As Comic-Con season lands, it brings to mind the excellent new crop of kids and teen graphic novels we’ve had the opportunity to review so far this year.

Here, we present seven of 2012’s top graphic novels to date.

Check out our list of adult top graphic novels for 2012.

The Captive Prince

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Scott Chantler

Three fugitives and a bookish young prince repeatedly rescue one another in the latest episode of this particularly adventuresome graphic-novel series. Coming by chance upon two mercenaries and a kidnapping victim, ex–circus performer Dessa and her nonhuman companions Fisk and Topper engineer a rescue. The lucky fellow? Paladin, Crown Prince of Medoria. Smitten but annoyed (“Really? It’s gotta be me? Every time?”), Dessa does it again after Paladin ineptly tries to woo her by entering his first joust and then falling beneath his frantic charger’s hooves. Kidnapped again by the same pair during the ensuing brouhaha, Paladin gets away by himself and, turnabout, reappears in time to help Dessa and her friends escape the wrath of his ungrateful royal father…Both the nonstop action and the sometimes subtle interactions between characters are easy to follow in the cleanly drawn and colored panels. Nary a dull moment, nor even a slow one in this escapade’s latest outing. (Graphic fantasy. 10-12)

benny Benny and Penny in Lights Out

Geoffrey Hayes

It’s bedtime for the mouseling brother and sister—but not before plenty of horsing around and a deliciously scary expedition into the backyard. As little Penny quietly tries to wash up and pretend-read a story (“One day the princess was sent to her room for being bratty. But she had a secret door…”), her restless big brother interrupts obnoxiously with warnings about the Boogey Mouse, loud belches and other distractions. When Benny realizes that he’s left his prized pirate hat in the backyard, though, Penny braves the Boogey Mouse to follow him out of the window and prod him into reclaiming it from the spooky, dark playhouse. She also “reads” him to sleep after the two race, giggling at their fright, back indoors. Framed in sequential panels that occasionally expand to full-page or double-spread scenes, the art features a pair of big-eared, bright-eyed mites (plus the occasional fictive dinosaur) in cozy domestic settings atmospherically illuminated by the glow of lamps, Benny’s flashlight and the moon...Another outing positively radiant with child appeal, featuring a pair of close siblings with complementary personalities. (Graphic early reader. 5-7)

explorere Explorer: The Mystery Boxes

Edited by Kazu Kibuishi

Kibuishi’s Flight series for adults (collected in Flight, 2011), spurred a spin-off, Flight Explorer (2008), a volume specifically written for a younger audience. Both anthologies were strong on art but held no cohesive theme; this volume preserves the strong artistic stylization of its predecessors, but also employs a unifying theme—"what’s in the box"—throughout the slick and imaginative collection. The seven tales, from artists both established and up-and-coming, span the spectrum from a serious and moralistic tale of war and vengeance in “The Soldier’s Daughter” to seriously silly and fun alien hijinks in "Whatzit" to a dark and creepy yarn about doll that comes alive with a sinister purpose in "Under the Floorboards" to the light and sweet "Spring Cleaning," replete with wizards and reunited love. This volume eloquently demonstrates how well short stories work in the comics medium and Kibuishi's masterful chops as an editor…With eye-popping full-color art and palettes ranging from candy-colored to ethereal earth tones, this is both a visual feast for the eyes and a healthy helping of thought for the soul.

binky Binky Takes Charge

Ashley Spires

Space cat Lt. Binky has been tapped for a new assignment: recruit trainer! Felines of the Universe Ready for Space Travel (F.U.R.S.T.) and Captain Gracie are pleased to announce that Lt. Binky is about to get his first recruit to train. Since Binky had to train himself, he knows the importance of a mentor and a well-thought-out training plan. Those aliens (read: flies) won’t fight themselves! But when the recruit arrives…Horrors! There’s a new diversity program at F.U.R.S.T., and Gordon, a dog, has been assigned to Binky. Binky decides to give it his all. As expected, Gordon falls short. Then Binky discovers the unthinkable: Gordon seems to be leaving coded messages in outer space (that’s outside, to humans) for the aliens in his…well, what flies like. He’s also disabling alien-zappers and stealing human technology. If they are to prove Gordon is a double agent, Gracie and Binky will need incontrovertible proof! Spires’ fourth Binky graphic adventure is as fresh and hysterical as the first. The watercolor graphic panels are as visually appealing as the narration is clever, offering up a little potty humor, a bit of over-the-top adventure-tale parody and a few nifty surprises. Great entertainment for readers big and little whether they are fans already or not. (Graphic novel. 8-12)


