Spy Goddess: The Chase for the Chalice, Vol. 1
Created by Michael Spradlin, Script by Rachel Manija Brown, Illustrated by Rainbow Buddy
Tokyopop/Harper Collins, $9.99
If there’s a tween in your house, you may already be familiar with Michael Spradlin’s Spy Goddess novels (HarperTeen). Both Live and Let Shop and To Hawaii With Love follow the adventures of fifteen-year-old Rachel Buchanan, a shopaholic troublemaker cum spy. The novels have a breezy, knowing tone, and are studded with as many pop-culture references and catchy phrases as villains and car chases. Sensing an opportunity to expand their reach beyond manga’s core audience, Tokyopop teamed up with Spradlin, writer Rachel Manija Brown, and artist Lifan Yang (listed in the credits as “Rainbow Buddy”) to create an original Spy Goddess comic that fits within the continuity of the series.
The opening ten or so pages introduce newcomers to the principal characters: Rachel, a rich delinquent who chose spy school over juvenile hall; Pilar Jordan, a teen with psychic powers; Alex Scott, Pilar’s boyfriend and an expert martial artist; Brent Christian, a whiz kid who barely speaks; and Jonathan Kim, the headmaster of Blackthorn Academy, a.k.a. spy school. Under Mr. Kim’s leadership, this crack team ships out to Tokyo for a special mission: to capture arch-nemesis Simon Blankenship.
Though Brown has a knack for writing crisp, Whedon-esque dialogue, readers unfamiliar with the novels will wonder who Simon Blankenship is, and why he views Rachel as his ultimate enemy. (As portrayed, Rachel is entirely too ditzy and clothing-obsessed to pose a threat to anyone, the Elle Woods of espionage.) The story’s Tokyo setting and numerous references to Naruto, Fruits Basket, and Full Metal Alchemist seem like a calculated (and somewhat clumsy) appeal to manga fans. And the endless twitter about shopping begins to wear thin by the middle of the book, testing the patience of all but the most committed fashionistas.
Yang’s artwork, on the other hand, is a major plus. Her character designs are cute and fashion-forward, if a bit indebted to Bratz Dolls for their aesthetic. Though there aren’t too many action sequences in the book, she does a fine job of staging fight scenes; one wishes she’d been given more to do than illustrate so many passages of dialogue, especially since she has a little difficulty modulating her characters’ facial expressions.
Will the tween in your house want to read Spy Goddess? That depends—if she’s already a fan of the novels, I’d say “yes,” an opinion shared by this Amazon reviewer:
I have read all of the Spy Goddess books that have come out so far, but this new approach, Manga, is very interesting. It makes for a quick, but good, read. Obviously the story isn’t as detailed as it would be in a regular book format, but the pictures tell a lot. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in Manga, adventure, or action in the form of a teenage girl who kicks butt.
If, on the other hand, you have a budding otaku on your hands, she may take a dimmer view of this obvious attempt to capitalize on Fruits Basket fever and eschew it for the butt-kicking girls of tween favorites Naruto and InuYasha.
This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Tokyopop/Harper Collins.