As an author, Michael Bishop is hard to classify. His novels manage to attain that nebulous position between SF and fantasy, maintaining enough realism for the reader to truly believe that his novels could happen in the "real world". Most of the time his novels function on more than one level, telling both the story and conveying another layer of meaning above that . . . "Brittle Innings" was both a poignant look back at the golden days of baseball and a comment on what truly makes a monster. In this book, things are a little farther out, but not by much. In a fictional town, Xavier Thaxton writes for the Fine Arts section of the local newspaper. His disdain for popular culture is unmatched and he takes every opportunity he can to slam "low" art and elevate the fine arts, opera and classical music and nice paintings and what not. Then one day a bunch of things happen to him at once. His nephew, a "retro-punk" whose hatred for fine art equals his uncle's dislike of pop culture, comes to live with him . . . and Xavier takes a dip in water tainted by radioactivity and finds that he can no longer stand the presence of fine art without being exposed to an equal amount of pop culture. Eventually he finds that events are steering him to become that perfect embodiment of pop culture . . . the superhero. Bishop wonderfully deconstructs the superhero concept, from his weird origin (with a perfectly realistic eventual outcome) to taking the idea of "doing good" to absurd extremes, as Xavier tries to get bars to show seminars on how to respect women, and in fact there's very little superheroesque action involved in the story itself so those purely interested in strangely dressed people beating each other up should go to their local store and find an Image comic (or watch wrestling, I guess). Those wanted dense, rapid storytelling should look elsewhere too, or at least discover new reserves of patience . . . in comics there's a term called "decompressed storytelling" and that certainly applies here, Bishop takes his sweet time developing all of this and the concept of Xavier as superhero doesn't even appear until the book is half over. This isn't a bad thing but there are points where you're wondering where this is all going. The general tone of the book is satire and lightheartedness, definitely not in the "grim and gritty" Dark Knight Returns/Watchmen style of comics, although Bishop knows how to contrast utterly real moments (like the fate of everyone else who gets exposed to the radiation) and he manages to ground the book in a tangible sense of reality and not make it seem like some weird cartoon. Not all the characters really come across as three-dimensional, Xavier is really the only person to truly feel real, his girlfriend Bari is fun but never really comes alive and while his nephew "the Mick" has his moments, his annoying line of supercool hipper-than-thou speak reminds me of old Justice League comics with Snapper Carr. Which is probably the point. But Bishop manages to make this all somehow effortlessly entertaining, and you need to know nothing about superheroes to enjoy the book, just an appreciation that the line between "high art" and pop culture isn't as well defined as you might think. And if the ending doesn't tear your heart out then you might as well be dead. A book that will surprise you with its depth and well worth searching out.