Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Chance Fortune and the Outlaws By Shane Berryman (Tor Starscape, August 2006)

reviewed by Sherwood Smith.
Josh Blevins and his pal Eddie knock at the door to the home of a mysterious old guy who just moved into their neighborhood in Littleton, Tennessee. Josh pulls out a comic, points to the cover, and says, "I'm sure he's
Captain Fearless!" When he appears, Josh begs to be trained . . .

And a few years later, after intense training involving the learning of languages, many forms of self defense, and playing chess while doing several other tasks including standing on his head, Captain Fearless deems it time for Josh to apply to Burlington Academy for the Superhuman--the superhero training school. Josh's one problem is that he has no superpowers, but with all that training, surely he'll get in? No. He's turned down. He throws a fit--says he's a failure just like his father--but Fearless says they'll go storm the academy and force them to interview Josh. When this fails, Josh throws a far bigger tantrum, resolving it abruptly just before Fearless comes to him with good news--he pulled some strings and Josh is in!

At the academy, he picks his new superhero name, Chance Fortune, and his costume. He makes friends and enemies on first meetings--relationships that don't change. This includes his immediate attraction to Psy-chick, who becomes his girlfriend. His other friends end up in his fight team, the Outlaws, and the enemies comprise the fight team most feared in the school, the Invincibles, led by the arrogant, cruel demi-god Superion, whose single-minded evil makes Draco Malfoy look like Spongebob Squarepants by comparison. Chance's challenges in superhero training result in many attacks by Superion that are nearly lethal, but there seem to be no consequences. Meanwhile at the end of the year the standings in the fight
team competitions have the Outlaws versus Invincibles as rivals for the trophy. Meanwhile, there is something suspicious going on in the academy. Teachers and students alike seem to be turning into blank zombies, but no one seems to notice until almost too late. Can Chance save the day?

The audience for this book is probably the nine to twelve crowd. The writing is uneven, sometimes funny, other times klunky and confusing. There is little about what superheroes actually learn outside of the combat games, and characters are pretty much single-trait, either nerdy good guys or nasty bad guys. Josh goes in with mega-special training, but at each crisis he
seems to forget it all, after which he hates himself. Midway through we finally see him stand up to a bad guy and then help a friend, which starts a chain reaction that rescues the teammates from annihilation, after which we are told that Chance is a natural leader. We know who will win, and who will solve the problems besetting the school--though the solutions are imaginative. These somewhat simplistic plot elements will please a middle grade reader who loves comic book pacing and characterization, but I am not sure would work for a more sophisticated teen reader.

However this is Berryhill's first book, the beginning of a series about Chance Fortune. His wacky ideas, obvious love for the m├ętier of comics, and his flashes of humor show promise.

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