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Masked [Paperback]

Lou Anders
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Book Description

July 20 2010
WELCOME TO THE SECOND “GOLDEN AGE” OF SUPERHEROES AND HEROINES

Superheroes have come a long way since the “Man of Steel” was introduced in 1938. This brilliant new collection features original stories and novellas from some of today’s most exciting voices in comics, science fiction, and fantasy. Each marvelously inventive tale shows us just how far our classic crusaders have evolved—and how the greatest of heroes are, much like ourselves, all too human.

In “Call Her Savage,” MARJORIE M. LIU enters the dark heart of a fierce mythic heroine who is forced, by war, to live up to her own terrible legend.

In “A to Z in the Ultimate Big Company Superhero Universe (Villains Too),” BILL WILLINGHAM presents a fully-realized vision of a universe where epic feats and tragic flaws have transformed the human race.

In “Vacuum Lad,” STEPHEN BAXTER unveils the secret origins of the first true child of the space age—and disproves the theory that “nothing exists in a vacuum.”

In “Head Cases,” PETER DAVID and KATHLEEN DAVID blast through the blogosphere to expose the secret longings of a Lonely Superhero Wife.

In “The Non-Event,” MIKE CAREY removes the gag order on a super-thief named Lockjaw . . . and pries out a confession of life-altering events.

Also includes stories by Mike Baron • Mark Chadbourn • Paul Cornell • Daryl Gregory • Joseph Mallozzi • James Maxey • Ian McDonald • Chris Roberson • Gail Simone • Matthew Sturges . . . and an introduction by Lou Anders, “one of the brightest and best of the new generation of science fiction editors” (Jonathan Strahan, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year).

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About the Author

A 2008/2007 Hugo Award nominee, 2007 Chesley Award nominee and 2006 World Fantasy Award nominee, Lou Anders is the editorial director of Prometheus Books' science fiction imprint Pyr, as well as the editor of anthologies Fast Forward 2 (Pyr, October 2008), Sideways in Crime (Solaris, June 2008), Fast Forward 1(Pyr, February 2007), FutureShocks (Roc, January 2006), Projections: Science Fiction in Literature & Film (MonkeyBrain, December 2004), Live Without a Net (Roc, 2003), and Outside the Box (Wildside Press, 2001). In 2000, he served as the Executive Editor of Bookface.com, and before that he worked as the Los Angeles Liaison for Titan Publishing Group. He is the author of The Making of Star Trek: First Contact, and has published over 500 articles in various publications.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Cleansed and Set in Gold

MATTHEW STURGES

I’m on the ground, trying to breathe through a chest full of broken ribs. The only reason I’m still alive is because I happen to be invisible at the moment. Verlaine is dead. His body is twitching, trying to patch itself up, but the thing that killed him is chewing on his heart, its long tongue flicking. I can hear Verlaine’s fingernails scratching against the rocks.

We all thought Verlaine was immortal. He wasn’t.

Some low-level administrative assistant from the League of Heroes is trying to take a statement from me in my hospital bed. I’m sort of trying to comply, but each time I breathe it’s like someone’s sticking a giant fork in my chest. So I’m not as cooperative as I could be.

“How big was this thing?” he asks.

“Biggest one I’ve ever seen,” I whisper, carefully mouthing the words.

“But still a Ghoul? Same physiognomy?”

“His ‘physiognomy’ is his face. You mean ‘morphology.’”

The lackey scowls at me. “Sorry,” he says.

“If you don’t know what a word means,” I say, “don’t use it. Then you won’t have to apologize.”

He shifts uncomfortably in his seat, looking around the ICU ward, maybe hoping that there’s some more desirable Leaguer that he can pester. But there isn’t.

“Anyway, to answer your question, no. He wasn’t like the others. He was bigger. He. . . his fist was like. . .” I hold up my fist and five needles of pain lace across my chest. I notice that the nail on my left index finger is bent backward, nearly disconnected. They’ve put a bandage on it. This bothers me more than the ribs for some reason.

“His fist was the size of your head,” I finally say. “He put it through Verlaine’s chest like Verlaine was as mortal as you.”

The lackey puts his minirecorder on the table by my bed. His hand is shaking. “How many of them were there? This new variety.”

“I just saw the one. He was leading the others, though. Can you imagine that? A leader. A Ghoul King.”

The next day, the headlines read GHOUL KING KILLS RUSSELL VERLAINE. I can imagine the League’s PR people going back and forth on this. “Is it worse if we admit that there’s some kind of new mutant giant Ghoul running around, or if we imply that Russell Fucking Verlaine was murdered by some regular Ghoul?” I don’t envy them.

