July 11, 2017

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #35 (Hero Cats: Midnight Over Stellar City by Kyle Puttkammer and Alex Ogle)


See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as these, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

With the recent launch of the Gimlet podcast, The Pitch, my mind has been percolating on what it takes to convince someone that a concept has merit. To be able to take an idea that could be judged as ludicrous at face-value and create something worth investing your time and money into is a rare skill. Both Puttkammer's script and Ogle's art bury what might have been a “No” underneath an avalanche of both talent and finesse.

Hero Cats: Midnight Over Stellar City is a spin-off miniseries from the hit Action Lab book Hero Cats. Hero Cats follows a team of superhero felines that defend their city from the dark power that threatens to overwhelm it, all thanks to their greatest foe: The Crow King. Midnight Over Stellar City follows a single member of the group, the troubled black cat Midnight, as he struggles to put his broken past behind him while simultaneously discovering a new, terrifying inner power.


On the face of it, Hero Cats is a concept that feels remarkably campy. You picture a team of costumed cats hunting down similarly dressed smaller animals, chuck in some animal puns and you've got a very standard Saturday morning cartoon; it’s difficult to imagine that translating to an older audience with any measure of depth.

However, Puttkammer and Ogle’s decision to play the story completely straight works remarkably in its favour. This volume opens with a noir-style narration from our titular character, Midnight, as he laments the growing crime levels in his home city. With Ogle soon drenching the scene in shadow, each successive panel then begins to compound the feeling that this scene is significant, that something is about to happen, by creating a sense of density to each panel.

When Midnight finally makes his first appearance in the window, framed by a strike of lightning behind him, this book has earned it. It's a moment that might feel silly from lesser creators and played for laughs, but the first two pages of this volume lock you in for the ride and let you know that no matter what this creative team throw at you, it’s going to work.


Puttkammer navigates the task of making a spin-off book standalone with ease. As someone without any experience with the original series, there was enough context dropped in both the opening narration and later interactions with the other members of the team that establishes the spirit of the core book without feeling the need to explicitly dedicate a portion of the book to it.

The plot itself takes you on a spiritual journey along with its protagonist, exploring both Midnight’s backstory and his continued motivations for fighting against the darkness that exists both internally and externally. As the story begins to take many supernatural twists and turns, Puttkammer makes sure to never make the reveals cheap; each moment in this book feels considered, resulting in a piece of literature that feels resolute in its totality.

As touched upon briefly in the bonus material after the end of issue #3 by the artist himself, there are a range of emotions that Ogle imbues within what you might otherwise consider a static feline face. Fortunately, while this sounds like there might be moments with the cartoonishly exaggerated feelings that are often associated with anthropomorphisation, Ogle ensures that the nuance of emoting isn’t lost; these don’t feel like cats, these feel like people.

As if that wasn’t enough, the cinematic nature of the storytelling keeps you engaged and excited for every page. Ogle frames each scene from a variety of angles, zooming in to create intensity and backing the panel camera away to demonstrate the sprawling city landscape where required. On top of that, by keeping the rich blue and purple colour pallet and the intense shading consistent, this is a piece of work that feels cohesive in a very special way.

This team have woven a remarkable story here, with a trajectory for both the world and the protagonist that build very slowly over the three issues contained within this volume, making the eventual resolution feel both explosive and unquestionably deserved. You're continuously rooting for this overwrought character to achieve the happy ending that we know he deserves and we're left guessing until the very end.

If you had come to me and told me that I would be gripped by the adventures of a cat from a team of his feline friends, I would have laughed; it could be entertaining, sure, because looking at cats dressed up in human clothes is a pastime for many. However, the way that Puttkammer and Ogle exceed all expectations by using established genre conventions to tell a story that feels both fresh and engaging is astounding. I could not recommend this book any more sincerely.

Now all I want to do is witness the meeting that began with “So it’s about this cat superhero team…”

Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mcdickson101@gmail.com or head over to check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.