Friday, June 15, 2012

Comic Review: Will Supervillians be on the final?

....oh come on, with a title like that how could I NOT pick this one up? When I first came across this, via a review on ANN, I thought that the title made the story sound like a train-wreck waiting to happen, especially when I found out that the author was the same author of the "Napoleonic War with dragons" series. Also, I've noticed over the years that I tend to like less/think aren't done as well stories that have a prose writer at the helm with an artist or comic adaptations of a book. Granted, I know that DC and Marvel don't always (often?) have someone who both writes the story and draws the comic and their stories seem to work (well, sometimes) and I have seen many collaborative webcomics that have one person who is the primary writer and another who does all the art but in those cases the result generally feels like a cohesive work. Here, well it's not so much that the story doesn't feel cohesive, rather, I'm not entirely sure why this story was told in comic form at all (although I can't see it working any better as an all prose work either...)

Will Super Villains Be On the Final? Written by Naomi Novik, illustrated by Yishan Li
Summary: Leah Taymore is nearly at the end of her rope, with prodigious super powers she's been enrolled in the college for superheroes two years early but with all of her (orchestrated by a villain of course) bad luck it doesn't seem like she'll be able to remain. Will she somehow be able to stay, save the day, and get the guy?

The Good: Leah isn't a terribly well-rounded character but she's likable enough and despite her powers and hardships doesn't feel like a Mary Sue. I also liked two of the side characters, twins who are the resident advisers for Leah's floor managed to get more fleshed out than I expected and I found myself wishing that they had more screen time (especially the girl of the pair). The story also concluded better than I expected, it's clear that there is much more to it than just this volume but it ended at a good place.

The Bad: A classic episode/chapter in a school story is to have the characters go to a philosophy class, have the teacher propose a question about morals (which doesn't have a "right" answer) that is strangely relevant to the plot, and then have the characters mull over it. This time this scenario is partially explained by the fact that the philosophy teacher is the villain but the question was so dumb I nearly threw the book across the room. It's a question dealing with events that happened before the story so I won't get into details but believe me when I say that it wouldn't have generated much debate in my high school classes let alone my college ones and nothing makes a writer appear dumb when they try to pull off something "clever" like this and fail. And this whole story feels like someone was trying to be clever with a new idea (never mind the fact that the idea of "school for superheroes" has already been done plenty of times before) but didn't have any new ideas to bring to the table to make it work. Also, I can't tell if some of the guy characters (and apologies that I'm not using names here, I honestly cannot find them online and forgot to write them down) were out of character at times or if the artist actually drew the wrong one which is a first for me. Also, co-ed bathrooms, really? Sure I've been in dorms that have a small, gender-neutral bathroom so there can be mixing of the sexes, but the idea that the only bathroom for an entire floor (which appeared too small, I've been in dorms with only one huge bathroom for 40+ people) that is mixed gender was a pretty stupid detail.

The Art: Another complaint I have with these collaborative works is that the art more often than not is just boring. By which I mean, sure the art is there and I saw over 100 pages of it but don't expect me to recognize the artist if I saw their work again, the art didn't feel like it had any style to it at all, rather that the publisher said "we need a comic with generic, 'manga-inspired' art" and that was it*. Interestingly enough there were a few pages in the back with original sketches and prompts for what the characters should look like which were kinda interesting but most so for Leah's roommate. The prompt calls for her to have a more chubby, best-friend look, and I wouldn't have described her as anything except average weight/build. Perhaps that idea was scrapped but it did make me think of all the talks and writings I've seen about re-enforcing the idea that only thin is beautiful, both because the best friend, not the star and the second most important female character, was supposed to be not thin and that if that's their definition of "not thin" then they have a sadly screwed up definition.

The story did turn out better than I expected (probably because my expectations weren't high, think a few inches above the floor) but still had enough weird, dumb details and didn't do anything new/interesing with material I've seen before that I have no intention of recommending it to anyone. No idea if there will be more books forthcoming, the publishing date was last year but Amazon doesn't seem to list a volume two (also worth noting is that you can get new and used copies online for just one cent, never a good sign) and I really have to wonder why Del Ray financed this project in the first place.  

*ironically enough, did a quick search on Amazon and it turns out Yishan Li has done a number of "how to draw manga" books before. 

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