by David J. Schwartz
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.