The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence, by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore, illustrated by Andie Tong

Zodiac ConvergenceSo, I am a big comic book reader.  (I’m not a fan – true fans would be horrified by my lack of knowledge).  Most of the time, I say that I read “graphic novels” because that’s the new lingo and it sounds less like a pimply teenager from the 90s.  But I admit that “graphic novel” should probably be reserved for illustrated novels (like Jeff Lemire’s stuff) and that most of the time I gravitate to comic books.  Superheros, superpowers, good guys, bad guys, saving the world in closely knit teams of friends, and dialogue mostly made up of witty parlance, what’s there not to love?  Every misfit can identify with at least one of the plethora of superheroes or villains in either the Marvel or DC worlds.

So when I saw this shiny new book, hot off the presses (publishing date 2015!) written and conceived by none other than the great Stan Lee with Stuart Moore and Andie Tong (people whose existence I was unaware of, until today – I told you that my comic book ignorance runs deep), I was pretty excited.  Marvel has been seeing a real comeback these days (I’m waiting for you, Civil War movie!) and let’s face it, Stan Lee’s brainchild has got to be awesome, right?
Wrong.  Oh, so wrong.
Convergence is terrible.  Terrible, terrible, terrible.  It is so bad that I am having a hard time putting my finger on what exactly is wrong with it.  But I think I can do it using lists, and I will start with:
Things Convergence Has Going for It
  1. It has an ensemble cast.  Come on, you know what I’m talking about.  Like Italian Job and A-Team and that movie with the name I can’t remember about the heist in Las Vegas that had a kabillion sequels…where half of the movie story is spent picking up the group members and everyone has a funny quirk or cool back story and gets to do something really awesome-stereotypical (like when that Chinese guy folds himself into a box – because all Chinese guys are tiny athletic contortionists who once worked for the circus, right?) that contributes to the triumphant outcome.  The first half of Convergence is spent speeding around the world (the world, people!) picking up a motley crew of mostly-teenage and mainly-English-speaking misfits to assemble them into a kick-ass crime fighting machine.  Can we say “cash cow”?  C’mon, people love this stuff.
  2. It has superpowers.  You’re either pro or anti, and I’m pro.
  3. It takes the Chinese” zodiac (let’s not get into how it’s not “Chinese”) and turns it into a superpower generating fantastical force.  Some people would say the authors are co-opting an ancient tradition that deserves more respect.  Some would add that the authors are taking advantage of the inexplicable fascination in the West with Eastern mysticism.  And it’s true that I can’t think of stories where people channel the powers of the Western zodiac (I wonder what Sagittarian powers would be?  The ability to clop around on hooves?  What about Libra?).  I am inclined to agree because I usually roll that way.  But I have enjoyed many books that bring aspects of non-Western culture into Western literature, so it would be hypocritical of me to stick this point in the “Fail” list and I try not to be hypocritical.  At least, not on this blog.
  4. It’s illustrated.  At a rate of about 1-2 pretty awesomely rendered full-page comic-book style illustrations per chapter.  You know the kind I mean – where everyone is a lean, gorgeous, fighting machine with incredibly high cheekbones and enviable muscle-tone.
  5. It has non-white people in it.  Thank you!
  6. It has women in it.  Thank you again!
  7. Did I mention that it is written by Stan Lee?  STAN LEE.

So yeah, if that’s good enough for you, then go ahead, read it.  But before you do, you should probably know about the substantial

Fails

  1. Storytelling fail.  Convergence reads like a description of a storyboard rather than a novel.  Do we really need a play-by-play of every fist chop and elbow-nudge?  Does it add to the experience if I know the kick was a roundhouse and not a sidekick?  As a former student of the martial arts, I say: no.  The book otherwise moves pretty quickly along from scene to scene, so when you read one of these über-descriptive paragraphs it’s a bit of a roadblock.  After awhile, it got tiresome and I started skipping entire pages (okay, fight scene…moving right along…).  A comic book would just insert a full-page fight sequence that you could take in visually and it would be fitting for the medium.  Doesn’t work as well in the novel format.
  2. Suspense-build fail.  Bad guy wants to destroy the world and is trying to co-opt the powers of others, must race to find victims/potential teammates before they are captured/convinced by villain.  Yada, yada, yawn.  It was hard to care.
  3. Humour fail.  You know how comic books have all those “witticisms” uttered by heroes and heroines in the heat of battle?  Or those little asides and jokes people make to each other?  Well, when reduced to dialogue in a book format, they come off as super, super lame.
  4. Fantasy fail.  There is an established ancient mythology behind the zodiac and each animal has a set of traits associated with it that the writers could have drawn on.  Instead, it seems like they came up with twelve powers they wanted for the series (yes, it is a series) and then assigned them without regard for the actual mythology.  For instance, in the zodiac Monkey is a potential leader, intelligent and dignified.  You know, like the Monkey King.  Monkeys also, apparently, make good accountants and bankers (yep, you read that right).  In Convergence, however, Monkey is undependable, restless, mouthy, and resentful.  Quite a bit like our Western stereotype of a monkeying person, but not at all true to the Chinese zodiac monkey.  My advice: if you’re going to co-opt a mythology, you really should make an attempt to actually use it.  Otherwise, it’s just going to look like a cheap gimmick.
  5. Writing fail.  Did I mention that it’s badly written?  It’s badly written.
  6. Plot fail.  I couldn’t bring myself to care about the plot until the plot twist at the very end. Most of the book is spent trying to take down a not-very-scary supervillain (well, I didn’t think he came off as very scary) for not-very-compelling reasons (he’s bad for the world!!!!  He must be stopped!!!).  There’s a lot of running and fighting and discovering powers, and then more running and fighting.  Until the very last plot twist, nothing of actual interest happens.  Maybe this kind of slow plot development works in comic books (okay, it does) and movies, but when you’re 3/4 of the way through a book and nothing has happened, it’s a bit frustrating.  Might as well just wait to see the movie.

On reviewing my lists, I realize there are more things going for the book than there are fails.  But I think the fails are more substantial.  I really don’t think this book is worth slogging through, even if you are super into comic books and superheroes – and especially not if you are trying to trick someone into reading a book rather than a graphic novel.  The writing style is not immediate enough to snag a reluctant reader and it’s not until you are well into the book that things actually start happening.  Maybe they’ll publish a comic book – if they do, I may read it.  But I may not.

Reading Ages: The website says 9-12.  I guess that could be possible.  It’s hard to recommend reading ages for a book you would not recommend to anyone, of any age.

Rating: A solid D.  What a waste of my time.

Favourite Character:  Yup, I’ve got one.  And it’s not the protagonist, who is transparent and whiny and annoying.  It’s Liam, the Irish gent who embodies the power of the Ram (or Goat, or Sheep, if you want to start that debate).  Yeah, it sucks to have an Irish gent, especially because his accent is written into the dialogue.  Whenever I see that kind of thing, I feel sorry for the Irish who have to live with the stereotype of having charming brogues.  But both his backstory and his personality mesh with what one might expect from the Ram.

Least Favourite Character:  I have so, so, many.  But I would like to single out the Snake.  Her power mainly seems to be hypnotism because, you know, snakes are hypnotic.  Which is lame, because the snake is actually a pretty awesome zodiac symbol with lots of potential for cool powers that are not hypnotism.

Full Disclosure:  I’m a snake.

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