Mar 31 2008
I’ve already written a standard SIWBI review. My main conclusion was that most of SIWBI is wasted space that fails to satisfy readers or advance the main plot. So what do these wasted chapters do? To answer that, I will summarize and analyze the content and writing of each chapter.
This review will include spoilers.
Chapter 1: Foiled Again
This chapter is an extended exposition from Dr. Impossible, the supervillain. He effectively introduces the world, but it bothers me that he describes himself as a “supervillain.” In real life, even the most evil people don’t think of themselves as evil.
However, this chapter is generally effective because of its strong flavor. For example, Impossible offers this explanation of why supervillains don’t take secret identities.
When you become a villain you cut your ties [to society] and head for the bottom. When you threaten to crash an asteroid into your own planet just so they’ll give you a billion dollars or substitute your face on the Mona Lisa, there’s no statute of limitations. So you have to have the courage of your convictions.
Haha! This is definitely a character I’d like to learn more about.
Chapter 2: Welcome to the Team
Unfortunately, chapter 2 is narrated by Fatale, a cybernetic superheroine that typically uses blander and sloppier language. For example, what do you make of this sentence? “Flying up from Hanscom Air Force Base, where it took me three hours to get through security, a private helipad.” Huh? That sentence seems to suggest that security is a private helipad.
More substantively, the author floods us with poorly developed characters. In addition to Fatale and Impossible, between pages 19-23 we are introduced to (deep breath) Protheon, Galatea, Corefire, Damsel, Stormcloud, Feral, Rainbow Triumph, Elphin, Blackwolf, the Super Squadron, the Champions, Mister Mystic, Go-Man and Regina. What annoyed me most was that the narrator describes these characters like she’s writing a celebrity profile for People Magazine.
Damsel’s face is familiar from a thousand interviews and magazine covers; a slender, pretty brunette… she has the glamour of a film star, but her power is no illusion… the eight people scattered around the conference table are some of the most famous superheroes in the world… the air is thick with power. These are people who have, quite literally, saved the entire world. (21).
The plot stalls over these pages as it gives us backstory about the Champions, the supergroup Fatale belongs to. The first paragraph that mentions this group is so bad that I need to quote it.
I know these people– everyone does. They started the Champions in the early eighties, just as the old Super Squadron started to retire, people like Go-Man and Regina. They were younger and sexier than their predecessors, the seemingly immortal heroes of the postwar boom…
The first 25 pages introduce us to fourteen characters and the author is wasting time describing how sexy and famous they are. That’s a huge mistake. The author should be frantically trying to differentiate the huge mass of characters he has thrown at us.
Instead, even when the characters talk, they sound annoyingly similar. Let me offer you a multiple choice quiz. I will give you five sets of lines from the book. Who utters them? Your choices are A) a mutant tiger, B) a genius billionaire mogul and C) a teen idol. (This should be easy, right?)
“Maybe you should be at work, then. Spend some time on the streets.”
“He always looks fine. I know you two kept in touch.”
“Darkness? Crime, you mean.”
“You honestly think there’s something behind this.”
“Honey, we haven’t seen a serious threat for almost a year. I’m almost bored.”
The first three quotes come from Feral, the mutant tiger. The last two come from Blackwolf, the millionaire that is so brilliant that he designed the team’s electronics. These characters shouldn’t sound so much alike. That’s particularly a problem because the author sometimes fails to tag his dialogue with character names.
Good characterization helps readers identify solid traits about each character. But the author doesn’t even attempt to individualize these characters, even when plausibility demands it. For example, when Feral asks “darkness? Crime, you mean,” I did a double-take because crime is a legal concept (read: a human concept). Why would an animal care about it? More generally, why would an animal become a superhero in the first place? The author probably could have explained these in an interesting way but never even attempted to.
Instead, we get more celebrity gossip.
He nods, looking just like his GQ cover. In costume, his black bodysuit shows up that perfect musculature… Rainbow Triumph was an obvious choice [for group membership], a high-profile hero with great approval ratings and generous corporate backing.
The main plot development in this chapter is that Corefire (Superman), the leader of the Champions, has gone missing. The author repeatedly alludes to the Champions’ conflicted history, particularly between Feral and Blackwolf, but I never got even the slightest hint that this group of “heroes” was actually heroic or even worth rooting for.
Chapter 3: Riddle Me This
We return to Dr. Impossible languishing in prison. We meet another two heroes, Bluetooth and Phenom, the Chaos Pact. Their “interrogation” of Impossible quickly degenerates into beating the hell out of him. Anyway, Impossible takes them as human shields and escapes from prison. Then we’re back to Fatale for chapter 4. Sigh.
This is the first part of a series that will eventually have 5 parts. You can see part 2 here.