This comic-book–style adventure is not a subtle book.
The assistant principal at Chapman Middle School is named Mr. Harangue. A local news reporter is named Steve Voyeur. The lead villain is an evil alien named Lord Commander Calamity. The main character, on the other hand, is just called Miles Taylor because—like many great superheroes—he’s mild-mannered and unassuming until he puts on his cape. Venditti borrows from all the great superheroes: Superman and the Martian Manhunter and The Greatest American Hero. But mostly, Miles is reminiscent of Captain Marvel from the Shazam! comics, a young boy who turns into a caped crusader when people are in trouble. The format even shifts from text to stiffly drawn comic-book panels every time he puts on the costume. In the book’s one original touch, Miles can only use his powers when he’s performing a selfless good deed; otherwise, he’s just a kid in a goofy-looking cape. The plot might seem less derivative if the prose had the slightest bit of nuance, but sentence after sentence reads like this description of the alien invaders: “They were the opposite of happiness. They were the opposite of generosity and selflessness and basic decency.”
Phrases like “comic-book villain” are sometimes used to describe cardboard characters, but actual comic books tend to be more sophisticated than that. Readers may prefer them to this surprisingly bland novel. (Adventure. 9-12)