Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It's The Journey That Counts!

Chance Fortune and the Outlaws

Chance Fortune in the Shadow Zone

Sometimes, it’s not the destination but the journey that makes a book stand out. This is particularly true of Shane Berryhill’s first two Chance Fortune books. The premise for Chance Fortune and the Outlaws is simple: A young boy, who wants to be a superhero more than anything, realizes that his new neighbor is a retired superhero and begs the man to train him so that he can apply to the Burlington Academy for the Superhuman. His neighbor agrees, and thus begins a charming story that, while holding few surprises, is an awful lot of fun. Fun, in recent superhero literature--whether graphic novels, novelizations or films--is something that is often missing. Now, don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a dark, angst-ridden superhero story as much as the next reader! But Berryhill uses the fun aspects of the golden age of comics and pulp novels (often what initially draws a lot of readers to the genre) to tell his story of a boy chasing and then living his dream, while making friends and building a team along the way. The protagonists are, once they reach the Academy, all in their middle to late teens, so, while these books are located in the Juvenile section, they can be enjoyed by almost any age. Readers familiar with comics, science fiction books and films and other related genres will find numerous cultural/genre references scattered throughout the books (like Silvestri & Buscema dormitories, the (Stan) Lee building, (Todd) McFarlane Cafeteria, (Jack) Kirby Coliseum, and a computer named MOTHER (Mechanized Omni-Tasking Higher Education Regulator -- a clear reference to Alien)).

In Chance Fortune and the Shadow Zone, the action picks up literally seconds after the end of Chance Fortune and the Outlaws, which ends with the classic “cliff-hanger” of the movie serials of the 1930s and '40s. After surviving their first year at the Burlington Academy for the Superhuman and preparing for a summer off, Chance and his team find themselves transported to the Shadow Zone. There they must deal with the inhabitants of the Zone, as well as find a way to get back home. This book develops the characters we met in the first book while introducing new ones. While the setting and some of the subject matter are a bit darker than Chance Fortune and the Outlaws, this is another fun read.

As stated before, there really isn’t anything new or groundbreaking in either of these books, but Berryhill, who is clearly a longtime comic/superhero/science fiction reader and fan, tells his stories with a great deal of style and warmth. He clearly enjoyed writing these books, and that comes through for the reader. Berryhill has left the door wide open for us to follow Chance and the Outlaws through their remaining years of training at the Burlington Academy. I hope we’re given the chance as new books in the series are released!

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