In Review: HiLo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth

A joyful, funny, and exciting book. Recommended.

HiLo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick

Published by Random House Children’s Books, A Division of Random House LLC, September 1, 2015. Hardcover of 208 pages at $13.99. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 3 – 7.

NOTE: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.

The cover: The top quarter of the cover has “HiLo” in red bold letters, outlined in yellow. Below this is the subtitle and then the image begins. Tilted down to the right, a sidewalk has D.J. and Gina on either side of HiLo who’s in the center. The two teens look at HiLo in awe as yellow energy begins to build up in his hands, with the title character looking really happy at what he’s doing. There’s a blurb from Bone‘s Jeff Smith on the left, with writer/artist Judd Winick’s name on the right. The illustration is by Winick with the colors by Guy Major. This is an incredibly bright cover with the smiles on the characters’ faces infectious. I’m finding myself smiling back at this cover each time I look at it, and I can’t remember the last time any cover made me feel that way. And please note, the cover that is used to accompany this review is from a poor scan I made. The colors are much stronger than this pale copy I’ve made. Overall grade: A+

The premise: From the back cover, “Meet HiLo, D.J., and Gina! D.J. and Gina are TOTALLY ordinary kids. But HiLo…isn’t. HiLo doesn’t know where he came from, or what he’s doing on Earth. (Or why going to school in only your UNDERWEAR is a BAD idea.) But, UH-OH, what if HiLo wasn’t the ONLY thing that fell to our planet? Can the trio unlock the secrets of HiLo’s past? Can HiLo SURVIVE a day at school? Find out in HILO, a LAUGH-OUT-LOUD, EPIC story of FRIENDSHIP! ADVENTURE! (And the occasional mutant robot ant.)” A lost boy, outer space, fish-out-of-water tale with mutant robot ants? Oh, I’m interested! Overall grade: A

The characters: HiLo is one of the most energetic characters I’ve encountered in a children’s book. He’s not manic, by any means, he’s just exuberant: he’s thrilled with anything new before him and he attempts anything with 110%. When he’s brought home by D.J., he’s the fish out of water that wants to know and try everything. Thinking out of the box is definitely his hallmark, such as how he’s able to register for school and be with his new friend. When his origin is revealed it’s a bittersweet scene, yet contains all the hallmarks of a classic hero, among them Superman and Astro Boy. Pages 181 – 183 have the perfect emotional punch to cement him into young reader’s hearts. D.J. is a sensational everyman for this story. He’s from a large family and doesn’t feel he excels at anything. As he’s fond of often saying, there’s nothing special about him, but anyone can tell he has too much heart — he doesn’t say it, but it’s obvious. In fact, I never thought that an elephant could be such a tear inducing item until D.J. gives one the greatest symbolism. For much of the book, D.J. is the straight man to HiLo and the voice of the reader, asking questions that readers would want to ask. When Gina returns, even he can’t deny what his strength is, and 181 has it tossed beautifully in his face. Gina is D.J.’s friend from their youth and now the girl he cares for, though he doesn’t state it. She’s the reality check for D.J.’s outrageous actions, but she’s not the type of friend to tell him to stop helping, just that there’s a safer, smarter way to do so. She was a good addition to the story because another voice was needed to expand the narrative. The villain of the book is seen only in flashback: Razorwark. His plans are not fully revealed until the end of the book, and his minions are the ones making trouble for the teens. These minions are giant bug-robots. The first is the mutant robot ant, which is about twenty feet tall and can think as fast as any living creature. Initially it’s assumed that these creatures are on Earth to fight HiLo, but their plan is much more serious and deadly. They’re cool monsters that will elicit good scares and laughs, as well as start some burgeoning artists to doodle. Overall grade: A

The settings: There are only three settings in this book, and that’s all needed to tell this story well: the countryside (above and below ground), and D.J.’s house and school. The countryside is where the action takes place. When fighting giant mutant robots lots of space is needed, otherwise the government will get involved and then the story will spiral into unnecessary complications. This also allows Winick to have a handy cliff, hole, or cave. D.J.’s house is usually swamped with his large family, which leads to some very funny meal scenes. School is the usually the primary setting for teens’ socializing, so that happens in this book as well. This location also allows for some funny scenes as HiLo tries to acclimate as a human. Overall grade: A

The action: The book opens in the thick of things as D.J. and HiLo are being chased by the gigantic mutant robot ant. It’s an exciting opening and then cuts away at a very tense moment to flashback to D.J. introducing himself and how he got into the mess readers saw he began with. When the story catches up to the beginning, it’s riveting reading — even I wanted to know how the boys would get out of this situation. I also like how Winick has HiLo slowly remembering he has certain powers, all at the most needed moments. The big battle underground would be a budget breaker for a film, but works beautifully in this graphic novel. This is great stuff! Overall grade: A

The conclusion: The danger is avoided, but with a terrible price. However, Winick is keeping his toe in the water of the story he’s created (If you read the book, you’ll groan at that line), and there’s a cliffhanger where it’s revealed there are more adventures to come. I’m in! Overall grade: A

The art: Judd Winick provides the linework on this book and it’s fantastic. His style is cartoonish, yet it’s all his own — he’s not trying to imitate other classic cartoonists or their works. He captures joy and fear expertly with his characters, and a whole lot of heart; I’m telling you, Pages 181 – 183. His design work of the robo-bugs is also terrific. They’re icky cool that will please the target audience wonderfully. There are also some excellent silent gags that made me laugh out loud, such as registering for school. The pages where HiLo regains his memories have a slick jaded border around them to show readers these are incomplete, harsh memories. It’s a nice visual way to clue in readers as to what they’re witnessing. I like every page and panel in this book. Overall grade: A  

The colors: A name I’ve seen in several comic books is Guy Major, who’s responsible for coloring this book. Coloring has evolved far beyond parents’ memories of comic books being colored in a uniform color. Today, books’ colors are as detailed and varied in their colors as any form of art. Check out the blue skies Major brings to this book — They are amazing! I wish I lived somewhere with those beautiful skies. Notice how D.J.’s house’s walls are colored blue-green, calming the reader and making things safe. When HiLo has his flashback memories, the page (not the panels) go brown, giving an uncomfortable feeling to the proceedings. The robot bugs have a neat metallic shine, making them instant eye catchers. Major is doing some outstanding work on this book. Overall grade: A

The final line: A joyful, funny, and exciting book that will make everyone wish they could find a friend that had fallen from the sky. Recommended. Overall grade: A

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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