August 26, 2008

Introducing a New Cast of Superheroes

By Dan Murphy

The Cold War was a great time for superheroes, partially because it was so easy to tell the difference between good and evil.

But this post-9/11 world is a much more complicated place, a place where a masked do-gooder like Batman or Spiderman wouldn't be able to get through airport security, let alone win the praises of a Commissioner Gordon or get a date with Mary Jane while keeping the world safe from evildoers.

Edited by Owen King and John McNally, "Who Can Save Us Now" is a collection of 22 short stories about a new generation of superheroes for a confusing new age.

"The raccoon-eyed purse-snatchers form the Golden Age comic books are the least of our problems," they write in the introduction. "We have suicide bombers, dwindling oil reserves, global warming, and an international community in complete disrepair. Not even the biggest and broadest bulletproof chest could stop all these out-of-control locomotives."

A group of some of today's most imaginative short-story writers takes a crack at reinventing the traditional superhero, resulting in some offbeat, funny and surprisingly poignant stories.

Stephanie Harrell's "Girl Reporter" tells the tale of a not- particularly-super man from a Lois Lane-style perspective, including how the spunky girl reporter got the hero to update his awful wardrobe, stop betting on dog races, and save everyone instead of just buxom blondes in distress.

George Singleton gives us Manna Man, a hero whose superpower is to be able to telepathically control televangelists to solicit funds for noble causes, instead of simply lining their own pockets. Sam Weller gives us the origin of "The Quick Stop 5," the world's only corporately backed hero group and explains how Captain Quickee, Prophylactic Girl, Slushee, Slim Tim and Dip got their superpowers.

Noria Jablonski's "The Snipper" is a particular delight for any old-time comic book reader, dropping dozens of references to the ads that used to run on the back cover of comics (the X-ray glasses, disappearing ink, and Charles Atlas ads) through an 11-page story about Joe Szymunski, the nonswimming "black shrimp" of the famed Sea Monkey family.

Some of the stories are surprisingly touching, such as David Haynes' "The Lives of Ordinary Superheroes," where the retired Ghetto Man bids goodbye to his trusty young ward that leaves him to start a new life with his family, and Elizabeth Crane's "Nate Pickney-Alderson, Superhero," where a young boy develops a hero- crush on an unlikable, paunchy suburban clock-puncher.

"These heroes are conflicted, frustrated freaked out, and desperate; they're brave and afraid and not sure; they're a little nuts," King and McNally write. "In other words, you're going to recognize these people -- they're a lot like us."

Dan Murphy is a local freelance writer.


Who Can Save Us Now?

Edited by Owen King and John McNally

Free Press

432 pages, $16

Originally published by NEWS BOOK REVIEWER.

(c) 2008 Buffalo News. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.