Today I am delighted to offer a review for another title that I read and reviewed for work, The Zodiac Legacy: Tiger Island. This is the first instalment in a relatively new series by the legendary Stan Lee and Stuart Moore, and is most definitely a graphic novel created for YA readers. It’s great to see Stan Lee still creating, and to engage with some exciting new comics characters!
Title: The Zodiac Legacy: Tiger Island
Author: Stan Lee and Stuart Moore
Illustrated By: P. H. Marcondes
Publication Date: September 29, 2015
Genre: YA Fiction, Comics, Graphic Novel
Themes: Friendship, Loyalty, Good vs. Evil, Superheroes, Superpowers
My Rating: 3.5/ 5
When twelve magical superpowers are unleashed on the world, a Chinese-American teenager named Steven will be thrown into the middle of an epic global chase. He’ll have to master strange powers, outrun super-powered mercenaries, and unlock the mysterious powers of the Zodiac.
This is another title that I checked out from the public library to read and review for work, as we need a stronger collection of comics and graphic novels in our school library. And while I genuinely enjoyed reading this book, there were a number of things that just didn’t sit right – especially when looking at gendered representations and stereotypes. Ultimately, I was really torn in giving this book a 3.5 because 1) I adore Stan Lee and 2) there is so much that is, and could be, amazing.
As the start to a new series, the introduction is absolutely ace. The backstory is clear and engaging, each character is presented with their powers and stories being clearly defined, and the teams of good vs. evil have a obvious distinction in age, style, and appearance. What’s better yet, is that with such a broad cast of characters, is then whenever a character re-enters the story, their powers and association are included – which acts as a handy little sign-post to help readers keep track of who’s who.
The vocabulary too, is very youth friendly. Whenever complex words and concepts are introduced they are always accompanied by an explanation or definition. Regardless of whether this book is being read by teens or adults, this format helps to promote the expansion of vocabulary, and indeed a greta number of the words presented even appear on the American SATs!
The subject matter also reflects a respect for YA readers maturity levels and ability to comprehend and engage with complex concepts. Tiger Island tackles some heavy hitters such as race and ethnicity, the judgement and appearance of blended families, the emotional challenges of immigration, emotionally distant parents and/ or unreasonable expectations on teens, and even the vulnerable need that young adults have for their family and parents after they have struck out on their own. All of these issues were handled with a tact and diplomacy that never once trivialized the subjects, and often prompted readers to consider their own situations, behaviours, and societal norms.
Marcondes’ art work is absolutely outstanding as well. With the cast of the young Vanguards taking on a very Archie-esque appearance with clean lines, bold colours, and ambiguously relatable appearances. Kim is blonde like Betty, Steven is like Archie, and so on and so forth. The Zodiacs are equally distinct in their appearance, featuring more complicated line work and costumes, a darker colour palette, and more mature bodies and often highly sexualized depictions of the female characters. But, the colours are engaging, the layout easy to follow, and the mood is clearly defined from moment to moment which creates an awesome reading experience.
Where I struggled the most was with the stereotyping and gendering of characters. For example, with the Zodiacs the Snake/ Monkey dichotomy was really difficult to read through – with the female Snake sporting the classic comics tit-window, and preferring to be cunning and use her feminine wiles to achieve her goals whilst the very male Monkey shows a district lack of intellect and prefers to use brute force to achieve his objectives. This division of male/ female roles extends to all characters with female characters taking on ‘softer’ roles and powers such as being able to move people our of harms way, screaming really loud (really?), and playing the nurse or saviour while the male characters revolve around diving in head first, brute strength, and their fighting prowess. Even in the leadership roles, the female characters are subjugated – as Jasmine is meant to the leader as she is the Dragon of her team, yet young Steven takes centre stage. And while there is an even split in male/ female characters, and it’s clear that the creators have been intentional in creating a diverse cast, the reliance on gender stereotypes to carry the story came across a trite, common, and unoriginal.
Ultimately, I am left with mixed feelings on this one! It is beautifully crafted, well organized, and offers a bounty of visual and textual aids to readers make their way through the story. The art is clean and simple, and the traditional reading pattern makes this text easy to follow for both seasoned and emergent comics readers. The storyline is interesting, and it’s clear that there is lots of action to come, which promises an exciting series. But, and this is a giant but, I feel that the character construction falls back on the misogynist structures that gave the comics industry a bad rap in the first place!
Would I recommend this book? After all I’ve said above, the answer is still a yes. I think that young readers will be interested in the storyline and able to relate to the characters. I think too, that it is an excellent tool to start conversations about gender stereotyping and how to combat it. This one where I would say read it and judge for yourself.