First came the novels, now comes the comic, in a spy story that may possibly be as boring as real-life spies.
Artist: Rainbow Buddy
Story: Rachel Manija Brown
What They Say
When the Blackthorn group learns that the evil Simon Blankenship is trying to track down one of the ancient Mithrian artifacts in Japan, Rachel and the gang get on the next flight to Tokyo to beat him to it. But will the fate of mankind get overshadowed by the weird tension growing between Alex and Rachel, or how Pilar--Rachel's best friend and Alex's girlfriend--is going to deal with it? And when Rachel's mysterious powers begin popping up, will she finally face the fact that she is indeed the reincarnation of the Goddess Etherea? Packed with deception, adventure and--of course--shopping, the first Spy Goddess manga will make any teen girl want to go into international espionage.
The cover image is a decent head-and-shoulders portrait of the heroine, against a background I take to be a blurred city skyline at night. The back cover uses the same background for a little tae kwon do action and a pretty silly writeup (please tell me "Rising Sun," "Tokyo fun," and "Rachel-kun" weren't supposed to rhyme!). There's the usual TokyoPop info grid with a little extra this time, since Harper Collins apparently had a hand in the publication. The paper seems to be the usual stuff, but print quality is below average. The book has pretty rough looking blacks and a lot more imperfect areas in the screentoning and what-not than there ought to be. The only extra is a brief excerpt from the first Spy Goddess novel, which seems just as poor as the manga only with the added annoyance of the lead's narration.
Art is the best thing the book has going for it and probably would have been even with stiffer competition in the other categories. It's very heavy on screentone - I could probably count on one hand the panels that don't use it in some way or another - and in general is easy to take. Faces are often flat in expression, and action scenes make next to no impact, but designs and layout are fine and overall it's good enough in a glossy way.
With no translation required, even the sound effects being in English, Spy Goddess gives me little to talk about except to say that the lettering job is just fine for the text. The sound effects come off a little weak, though. They might have worked better if they had been a little bigger and used more emphatic fonts. (I'm going to save discussion of the dialogue for the content section.)
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Being neither thirteen years old or female, I'm not in the target audience of Spy Goddess, so I probably shouldn't be the one writing this review. But life can be unpredictable, and that's at least one way life is superior to Spy Goddess.
The story opens with the heroine's narration of just enough of the backstory and current situation the reader needs to get by. Without this narration she would have seemed like a spoiled, obnoxious teenager at first glance, but listening in on the working of her mind gets us past the facade, and we realize she actually is a spoiled, obnoxious teenager on the inside, too. And so are the other characters. I sense that the book was trying to make the kids as cool as the grown-ups, but the grown-up characters come off better in the execution. They're just kind of flat: the kids are downright annoying. Much of this is the fault of some of the worst dialogue I've seen in a long while. The speech is in the style of conversations between people who have nothing to say, and probably couldn't express it even if they did. The script ranges from the ludicrous ("fell for the old 'free hairdo' trick") to puerility ("dweebarific") to jaw-breakers like "dorkapaloozic," all the way to plain ol' banality ("Are you okay? You look...not okay." This twice in the same chapter.) There are attempts at humour, usually as obvious but less funny than the product placements for Fruits Basket and Full Metal Panic.
The story can never quite match the dialogue's low standards due to never being obtrusively bad but rather just a snoozer. The heroine is somehow supposed to be the reincarnation of the goddess Etherea. You may not be familiar with the goddess Etherea, but rest easy: neither is anyone else. As far as I can make out there never has been any goddess named Etherea, which kind of puts a damper on the whole reincarnation business. The bad guy is supposed to be the reincarnation of Mithras, who is at any rate a known god, so at least had a form to be reincarnated as. (The heroine calls Mithras a Roman god, even though he's actually Indo-Persian, but maybe she was just misinformed. I doubt she would have learned that kind of thing on her own.) I suppose all of this is no less plausible than the idea of teenage spies, but both together in one book is a little much, especially since nobody in the book seems to notice how unlikely any of this is. You don't have to suspend your disbelief so much as string it up by the toes and tickle it.
The story takes everybody in the teen spy department to Tokyo, where they juggle shopping and spy stuff in a way that makes the shopping the more interesting of the two, though not by much. It's all hokum and not really enjoyable even on those terms. There's an attempt at some real adventure in the last part of the book with a kidnapping and rescue plot, but that never really generates any excitement. The ending is purely deus ex machina - or I should say, dea ex machina. But the last page leaves things almost right where they were a chapter before. The twist at the very end probably wouldn't have surprised anyone even if it hadn't been telegraphed a page earlier.
It's pretty common for a comic to try its hand at something worthwhile and fail, but Spy Goddess aims too low to even reach that level. It does little beyond pandering to its target audience, so anyone outside that demographic will find this a chore. And I can't help but wonder if even that bunch will care much - and even if they do, I doubt they'll care long for something as dull, faddish, and silly as this is. They'll be far more likely to think, "fell for the old 'tie-in comic' trick."