Nov 22 2011
Other People’s Heroes is easily the best superhero novel I’ve read this year (at least in comparison to the other two, Perry Moore’s Hero and Playing for Keeps). It’s not perfect by any means, but it was fun and definitely helpful for other superhero novelists looking for inspiration.
After a nice-guy journalist with a fervent admiration for superheroes develops powers of his own, he immediately opts to join the community he’s respected for so long, only to find that Siegel City’s heroes and villains are about as genuine as professional wrestlers, from hero merchandising to staged brawls. Though he initially stays in order to expose “the biggest con game this city has ever seen,” he eventually realizes that there’s something even more sinister beneath the system’s surface.
- The concept (that superheroism and supervillainy as we know them are a complete facade) was original and well-executed. Writers, it’s okay to shake things up. I liked that OPH played with my expectations of what a superhero is while staying true to its origins.
- Josh Corwood, the protagonist. Nice guy characters are everywhere, but it’s nice to see one that’s more than generic comic relief. Not everybody has to be Batman to succeed.
- The aftermath of the love confession scene. While the confession itself was somewhat sappy in parts, the background event (a brick joke of one of the other characters eavesdropping from the bushes) was genuinely funny.
- Some of the semi-affectionate jabs against other superhero works and cliches. I especially liked one against superhero reporters writing about themselves (“How unethical would that be?”) Reasonably respectful “take thats” are fun. Bashing your own genre for no reason, not so much.
- Most of the plot twists were unpredictable (unlike with Alphas and Playing for Keeps).
What Could Have Been More Effective
- OPH has a massive cast, which could have been pared down slightly to flesh out a smaller group of main characters more effectively. Even if you’re writing a literal legion of superheroes, please make sure your characters are distinct enough from each other that readers aren’t stuck trying to pinpoint who’s who.
- Some of the “take thats” are effective, but others are worked in awkwardly, making them less funny than they should be.
- The love interest is initially a pushover who can’t see that her controlling boyfriend is abusive. Granted, I found her unusually likable (she’s a self-deprecating but genuinely sweet “villainess” dating a jerkass hero), but it takes her a while to grow beyond the wallflower-as-love-interest cliche.
- There are a few word errors and the like that would have been caught with a more careful edit. On the bright side, this is the first time I’ve ever seen “Hail/Heil” anywhere. Writers, please proofread your work carefully–every time you misuse a word, a penguin commits suicide with a ninja star.
My final verdict? Even if it’s just as novel research, go read it anyway. It’s not perfect, but not too far off.