Anthology Review: Superheroes edited by Rich Horton

SuperheroesSuperheroes by Rich Horton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Superheroes have been enjoying a century of popularity, building on their predecessors the folk heroes, heroes of tall tales, and mythic heroes. The most successful of heroes are the ones that despite their uber-human status, grapple with their humanity and oh-so-human weaknesses. They also exemplify the potential contradiction between pubic and private personae.

This enjoyable anthology brings together 16 tales of larger-than-life heroes dealing with common themes: family, relationships, and aging. My favorite tale was Matthew Johnson’s “Heroic Measures” meriting 5 stars. This heart-stirring/heart-breaking tale shows familiar, unnamed characters–with a very strong resemblance to Superman, Lois Lane, and Lex Luthur–grappling with the painful sorrow of old age. The very nature of heroism and bravery earns a new definition in this tale.

My honorable mentions, each with 4 stars, are:
“Super. Family.” by Ian Donald Keeling. Sparring with one’s supervillain nemesis may make the papers, but raising teens is the real struggle . . .
Downfall by Joseph Mallozzi. The road to recovery is difficult and unappeciated. But it’s also necessary for this reformed supervillain just trying to do right by his loved ones.
Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang by Gord Sellar. Culture and politics clash when multinational superheroes try to do right by “the people.”

I’ve reviewed and rated all of the tales. Also included are:
Beagle, Peter S.–“Dirae”–3 stars
Beyer, Kat–“The Strange Desserts of Professor Natalie Doom”–3 stars
Bobet, Leah–“Wild Card”–3 stars
Gregory, Daryl–“The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm”–3 stars
Kelly, James Patrick–“The Biggest”–3 stars
Marcade, Jei D.–“Superhero Girl”–3 stars
Ronald, Margaret–“Sunlight Society”–3 stars
Schutz, Aaron–“Dr. Death vs. the Vampire”–3 stars
Emshwiller, Carol–“Grandma”–2 stars
Fortin, Elana–“The Los Angeles Women’s Auxiliary Superhero League”–2 stars
Link, Kelly–“Secret Identity”–2 stars
McDonald, Ian–“Tonight We Fly”–2 stars

I’ve previously reviewed a couple anthologies edited by Rich Horton:
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015–4 stars
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016–4 stars
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang by Gord Sellar

4 of 5 stars.

This superhero/supervillain urban fantasy cleverly depicts the complicated relationship between South Korea, North Korea, China, Japan and the United States. The countries, cultures, and politics are personified by the superheroes representing them helping to illustrate the complexities of the divided peninsula.

Wonjjang is a South Korean superhero/mutant working on a multinational team in the superhero division of a company. He leads the team that includes American, Japanese and Chinese members. Most of their attentions are used for thwarting the destructive tendencies of North Korean mutants led by a mad dwarf.

Two major sub-themes run through the tale. Firstly, mis-translations and awkward communication run rampant between both allies and enemies alike. One could include in this sub-theme the 2 mutants with communication-based abilities: the telepath and the mind-reader. The other sub-theme is attraction and romance. Wonjjang, who lives with his mother still, has a crush on the Japanese superhero who in turn is crushing on the American–that’s one way to summarize complicated politics. The hero’s mother would prefer him to settle down with a nice Korean girl, even if she’s from the North . . .

The blend of allegory and superhero works well here. The tale is recommended.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Downfall by Joseph Mallozzi

4 of 5 stars.

Redemption and rehabilitation aren’t uncommon themes in literature. Here, a man struggles to stay true to his word, a word he’s broken before to those he loves.

Marshall was born with hereditary superpowers. But his single mother has never revealed the identity of his absentee father. So, Marshall grows up with a mental list of potential candidates. But growing up is hard, and Marshall finds himself surrounded by bad influences and users. He becomes a supervillain named Downfall in a gang of supervillains.

For the sake of his wife, Allison, he quits the gang and moniker and promises to lead an upstanding life. A bad decision, and relapse, finds Marshall busted in a bank robbery with his old gang and tossed in prison for 5 years. It’s 2 years before his wife even visits. But he vows to steer straight and is released on good behavior after a few more years.

