Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Manga Review: Spy Goddess vol. 2

Spy Goddess #2: The Quest for the Lance
  • Publisher: Harper Collins / Tokyopop
  • Writer: Michael P. Spradlin / Johanna Stokes
  • Artist: Yifang Ling
  • Release: 2009
One of the first reviews I ever posted on this site, and the first I'm actually satisfied with, was for the first volume of the Spy Goddess manga.  And it sucked.  Among its main problems were unlikeable main characters, choppy action flow, and plot holes you could drive the Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann through.  (And for the record, that's not just the (Japanese only!) title of that show, but also the ultimate final form of the heroic mecha.)  Even crazier, it was a continuation of a novel series - which only lasted two books.  Welp, when I snarked at the end of that review that the villain only escaped so they could make a sequel, I was right: I hold in my hands (in between unexpected bouts of typing) the sequel, The Quest for the Lance.  One thing I should point out before diving in is that the co-writer, Rachel Manjia Brown, was swapped out for a miss Johanna Stokes, who has a considerably thicker resume of comics and TV works including SyFy's Eureka, so we might get a decent plot out of this mother for once.  ...Why do I delude myself so.

I'll assume you're familiar with our cast of heroes (protagonist Rachel Buchanan, esper Pilar Jordan, tsundere Alex Scott, gadget guy Brent Christian, and boss Johnathan Kim), so if you're not, I'll wait a moment for you to read my review of the first book.  Moment over.  So the book starts off with Rachel cornering her arch-nemesis, Simon Blankenship, who believes himself to be the incarnation of Mithras, an evil Roman bull god.  Fittingly, Rachel is in turn imbued with the powers of the rival goddess Etherea, no matter how much she tries to deny it.  Rachel holds her own in what turns out to be a training session, except for the part about it being a stealth mission.

Mr. Kim calls the gang for a briefing session, where he reminds everyone of the plot... as in Simon's evil plot.  Apparently he needs seven artifacts for a resurrection ritual or something.  Pilar tells everyone that she has been doing some off-page research which points to one of the objects being hidden somewhere in Brazil.  Now, despite Brazil being the largest nation in South America, the team decides to start searching on Rio de Janeiro, because we all know that's the only city in Brazil!  False, it's not even the capital city, nor even the biggest.  And don't get me started on Buenos Aires...  Rachel's on board with the idea too, but as a vacation, not a mission.  Alex is shocked at her treating their momentous quest so lightly, so she snaps back at him and everyone else, justifying with the fact that she's risked life and limb directly fighting the Mithras faction multiple times before.  This could make a thought-provoking arguement; after all, in pretty much any other story you can think of, how much should the hero work before he or she loses it, physically or mentally?  But the arguement falls apart in this case, because she's only been in three incidents so far, and if the manga's poor action scenes are anything to go by, she's had a rather easy time of it.  Sorry, babe, wake me when you've had one of your limbs hacked off or your nether region of choice beaten for torture.  Besides, I don't know about you, readers, but Rachel comes across as more of a spoiled brat.

Rachel does her best to patch things up with her allies on the plane to Brazil and at their hotel, but rather than R&R at the beaches or markets, the team heads straight for a library to research leads on the Mithras artifacts.  Tensions flare up again as Rachel grows immaturely bored, and Pilar begrudgingly lets her leave.  She gets lost in the Carnaval looking for someone who speaks English, because as we all know, Carnaval goes on all the time in Rio!  False, it only lasts a week or two before Lent in February/March.  Then again, they do have a tendency to party it up every day of the year.  Also, I am thankful that the writers chose not to touch on the fact that Brazil doesn't speak Spanish, because it's been done.  Besides, what we did get instead (Rachel can't even speak English good well) was just as funny.  So, back on track, Rachel runs into this piece of eye candy named Renard (I call plot significance!).  They share a date at a burger restaurant, but get interrupted by Alex, who for once is not so much annoyed at Rachel dating (Alex is already going out with Pilar), but Rachel dating when she could be working.

Under the stress, Rachel breaks up her date with Renard, but not before he informs her of a ceremony taking place at a mountain called "Grito do Touro", Portugese for "Cry of the Bull".  The scene cuts to Pilar and the others struggling at the library, almost quitting over their lack of progress, until Rachel barges in and says she knows where the artifact do jour is located.  Umm... okay?  Since she doesn't tell her team where she's talking about on-panel, I have to say this knocked me for a loop.  Let's rewind: Mithras, both the god and the organisation, have a bull motif (ridiculously so, if you remember the fight scene at the end of the last book).  So, apparently she makes a connection with the first thing she hears with the word "bull" in it.  I mean, couldn't there possibly be more mountains in Brazil named after bulls, to say nothing of other types of landmarks?

So the squad goes on a little hiking trip to Grito do Touro, and sure enough they find a cave.  Cliches abound, including being faced with a branching path and Rachel falling down a hole.  But it's worth it; she encounters an ancient lance behind a barrier of light.  As she goes to take it, she suffers a brief flashback wherein the lance was first laid to rest by the Romans (I didn't know King Leonidas was Roman!) and the goddess Etherea set up the magical ward which, being her reincarnation, Rachel is more or less immune to.  As she walks out with the lance, Simon Blankenship rears his un-ugly head, shows that he has the rest of her team taken hostage and - surprise, surprise, I said in sarcasm mode - he used Renard to bait the trap.

After a bit of negotiations, Simon convinces Rachel to give him the lance in exchange for not putting a knife through Pilar's throat, but he just has his men shoot the gang with arrows anyway.  Just then, Rachel blocks the arrows with a wall of energy as she transforms into Etherea.  Now her destiny, eternally fighting with her immortal enemy Mithras will be fulfilled... with one energy blast.  Simon is down for the count, and for no reason Rachel has de-morphed and fainted.  With the villain brought into custody, the team departs Brazil and Rachel patches things up with her friends once and for all.  You are now free to close your book.

This second volume of the Spy Goddess manga is, I must admit, a marked improvement over its predecessor.  The plot holes are far less frequent, and I like their attempts at character development, even if I still didn't walk away necessarily rooting for our heroine.  The art direction is still a sore spot for this series; fight and action scenes lack decent flow, leading us to wonder if we had skipped a panel here and there.  (Let me answer that for you: you didn't.)  Even in non-action scenes, the artist relies too much on blank or pattern backgrounds, cheating us out of detail whenever possible.  Further props to the writers for not focusing on the more touristy aspects of Brazil, but I'd much rather take a vacation of my own to fill in the blanks.

Artwork: 1 lance out of 5
Plot: 2 lances out of 5
Characters: 1 lance out of 5
The Call: 50% (D)

Next Episode: It's almost the end of the year, so I thought it would be a good time to break out one of my most shocking reviews ever!

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