Book Title: It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane!: A Superhero Anthology – Superheroes and Vile Villains, Book 1
Authors: Chris Pourteau, Patricia Gilliam, Rhett C. Bruno, Kevin G. Summers, Aaron Hall, Steve Beaulieu, Christopher J. Valin, Alexia Purdy, Andy Peloquin, Josh Hayes, C.C. Ekeke, Jeffrey Beesler, and Josi Russell.
Foreword: Todd Barselow
Publication Date: June 26, 2017
Available on: Amazon as an eBook and as a paperback
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Superheroes are everywhere, especially of the cape and tights variety and they are deeply ingrained into popular culture in the form of comic books, novels, television shows, and movies. There’s been a cultural renaissance and they have exploded into popular culture now, larger than life and enjoyed now more than ever before.
Focusing on superheroes in this volume, we get a wide variety of stories about them as well as different types of tales. From noir to humorous, to wondrous to getting the man-on-the-street perspective, to self-made heroes and to those with amazing powers. Featuring an insightful foreword from Todd Barselow about the history of superheroes, there are twelve stories here exploring these ideas. While I thoroughly enjoyed most of them, here are the ones that stood out for me and why:
Chris Pourteau’s “Geek Gurl Rising” – Carrie is a social outcast in high school who enjoys isolating herself in the school’s library with her books. But when terrorists take the school hostage, can she rise to the occasion and save them all?
It perfectly illustrates the cliques teens sort themselves into while also demonstrating strong character in Carrie’s actions. It also strikes a delicate balance between the danger Carrie faces as well as the delights to what she inadvertently discovers. It’s the kind of story that makes you stand up, cheer and pump your fist in the air. Underneath that is just the right amount of whimsy, reverence, and acknowledgment of superhero comics that have come before it while still being original. It leaves you with a sense of wonder and how the power of belief can transform you, guiding you through the hardest struggle you’ve ever faced and feel empowered enough to conquer it.
Rhett C. Bruno’s “The Roach Rises” – Reece is The Roach, a grim and gritty vigilante who’s been beaten up one too many times, is now confined to a wheelchair and has literally hung up his tights. Lost in booze and self-loathing, he contemplates ending his life – will he find something to live for and keep fighting?
This story is essentially about what would happen to a hero whose life takes a turn for the worse, despite looking out for others. The author successfully captures the pathos and sadness of Reece’s life while populating with it surprising characters like those who know his real identity. It also thoughtfully explores the difference between a superhero and a vigilante who considers himself outside the law. There are some significant events in The Roach’s life and how they come around again. The way all of this informs the story was one of the highlights, leading right into the stupendous ending. As a result, I really liked the symmetry present in this tale, which will become apparent once you read it through to the end.
Christopher J. Valin’s “Photo Op” – Franklin is a Batman-like superhero called The Black Harrier, a rich guy with lots of gadgets fighting crime. But when fighting the villain Deadeye in a crowded office building that Franklin owns, someone gets a photo of him which could reveal his secret identity!
This short story is as smooth as silk and just as superb, filled with the humor of a superhero fighting crime while fighting the aches and pains of being an aging hero. But while retaining the seriousness and stakes of the story, it’s filled with healthy doses of humanity and comedy. With all the madcap zaniness that results from Franklin’s mission to delete that photo, the situation devolves and becomes even funnier as it does so. Honestly, I couldn’t stop laughing at each scenario he faced and how he somehow found a way to prevail in each one, though in an unpredictable fashion. A true delight of a tale about a simple mission gone horribly and hilariously awry. This author is one I need to read more of.
Josh Hayes’ “Hero Worship” – Harold is getting his overpriced coffee while the people around him fawn over the latest actions of the superhero Blaze, who’s nearby. Cynical and jaded over Blaze’s celebrity, we follow Harold through his day as we learn why he feels superheroes are overrated but when his life is in danger, who will save him?
In the present day and in flashbacks, we’re informed about the characters and the defining events in Harold’s and other people’s lives, pulling at our heartstrings with the traumas they endure, making them real people with rich personalities. I really appreciated the parallel storylines between the past and present and how they impact one another unexpected ways. Each of them was a powerful storyline separately but when they meshed together, I marveled at the masterful methods the author used here. Finally, I really liked the profound way how the typical definition of what a hero is was redefined in this tale. This is just a well-rounded, superb and stunning short story.
I’ve read and seen a lot of superhero stories over the years so when I pick up an anthology, I’m looking for stories that take the superhero tropes and elevate them to a new level. Tropes like the hero can never die and never kill, with great power comes great responsibility and good must always triumph over evil. I’m pleased to say that this anthology mostly succeeds in taking these tropes and using them in refreshing and exciting ways that are not predictable and completely unexpected. It also thoroughly explores the gray area between the black and white of virtuous justice versus one man who places themselves above the law by being the judge, jury, and executioner.
Many of these stories pay tribute to the superhero stories that came before, directly referencing them, like talking about Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and more. Others are more subtle, presenting themes from these stories in new ways while using them as touchstones and springboards for their imaginative tales that go in bold and unpredictable directions.
Some of the things I didn’t like was there was a story that was confusing in the mystery it tried to weave and then didn’t do much with the payoff when it was revealed, feeling like a letdown. There was another story that rehashed the tropes I mentioned earlier but didn’t do much with them to differentiate itself from what has come before, not being a refresh but instead more of a retread.
Overall, all of them were inspiring and thoughtful, taking these ideas and giving them new life with the way they spun their stories. They lifted me into the clouds while flying, engaged me in their moral dilemmas to bring the bad guys to justice or to mete out vengeance. The sadness that comes with not winning the day to the murky gray areas where killing is justified by the one who thinks it’s appropriate to be a one-man arbiter of justice. I felt like I was one of the superhero’s engaging in titanic battles and fighting nefarious foes.
This anthology is one of five created by the same publisher and producers, focusing on the superheroes. They also published a companion volume to this one that is about supervillains, called “World Domination”. They are united only in their theme of celebrating colorful comic book heroes in exciting ways while also sharing a couple of authors in both collections, writing from the other side of the superhero coin.
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