After I leave the hospital—against medical advice; which, whatever— I take a taxi back to my apartment. A few unpleasant bites choked down and a potent healing factor kicks in, spreading warmth throughout my battered bones and knitting everything together in seconds. Oh, God. Yes.

I decide that it’s best not to appear too healthy at Verlaine’s funeral, so I take care to walk slowly and gasp for breath every few paces. I’ve even gone so far as to put on fresh bandages around my chest. In case someone uses their X-ray vision to look under my shirt, I guess. Although if they could do that, they could see that my bones aren’t actually broken anymore. It doesn’t matter, though, because all of the people who’re capable of doing so wouldn’t care. And anyway, one of them is lying dead in a box in front of me.

I’m sitting on a cold metal folding chair, pretending to be hurt, watching them lower Verlaine into the ground. It turns out that they need a special crane and a steel-reinforced casket for all of this, because Verlaine’s body is so dense that he weighs just over three tons. The news media are fascinated. Jesus, Russell Verlaine makes good TV, even dead.

When you think “hero,” you think Russell Verlaine. You don’t think of me. I’m not particularly good-looking, I don’t have a fascinating origin story, and I don’t even have a constant set of powers that you can put on a trading card. “David Caulfield, The Wildcard. Powers: variable” is what the League Reserves card they did for me reads. You can buy it for a penny on eBay. Shit, I don’t even wear a costume. I go around fighting criminals and monsters in jeans and an AC/DC concert tee. I am nobody’s favorite hero.

I don’t mind, really. The last thing I need is intense media scrutiny. The less they know about me, the better.

I stay until the coffin is in the ground and the bulldozers have filled in the earth. I’m the only one left except for Jeanie Verlaine, who’s sitting on the ground in front of her husband’s grave. The last thing I’m going to do is go try to comfort her or something, so I whisper my last respects to Russell from my seat and then I get up and try to walk away without Jeanie hearing me.

At the entrance to the cemetery is a woman I vaguely recognize as a reporter for one of the wire services. She’s standing by the gate, smoking, trying to look casual.

“Hey,” I say. “If you’re waiting for Jeanie to come out so you can ambush her, forget it. That’s the last thing she needs right now.”

“Hi, David,” she says, as if I hadn’t spoken. “I’m Toni Evins, from Reuters.”

She intercepts me before I can cross the street. “I’m not here to ambush Jeanie Verlaine,” she says. “Give me some credit.”

“I don’t care what you do,” I say. Why am I being such an asshole? This right here is why they don’t like me.

Toni pretends not to be annoyed. “I’m actually here to talk to you. I heard you were there when it happened.”

“Yeah,” I say. I try to come up with something to follow that with, but I have nothing.

“If you’re interested, I’d like to do an interview with you—get your first-hand impressions, that sort of thing.” She smiles gamely.

I close my eyes, shrug. “I don’t know. I don’t do very well with interviews. I always say the wrong thing. I’ll have to pass.”

The smile fades. Toni levels her gaze at me. Kate Frost looks at things the same way just before she shreds them with her eye-beams.

“Actually, there’s something else I wanted to talk to you about,” she says. “Aside from the Verlaine article, I mean.”

“I really don’t think I’d be interested,” I say, and go to push past her.

She puts her hand on my arm, and her grip is surprisingly strong, however mortal. “Terri Day had invisibility powers, correct?”

“Yeah? So? Terri’s dead.”

“And when you and Verlaine were fighting the Ghoul King, you were invisible. Also correct?”

“I have all kinds of powers. You know: variable.”

Toni’s grip tightens on my arm. “And King Stryker had those green energy blasts. He died, too. About six months ago.”

Oh, shit.

I swallow, trying not to look nervous. “It’s been a tough year for the League.”

“You were sporting some very similar-looking green energy blasts when you and the League were taking out that Ghoul redoubt north of Chicago. I’ve seen video.”

“So?”

“So, I guess I’m wondering exactly how you got their powers.”

I shrug, a practiced shrug if ever there was one. “A guy at UNC did his doctoral thesis on my powers,” I say. “His conclusion was that I absorb them through etheric proximity or something. It’s way too technical for me, to be honest.”

Toni nods. “Yeah, I read that. Chad Lowenstein. The physics are. . . speculative. And he completely ignores what to me is the most fascinating thing about your powers.”

