One of the problems, I think, in comics designed specifically for kids is that they decide to talk down to kids. Sure, these comics are well-drawn and fun to look at for kids, but there's not really much in them to get themselves invested in the characters. I've read one issue of Tiny Titans, and it's just full of jokes (mostly inside jokes that people like ME who have read comics for 20 years get) that may amuse lightly, but nothing to really get any kid to have a favorite or to distinguish what really makes these characters special:
And while I have not read an issue of Superhero Squad, from what I hear, it's much the same thing:
I really don't think that it's a good idea to talk down to your audience; I mean, yes, you have to realize they're kids, but at the same time, it's like if you keep talking to a kid in baby talk - if you keep doing it, they'll never really learn. I don't know if Supergirl: Adventures in the 8th Grade is like that, but the title alone pretty much screams out, "Look! See? Eighth grade? You kids'll love this!" When it comes to comics, kids don't like being "targeted" as a specialized demographic any more than girls do.
That having been said, DC Kids! does put out a lot of pretty okay products out there. I think The Superfriends is really fun. Each story is divided into chapters, which have cliffhangers, most of which try to get the reader involved. And there are games. So at least on that end, the kid's using his brains.
DC Kids! also makes licensed comics, like Looney Tunes:
And the Batman: Brave and the Bold:
The problem with licensed properties is that it's a double-edged sword. Sure, it may get kids to buy the product, thinking "Great! That's the Batman on TV!" But then what? Are they going to keep buying the comic every month? I don't think so - from what I've seen, licensed properties tend to sell low due to the fact that, hey, they have this on TV. Why should you buy something where the characters can't move or actually talk? It worked well in the 50s, but I think it's a different time.
And even then, where's a kid going to go if he wants more Batman stuff that's not Brave and the Bold? What if he wants to know what's going on with the "real" Batman, the one he sees in multiple covers in the store, dominating the racks? What're you going to give him? A "real" Batman title? Really?
Of course, one of the reasons to buy a licensed product is because the comics are never as hampered as the TV shows, ever. For example, in the latest issue of Cartoon Network Action Pack, Ben10 met Generation Rex:
Probably the best producer of licensed material is BOOM! Studios. BOOM! has the license to publish Disney-related stuff (I have no idea how this relates to the Marvel purchase), and they go all out with it. Not only do they reprint Carl Barks' Donald Duck material in Donald Duck Classics:
Superheroes in Hero Squad:
And I know people from my generation will love this. Here's Darkwing Duck!
BOOM! also has the Pixar license, and they have been able to produce comics based on Cars, Wall-E, and Toy Story:
And The Incredibles:
And see, The Incredibles comic is good! It's actually a really fun read! So where does it fail? Simply in the fact that it's not as good as the movie. It's not, and it can't be. The movie was an all-ages flick, while this one seems to be aimed explicitly for kids. And even with that, kids can tell the difference, and they can tell that they're kind of being talked down to. And they won't get it - their parents and older brothers and sisters love the movie; how come only the kids like the comic? Something must be wrong.
By far, the best - and only - comic book creator active today that you should turn to for comics for kids is the esteemed Jeff Smith. As I've said in my review, his work on Shazam! and the Monster Society of Evil was commendable, and aside from being one of the best ever takes on Captain Marvel, it's a comic that appeals to kids and adults, boys and girls alike.
Smith's take on Shazam! was so good that DC Kids! actually put out a spin-off called Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam, which suffers from the same flaw as The Incredibles. It's good; it's just not as good, and kids can tell. My 5-year-old niece loves Smith's book and reads parts of it every day. She has an issue of the Batson series, and she's read it all of once.
No list of comics for kids could possibly be complete without Bone, Jeff Smith's magnum opus. Telling the story of three Bone creatures who make their way to a valley full of dragons and talking animals and ghosts and locusts and whatnot, Bone is like Lord of the Rings meets Pogo. It's my 11-year-old nephew's favorite comic book. It's so good that he finished the entire one-volume sitting in a week. Incidentally, you can get the one-volume edition for about $27.00 on Amazon.
The Marvel Adventures line is actually a pretty good line of comics. It takes place in a universe separate from regular Marvel continuity and uses recognizable characters to do "done-in-one" issues, meaning that there are no "to be continued"s or anything like that (though there are subplots). What I like best about it is that there's no attempt to talk down to the kids by giving them deliberately kiddie art. It's so fresh and self-contained that it actually feels like reading a comic from the 70s or 80s. It's perfect, I think, for a 7 or 8-year-old kid.
But then again, what if they want the "real" versions? See, the problem with comic culture these days is that there are so many of us readers who treat it like some special club. You go into a comic book store, and it feels like a clubhouse. Kids may read Marvel Adventures, but then when they find out that it's not "the real Spider-Man" or "the real Avengers," they'll back away from the book, trying their hands at the in-continuity stuff, which would, of course, be too "mature" (and I use the term loosely) for them.
And at the end of the day, that's the problem, I think, not just with giving comics to kids, but giving comics to anyone. We as a community are not new-reader-friendly. We treat it like an exclusive thing, as if the world somehow owes us for reading comics, for having been made fun of because we read comics. We shun those who don't get "geek" references, or we won't make way for the little kid who wants to get in line for the book signing because the organizer at the con told us we were last in line and no one should get in. Instead of reaching out and giving these new readers comics we think they'll enjoy, we end up giving them what we enjoy, and then we condescend to them if they don't get it the way we did. And then we'll complain that the comics coming out today aren't good enough, because somehow, because of our exclusionary behavior, we've somehow deserved to be "treated better" by creators and companies alike. As if we ever did anything for them - we probably hurt their business by turning it into an exclusive thing more than we ever helped it by buying what we liked.
We are not entitled. We are not "better" than everyone else because we know that in Amazing Spider-Man 200, Spider-Man, powerless, beat up the burglar who killed his Uncle Ben. We claim to love comics, and this is why we should do our best to give kids - and others - comics they would love as well, so the comics industry could be healthier, and we can stop dreading for its future.