Ultra Shrinking Violet

Nathan Banks is a sixth-grade student at Ditko Middle School. Everybody knows him as the nerdy kid who collects comic books and “talks about superheroes all the time.” Even he admits he’s totally obsessed. “I’m a little too crazy about superheroes,” he says.

And now his dreams have come true. A real-life superhero has been spotted flying high above his hometown of Kanigher Falls. Her name is Ultraviolet and Nate is determined to meet her. And, if he’s lucky, he wants to figure out her secret identity too.

But he’s not the only person obsessed with superheroes at school. Dr. Malcolm Content, the science teacher, collects comic books and has developed an unhealthy obsession with Ultraviolet. In fact, he’s conscripted Nate to cobble together a “scientific report” on Ultraviolet to earn some extra credit.

One thing leads to another and, if you’re older than a 10-year-old kid, you’ll probably figure out every plot twist by the end of the second chapter. If not, here’s a hint: anybody who attends a school named after Steve Ditko will inevitably be a superhero, a supervillain, a master of the mystic arts, or a moral objectivist. There’s no way around it.

Nate and his friends are a likable bunch of kids. They’re not losers or smart-alecky misfits or anything like that. They’re actually quite normal—maybe even a little boring. The bad guy is the same way. He’s a formidable foe, but he’s a dull stick who lacks any sort of nutty charisma. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone,” he sobs at the end of the novel. Can you imagine Electro or Mysterio saying something so wimpy?

The superhero is the most interesting character in the book. She has Superman-like powers, but she’s ambivalent about her situation. Actually, she’s more than ambivalent. She’s super ambivalent. “Being a superhero is just something I do because I can,” she says with a shrug. “That doesn’t make me a hero.”

Not until she has a heart-to-heart talk with big Nate does Ultraviolet finally overcome her super identity crisis. Every other character in this book is stamped with an age-appropriate seal of approval. Her ongoing anxiety and personal angst is a pleasant surprise.

[The Amazing Adventures of Nat Banks #1: Secret Identity Crisis / By Jake Bell and Chris Giarrusso / First Printing: May 2010 / ISBN: 9780545156691]

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