Welcome to Shelf Care, where I review three books related by a theme. These aren’t necessarily the latest releases, but are hopefully books you can’t believe you missed.
This column’s theme: We’ve Got The Powers
It’s been a few months since the last big super hero movie, summer is a long way off and it’s still another month’s wait until the second half of The Tick is available. So if you’re going into withdrawal, I’m not surprised, because finding a good superhero story is tricky. It’s difficult to create a believable universe in a genre riddled with clichés and super powers that make it super easy to solve super hard problems. That said, here are three books that are, ahem, super good reads.
So if you like:
Breathing some life into the zombie apocalypse
You might like
The story switches between pre-apocalypse character flashbacks, and the present, where a team of superheroes are defending the last outpost of humanity against zombie hordes. Their job gets a lot harder when they discover there’s something out there even more dangerous than animated corpses.
The ex with the engraved tooth was sprawled across the cot. As the midday sun blasted into the small space it twisted its head up to the door. It lay there with its blank eyes facing into the glare.
Gorgon stepped back and Stealth watched it for a moment. “Why isn’t it attacking?” she asked the other hero. “Is there something wrong with it?”
“Are you Stealth? It’s hard to see with the light. You’re just a hot little blob of shadows.”
For the first time since Gorgon met her, the woman in black froze. He’d done the same thing ten minutes ago.
The dead thing brushed itself off with slow, deliberate motions. Then it stood up from the cot and bowed with a grin. “I come bearing a message,” croaked the ex, “from my chief, the Boss of Los Angeles.”
While the idea of superheroes fighting zombies may initially seem too over the top, Clines delivers a really well thought out exploration of that scenario. How would their superpowers help them fight zombies? Or not? In the latter case, can they become zombies? What happened to the super villains? In Ex-Heroes, Clines deftly supplies answers that make perfect sense. His heroes have depth, their actions have consequences, and the limitations their powers have are believable. It’s an excellent and satisfying exploration of the premise while being a very entertaining read. While Ex-Heroes is a standalone novel, there are more books set in the same universe, and it’s the rare case of a series where I felt the second book was even better than the first. However, that’s something for another column.
Or if you like:
Villains that will straight up kill their enemies (A.K.A the Scott Evil paradigm)
Superheroes with real world problems
You might like
Three new heroes develop their powers after the world’s preeminent superhero team is aggressively wiped out.
Kate Brauer had spent two exhausting days training with Samuel. She’d protested again that she needed to be concentrating on her armor far more than her body.
Samuel smiled and nodded at her reaction.
“You see where I’m going with this. Your dad’s armor was fried. But there he was, stuck with a hundred and fifty pounds of dead weight…then he pretty much had to beat a slow retreat while the rest of us took out Mirrorman.” He pointed a finger at her. “And that’s why you’re going to keep working out like this.”
Written in 2008, this was one of the first superhero novels I’d run across that addressed the practicality of superheroes, and really thought out how different types of powers (magic, a mutation, and high technology) might actually have developed and could function in the real world. In Devil’s Cape, it isn’t easy to just “bag the bad guys”, and they’re more than willing to kill a hero if they get the chance. It’s a darker, more complex read than the other books on this list, but is one of those rare books where everybody I’ve gotten to read it has loved it.
Or if you like:
The Amazon series The Tick (being a somewhat more serious incarnation of the character)
Doctor Horrible’s Sing Along Blog
The movie Megamind
You might like
A super villain plots his revenge against a team of super heroes, and this time it’s going to be different!
I’m the smartest man in the world. Once I wore a cape in public, and fought battles against men who could fly, who had metal skin, who could kill you with their eyes. I fought CoreFire to a standstill, and the Super Squadron, and the Champions. Now I have to shuffle through a cafeteria line with men who tried to pass bad checks. Now I have to wonder if there will be chocolate milk in the dispenser. And whether the smartest man in the world has done the smartest thing he could with his life.
In addition to smooth prose and setting, good storytelling requires the characters to be believable—driven by their own view of the world, rather than just meeting the requirements of the plot. Here we get that from the villain’s first person perspective. While it’s a lighter take on the genre, his motivations are sound, and his dedication is predictably obsessive, so though the whole book the reader is left wondering if it really will be different this time.
So, what other books should be on this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for my next column, where the theme will be: Run For Your Life.