Monday, November 11, 2019

The Last Kids on Earth was too awesome for me

After I learned that the cartoon The Last Kids on Earth, which my son didn’t care for, was based on a series of books, I read the first one. Which I didn’t care for :D

The Last Kids on Earth is about a group of middle-schoolers/high schoolers in an apocolypse that includes both zombies and kaiju.

And that was kind of my problem with the book. It was a mashup of zombie apocalypse and giant monster disaster and superheroes. (Seriously, superheroes. The kids fight giant monsters in hand-to-hand combat and win. They are totally superheroes.) Now, all three of those genres can mesh but I didn’t think they did that very well here.

The books have a goofy, lighthearted tone that I found very jarring. and much of that centered around the protagonist. An orphan and a social outcast, Jack uses the end of the world to live his best life. Any elements of angst are lost in him treating the disaster  like a video game.

Which could still work if it came across as a coping mechanism. But the world really does act like a video game for him. He is living the dream of the end of the world letting you do whatever you want. 

In fact, every other character in the book comes across as more nuanced and relatable :D Which is actually fascinating for me. That means making Jack so one-note was an intentional choice. He is a video game protagonist, like Mario or Link, a blank slate for the players or readers to fill in.

One of the core elements of zombie apocalypse fiction is being grounded. Adding giant monsters and the characters somehow gaining the fighting skills of Daredevil or Batman is far from grounded.

(I actually do wonder if ordinary middle schoolers becoming basically superhuman gets addressed in the later books, if that is a side effect of whatever the disaster really is. If that is the case, that would really help my suspension of disbelief.)

All of that said, these books have been very successful and I can see why. Take your average thirteen-year-old and ask them to describe a zombie apocalypse and this is what you get. It might make Warm Bodies look like Garth Ennis's Crossed but it is clearly the most fun apocalypse you could hope for. The rule of cool is always in place. Common sense or rational thought take a second seat to things being neat.

The Last Kids on Earth has a lot of problems but, man, it knows its audience. Which, from a publisher’s viewpoint, is the most important thing.

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