Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Monkey Reads: Hey Now, You're an All-Star

by David J. Schwartz
(Three Rivers)
This story of five modern day University of Wisconsin students who suddenly gain superhuman abilities tries valiantly to squeeze an epic into the skimpy costume of a summer beach read.

Every character is accounted for by the last page, but the broad strokes necessitated by a large cast in a comparatively short tale leave some of the more interesting supporting players underdeveloped. (The non-superhuman roommate of two of the superhumans enters the story too late to complicate things the way he should.)

All of the heroes, dubbed The All-Stars by local media, are blandly likable in a television way, without leaving a lasting impression. They abuse their powers a bit but when one of the meekest characters finally goes too far, the story is nearly over, diminishing the aftermath.

Schwarz imitates comic-book dynamics by giving each hero abilities that conveniently strengthen the team’s efficacy, while providing readers easy choices for a character to identify with.

While that’s ideal for a serialized work, the device dilutes the reader’s focus within the limits of a novel. And by giving The All-Stars such complimentary powers, the reader can’t help but wonder why one of the heroes didn’t end up with a less impressive ability.

The telegraphed tie-in to Sept. 11, 2001 feels both forced and ill-placed since Schwarz placed his All-Stars in a Midwestern college town so far from Manhattan.

As homage to Marvel’s X-Men and Spider-Man -- superheroes with personal problems just like us normal folk -- and to modern takes on the sticky collateral damage that supernatural beings in the natural world can cause (hello, Watchmen and The X-Files), Schwarz hits all the right buttons.

Yet it seems as if he might have had more story to tell. Had this been junvenile fiction -- and the potential for that is strong -- Superpowers could easily be the launching point for a richer, more compelling series. But the story ends and as a result feels incomplete.

Reference materials: There are worse summer reads out there, and The Typing Monkey does not regret giving eye-time to Superpowers. But as our first dip into the world of literature about superheroes, we regret not tackling Soon I Will Be Invincible first. And if young adults coping with their superhuman abilities is intriguing to you, the Chris Claremont/Bill Sienkiewicz run of The New Mutants is top notch.