“And what’s that?”

“That you only get them from dead people.”

There’s a pause as Toni and I size each other up.

“You want the interview about Russell, come to my apartment tomorrow and I’ll tell you all about it. Whatever sordid little details you want. Fair enough?”

She smiles, and I do not like that smile even a little.

“Sounds good,” she says. She turns to go.

“Don’t you want to know where I live?” I ask.

“I already know,” she says.

At home there are a few messages. One from League HQ asking me how I’m doing, which is code for when am I coming back to work. One from Jeanie Verlaine, thanking me for coming to the funeral, asking me to return her call. Surprising, that. The last is from Captain Salem, who wants to go over every second of the battle with the Ghoul King. With Verlaine gone, Salem is probably the only Leaguer that I actually get along with. He understands why we do what we do. He also understands that this is not a perfect world. I think Captain Salem has his secrets, just like Verlaine probably did. Maybe not secrets like mine, but still.

At least Verlaine got to take whatever dirty little secrets he had to his grave. I think about Toni Evins and there’s a ball of dread in my stomach telling me that I won’t be so lucky.

The League communicator bleeps and out of nowhere all sorts of tactical information starts pouring directly into my visual cortex. The Ghoul King and his. . . minions, I guess you’d call them. . . are attacking Chicago.

We’re lined up on an el track overlooking Grant Park. It’s apparently cold outside. I can see Captain Salem shivering a little, even with his big blue-and-white cape wrapped around him. I, however, have come prepared; I have the Human Shield’s invulnerability crackling around me, keeping ...

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4.0 out of 5 stars Super Humor and Intelligence Feb. 28 2011
By Jeffrey Swystun TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Ever since Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' complex and literate, Watchmen, came out there have been more intelligent examinations of the world of superheroes. Deeper explorations of the personal angst and separation experienced by these heroes, moral confusion, unavoidable inconsistencies, and the overpowering weight of responsibility have provided great fodder for smarter tales. Joseph Mallozzi's contribution in this collection called Downfall captures this succinctly with the line, "Always playing to the media, their public acts of altruism little more than a patina glossing over the ugly truths - alcoholism, malignant narcissism, anger management issues."

It seems we have created a sub-cottage industry to the original super hero comic book trade. This has meant more original efforts that move the genre forward. Take into consideration the movies Hancock, Unbreakable and The Incredibles, Michael Chabon's Pulitzer-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay, Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, and one will see that characters in bright tights and capes have evolved.

And to my surprise, while reading this collection, I read a story in the February 26, 2011 edition of The Wall Street Journal called, Bam! Pow! Superhero Groups Clash In an Epic Battle of Good vs. Good. It covers the true story of individuals dressing up as superheroes in the Seattle area (among them Phoenix Jones - Guardian of Seattle, Zetaman, Knight Owl, Dark Guardian, and Mr. Raven Blade). And like the stories in Masked these real-life characters are revealed to have conflicts amongst themselves. Life imitating art indeed.

This collection has a dark and deep tone that appeals. The stories are all highly original and cover a range of subjects that add reality to the unreal.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masked July 20 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
As usual I'll review each story individually and then give a wrap up. From the offset I should say however that at least five of the authors here are comic book writers that I idolize ::cough Gail Simone cough:: so this may be slightly more skewed then usual. I take my comics very seriously (which is why you rarely if ever will see me review them, I get too passionate).

"Cleansed and Set in Gold" by Matthew Sturges
A reservist member of the League of Heroes, named Wildcard because his powers are "variable", finds himself at the center of an ongoing conflict that killed the supposedly immortal hero Veraine. I couldn't quite guess the trick to Wildcard's powers. The trick is disturbing, though in all honesty I see the merit in it. While the basic premise of the story is one that floods comics on a monthly basis (uber-powerful enemy kills one of the greats and everyone else has to figure out how to stop it), the delivery is more than worth it. Wildcard felt realistic, like an ordinary guy who just stumbled into this hero gig. I did not guess how he resolved the reporter thing, or how he came to terms with his powers.

"Where Their Worm Dieth Not" by James Maxey
Death is as commonplace to heroes as rebirth is. But sometimes the knowledge that you are one of the few who can--and has--returned from death multiple times can be more torturous than anything else. Oh this story made me tear up. It hit home a lot of pertinent facts about superheroes and villains--the whole game can be very like the myth of Sisyphus. While death for most people is the final act, how often has Superman or Cyclops or any hero been brought back to life through some weird invented excuse. I guess that's part of the charm, good will always rise again. Sadly often it also means evil will rise again. Maxey does a good job sketching out the consequences of that hope and how it can break a man.

