By Dustin Cabeal
This is a hard review to write because I think what this book is ultimately trying to accomplish is great. Teaching kids about coding while also giving them an adventure is fantastic. It’s just that it’s not quite working.
I noticed the problem on the second volume which I didn’t review. Then again on the third which I admittedly went easy on. I didn’t want to bring this series down, especially since Gene Luen Yang is one of the most talented and thoughtful comic creators to come around in ages. Not only does he manage to tell incredible stories, but puts thought into the audience and the material. After four volumes though I can’t just let this slide and pretend that I’m doing any one a favor by not reviewing Secret Coders.
The elements of the first volume that was charming and full of learning are lost in the volumes that follow. Such is the case in this fourth volume. The teaching moments go on for too long and are such a harsh break in the pacing of the story. Now, I appreciate that the kids fail and try again, but the overall process is far too long to read in a comic. Time stands still when I get to these parts, and suddenly I lose interest in the adventure. A bigger problem is that these moments always come at an intense moment of the story. Our trio is running, running, stop! Coding time… still coding… still coding… still.
The thing is, real coding takes a lot of damn time, and it, unfortunately, doesn’t fit the rest of the story in which our trio are getting into danger and doing what the adults can’t get done. That brings me to the other problem. The three kids are all relatively smart. Two of them are portrayed as being smarter, but overall, they’re not dumb or portrayed that way. They make at least one mind numbing dumb mistake per volume. It’s extremely hard to root for them when they break character and do dumb stuff. Granted, we all do dumb stuff, but their dumb stuff is always just to drive the story forward. It’s their story though, and that means they’ll always find a way out which isn’t very rewarding for the reader.
The artwork is something I’ve never had a problem with, but I would have been cool to have the monochrome coloring inside match the cover. It’s always green, and while that matches the bulk of the story, i.g. the turtles, it ends up looking sick. I mean like the entire story is a little sick because of the hues of green used. Otherwise, the designs and characters look and move wonderfully. Even the teaching moments are interesting to look at, but because of the art, you’re able to notice just how long the teaching moment is running. That and they eventually start taking over more and more of the page.
Sadly, this is my last foray into Secret Coders. I do sincerely hope that some kids are out there enjoying this book and learning from it. I would like nothing more than that. For me though, the teaching moments are breaking the story too often, and it feels like the experiment here was to have both be interesting and work together. They’re not and haven’t been which is a shame.
Secret Coders vol. 4 – Robots & Repeats
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Artist: Mike Homes
Publisher: First Second Books