Ender Wiggin is a very unusual boy -- he's a brilliant tactician, a genius, and a despised "third" in a future that only allows two children. He's also six years old.
And despite the fact that Orson Scott Card's sci-fi classic is about a little boy learning how to be a warrior, the first part of the comic book adaptation is a pretty solid graphic novel. "Ender's Game: Battle School" has plenty of zero-G action, tense confrontations between little boys and girls who act like hardened adults, and some weirdly shiny faces and hair.
After a fight with a gang of bullies, Ender Wiggin is approached by an army officer who wants him to join the elite Battleschool, where kid geniuses become soldiers -- basically because aliens are about to attack Earth AGAIN and may end up wiping out the human race. His brother Peter is too wild and cruel, and his beloved sister Valentine is too mild-mannered. Ender accepts, and quickly finds himself in a dog-eat-dog space school where he soon becomes loathed for the special treatment the teachers occasionally give him -- when they aren't observing his every move.
And it soon becomes obvious that Ender has a natural ability that exceeds that of most of the Battleschool recruits: he instinctively knows how to outmaneuver his opponents and protect himself in a fight, even if he annoys some of the "army" commanders who don't like being outshone. But an elaborate fantasy VR game has also revealed some unpleasant doubts in Ender's mind, as he tries to move through a fairy tale world filled with dangers....
"Ender's Game: Battle School" has a pretty daunting task in front of it -- it has to take a story filled with psychological games and children acting like adults, and somehow turn it into a good graphic novel. Sure, aliens are about to invade the Earth, but the focus here is on the slow transformation of Ender from a very self-contained young boy into a tiny prepubescent adult.
But it actually does work rather well -- lots of punching (with accompanying blood splatters), zero-G acrobatics, and tense confrontations between assorted children, divided by "toons" and competition. It gets too slow in patches, but once Ender starts really showing his skills the story becomes more intense and focused. And it adds a chilling overtone that the adults are watching the whole thing and clinically observing what is going on.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the story is that we don't get much of a look inside Ender's thoughts, and mainly see how he feels through his fantasy-world explorations and the psychological evaluations. He does seem to come alive more at the end, when he struggles with his fears of becoming like his brother Peter, and realizes the true purpose of Battle School. And Valentine serves as a good supporting character, a girl who adores her brother and serves as his rock.
As for the art, it's a mixed bag. It's rather awkward at first, with giant heads and scrawny legs for everyone, and a stylized video-game sheen that makes everyone look like video game characters. However, the art becomes smoother as the series goes on, and the glimpses of talking snakes, green-skinned giants and magical mirrors in the imaginary realm are lovely.
"Ender's Game: Battle School" has some minor flaws, but is a surprisingly solid comic adaptation of the first part of Orson Scott Card's sci-fi classic. And Command School is yet to come.