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Shaman's Rain
Leave It To Chance Volume 1
by James Robinson & Paul Smith with Jeromy Cox
Image Comics, $25.00, 112pp
Published: October 2002

This hardback large format graphic novel has sat on my shelf for far too long and I'm ecstatic to have finally given it a shot. I think what held me back was that it proudly advertises that 'Shaman's Rain' is book one in the 'Leave It to Chance' series and I hadn't found book two yet. Well, apparently there is a book two and a book three, but it's hard to find details on them, which surprises me given that it was an award-winning comic book series, racking up a Harvey and a couple of Eisners.

This is the beginning, so introduces Chance Falconer, precocious fourteen-year-old daughter of Lucas Falconer, famed paranormal investigator, powerful wizard and the protector of an ominously named city, Devil's Echo. The Falconers have been battling supernatural forces for generations and there's a strong tradition that the current protector starts training the next one at the age of fourteen. But Lucas is a misogynist and doesn't want to train his daughter instead of the son he doesn't have. Sure, there's a suggestion that he's doing this because he lost his wife to the forces of evil and he wants to protect his little girl from the same fate but, quite frankly, that's bullshit.

Fortunately, Chance has no intention of settling down to get married and give birth to the grandson Lucas can train instead. She's going to get right out there and learn how the family business on her own. Of course, there's much to do, even though Lucas is a presence in the city who's good at his job. Sometimes, these cities overflow with bad guys and, every time you take down one, three more are hiding behind it ready to strike. Just ask Batman, right?

While this does serve as an origin story for Chance Falconer, not just introducing her but her dragon, St. George, which isn't remotely as large as you might think but is still often very useful indeed. And Chance needs all the help she can get here, as she learns the ropes. Her other key assistant is a cop and a good one too in both senses of that word, Margo Vela. Apparently, these continue on through the series, while Lucas becomes secretly proud of his daughter's achievements, albeit disapproving outwardly.

While the pages are large, there are only 112 of them and it's actually surprising to realise just how much creator and writer James Robinson manages to cram into them, especially given how clean the art is. After all, this is a comic book primarily aimed at teenage girls. It came out right before 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and its readers may well have graduated to that show. This is purer and simpler adventure, free of the snarky attitude and neverending interpersonal dramas of 'Buffy'. There's no Scooby Gang here, just Chance and others whose help she manages to acquire because of who she is and how she conducts herself.

After all, the dynamic art features villains who recite mad soliloquys into the night and confess it all unwittingly to those spying on them from the shadows. The morality is straightforward and obvious, to do the right thing because it's the right thing, regardless of who might be playing the Bronze that night. There really isn't anything in Chance's life beyond her father and the role of her family in the protection of the city she lives in. There are no distractions to be found, notably including boys. That might come later when she grows up a little and realises that the world isn't as simple as she thinks it is here. But we're not there yet.

The world is as abidingly weird as she thinks it is though. It's notable that the bad guys are humans one and all, whether they're corrupt officials or just those working for them, but many of the tools they use to get their way are not. Even when we think they are, they might not be, given that many of the henchmen transform into troggs. There are sewer goblins beneath the city. Demons and gods are real and we meet one of the latter in memorable form, a toad god conjured up during the rain of the title by a villainous villain hell-bent on revenge against Lucas Falconer.

I liked this a lot, but it's acutely likeable. I like a lot of books that I'm fully aware work for me but will not necessarily work for others. Sometimes that's abundantly obvious. This is one of the rare books that feel like they're so universal in appeal that they'll work for anyone who gives them a shot. It's a family friendly book that merely happens to contain some cartoon darkness. That ought to work for everyone except the fundamentalist whackjob parents who won't let their kids have Pokémon cards or play Dungeons and Dragons or listen to rock music, because those are gateways to Satan worship.

I wish I'd read this when I was fourteen, not that I could have, given that it came out in 1996 when I'd reached my quarter century mark. I wouldn't have got the subtle references to 'Red Harvest' or the stories that came out of that, such as 'Yojimbo'. I wouldn't have recognised the Cthulhu mythos nod either, but I would have enjoyed the heck out of the unashamedly fantasy pulp adventure and been eager to seek out the rest of the series.

That's not going to be as easy nowadays. This is a collection of issues #1-4 of 13. The next few issues were collected into the second book, Trick or Threat and Other Stories, with monkeys and pirates and a set of new antagonists. Monster Madness collects a few more issues, with a clump of classic movie monsters. But the last couple of issues have not yet been collected, so I'll have to find them in comic book form. Well, here goes! ~~ Hal C F Astell

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