In this first installment of Johnson-Weider’s planned series, superheroes battle villains for sponsors and media attention on an alternate-history Earth where supers are organized by city like professional sports teams.
Before the 2013 super-season begins, a fatal attack by an unknown evil-doer (some suspect a mole) drops the West Pacific Supers’ rank in the West Coast conference. To win the title and protect the citizens of West Pacific, Calif., Seawolf, White Knight, Starfish and their unflappable operations director, Dr. Sterling, need to rebuild the WPS quickly. Using draft picks and old favors, they manage to get a top-tier rookie and an aging ladies man under contract. Seawolf is even able to bully Nova Woman (who’s given up her secret identity and goes by “Camille” now) to move back to the coast. On top of the stress of finding commercial sponsors, doing PR events and surviving Sterling’s infamously depraved training sessions, the new members bring with them plenty of personal baggage—which is to say, they’ll fit right in with the other misfits and mutants. But there’s plenty of crime for everyone to fight this season—a geological expert with military-grade explosives and an offshore lair is out to literally change the face of the world, and a madman calling himself “Mr. Darwin” has decided that it’s time for the WPS to go extinct. As exciting as that sounds, the author (like the “superazzi” in the story) is so focused on the supers’ private lives that the villains’ plots are relegated to mere distractions until the final fourth of the book. That feeling is reinforced by the way the heroes undercut the dramatic impact of their heroics by treating the citizens like nothing more than faceless opportunities to boost their stats. Despite these missteps, the well-imagined world and strong cast of do-gooders save the debut novel and will keep readers interested through the epilogue by offering new takes on surprisingly human personal struggles, like a less cynical Watchmen with more likable characters.
Clever, fun and occasionally tense, but in more ways than one the West Pacific Supers are their own worst enemy.