Wednesday, December 13, 2006

REVIEW: Other People's Heroes by Blake Petit


Josh Corwood reports on Siegel City's resident superheroes for Powerlines magazine. From epic battles to the latest superhuman couture, Josh covers it all.

Then Josh discovers that he too has superpowers. Even more surprising, Siegel City's heroes and villains are not in fact adversaries in an eternal fight between good and evil. Rather, they are all players in a grand and not-so-sinister charade, designed to amuse the public and turn a quick merchandising buck. No one gets hurt, and everybody wins.

Until things start going wrong. Superhumans are becoming violent for real. It's up to Josh to figure out what's going on, save his beloved from her nefarious boyfriend, and uncover what really happened to Lionheart, the greatest hero of all.


If Other People's Heroes were a Hollywood superhero film, it would be Sam Raimi's Spiderman. In both stories, an average guy gets extraordinary powers, and then has to confront an even more extraordinary threat. Although these characrers are superhuman, both heroes (and their respective allies and adversaries) breathe as real people, not cartoons. In addition to plentiful humor (with a tinge of pathos for color), both stories feature numerous well-realized action set-pieces, and both climax with an extended, bang-up brawl that is truly exciting (as opposed to just loud). Finally, both tell self-contained stories, but leave dangling threads for potential sequels (a promise that in each case was quickly fulfilled).

There have been many other superhero movies, but none are quite as close in spirit. Heroes is frequently funny, but is not slapstick like Batman (1966). Heroes also has a few dark moments, but is free of the pervasive gloom of, well, Batman (1989). Heroes doesn't take itself as seriously as X-Men (or 2, or 3) (2000; 2003; 2006), but doesn't try as hard (and fail so miserably) at being hip and funny as Mystery Men (1999). Unlike Superman Returns (2006), Heroes' protagonist is not a flat and emotionless bore, and, unlike The Punisher (2004), Josh also is not a psychopathic lunatic. And Fantastic Four (2005) just stank.

Other People's Heroes does not quite scale the heights of The Incredibles' (2004) astounding blend of humor, action, emotion, and philosophy. But Blake Petit has produced a novel that is extremely accomplished. And in the world of superheroes, Spiderman is mighty fine company to keep.


Other People's Heroes is available through PublishAmerica or at Amazon. You can read more from Blake Petit, as well as links to his prolific reviews and columns, at his LiveJournal blog Evertime Realms. Petit used to offer an online sequel, 14 Days of Asphalt, which was also well worth reading (even though Petit maintained that it was only a draft). Unfortunately, 14 Days is no longer available.

However, Petit's very amusing NaNoWriMo novella from 2005, A Long November, is still available online (parts one, two, three). A Long November tells the story of a genuinely good man who just can't relate to Christmas, and the Christmas spirit assigned to do whatever it takes to bring him around. Following NaNoWriMo rules, A Long November was written in only thirty days. As a result, it's not quite as developed as Other People's Heroes (or 14 Days of Asphalt). Nonetheless, A Long November is an outstanding accomplishment and a lot of fun, and I heartily recommend it for this holiday season.


Connor Mackenzie could be Josh Corwood's West Coast cousin. By day, he is a mild-mannered mid-level marketing executive. By night, he is the Velvet Marauder, an up-and-coming superhero with mid-range super strength, increased resistance to harm, and a mild envy of his more well-regarded brethren. Connor also keeps a blog. Like many bloggers, Connor recounts the daily highs, lows, and day-to-day minutia of his life. Unlike most bloggers, that life includes fights with robots and carnivorous plants, romance with a mystical hottie, and ordering super-supplies while watching sports on the TV in his secret lair (hidden within his suburban home).

The Velvet Marauder is a creation of David Campbell, who also runs Dave's Longbox, a comics review site. Campbell updated the Velvet Marauder regularly for nearly a year. Although the full run is still available online, Dave stopped posting new entries in mid-2005. That was a tremendous loss. The blog perfectly blends the Velvet Marauder's superheroics with the quieter moments in Connor's life. Although the adventures recounted in the blog are largely episodic, Campbell also included an overarching conspiracy plot which developed nicely over the life of the blog and which received at least some closure before Campbell pulled the plug. As a result, the entire run can be read together as a nifty little novella. I continue to hope that one day Campbell will again take up the Velvet Marauder's adventures, either on the blog or in novel form.

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