"Secret Identity" by Paul Cornell
The Manchester Guardian takes his secret identity very very seriously. At first I was really confused by this story. It was all over the place and didn't seem to connect very well. Cornell writes for the new Doctor Who, which when I read that made sense for how the story developed. The Guardian is a figure of power and protection for Manchester's gay community, which is fine except--why is the Guardian making time with the woman thief?! By the end of the story I understood better where Cornell was going, so I re-read this immediately. The disjointed nature of the segements makes more sense once the Guardian's alter-ego is fully out. Its a little campy, and since I don't read a lot of GLBT fiction (outside of yaoi) I was taken aback by the story. Not that I'm judging, but is it normal for GLBT to treat being gay as the societal norm and being straight as the 'sin'?

"The Non-Event" by Mike Carey
Gallo lived a pathetic life, but his death? His death was really something. This is told as a 'confession' by one of Gallo's cohorts and 'friends', Lockjaw. A fairly routine heist goes wrong, horribly horribly wrong. I really enjoyed this story. I liked that it looked at the opposite end of the spectrum, how people with slightly off-kilter powers don't always want to be mass murdering thugs or moralizing prigs. How the smallest change in plans could be the factor that changes a relatively harmless heist into a massacre. I would have liked to know more about Gallo (aka 'Non-Event', he neutralizes the cause-and-effect principle as well as superpowers) and Lockjaw's relationship before the heist.

"Avatar" by Mike Baron
The line between the reality of being a vigilante and the surreal life vigilantes live in comics becomes glaringly obvious to one ambitious boy. On the surface I wasn't very hopeful for this story--its premise is the argument you often hear from parents objecting to the violence of video games and comic books--but Baron handled this in a careful thoughtful manner. This wasn't a kid given over to impulsive acts or violence; he was careful to wait until he felt ready for the challenge he was planning to undertake. And I think if he had stopped after the first thug or two, things would have turned out differently. However as it turned out he got a little drunk on his 'power', his ability to take down guys bigger than himself, the 'revenge' he was seeking for years of abuse and bullying. Well he learns the hard way consequences of actions.

"Message from the Bubblegum Factory" by Daryl Gregory
The former sidekick to the World's Greatest Hero has a secret and a new view of life. This story kind of made me laugh in that dark way when you understand what's happening. I've wondered about what the world did before Super-Heroes. Oh comics ret-con in super-powered villains or super-heroes as far back as you please, but "Message from the Bubblegum Factor" questions whether its a chicken or egg sort of deal. And why the world suddenly went to hell once Soliton appeared. Or is it a coincidence that the lawful Good don't die, that before Soliton if someone got dropped in a vat of acid they didn't get super-powers--they died. Its all really interesting, and sure the narrator, Eddie, admits he's insane, but he's the sort of insane I can get behind.

"Thug" by Gail Simone
Which is worse--the guy who looks like a monster, but tries never to hurt anyone or the guy who looks like an angel and purposely sets out to hurt those weaker? Oh Gail made me cry, which isn't surprising since I've cried over her comics before. It took me a page or two to get used to the fact the writing/spelling is very immature (its on purpose), but I felt so bad. I guessed what was going to happen fairly quickly, but it broke my heart to see Alvin go through all that loss. He wasn't a bad guy, though he did bad things. He fell into it, because he lost his way and that one moment in his life made everything worse. The story is short, but Simone packs a lot of emotional punch into it.

"Vacuum Lad" by Stephen Baxter
Vacuum Lad thought he was for bigger things than just an Insurance publicity gimmick, but is he really ready for all his genetics entail? I may have spent some time chuckling during this story because Vacuum Lad acted just like any other teenager given powers. Also this story has a lot more 'science' involved than any of the proceeding ones, which makes sense since even I know Baxter is big on science fiction. This was a sad moment for me because I couldn't understand even a quarter of what Dr. Stix was saying, I'm really not scientifically inclined (which is why I avoid hard science fiction). I thought this was an interesting look at how people can view 'gifts' differently. Vacuum Lad saw it as his duty to the people to help keep them safe (even if it was a puff job half the time). The Damocletians saw it as a duty to keep people safe as well, but in a less hands-on manner. I wish there was more about the 'bad guys', the Earth First League. Their motivations were rather murky to me.

