One of the most difficult parts of being a high schooler is finding the place where you feel comfortable, where you feel you truly belong. The inherent desire to find a tribe that accepts you is overwhelming, sometimes scary. But when you find the right group of people who make your life worth something, then the adventures you have together last for a lifetime. While it may be summer now, school is still in session for the gang that makes up Lion Forge’s new and adventurous all-ages comic 3 o’Clock Club.
While it might seem that one of the last things readers want is to back to school during the lazy doldrums of summer, 3 o’Clock Club breaks the mold. From its narrative to its art, every panel is filled with action, warmth, and heart. This is a story about outsiders adjusting to a system that is wary of outsiders, about strangers becoming friends, and ultimately, in a sly cum whimsical manner, redemption through good deeds and giving back. Written by Butch Hartman (creator of your favorite Nickelodeon toons like The Fairly OddParents, Danny Phantom, and Bunsen is a Beast) & Jordan B. Gorfinkel (a veteran Batman editor, aka GORF) with art by Israeli comic book artist Erez Zadok (more on him in a moment), 3 o’Clock Club is a singular amalgamation of differing storytelling sensibilities coming together to form a sumptuous cholent of whimsy and heart.
The narrative is not unlike your favorite Saturday morning cartoon, with each issue centered around a rag-tag group of plucky high school students who are members of a mysterious, temporal-defying club that fight monsters, demons, and their darkest fears (is that a metaphor? Perhaps, perhaps!). Our nominal hero is Drew, a home-schooled kid who’s still adjusting to life at Mayflower High, an exemplar of a modern high school and all its trappings. Along with a diverse cast of engaging characters Roland, Zel, Shane, and, most importantly the leader of the club Arch, Drew and the gang spend their time after school battling monsters just in time to study for the chemistry test. The first issue, in fact, is all action. Readers are introduced not only to the characters, their rapport, and their personalities but also to the greater substance and mysteries of Mayflower High. Why on Earth is there a bright red dinosaur attacking the school right after dismissal? How does everyone magically have a ton of sleek, steampunk gear already equipped? And how does this guy Arch seemingly have the answer to every obscure historical question? The answers to those questions (and more!) unfold during the course of the five issue arc.
The writing from Hartman and Gorf is top-notch, and both of their respective styles are on display. From my earlier conversations with Butch, and just following the course of his Nick shows over a childhood, I can tell when his ideas come to play in the dialogue, usually through the healthy stream of rat-a-tat retorts and rejoinders that populate the issues. From Gorf, I can see his particular sense of planning and pacing, the old school ability to leave only the smallest morsels of information for the readers to pick up on as the continue through the series. There’s a studied deliberateness to every beat. That doesn’t mean the story is slow by any means. But when there’s a pause between action, there’s a reason. For what it’s worth, the payoff is incredibly rewarding (no spoilers here!).
As for Zadok, his art is simply amazing! I can’t imagine a better debut for his work in the American market. His panel composition is on point, he has great use of space, and he renders every face and emotion with depth and maturity. In essence, this only the first in a line of great projects for him in the United States.
So, what’s the verdict? At its core, 3 o’Clock Club has elements that appeal to everybody. But even more so, underneath the action and the technology, is a story about growing up and finding acceptance in a raucous world. It’s certainly a perfect read for those lazy summer days, when all you really need is a story to take you away on an exciting adventure.