SMASH: Trial by Fire, a graphic novel by Chris and Kyle Bolton reads like the handful of superhero middle grade novels that have been published over the last few years, which makes it perfect for an audience reading at a slightly lower level.
Jack D Ferraiolo's Sidekicks is fast paced and suspenseful with a great plot twist as well as a poignant look at what it means to be a sidekick (read: teenager) ready to take on the world but lacking in many crucial powers. John David Anderson's Sidekicked and Minion cover similar territory while Matthew Cody's Powerless and Super feature young superheroes due to lose their powers when they turn thirteen unless their new (powerless_ friend can help them find the answer in an old comic book series. Barry Lyga's Archvillain trilogy features a prankster in the wrong place at the right time when an seeming meteor storm showers him with super-alien powers that turn him into a superhero - or is it archvillain? SMASH: Trial by Fire eliminates most of the angsty-ness of these middle grade novels, moving the story along quickly in the graphic novel format.
When we first meet nine-year-old Andrew Ryan, it's "One October . . ." and he is suiting up as The Defender in a costume made by his mom that includes his grandpa's WWII goggles and some long underwear. Worried about the quality of his costume, Andrew joins the throng of other kids dressed as The Defender, dodging bullies and his not-so-nice older brother along the way. When, some six months later, The Defender is done in by an explosion after being captured by his nemesis Magus, Andrew is just near enough that the blast sends him flying and knocks some super powers into him.
The rest of the story follows Andrew as he learns to use his new powers - he gets the name Smash because of his shabby flying skills. He also has to learn to keep dealing with the bullies and his brother without revealing any of his new abilities. He rescues hostages in a bank robbery by pretending to be what he once was, just a kid in a costume, but has nightmares about Magus and his minions finding him at home and destroying his house. When he is approached by Wraith, a superhero who first came to prominence in the 60s, with an offer to help train him in the ways of supers, Andrew laughs him off. But, another battle with Magus shakes Smash up and sends him to John Harris's (Wraith) house for training, setting up the second book in this series.
SMASH: Trial by Fire, feels a bit familiar, but the Bolton brothers have created an enthusiastic, engaging character in Andrew and his alter ego, Smash. While Andrew struggles with his new superhero status the way that the characters in the middle grade novels mentioned above do, it is not at the same emotional depth and does not impact the plot as much. Older readers will enjoy SMASH: Trial by Fire, but younger readers looking for something a bit more serious will especially enjoy reading about Andrew and his exploits! Readers who enjoyed this book should be sure to check out Bart King's Big Book of Superheroes!
Source: Review Copy