"A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows" by Chris Roberson
I could not, for the life of me, read this story for more than a couple pages before becoming completely bored. I thought I would at least want to read this since Roberson has written two comics I enjoy (Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love and I, Zombie.) But I suppose since this is an anthology, its bound to happen at least once.

"Head Cases" by Peter David and Kathleen David
Who said people with powers can't have regular angst-problems like the rest of us? Peter David will forever be my hero because he worked on my favorite comic book of all time--Young Justice. Plus he helped create the too short tv series Space Cases. That said this was a fun and quirky story, written with his wife Kathleen. Ari just wants to strum on his guitar (badly), Xander likes to mess with Simon's head, Simon is trying to look out for his friend Vikki who is a dissatisfied housewife. The fact they all have powers of some sort is incidental. The sideline about Ari's once girlfriend Zola was definitely interesting. I've always liked how Peter David handles banter and wit, which was in plenty of abundance. I'd like to see more short stories about these folks in fact!

"Downfall" by Joseph Mallozzi
A formerly unkillable hero dies and its up to a reformed villain to find the man behind it--even as it takes him down memory lane. Why yes this is Joseph Mallozzi who I can thank for Stargate SG-1, Atlantis and Universe as well as Big Wolf on Campus! None of that should be interpreted as sarcastic--that was all sincere. This was however a surprising hit with me. Mallozzi gave a developmental depth to the story that left me feeling satisfied, as if I had just read a novel instead of a short story. There was a couple of surprises, like the ending pages, but overall I just found myself enjoying the story and hoping for the best for Marshall.

"By My Works You Shall Know Me" by Mark Chadbourn
Matt was given a new lease on life by his best friend, but is it possible that a betrayal runs deep? Mind-screw. This story is an utter mind-screw, in a really good way. And to be fair, after the first page I had a crack theory about Styx, that apparently turned out to be the truth so yeah. Told in flashbacks and recordings that Matt keeps as a sort of journal, we read as Matt reviews the previous year and his fight against Styx. This was a surprising read and the end is quite thought-provoking.

"Call Her Savage" by Marjorie M. Liu
Namid only wished to remain in peace in the mountains to forget the bloody past. Unfortunately sometimes facing your past is the only option. I was mightily confused at first by this story. I know nothing about the 'crystal skulls' myth/legend (except that it was part of a very bad Indiana Jones movie) so the mentions of the skulls and what was almost, but not quite world history threw me for a loop. This one felt more abrupt than the other stories, it began mid-action and kept refocusing about different things. A lot of details were contained in this story, but I wanted to know more about how the crystal skulls effected Namid and others.

"Tonight We Fly" by Ian McDonald
A shout out from an old enemy is all Mr. Miracle really needs. This was a sweet story about a hero (and villain) who both grew old and dissatisfied with the way the world evolved. It had that 'In my day!' ring to it. Despite this being one of the least 'superheroic' stories in the anthology (as far as actions go), I think this presented itself really well; superheroes grow older, just as villains do and everybody wants one more moment to relive their glory days don't they?

"A to Z in the Ultimate Big Company Superhero Universe (and Villains Too)" by Bill Willingham
There isn't a synopsis that would give this justice, the title pretty much says it all. For anyone who reads DC or Marvel titles <s>religiously</s>regularly, many of the heroes and villains presented in here will sound familiar in many ways. Which is on purpose. This read like a Big Publisher crossover event--that is, it was all over the place in terms of story, focus and such. I liked how Willingham (who writes Fables for Vertigo, a comic everyone should read) organized the story--ABC order according to the character's name--and tied it together.

My three favorite stories were "Thug", "Head Cases" and "Downfall", though noticed a trend amongst the majority of the stories--that is a great many of them dealt with heroes who were gigantic jerks. Either as the main character, a catalyst for the action or holding some plot relevance. This was a little disconcerting for me since seeing heroes as 'bullies' or 'glory-hounds' kind of makes me despite them.

Surprisingly this anthology is probably one of the best put together I've read in a long time. Other than Roberson's story I enjoyed all the stories to some degree. They covered the vastness that is 'superheroes' and certainly proved that you can take a similar premise and make it entirely different but interesting in more than a dozen ways.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Super Humor and Intelligence Feb. 28 2011
By Jeffrey Swystun - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Ever since Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' complex and literate, Watchmen, came out there have been more intelligent examinations of the world of superheroes. Deeper explorations of the personal angst and separation experienced by these heroes, moral confusion, unavoidable inconsistencies, and the overpowering weight of responsibility have provided great fodder for smarter tales. Joseph Mallozzi's contribution in this collection called Downfall captures this succinctly with the line, "Always playing to the media, their public acts of altruism little more than a patina glossing over the ugly truths - alcoholism, malignant narcissism, anger management issues."

