Axel-In-Charge: Facing the 'Divided' Marvel NOW! Future
This is a prose book, but it’s about superheroes, so I figured our readers might be interested in it. If you’re not, you can just skip this post! See how easy it all is?
A while back, Andrez Bergen was nice enough to send me a digital copy of his latest novel, Who Is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? It took me far too long to get around the reading it, which is because I suck, but I’ve read it now, and I’d like to tell you a bit about it. This is published by Perfect Edge Books and you can get it anywhere fine books are sold. Everyone likes buying books, right?
There’s a big problem with this book, and it’s that the central conceit is pretty keen and I don’t want to spoil it (and no, it’s not the answer to the question of the title). So how do I write about it? Well, I can be coy, so forgive me for that. I can say some things about it without giving too much away, so I’ll do that. It’s not that there’s a huge twist, but it is an interesting way to present the story, and it’s fun to discover on your own.
Anyway, Bergen gives us a city, Heropa, that’s one of those cities so prevalent in retro-futuristic science fiction – it’s an amalgam of 1930s and 1940s visions of what a city of the future would look like, but it’s also very modern in a “normal” way. It’s also a place populated by superheroes and supervillains – both called Capes. At the beginning of the book, Bergen places a hero, called Southern Cross, into the city and turns him loose. He ends up at the headquarters of a group called the Equalizers, which is made up of the Brick, Pretty Amazonia, and the Great White Hope. Obviously, Bergen is basing these characters on “existing” superheroes, but that’s fine, because so much of this book is homage to characters of the past and present. So we get references to all sorts of comic book characters and creators, and Bergen makes sure it all blends into a nice portrait of a vast yet accessible city. Southern Cross – whose name is Jack – gets involved in the murder mystery of the title, as he learns that more than a few Capes have been killed recently. The mystery is always part of the book, but the book isn’t specifically focused on the mystery, especially after Jack falls in love.
The problem for Jack is that the woman with whom he falls in love, Louise, is a “Blando” – meaning she doesn’t have any powers. The Brick and Pretty Amazonia explain that romance between the Capes and the normals is frowned upon, but Jack doesn’t care, and he begins courting Louise. A good deal of the book is about their romance, which is a good move, because it allows Bergen to expand on their characters, why it might not be a great idea for Jack to fall in love with Louise, and how their secrets intersect with the main plot. Naturally, both Jack and Louise have secrets, and Bergen does a nice job showing how their feelings for each other conflict with the greater setting of Heropa and its secrets. It’s well done parallelism, and when Bergen does return to the main plot (not that he ever really goes away from it, but he shifts focus to the romance), he’s able to link the romance to the main plot effortlessly.
Bergen gives us plenty of interesting characters, too, which helps make Heropa a fascinating place. He uses standard noir and superhero tropes, of course, but because he takes time to give the characters good personalities, it becomes more of a homage than just a lazy way to create characters. So the Brick, while coming off as a Ben Grimm rip-off, has facets of his personality that we don’t expect. The wise-cracking reporter has an interesting backstory that explains some of her sarcasm. Jack seems odd at first, but Bergen does a very nice job explaining his personality quirks. Bergen also does a fine job creating the city – he takes his time envisioning this giant world, with its unusual neighborhoods and impressive architecture. It feels like a stylized but real place, which is important in a book like this, which relies on styles so much. Bergen is able to take the stereotypes we associate with these kinds of stories and use them to his advantage. It’s well done.
I have a few issues with the book, but they both involve the solution to the question of the title, so I don’t want to give anything away. So it’s not a perfect book, but it is good. It feels like it ends a bit abruptly, and I do wish Bergen had given us more of an epilogue – the book is 422 pages long (well, the story ends on page 422, but there’s a handy glossary), but it does go quickly, and I wouldn’t have minded a bit more at the end to wrap some things up. It’s not the greatest murder mystery, but it’s pretty good, as it uses both noir and superhero elements pretty well and ties into the entire existence of the city, so Bergen does a decent job there.
The book is entertaining and fun, with plenty of intrigue and romance and interesting characters bouncing off each other. Bergen comes up with a good idea and does some cool stuff with it, including naming superheroes rather cleverly and giving us a good, pulpy plot. Jack and Louise are a nice couple, believable and cute, but still dealing with things that try to divide them. It’s not “realistic,” because Jack is a superhero and Louise isn’t, but it does show how couples have to trust each other and deal with things that come up. There’s a lot of exciting stuff in the book, and anyone who’s a superhero fan will find plenty to smile about, as Bergen enjoys putting Easter eggs in the narrative. Check the book out, because it’s a cool read.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.