Review: ‘Sparks!’

Sparks! Writer: Ian Boothby Artist: Nina Matsumoto Graphix; $12.99 A baby has just fallen down a well. Quick, which common household pet would you most entrust with the rescue of the baby—a cat or a dog? Ian Boothby and Nina Matsumoto’s original graphic novel Sparks! is based on that very contrast between how we regard […]

Sparks

Sparks!
Writer: Ian Boothby
Artist: Nina Matsumoto
Graphix; $12.99

A baby has just fallen down a well. Quick, which common household pet would you most entrust with the rescue of the baby—a cat or a dog? Ian Boothby and Nina Matsumoto’s original graphic novel Sparks! is based on that very contrast between how we regard Man’s Best Friend and Humanity’s Idiosyncratic Roommate, particularly in pop culture. In fact, their opening scene has a couple crying for help when a baby has fallen down a well, and a cat leaps to the well in response.

“Get outta here you dumb cat!” one of the humans says, swatting it away. It runs off and, seconds later, a big, powerful German Shepherd bounds onto the scene with purpose, plunges down the well and then executes a series of leaps to emerge, the baby safely clasped between its powerful but gentle jaws.

But here’s the comedic, ridiculous twist, which the cover of the book reveals: That dog is no dog, but is, in actuality, two cats in a robotic dog suit!

And that, dear reader, is a premise. If it’s not the single best idea for a comic book series ever, well, it’s got to be in the top ten.

The heroic dog, who the media has dubbed Sparks, is piloted by a pair of cats, the fearless and adventurous outdoor cat Charlie, who first approached the well only to be swatted away, and the brilliant inventor and engineer (and indoor cat) August. Why are they masquerading as a dog in order to perform good deeds, like saving families from fires and tornadoes? Well, as their assistant and the book’s narrator Litter Box, a robot litter box, explains in a flashback, the pair were experimented on in a lab by unscrupulous scientists. The result was that August gained super-intelligence–and not just for a cat–and that intelligence allowed her and Charlie to escape and strike out on their own. August even played the stock market and became the first cat to ever buy her own home.

In order to hide from their abductors, however, they don’t act in public unless they are, um, in a robot dog suit.

Writer Ian Boothby plays with our stereotypes about the two different kinds of pets. Sparks always has a big, dumb, glassy-eyed, guileless grin on his Nina Matsumoto-drawn face, which seems appropriate, because aren’t dogs big, dumb, guileless, happy creatures? In his case though, his face is frozen in that dumb look because it’s not a face, it’s a mask.

The cats and their allies—Litter Box and a squirrel named Steve-O–are embroiled in a plot by an alien conqueror disguised as a human baby to take over the Earth, by means of animal mind-control. The experiments on them were just the first step, and now, it seems, the plan is nearing fruition. If August and Charlie were working together as smoothly and efficiently as, say, both halves of a dog work together, well, they might have a chance of saving the world. But the tensions in their relationship sunder their partnership at the most inopportune—but dramatic!—time. Boothby uses the shorthand of indoor cat vs outdoor cat to define their opposing personalities and make a compelling case that neither of our protagonists are as capable alone as they are together.

Given all the silliness—I did mention the talking robot litter box, right?—it’s a surprisingly effective moral about human relationships to find in an all-ages story about friendship…and robots, aliens, and super-hero pets.

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