Thursday, June 26, 2014

5x5 Book Review: Who Can Save us Now?

Who Can Save Us Now?: Brand-New Superheroes and Their Amazing (Short) Stories by Owen King (Editor), John McNally (Editor), Chris Burnham (Illustrator)

1. The behind-the-colon portion of the title of this book is misleading. Each of the stories in this collections features someone who has super-powers or who is exceptional in some way; very few of them contain stories about anyone who is a hero, either nominally or by their actions. 

2. These stories are what I would call literary fiction: in a nutshell, they are introspective, character-driven, slow-moving, and often a bit lyrical. Most of the stories do not generally aspire to reflect on or investigate the nature of heroism at all, much less superheroics; in the few cases when the attempt is made, is just seems like a prose version of something like the Avengers Initiative. The books feels less like an attempt to expand or experiment with genre boundaries than it does like slumming; Paul Chadwicks' Concrete did a better job than this collection of playing with the "reality" of superheroes.

3. I know that as literary fiction, these stories need to be Serious, but do they always have to be so depressing, too? The characters are, by and large, morally bankrupt, sexually impotent, and ethically challenged, and make bad choices, form dysfunctional relationships, and engage in destructive behavior. Only four of the 22 stories end on any kind of hopeful note, and only one is even mildly heroic. If a story makes me feel like I need a Zoloft, does that mean it was good?

4. The stories are illustrated, not with sequential art, but rather just with title page drawings. The artist, Chris Burnham, has done comic book work (he seems to sit at the same stylistic table with Frank Quitely) but his work here seems sketchy and almost anti-comicky, as if the editors really didn't want this book mistaken for a graphic novel. Because then it wouldn't be Serious.

5. I am sure that the editors and many of the authors have more than a passing acquaintance with superhero comics, at least based on the biographical notes and a few of the reference made in the stories. But all of them seemed to be running away from the superhero genre, its conventions and tropes, its potential and its flaws, even its art style. Maybe I'm being too harsh, but rather than asking "What would it really be like for a superhero-person if they were damaged emotionally?" these stories seem to say "Hey, let's put a mask on Holden Caulfield!"

Since this book came out in 2008, this should have a Late to the Party label as well...

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