So enthralled by Diana Thung‘s August Moon earlier this week, I immediately ordered Captain (her first and only other title thus far), and was delightfully tickled to find a blurb on the back cover from Gene Luen Yang (of first-ever National Book Award graphic novel finalist-fame for American Born Chinese): “Goofy and endearing with a touch of Taiyo Matsumoto.” Always comforting to come across graphic agreement (I, too, commented on that Matsumoto-channeling in Moon).
The connection here is even visually stronger: Thung’s titular Captain Long Ears pays homage to both brothers who star in Matsumoto’s TEKKON KINKREET, sporting Black’s goggles and White’s animal hat (which resembles a tiger through most of TEKKON, but at story’s end a bonus drawing of the boys as toddlers shows White wearing .. well … long ears!). No worries, however, about encountering something derivative; Thung’s got a captivating style all her own.
Somewhere in space, Captain Big Nose has gone missing. Captain Long Ears, together with his most trusted companion, Cap’n Jam – a giant purple gorilla with self-reported “32 perfectly, perfect sparkling white teeth” – prepare to head out to Space Ninja headquarters (also known as Happy Land). There they hope to find some answers about Captain Big Nose’s “top secret reconnaissance mission that will take a long, long time to accomplish,” as reported by Mum, who also insists calling Captain Long Ears “Michaeeel …”
All is not well at headquarters: the fearless Space Ninja pair are threatened by a “cannibalistic blob witch,” get attacked by flesh-eating piranhas, are trapped in the revolving prison, and must rescue a baby elephant. All the while, the dynamic duo are not any closer to finding Captain Big Nose – who seems to look a lot like Daddy – who remains elusive, always waving goodbye, no matter how much Captain Long Ears begs him to come back.
Throughout her action-filled debut, Thung presents the powerful ability of a child’s imagination to make sense when no answers can be found. Young Michael’s escapist world – complicated, adventurous, exciting – in which he’s never alone, provides a necessary antidote to a loss too difficult to bear … for now. Michael will return to the so-called real world soon enough, but first he’ll need to draw on his Space Ninja superhuman strength to get through the challenges ahead.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult