Review by Jamie McNeil
It is 1994, the legendary Jack Kirby has died and the comics business is in a slump. The mood is grim, talk turning to problems with the comics industry. Artist Paul Smith sees the solution – new readers (especially girls) and heroes people could look up to. Writer James Robinson had missed Kirby’s funeral so phoned Smith the next day. Inspired, they threw some ideas around. An entry level adventure, non-gender specific, non-age specific, no sex, no foul language. “What if the lead is a girl, Nancy Drew crossed with Kolchack: The Night Stalker?” The result is Leave It To Chance, a touching coming of age story that is still equal parts fun and adventure.
In the city of Devil’s Echo, paranormal occurrences are a daily event. Fortunately, Lucas Falconer is the resident occult defender supported by the expert Arcane Crimes Unit. Hailing from a long line of Occult Protectors, his daughter Chance dreams of succeeding her father. Now she has turned 14, she can finally begin training. There’s one problem: the mantle has only passed from father to son, but Lucas has paid too high a price for his family’s legacy. He will one day train Chance’s son but not her. Then the renowned Shaman Raven and his daughter arrive in Devil’s Echo only to disappear. There are other problems. A dirty mayoral election is underway and crime is on the rise. Meanwhile the city faces a major drought, sewergoblins disrupting water supplies. It all makes a powder keg waiting for a spark, so all parties want the Shaman Raven situation dealt with and Chance sees an opportunity to prove herself. Solve the Raven case and Lucas will train her, but what she uncovers is way more than she can chew. Still, she has new friends to help and this is what Falconer’s do – protect Devil’s Echo.
Mixing Nancy Drew with the supernatural doesn’t result in immediate excitement. What in the mid-1990s was a revolutionary idea, in the post-modern 21st century feature concepts common in all types of media. In Chance Falconer Robinson constructs a very believable character, able and brave, but still a teenage girl, confident with teenage cockiness. She wants to be independent, but still enjoys the fame being a Falconer brings, so is a bundle of believable human paradoxes. The story would still work if Chance was a young adult, but not as well and sully the creators’ original vision. As for the art Smith’s work is vibrant, colourful and engaging. It’s a fun blend of cartooning with touches of 1950s period style. His characters are expressive, the action fluid, the settings and backdrops varying from simple to detailed. Some creatures don’t work, too oversized and awkward, but the strength of both creators’ work is its experimental nature. It’s bold, espouses the best things about creator owned comics and has swathes of atmosphere. It’s not perfect, but boy does it improve.
Leave It To Chance is charming, innovative and adventurous. It’s an absolute pleasure to read and among the best titles published in Image Comics’ early days. Robinson and Smith walked away with a bag full of honours in 1997. Among them a Harvey and two Eisner Awards for Best New Series and Best title for Younger Readers. Happily, you don’t have to be a younger reader to enjoy Chance’s adventures. They continue in Trick or Threat & Other Stories.