Review by Jamie McNeil
The downside of wining bags of accolades for your first book? When it gets even better and no one notices. Leave It To Chance is a gem of a series – funny, fun, moving, scary at times and always progressing. That progress is obvious in Trick or Threat & Other Stories. Eschewing a longer story arc in favour of three short tales, co-creators James Robinson and Paul Smith develop plot and characters with satisfying results.
‘Trick or Threat’ opens on a Halloween parade, a festival bigger than Christmas in the city of Devil’s Echo. Instead of having the best seat in the show next to her father, eminent occult protector Lucas Falconer, Chance chooses the crush of the crowds accompanied by her dragon St. George. They meet a crying young boy, his pet monkey snatched by a man in a devil’s mask. What appears to be a bit of Halloween hi-jinx is something far more sinister. In the two part ‘The Return of Cap’n Hitch!’ and ‘Not A Drop to Drink!’ Lucas Falconer decides he has kept Chance too secluded from the world after her mother’s death. The solution is sending her to an elite girl’s boarding school where she can make friends and keep out of trouble. Chance does make friends, but keep out of trouble? Don’t be ridiculous. What ensues is a great yarn involving long dead pirates, sinister goings on and lots of dark secrets. It’s a good plot from Robinson, less silly than Chapter 1 but no less fun. Paul Smith’s artistic experiments continue to improve but flourish from this point on as George Freeman takes over the inks, letting Smith concentrate on pencils. The effect is startling. With less to worry about Smith lets loose, adding details and soul galore. Freeman proves a reliable hand, refining the environment with bravura. Robinson is very good at ramping up the fun, showing that skill for creating tension that won him accolades on work like Starman. ‘The Phantom of the Mall!’ has a darker edge, taking inspiration from Phantom of the Opera while adding a more modern twist. It’s a great tale of revenge and mistaken identity, ending the book on a high note.
Trick or Threat does have plot holes, a result of using some characters (Lucas, Will Bendix) as plot devices rather than mainstays. It is a minor issue that will annoy adults, but which the target teen audience will ignore. Leave it to Chance is a wonderful blend of innocence, excitement, camaraderie and coming of age charm. When Robinson and Smith first pitched the idea nobody was interested. They had to finish the book first which meant time, money and hard work over two years with no guarantee. It is fortunate for us they continued to have faith in their later award winning concept. It highlights how important Image Comics was to the comics’ revolution in the 1990’s. The gold standard continues in Monster Madness & Other Stories.