regardless of age.
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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