For kids and kids at heart, The Mighty Zodiac #1 from Oni Press combines magic, folklore, and ninja rabbits to tell a tale of a power struggle amongst factions of the Chinese zodiac.
Our story begins with the death of Blue Dragon of the stars, watching over all as a God-like presence. His passing leaves a void in the protection of the eastern skies, causing six stars to fall from the heavens down to Earth for the taking. There are two groups on a quest for these fallen stars: the Mighty Zodiac and the Moon Rabbit army. It is intended for a dragon to fill the void left by the Blue Dragon, and the predecessor is Master Long (Chinese for “dragon”, coincidentally) who is sick and sends messages to those aligned with his cause via paper lanterns. In this universe, the inhabitants are all anthropomorphic characters of the zodiac, so the lanterns make their way all across the area. One lantern falls into the hands of a tiger who is a supporter of Master Long, but he is captured by a rat, true to his nature, who hands the scroll over to the leader of the Moon Rabbit army. The army takes the form of shadow bunnies, which are both cute and dangerous. Another lantern is intercepted by a townsperson/goat, but upon opening the parcel, it bursts into flames. The Mighty Zodiac arrives and explains that only those worthy may open the scrolls. They catch another and learn of their task to retrieve the stars so they do not fall into the wrong hands, namely the rabbits. The Mighty Zodiac is made up of a horse, a dog, a rooster, and a cat. They happen upon a star, but are ambushed by the Moon Rabbit army. The battle is on! Who prevails victorious? I won’t spoil it, so you’ll have to pick it up!
This is a great kids’ book, with an uncharacteristic lack of humor. Often, when catering to children, creators write in jokes and goofy situations to peak interest and sales, but The Mighty Zodiac doesn’t need to do that to create a good story. The magic and talking animals are enough to keep the reader invested. The one bit of humor comes from a chicken running around screaming “The sky is falling!” as the stars rain down, an obvious reference to Chicken Little. There are a couple of pages exploring other areas of this animal kingdom which add depth and expand the universe, not mention including members of the Chinese zodiac not mentioned elsewhere in the story. Especially touching is the mother ram (a member of the goat family, as interpreted from Chinese) soothing a baby monkey. The monkey is scared of and curious about the Moon Rabbits and this exchange provides some back story. However, she explains that the sun is controlled by a phoenix, and I feel as though J. Torres (writer) missed an opportunity to incorporate the rooster into more of a substantial role. Also, while on the subject, I want to mention that the cat is not an animal represented in the Chinese Zodiac, so I am very confused as to why she is in the story, let alone a member of a group called “The Mighty Zodiac”. It could be for aesthetics, but this could have easily been achieved by a monkey or ox character.
I feel as though the art done by Corin Howell is very well executed for this type of book. It utilizes an excellent tempo setting up the story as a mythical narrative, with multiple panels explaining the falling of the stars and the invasion of the rabbits, as well as the sending of the paper lanterns by Hess, Master Long’s serpentine assistant. The book only feels rushed during the fight scene, as it should be. The story takes place at night, but the lighting and shadowing is handled with beautiful accuracy.
Aside from a couple questionable animal choices and a lack of humor, I really have nothing to complain about on this book. It humanizes the characters enough to be relatable without sacrificing their unique physiology that differentiates them from one another. For children with short attention spans, this comic may feel like it needs more action, but I appreciated the dialogue setting up why the battle must be fought and makes it that much more meaningful. I recommend this for anyone, especially kids, who are interested in reading comics but don’t know where to start.
Great, Four out of Five Stars
The Mighty Zodiac #1
Writer: J. Torres
Artist: Corin Howell
Publisher: Oni Press