It seems we have created a sub-cottage industry to the original super hero comic book trade. This has meant more original efforts that move the genre forward. Take into consideration the movies Hancock, Unbreakable and The Incredibles, Michael Chabon's Pulitzer-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay, Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, and one will see that characters in bright tights and capes have evolved.

And to my surprise, while reading this collection, I read a story in the February 26, 2011 edition of The Wall Street Journal called, Bam! Pow! Superhero Groups Clash In an Epic Battle of Good vs. Good. It covers the true story of individuals dressing up as superheroes in the Seattle area (among them Phoenix Jones - Guardian of Seattle, Zetaman, Knight Owl, Dark Guardian, and Mr. Raven Blade). And like the stories in Masked these real-life characters are revealed to have conflicts amongst themselves. Life imitating art indeed.

This collection has a dark and deep tone that appeals. The stories are all highly original and cover a range of subjects that add reality to the unreal. It begins with Cleansed and Set in Gold by Matthew Sturges which introduces a mash-up of epic proportions including "plausible" superheroes as conflicted individuals. It is a great kick-off story with fun lines given the genre like "I don't have a fascinating origin story" and "His conclusion was that the Ghouls are a gift from the seventy-second century, sent back in time by some enterprising villain to plague the twenty-first".

"Atomahawk", "Retaliator", "She-Devil" are members of "The Law Legion" waging a never-ending battle against "Prime Mover". How awesome are those names? This tale, Where Worms Dieth Not, explores the challenges of crime fighting and the dark abysses it can send even the most noble. Another story in the collection called, Secret Identity, explores homophobia (yes homophobia). I will not be a spoiler here as the story is ingenious.

And how about a story from the villain's perspective? The Non-Event by Mike Carey covers two-bit hoods who benefit from an occurrence which gave one in ten people various super powers. This line explains it, "I don't mean supervillains, you understand: I mean good, old fashioned burglars, bank robbers, and stick-up merchants who just happen to have picked up powers during the endoclasm. We're not interested in ruling the world, or destroying it, or having a big pointless punch-up with a bunch of twats in tights. We just ply our trade, when we're allowed it, do the job, and then clock off."

The collection is wildly entertaining exploring emotions, situations, and relationships in the super hero universe with humor and intelligence.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Surprisingly Good Superhero Anthology Jan. 30 2011
By William Knorpp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Unless I misremember, I really, really enjoyed all but two or three stories in this anthology. The thing really is surprisingly good. The story "Call Her Savage" really doesn't fit at all and wasn't really to my taste, but I just couldn't believe how many stories in here I really liked. And the writing's good! I mean, not just passable, but--by the standards of fun, non-serious fiction--it's really good. Much, much better than the average just-for-fun read. I'm a huge fan of Austin Grossman's _Soon I Will Be Invincible_, and, until now, I've always told everyone that that's head and shoulders above other books in the genre. I still rank it at the top, but, honestly, I think this anthology isn't all that far behind.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Literary Collection Aug. 10 2010
By BarelyBarista - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I ordered this after seeing several of the authors listed. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The book provides a wide range of hero/villain stories that are atypical. While the book does include the typical tights and cape story, the best stories are the ones that are a little different. My personal favorite short story in the collection is Downfall.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much kryptonite, not enough super-writing Aug. 7 2012
By Patrick O'Duffy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
An uneven collection of prose superhero stories; none of the stories were terrible, but a lot were pretty pedestrian. The best was Gail Simone's 'Thug'; the honourable mentions were by Matthew Sturges, Mike Carey, Paul Cornell, Chris Roberson, Marjorie Liu and Bill Willingham. The rest... well, whatever.

Two asides:

1 - There's an interesting mix of comics writers and prose writers here, but there's also a strong deconstructive tendency from the non-comics authors. It's not enough for them to simply write a superhero story; it has to be one that critiques the genre and its conventions, and usually in a way that finds those conventions wanting. The comics authors, on the other hand, were more interested in following those conventions to find a story that respected them while still working within a different medium/form. Those stories tended to be better, if only because I could read the story without the chip on the author's shoulder getting in the way.

2 - The proofreader and editor of this book doesn't seem to understand the difference between 'canon' and 'cannon'. Which is just embarrassing, frankly.
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