The first book in Sign of the Zodiac series where superheroes battle supervillains in Las Vegas.
Publication year: 2007
Page count: 455
I love superheroes and I wanted to like this book. But I’ve read my fill of “grim” superhero stories and they just don’t excite me anymore. And this is grim: rape, murder, screwed up family relations, and cursing, cursing left and right. It felt like those early years of Image comics with the slogan “dead stays dead” and heroes killing people.
Joanna Archer has had a pretty sucky life. Even though she’s the daughter of a Las Vegas gambling mogul Xavier Archer, and so didn’t lack for money, she’s always had a cold relationship with her dad, and her mother Zoe disappeared ten years ago. In fact, Zoe vanished on the night when an unknown man attacked and raped Joanna and left her for dead. But Jo didn’t die. Instead she vowed never to be a victim again and started training martial arts. Pretty much the only decent thing in her life has been her sister Olivia. In fact, their interaction raised the hope in me that this would a book where sisters fight crime together. That turned out to be the wrong impression.
At the start of the book Jo is on a really sucky date which ends with her date, Ajax, showing her a glimpse of another, a paranormal world, and then trying to kill her. Luckily, Joanna has been training martial arts for the past 10 years and isn’t an easy target even when the attacker has powers she doesn’t have. After escaping her attacker, she runs into her ex-boyfriend whom she still has feelings for. But the highlight of the evening, the eve of her 25th birthday, is a meeting with her sister Olivia and their dad Xavier Archer. Xavier promptly reveals that he’s been informed that Jo isn’t his child. So he has disinherited her and wants nothing more to do with her. Jo is actually relieved to hear it. She has no problem cutting ties with Xavier. Later, Jo runs over a homeless man who heals right in front of her and rants about being part of a superhero group who’s going to help Joanna but not be-fore she turns 25 – if she lives that long.
After reigniting her relationship with her ex-boyfriend Ben, Jo goes to her sister’s apartment expect-ing a quiet birthday party. Instead, they’re attacked and Jo goes through a transformation.
Essentially in this world there are heroes who have been literally born into Light side and villains who have been born into Shadows. While it’s possible to change sides, it’s done very rarely and Joanna is the first ever child born whose one parent was Light side and the other Shadow side. The heroes and villains track each other by scent. They all also heal really fast and are very quick. Every-one has a signature weapon and can only be killed with their own signature weapon. Also, their ad-ventures are recorded in actual comic books which are called manuals. And Light side people can’t read Shadow comics and vice versa.
Joanna is an abrasive MC. She’s angry and hurting and just looking for a target to lash out on. But she’s also a survivor and quick to adapt to situations. She’s a loner and has been since the attack. But when she finds out her true inheritance, she’s expected to work in a group of complete strangers. She’s also the prophesied Chosen one. She’s by no means likable but I ended up caring for her and I liked her toughness.
But I had some issues, too. I went through a phase reading “dark” comics and I’ve bounced back from them. I really disliked the way that the Zodiac troop, the heroes, kept her in the dark and just waited her to survive a situation which nobody else would have. I liked the ideas but the whole Light/Shadow split was too dualistically simple for me and a bit strange considering how “adult” and “edgy” the rest of the book was.