Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Who Can Save Us Now? Wednesday!

Before we start with the funny, let's have a book chat!

I know, it's wrong to talk about a "real" book in a comic forum, and I'm pretty hesitant to do so. People who read books are often not the same people who read comics, and the mediums (although very similar) rarely work well together. And there's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes you want Chinese food, sometimes only a taco will do. But you don't want to experience both at the same time.

So, it was with no small amount of skepticism that I checked out Who Can Save Us Now?, a collection of honest-to-goodness short stories starring heroes you've never heard of.

Getting the book-readers and comic-readers together has been attempted before. Both Marvel and DC have put out text-only books starring their flagship characters in the past, and neither had a great deal of success. People who read books tend to find the subject matter of comic-book characters beneath them and people who read comics . . . well, we like comics. We like breathtaking pictures, over-the-top fight scenes, bright colors, and a string of panels that play out the story like a movie in our heads.

Free Press, a division of Simon & Shuster, gets points for taking a chance on such a longshot formula and setting aside some marketability for the sake of getting it right. Consider the cover. When I first received my copy, I thought those cheap so-and-so's had sent me a damaged copy, with water stains and tape. But then I realized that the cover was made to look like a well-worn and oft-read comic that had been not-so-carefully stored in a grocery sack at the bottom of a ten year-old's closet. That may not fly with a bookstore patron, who might just assume that all the copies have been damaged, but it's a perfect visual preview of the enthusiasm and wonder found within.

Many of us have fancied ourselves potential comic writers. It's probably the second most-common fantasy we have, right behind attaching a towel around our shoulders with a safety pin and imagining we have what it takes to walk among our heroes. And, as a look at most fan fiction on the Internet will show us, most of us are wrong.

There were two ways selecting the authors of these short stories could have gone: Try and scrape up something worthwhile from well-meaning (if not particularly talented) comic fans, or draft some award-winning established authors to see if they would lower their standards and try and write for us funnybook readers, resulting in a condescending attempt by said authors to enlighten us as to the world of "real" contemporary literature. Who would have thought there would be a third option?

Who Can Save Us Now? is an anthology of original stories by previously-published authors. I'd point out one or two, but this is first and foremost a collaborative effort by folks that (a) can actually write well-crafted stories and (b) respect the superhero medium. There's no condescending or putting on airs here. These are folks that offer a warm invitation to join in their enthusiasm for superhero lore in a different light. And they actually know how to tell thought-provoking, entertaining stories.

I have to admit, they get it right in the zone. These authors may be comic fans, but they are professional authors and it shows. Sure, these tales are a little light on action, but that only forces the author to dig deep, to give us more characterization and inner struggle than we often find in graphic novels. These heroes have issues that go beyond their origins. Yes, Bruce Wayne watched his parents die, but he's had his act pretty much together since then. Peter Parker has challenges in life, but his own self-inventory is better than mine on my best day. Not these guys. They show that although you may be super-powered, you can still be selfish, or vain, or insecure, or just not very bright.

And it's this take that pushes the envelope and makes Who Can Save Us Now? deserving of a spot on every fanboy and fangirl's bookshelf, as well as in the hands of everyone who won't read a comic but will go see Spider-Man or The Dark Knight. It's become a cliche, but there really is something for everyone here.

There's a website and it's available as an e-book if that's your sort of thing.

But before you get to reading, let's get back to All-Star Comics #8!

Red roof, purple roof, whatever. If I'm at the wrong house, I'll plant a brick of cocaine under their couch.

In addition to Dr. Mid-Nite, this was Starman's first appearance as a JSA member. And I know I've said it before, but how did he keep his identity a secret? I mean, he just met that kid, changed into his costume, and the kid now has no idea who Starman is even though Ted's face is completely exposed.

Seriously. You and I both know that the first words out of the kid's mouth should have been, "Hey! It's Ted! The guy I just saw downstairs! You're Starman!"

Oh, here's some good judgment on Starman's part. Leave the kid alone with a full-grown adult who is having a maniacal episode. And don't even tie the guy's hands down or anything. Sure, you're going to come back to find a crazy man flossing the remains of Billy from between his molars, but I'm glad you didn't miss your little meeting!


Allergy said...

I'm sure the Justice Society would excuse you for being late for their meeting if you were busy tortur... interrogating someone.

I'm not sure what cocktail of drugs Starman fed that poor guy to send him into this hell of sensory overload, or what information he's trying to get out of him, but leaving a child in charge of the situation seems like it could result in emotional scars for all parties.

FoldedSoup said...

Just bought that book on your review. Thanks for that. Sounds like it's just about the perfect anthology for me - which I read a lot of because of the hour bus ride every day.

Aaron Carine said...

Yes,the kid should have been able to recognize Knight. Now if Knight had worn a pair of glasses,like Clark Kent,clearly no one could have recognized when he wasn't wearing them.

De said...

Be sure to watch Whitey before he turns into... The Man!

Tracer Bullet said...

"Wait in a room upstairs. I have a friend who wants to meet you."

Billy, do you like gladiator movies?

Adam Barnett said...

hope you like it as much as I did, soup! let me know if you agree!

Matthew A. said...

>these tales are a little light on action, but that only forces the author to dig deep, to give us more characterization and inner struggle than we often find in graphic novels.

I think this hits the nail right on the head, regarding the potential ideal niche of superhero prose fiction: filling in some of the blanks that don't play as well visually.

SallyP said...

Hey, Starman! Woohoo! Aw heck, kids were tough back then. Little Billy probably "interrogated" that man for quite a while, just to ripen him up for the rest of the Justice Bunch.

Sea_of_Green said...

>>We like breathtaking pictures, over-the-top fight scenes, bright colors, and a string of panels that play out the story like a movie in our heads.<<

And gorgeous-looking men and women with tight costumes and impossibly perfect bodies. ;-)

LOTRKing said...

I also bought the book from your review. When I finish reading it, I'll probably put a review up on my blog: