Liberty Vocational Volume 1: Will Supervillains Be on the Final?

With their manga line gone, Del Rey is now concentrating on trade paperbacks in the same format, often with ties to well-established book series or writers. Such as this one — it seems that Naomi Novik is known for her best-selling Temeraire series of novels, which explains why her name is so prominent and why the artist, Yishan Li, gets merely an “illustrated by”. (Li is known mostly for how to draw manga books.) To draw in those existing readers, this book includes a “never-before-seen story … set in the Temeraire universe.” (It’s all of four pages.)

Liberty Vocational Volume 1: Will Supervillains Be on the Final? cover
Liberty Vocational Volume 1:
Will Supervillains Be on the Final?
Buy this book

The result, in this first volume of a proposed series, is generic. The concept is cute, if familiar: The idea of a school for young potential superheroes is well-done in stories like Sky High and PS238. This version puts a manga-influenced spin on the idea, in both characters and art.

Leah is a new student at Liberty Vocational, a college for those with superpowers or connections to heroes. She’s quite powerful, with badly defined atom manipulation abilities that become “whatever the author needs her to do”. Often, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be seeing her accomplish until someone referred to it in the text. The artist is stronger in character design than storytelling.

Speaking of which, Novik has envisioned a wide-ranging cast of characters, but not all of them are given enough space here to be clearly defined. In fact, the main conspiracy is only introduced, to be explained and resolved in a future volume, so readers may not want to start the series unless they’re willing to sign on for more than just this book. I liked the emphasis on ethical choices in terms of educating young heroes, but the situations aren’t as strongly followed through on as they are established.

The cast consists of expected types: snooty, perfect-looking older students telling the younger what to do, an older boy Leah wants to impress because she’s got a crush, a quietly mysterious boy who’d be a better boyfriend choice but she thinks of as a friend, and a snarky, artsy roommate.

I wonder just how well this will do, since the early cancellation of the X-Men manga Misfits suggests that fans of superheroes and fans of manga may not overlap that much, even though I think the two have potential to blend very well. I suspect either group is already satisfied with what they have, without feeling the need to combine elements of the two. Many readers will identify with Leah’s mistakes and the times she feels like a goof, but we don’t get to see her be truly heroic often enough.

The book is due out in May. It can be ordered from comic shops with Previews code MAR11 1100. (These comments are based on an advance review copy.)

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