Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book Review of Masked: An Awe-inspiring Anthology of All-Original Superhero Fiction edited by Lou Anders

My brothers were much more into comic books than I was growing up, but they introduced me to fantasy and science fiction in books, television and movies. I was eager to check out the Masked anthology that was recently released by Gallery Books.

Masked: An Awe-inspiring Anthology of All-Original Superhero Fiction edited by Lou Anders.  Anders carefully selected short stories that convey the "strength of the superhero genre in prose form; not as a pastiche or a parody, or a bunch of writers slumming it and having a lark at the genre's expense; but an honest exploration, with the integrity and level of storytelling that contemporary readers of comic books and graphic novels, as well as fans of films like Iron Man and The Dark Knight, appreciate and demand."

Lou Anders's intro got my attention and the short stories don't disappoint.  I particularly liked Thug by Gail Simone which is told from the point of view of a developmentally disabled young boy named Alvin Becker.  He tells us what it was like when he was younger and was larger, stronger, and mentally slower than everyone else.  The boys and girls in his class picked on him ruthlessly and he only had two people that he trusted and cared about.   His mother teaches him early on not to hit back because with his strength he can easily hurt the other children.  So, as he suffers constant abuse, he learns to ignore the taunts and cruelty -- until his closest friend suffers.  Alvin steps in and the consequences change his life.  Alvin's personality comes across so clearly -- and somehow, he reminded me of Lenny in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.  It's a wonderful short story and the superhero aspect is woven in masterfully.

James Maxey's Where Their Worm Dieth Not is another powerful piece that makes full use of the short story structure.  The superheroes, Atomahawk and Retaliator, are in a dark world where they are constantly battling evildoers but the opponents are growing in strength.  Each victory seems hollow because their vanquished enemies somehow reappear even after death.  Retaliator himself has been killed and reborn three times.    Maxey introduces complex and unusual characters, throws them into difficult situations and makes them suffer -- all for a good story with an unexpected twist.

The stories are not related, so that it's easy enough to flip through the anthology to find a story that draws you in.  There's a broad range of styles, worlds, and characters -- which makes Masked a fine compilation.   Here's the complete list of author contributors and their works:
  • Cleansed and Set in Gold by Matthew Sturges
  • Where Their Worm Dieth Not by James Maxey
  • Secret Identity by Paul Cornell
  • The Non-Event by Mike Carey
  • Avatar by Mike Baron
  • Message from the Bubblegum Factory by Daryl Gregory
  • Thug by Gail Simone
  • Vacuum Lad by Stephen Baxter
  • A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows by Chris Roberson
  • Head Cases by Peter David and Kathleen David
  • Downfall by Joseph Mallozzi
  • By My Works You Shall Know Me by Mark Chadbourn
  • Call Her Savage by Marjorie Liu
  • Tonight We Fly by Ian McDonald
  • A to Z in the Ultimate Big Company Superhero Universe (Villians Too) by Bill Willingham
I recommend Masked for fans of fantasy, science fiction, and superheroes -- young or old, male or female.  It's a book that I intend to share with my brothers!

ISBN-10: 1439168822 - Trade Paperback $15.00
Publisher: Gallery; Original edition (July 20, 2010), 416 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher. 

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