Saturday Webcomic: At Astronaut Academy, love means literally losing your heart

Astronaut Academy is not your typical school. For one thing, it's out in space, in a zany corner of the future populated by security guard bears, robotic doppelgängers, and elven space princesses. And instead of football or basketball, the school's most popular sport is Fireball, a dangerous lacrosse-like game played with a flaming ball. But like so many kids, the students of Astronaut Academy have powerful crushes—and those crushes can have serious consequences in a world where you can literally give someone your heart.

Astronaut Academy: Re-Entry is the follow-up to Dave Roman's First Second graphic novel Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity. but reading the first volume isn't essential to enjoying the second. This is a self-aware, all-ages comic (albeit one that adults will enjoy more fully than kids) that plays fast and loose with science fiction, fantasy, and video game tropes in its crazy school setting. The hero of the series, Hakata Soy, was once a member of a team of mecha-piloting space heroes, but left that life behind to study at Astronaut Academy, where the students ride dinosaurs, tumble through space, and occasionally engage in time travel.

An important aspect of this universe is the ability to give and accept hearts. Most students arrive at the Academy with two or three hearts, which can be given away as tokens of affection—and a person can hold up to eight hearts. In Re-Entry, Hakata Soy's insufferable roommate, Fireball star Tak Offsky, decides to give his hearts to the object of his affection, with disastrous consequences. Soon it's clear that Hakata and Tak will have to put aside their differences—and Hakata's complete indifference to Fireball—for the good of the school's honor. And that's before we get to another Fireball player who has mysteriously acquired an arch-rival, and the nefarious Team Feety Pajamas, who are intent on defeating the school's top Monchichimon card player.

Astronaut Academy is a comic guided by its own internal logic and manic pacing. You have to sit back and let it take you by the handy through its strange space age landscape. But amidst all the loud mixing and mashing of tropes, there are the familiar junior high and high school crushes, rivalries, and friendships punctuated by sometimes unfortunate honesty. If you're willing to surrender to the wackiness, it's a delightful and often clever voyage that will remind you of middle school even when it's completely packed with robots and panda bears.

[Astronaut Academy]