Doug TenNapel 

Though dealing with the recent death of his mother, Cam and his father are trying to make the best of a difficult time. Currently unemployed and virtually penniless, Cam’s father buys him the only birthday present he can afford: a cardboard box. From the get-go, it is apparent that this is no ordinary cardboard: It comes with a list of rules, which Cam’s father casually dismisses. In an attempt to make the bland box more exciting, his father fashions a cardboard man, a boxer he names Bill, who undergoes a Pinocchiolike transformation and becomes a loyal friend. The animated man catches the interest of menacing Marcus, a well-off, wide-eyed, fish-lipped bully, who steals the cardboard for his own malicious intent. When Marcus’ plans go horribly, terribly awry, he discovers that he needs one thing that money can’t buy: a friend to help him. TenNapel’s story is edge-of-your-seat exciting, but what really drives home this clever outing are the added complexities and thought-provoking questions it asks of its reader, specifically examining what constitutes “good” and “bad,” and how to change how one is labeled. The result? An exceptionally seamless blend of action and philosophy, two elements that usually do not mix easily; TenNapel handles this masterfully. Utterly brilliant. (Graphic fantasy. 10 & up)

bigfoot boy Into the Woods

J. Torres; illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks

Mom said there was magic in the woods…she probably didn’t mean anything like this. Ten-year-old city boy Rufus is staying at his grandmother's house on the edge of a forest for a few days without his parents. Grammy's idea of fun is prune juice and soap operas, so Rufus decides to explore the woods. He meets a girl named Penny, but she's as friendly as a rock. Her older sister, Aurora, tells Rufus Penny's friendlier than she seems, so he doesn't give up on her. When looking for her in the woods, Rufus finds a glowing necklace in a tree. After reading the word on the back, he turns into Bigfoot! Not only is he big, red and hairy, but he can also talk to animals. Sidney the flying squirrel helps him get home. There's danger in the forest as well as magic, and when Penny disappears, Rufus (and Sidney) use the totem to effect a rescue. Canadian author Torres’ first in a new series of graphic novels has magic, humor and just a hint of menace…Hicks’ bright and glossy cinematic panels are full of action; readers will almost smell the green of the trees. This one gets everything just right. (Graphic fantasy. 6-11)

marathon Marathon

Yakin Boaz; illustrated by Joe Infurnari

Retold in Expressionistic blurs of action, this account of the battle of Marathon chronicles at once a glorious win for the underdogs and an awe-inspiring personal achievement. Cruel Hippias, former king of Athens, is on his way back with a huge army of Persians to reclaim the throne and crush Athenian democracy. As the city’s squabbling and much smaller forces hustle to meet the invaders, Eucles, Athens’ best runner, is charged to race the 153 miles to Sparta in hopes of finding an ally. Battling heat, sun, bandits and pursuing enemy troops, Eucles makes the trek, then makes it in reverse with the dismaying news that the Spartans will not be coming in time. He joins the savage fight and then runs 26 more miles over rugged mountains to Athens—dying on arrival but not before both announcing the victory and warning of an impending surprise attack by sea. Using sepia washes to indicate present time and black and white for flashbacks, Infurnari fills patchwork panels with glimpses of rugged faces, slashing swords and jumbles of martial action with “KLAK” “CHK!” sound effects. Yakin draws from ancient historical and legendary sources but adds invented incidents to round out Eucles’ character and elevated dialogue to heighten the epic atmosphere: “The gods have laid a feast both bitter and sweet before me.” (Graphic historical fiction. 12-15)