Secret Smithsonian Adventures: Claws and Effect
The second in the series of science fiction educational comics under the imprint of the Smithsonian Institution is due out later this month. The first, The Wrong Wrights, dealt with a key moment of technological development and the National Air and Space Museum; Claws and Effect instead explores Natural History.
This time, the kids start seeing dinosaurs. Cats and dogs have been replaced by lizards, appearing just as we think they did way back when. Josephine comments to her “new” pet, “You think you’d have changed at least a little bit after all this time. But you look exactly like you did millions of years ago. Weird.” This is a cute idea that makes things seem strange but approachable. I liked the debate the kids have later about just how bad a thing this is.
Meanwhile, Ajay’s mom is trying to feed him a dinoburger or dinodog. It seems all mammals have been replaced by dinosaurs in this history-changed world. The other types of animals have also gone extinct.
To fix the timeline, the kids go back in time to the 1876 Philadelphia Exhibition, the first World’s Fair in the United States. The bad guys from the first book are meddling in history again, this time with dinosaur eggs.
The same creative team as before is behind this story — writers Steve Hockensmith and Chris Kientz and artist Lee Nielsen — providing for a consistency young readers will appreciate. There are occasional panels where the balloons are misplaced, causing dialogue statements to be read in the wrong order, but it’s easy enough to figure out.
I wish the book had been twice as long, though. There’s a certain amount of hand-waving when it comes to storytelling shortcuts (like assembling all the kids as they sneak out on their parents after school) and some of the plot-point devices and their uses aren’t very visible in the art. This tale has a good amount of running around and bad-guy chasing, which could be found in any number of stories. I wish the unique elements had been given more space to breathe and for the reader to reflect on them.
Weirdest, for an educational comic, there’s a need to match dinosaurs and time spans, since not all the creatures lived at the same time. The information behind that is left out of the book entirely (or maybe just the advance review copy I read), when it should have been included, at least as an appendix. What was included was a page of notes about the Philadelphia Exhibition, which I appreciated.