Nico Bravo and the Hound of Hades and Nico Bravo and the Cellar Dwellers – written and illustrated by Mike Cavallaro, First Second, 9781250196989 and 9781250220370, 2020
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
Format: Hardcover Graphic novel
What did you like about the book? Filled with minute details to pour over, DayGlo colors and lots of action, these two volumes will win instant fans. Nico is a young orphan who, together with his best friends Lula (a sphinx) and Buck (a crazed unicorn), staff Vulcan’s Celestial Supply Shop. They sell lightning, supplies and magical objects to gods and goddesses and also to the occasional hero. In the first volume, one of Beowulf’s descendents, a girl named Eowulf, grabs up the most magical sword in the shop and in the course of chasing Cerberus out of Hades, unwittingly releases a pack of zombies. In the second volume, the God of Evil’s henchman releases misery into the world and there’s mega-battles, a trip to Atlantis and a big reveal about Nico’s origins. Gods and goddesses from many different traditions mix in these books, so Nico is saved in the first book by Gillgamesh and then allies with a vampire-like Elvira and her crew of “cellar-dwellers” in the second.
The art is lively and doesn’t take itself too seriously. The look of the characters and wry tone reminded me of the original Rocky and Bullwinkle Show: all the characters have big, googly eyes on large heads with lumpy peanut-shaped bodies, but spindly arms and legs. Nico tends toward skaterboy chic, with his all black getup, including a black beanie pulled down over his shaggy hair. Cerberus is shown with three drooling heads, but the trio is a bulldog, a chihuahua and a pink poodle. The crazy and secret unicorn army definitely recalls the crew of Kelly’s Heroes. I liked the convention of using trading cards as new immortals are introduced into the story to give readers a bit of background information. The books are nicely bound, with thick paper and excellent color reproduction and look as though they would stand up to heavy use.
Anything you didn’t like about it? There’s not much character development or pathos in these books, but that may suit the target audience. I thought the first installment hung together much better than the second, although the insertion of time travel was probably a bridge too far for me.
To whom would you recommend this book? Students in grades 4-6 who enjoy adventure graphic novels. There is quite a lot of text in these volumes, and the action would be impossible to follow without the talk bubbles.
Who should buy this book? Elementary, middle or public libraries.
Where would you shelve it? Graphic novels
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: November 8, 2020