So one of the comics my son is currently into is the digest-sized compilation of Franklin Richards stories; titled Lab Brat The stories focus on Franklin, son of Reed and Sue Richards, as he causes trouble with his father’s inventions. Basically, it’s a Calvin and Hobbes rip-off; Franklin, with his big-head and light-hair, even looks rather like Calvin, and like Calvin he’s completely impossible and always causing trouble (usually, in Franklin’s case, by playing with his father’s dangerous inventions.) Herbie, Franklin’s Robot nannie, fills the part of Hobbes, the quasi-adult voice of reason who tries to keep Franklin out of trouble.

I tend to think that Calvin and Hobbes is somewhat overrated, so the desecration aspect of the endeavor doesn’t annoy me as much as it might — though, don’t get me wrong, this is significantly less enjoyable than even a mediocre Watterson strip. Writer Marc Sumerak’s stories are formulaic — Franklin gets in trouble with his dad’s inventions, Herbie tries to help him, hi-jinks ensue, problem is solved,wry closing joke is uttered. Within this fairly saccharine formula, though the gags are genuinely loopy — Franklin turning all of his classmates into fruits and vegetables is an especially bizarre highlight (and why exactly has Reed Richards created a device that turns people into vegetables anyway?) The riffs on old FF tropes are very entertaining as well — the gag where a six-inch tall Dr. Doom helps Franklin clean his room is pretty hysterical, as is the Thanksgiving cartoon where the FF is replaced by turkeys (you haven’t lived till you’ve seen the orange-brick turkey-Thing.)

The art is…well, it’s okay. Chris Eliopoulos works in a generic, animated cartoony vein — both the drawings and layouts are serviceable. Basically, it’s uninspired but professional — which, admittedly, puts it yards ahead of most mainstream super-hero fare. Eliopoulos is good at avoiding situations he can’t deal with; for instance, the transformation of Franklin’s friends into fruit happens off-screen — you see the friends, you see the fruit, but there isn’t any effort to show one morphing into the other. A more accomplished artist might have seen this sequence as a challenge…but there’s something to be said, too, for knowing your limitations.

There’s a back-up strip too; “The Masked Marvel”, which is drawn in a more typical mainstream style, though with hideous coloring that makes it look rotoscoped. Also, it’s unreadable; it was all I could do to skim it, and so I can report to you only in general that there are lots of pointless guest-shots (Wolverine gives a particularly pointless pep-talk) even more pointless industry in-joked (Bendis and other writers get mentioned.) Who wants to read this crap? Why do you think it’ll appeal to the same kids who want to read “Lab Brat?” Is anyone at all paying attention over there?

Ah, well. Anyway, my son loves “Lab Brat,” and even my wife (not a western comics fan) can stand to read it to him, so that’s a pretty good recommendation.