Teenager Steven Lee is on a school field trip in China. Steven himself is Chinese-American, and while on a tour of a museum it seems as though he knows more than the obviously distracted tour guide. After hearing some mysterious screaming Steven decides to embrace his inner superhero and follow her as she enters a hidden door and descends a long staircase into a strange basement. He is shocked to see a man being hit by multiple beams of light, which it turns out, are actually giving him the powers of all the signs of the Chinese Zodiac: Dragon, Goat, Horse, Dog, Ox, Monkey, Rooster, Rabbit, Pig, Rat, Snake, and Tiger. This would be the evil Maxwell who isn’t exactly planning on using his newfound powers for world peace. No, he’s planning on keeping the strongest power, that of the Dragon, for himself and passing on the other powers to people who will do his bidding. Something unexpected happens though and Steven winds up with the power of the Tiger and now it’s up to him, Jasmine the “tour guide”, and Carlos a technical wizard to stop his nefarious plot. Unfortunately, while Maxwell is attempting to capture Steven and Jasmine ( who also has the power of the Dragon ), there is an explosion and the rest of the Zodiac powers are released into the atmosphere. Once there, certain people around the world unwittingly pull the powers into themselves. If Steven, Jasmine, and Carlos are to have any hope in defeating Maxwell, they have to track these people down and convince them to join their team.
This graphically illustrated novel is vintage Stan Lee with it’s classic over-the-top villains and earnest heros determined to stop them. It’s amazing when you realize the man is 91 years old! What I really liked about this first book is all the different cultures represented. While the base of the story is the Chinese Zodiac, you’ve got heroes from other countries such as France, Ireland, and South Africa. The graphics are absolutely gorgeous! Here’s just one example:
Even on my Kindle you can see every exquisite detail. While they come out rather small at first, if you double click on them the images enlarge to what I assume will be the full size in the print editions. While Steven is obviously the focus of the story, each of the other characters are well written and given their own voice. The action is fast paced and makes it difficult to put the book down. The powers are fascinating and build upon talents people already have. I did find a couple of them confusing however. For example: South African Duane has the power of the Pig, which is basically control over everything that’s electronic. Huh? And there’s Dog, a villain, who actually grows sharp teeth, hair, claws, etc. when he’s accessing his power. He’s the only one who really does this, although Monkey also attains attributes of his namesake. But then isn’t part of reading a novel or comic like this suspending disbelief? Even at over 400 pages I can see The Zodiac Legacy being hugely popular with middle-schoolers, YAs, and adult fans of Stan Lee.