Friday, March 13, 2009

The Monkey Reads: Pow! Wham! Ka-BOOM!

Who Can Save Us Now? -- Brand New Superheroes and Their Amazing (Short) Stories
Edited by Owen King and John McNally
Illustrations by Chris Burnham
(Free Press)
The minor boom in superhero lit over the past couple years -- Soon I Will Be Invincible, Superpowers, et al. -- rolls along. This collection of shorts may be the ideal format for prose about characters generally more comfortable in the full-color panels of a comic book.

Will Clarkes' "The Pentacostal Home for Flying Children" and Scott Snyder's "The Thirteenth Egg" leave the biggest impression. Both stories have the stacked, portentous pacing necessary to allow the reader to completely suspend disbelief so far that every supernatural element, including a pack of flying juvenile delinquents and a living atom bomb, becomes thoroughly believable.

Elizabeth Crane's tale of a boy fixated on a real-life hero disappoints by doing little with a promising idea. And there's a batch of puzzling entries in the section called "A Shadowy Figure." The mercifully short "In Cretaceous Seas" is bitter for no apparent reason and despite being a good character sketch "Roe #5" never lifts off beyond cheap Twilight Zone tricks. "The Snipper" plays cute so much that the weighty moments stick out awkwardly.

The last two sections, "Behind the Mask" and "Super Ordinary" deliver the most consistent quality story-for-story. The authors of those shorts dig into the sticky normal things that happen to all of us, letting the superhuman abilities be the life-complicating annoyances they actually would be in reality.

Reference material: There's plenty of goodness in Who Will Save Us Now? to merit a recommendation. Reliable sources also suggest Soon I Will Be Invincible and Superfolks, which apparently did all of this a few years before the most recent attempts at meta-lit about men in capes and tights.