Reeks (Love Hurts, 2015, etc.) and debut editor Richardson assemble a series of tales centered on superheroes’ constant struggles with saving the world and maintaining secret identities.
In Cat Rambo’s opening “Ms. Liberty Gets a Haircut,” the titular character’s all-female band of superheroes adds new members and debates a group name. But everyone has issues with self-identity, from cybernetic Ms. Liberty to shapeless, human-created X. The stories in this book wisely eschew parody, opting instead for characters with special abilities counterbalanced by all-too familiar obstacles. Superhero Alice’s incognito trip to the supermarket, for one, in Seanan McGuire’s “Pedestal,” is ruined by a nosy blogger. Likewise, Mary of Carrie Vaughn’s delightful “Origin Story” spots her high school crush at the bank, only now it seems he’s supervillain Techhunter, in the process of a robbery. Narration and dialogue in the tales follow suit: characters often experience something fascinating that may, rather amusingly, have become routine. Mary, for example, notes Techhunter entering the bank with “a swarm of hovering metallic balls zooming down the hole in the ceiling with him,” adding a somewhat indifferent observation: “They probably shot lasers or tranquilizer darts.” Some of the characters are born into superhero families: Oliver’s fiery ability may be courtesy of his estranged father in Michael Milne’s “Inheritance,” while rumors that rock musician Atlas’ dad was an alien could be true in Nathan Crowder’s “Madjack.” It’s nevertheless possible that superpowers are not a necessity, as in the other “Origin Story,” by Kelly Link; even if Bunnatine’s mom is just a waitress, her daughter may see her as a superhero. Sympathetic supervillains crop up as well: in Keith Frady’s “Fool,” Dr. Entropy isn’t quite ready to go through with his plan to eradicate all life. The tales cater to traditions of comic-book champions, including cities known for frequent superhero appearances (Vaughn’s Commerce City or Crowder’s Cobalt City). But there’s always a twist on the conventional, not so much satire as it is, like any superb comic-book story, an opportunity to dig deeper into characters’ lives. For example, Aimee Ogden (“As I Fall Asleep”) drops readers into recognizable action, with superhero Cerebrelle squaring off against a villain. Cerebrelle’s hazy recollections, however, ultimately lead to a more intimate and rewarding approach—indicative of this vital anthology as a whole.
A momentous, readable collection, its sole downside being that there are only 20 superhero stories.