Life on parole isn’t easy. Especially when one particularly beloved superhero, The Imperial, has made it his personal mission to reveal Marshall’s true identity wherever Marshall and Allison try to hang their hat. They can’t put down roots, or relax–they cannot start a family in circumstances like this. So, when The Imperial turns up murdered, it’s awfully ironic the feds want Marshall’s help to find the perpetrator. Or, is it?

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Los Angeles Women’s Auxiliary Superhero League” by Elana Fortin

2 of 5 stars.

This tale sees adults with emerging superpowers–just not necessarily very useful ones. Camille learns of her ability to disappear when see wishes to get out of the way or not be noticed during a red carpet event. Only, her ensuing disappearing act isn’t just metaphoric. Later, she learns that her two friends had previously learned of their superpowers. Together, they decide to band together for the greater good. End of story. ??

It reads as a prelude to a story that’s not forthcoming. This would be okay if the emphasis was on the characters and not the circumstances. What’s included is not enough for story or even tale status. It’s a story pitch, or the kernel to something that could be.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Grandma” by Carol Emshwiller

2 of 5 stars.

Like Matthew Johnson’s excellent “Heroic Measures”, this tale depicts a former superhero succumbing to old age as they interact with a loved one. In this case, the superhero was of the Wonder Woman or Supergirl variety. Her end-of-life sees her living a secluded life with her youngest granddaughter who narrates the tale.

Little insight is given into the grandma’s motivations beyond “not wanting to be a bother” as her abilities become increasingly limited. The granddaughter is a compromised POV, as she clearly feels inadequate carrying the family mantle and yet aspires for some sort of greater life despite an overall lack of super-talent.

The narrator can neither face the truth, her grandmother’s legacy, nor the public.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Super. Family.” by Ian Donald Keeling

4 of 5 stars.

Along the course of every father-daughter relationship, there’s the moment things change. The little girl is no longer a little girl anymore and the father–no matter how invincible and unknowable he seemed–proves all too human. Adult mysteries fail to remain mysteries to the ever more canny offspring.

This tale captures the wonder and bafflement of that moment, when the daughter’s curses and disappointments can slash the parent as deeply as any knife. The loss of innocence is rarely subtle.

However, here it is larger than life. The father is a superhero, one of the greatest and strongest. And yet his identity has remained a secret to even his two daughters. Mom, too, was an active superhero once. But now she’s home raising the third child that came along well after the others. The relationship between the parents is strained to say the least. And the strain is not nearly as lost on the daughters as the parents have hoped.

For a man that’s nearly invincible to the rest of the world, his daughters and wife find and exploit his vulnerability to his very family . . .

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Birthright, Volume 2: Call To Adventure by Joshua Williamson

Birthright, Vol. 2: Call to AdventureBirthright, Vol. 2: Call to Adventure by Joshua Williamson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The sophomore slump drags down this graphic sequel as it abandons its strengths and unique points in favor of a fantastical chase and action sequence that manages to not move the plot more than a hair with its final panel and yet also manages to avoid further world-building.

The first volume establish a rich, dark tone depicting the grief of a father having lost his son in the woods. As days and weeks stretch to months and even a year, suspicions rise that the father must have killed his younger child. His wife leaves him, and the law is always probing him for evidence. He almost loses his older son in favor of his growing alcohol dependency.

Then one day a crazy man is found in the woods with a sword that claims to be the lost son, grown much older in the misaligned timelines of neighboring dimensional planes.

This volume barely shows the parents and fails to further their angle. The older brother, now much younger than the man his younger brother has grown into, is on a quest with the dimension-crossing warrior. Law enforcement now chases them, as do forces from the fantastical realm whence Warrior Mikey sprang.

We know Mikey has been corrupted into a character of questionable morality, as this was established in Volume 1. The interspersed flashbacks into Mikey’s decades off-world don’t show the cause behind the corruption. All we know is that his unrevealed plans include his still pre-teen older brother.

The father was “corrupted” in very specific ways: guilt, suspicion, accusation, abandonment, and alcohol. It’s time for the series to allow the same treatment for the lost son . . .

This series is co-created by author Williamson and artist Andrei Bressan. My rating for Birthright, Volume 1: Homecoming was 4 stars.
 
 
 
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