Friday, April 11, 2014

Special Advanced Review: Scratch 9: Cat of Nine Worlds #1

It's been a while since we've gotten a new adventure of Scratch, the cat who can summon his past and future lives to his side. I wrote about Scratch 9 in recommended reading for last year's Free Comic Book Day, and with a new series set to debut in June with a preview on FCBD this year, it's time to revisit Scratch and his friends. I got a preview of the first issue of the new mini-series, Cat of Nine Worlds, and I'm happy to say it's right up there with the previous series in terms of quality, meaning it's one of the best all ages books I've read this year.

This new series opens with Garogga, the first of Scratch's incarnations, a sabretoothed cat, investigating a bad feeling. And his investigation tins up... Scratch? Wait, Scratch calls his other incarnations to him, not goes to visit them. So, right at the beginning, we have a mystery, and we start to get the answers right off. We flashback (or is it forward?) to the present, where we see Penelope, Scratch's girl, getting ready to go to camp, and looking for Scratch to say goodbye. It's a sweet scene, and reinforces one of the central themes of Scratch 9: friendship. Penelope has to leave without saying goodbye to Scratch, and shortly arrives at camp Robo (not to be related to Atomic Robo, although wouldn't that be a great crossover).

Pretty soon, the action of the series starts, as Penelope and Scratch (who winds up at camp with Penelope. How? Read the comic!) once again run afoul of Dr. Schrodinger, the evil scientist whose fascination with sending his consciousness into other bodies and responsible for Scratch's powers, who is out for revenge for Scratch and Penelope stumbling across his plans. And by issue's end, Scratch has gone back in time as a result of Schrodinger's plot, and we're back at the beginning.

One of the real strengths of Scratch 9 is it's characters. Not only is Scratch clever, but his relationship with Penelope is endearing; if you've ever had a cat who really loves you, you can see that relationship in Penelope and Scratch. Penelope shows just how smart she is in her time at Robot Camp, an aspect of her character that gets more play this time around. While we don't get a lot of time spent with Scratch's friends from the previous series, we do get to see some of Garogga's cast from his short in the Cat Tails mini-series. Schrodinger isn't exactly a villain of great depth; he has no tragedy in his background as far as we know. He's just a jerk. And frankly, I'm fine with that. Not every villain needs to be Magneto, who you can sympathize with. Sometimes a villain who is a mustache twirling bad guy is fine.

The art for this new series is provided by a new artist to the series. Joshua Buchanan takes over for original series artist Jason T. Kruse, and the hand off is seamless. Buchanan's art is fun, light and expressive. Penelope's facial expressions are well rendered and full of emotion, and Scratch is feline while still being more expressive than a cat's face could be if rendered "realistically." The designs for Schrodinger and his robots are very cool, and the new villainous character, who I don't want to talk about and ruin the surprise, has a similar design to another character, but the coloring and the facial expressions make for a smart design and an excellent addition to the cast.

There are more good all ages comics out there now then there have been in a long time, but still, finding on this smart and fun is a rarity. Scratch 9 is smart and fun; it doesn't talk down to it's audience. I'm a cat person, and Scratch is the kind of cat I want, and would be even if he didn't have superpowers.If you're looking for a book to share with your family, this is definitely a book to look at. Scratch 9 is back, and there's nothing that could make me happier.

There will be a new Scratch 9 issue for Free Comic Book Day, and Scratch 9: Cat of Nine Worlds is going to be released in June. Issue 1 is solicited in the current issue of Previews, so if you're interested, head to your comic shop now and place your order.

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