Once every 144 years, the stars align in a particular way, energizing the qi within the earth and allowing it to rise. If certain conditions are met, the power seeks out hosts, individuals born in the appropriate years (according to the Chinese calendar) who can become the embodiment of their zodiac spirits. This is called the Convergence.
Chinese-American, fourteen-year-old Steven Lee is on a school trip to Hong Kong, and everything around him reminds him that he doesn’t belong here. American born and raised, Steven looks Chinese, but he doesn’t really feel a connection to the history around him. Instead, he very much wants to go home to his suburban American world of video games, superhero movies, and fast food. But an unusual tour guide and Steven’s own curiosity draw him into a world that he never expected, a world that will force him to quickly figure out who he is and who he wants to be before he becomes a victim of forces, both human and supernatural, that he never dreamed existed.
Following a faint scream no one else seems to hear, Steven finds himself in an ancient ceremonial chamber and gifted with the power of the Tiger, one of the strongest elements of the Chinese zodiac. He also finds himself at odds with a man named Maxwell, the summoner of the energy spirits and powerful head of an international private army called Vanguard, who wants to claim all the power of the zodiac for his own ends.
It can reasonably be argued that no one alive knows more about creating superheroes than Stan Lee. In this remarkable prose novel, Lee joins forces with Stuart Moore to craft a new fantastical world, solidly rooted in contemporary reality, but augmented with Chinese metaphysics given life and power through a diverse group of flawed yet determined young people who don’t want to be heroes, but they must make hard choices when chosen to bear powers they do not fully understand. Andie Tong’s fabulous illustrations, done in reds, black, and cream, add to the story by helping the reader to visualize each character and by capturing the intensity of each fight for dominance.
What makes the story so compelling is the humanity of the characters involved; these are not the embodiment of ideal heroism. Instead, they are flawed and troubled, burdened by their own pasts, jaded in many cases beyond their years by difficult lives, and thrust into global conflict without their consent. But Fate can’t make someone a hero, only choice can do that, and Steven, Jasmine, and the remaining unwitting Zodiacs—Kim, Duane, Roxanne, and Liam—must choose to accept and embrace their new powers or allow Maxwell to steal them away for his agents.
On a simple surface level, The Zodiac Legacy is a brilliant adventure story: fast-paced, clever, and well-crafted to appeal to superhero fans of all ages. But it’s also so much more. It’s a great coming of age story with an interesting protagonist who struggles to find himself in the midst of chaos and confusion. It’s also a commentary on the different ways personal strength can be manifested in unlikely people. And its layer of intrigue encourages consideration on the idea of power—political, financial, and personal—and what the identity of the power-holder might mean for the billions of people who don’t have it, but who live and die at the mercy of those who do.
With a mix of male and female super-powered characters, The Zodiac Legacy is likely to appeal to action fans of all genders, and its rapid pace and twisting story is likely to draw in reluctant readers, particularly ones who recognize Stan Lee’s name. The book contains a general mainstream comics level of violence and fighting, though even with Tong’s illustrations, that violence is less “on-screen” than it would be in a graphic novel. Some parents might be concerned with the Chinese philosophy/metaphysics that undergird the story, though the zodiac powers are presented less as a religious element and more as something natural to the universe if generally unseen and misunderstood or ignored by humanity. Disney rates The Zodiac Legacy for ages 9-12, and most tween or young adult collections will likely find it an appropriate and popular addition to their collections.
Convergence is book one of The Zodiac Legacy, and Lee and Moore do an excellent job of resolving the story arc for this volume and setting up interest and potential storylines for the next one. One can only hope they won’t leave us waiting for too long. In the meantime, there are two short free ebooks available for those interested in learning more about Vanguard and the zodiac powers—The Zodiac Legacy: The Vanguard Archives and The Zodiac Legacy: The Zodiac Archives. A downloadable teacher’s guide is also available.
The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence, Book 1
by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore
Art by Andie Tong
Disney Press, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12