Saving the World One Short Story at a Time

Eleven of the stories in Who Can Save Us Now? are written by English, literature, and creative writing professors. And the result? What exactly do you get when college academics start writing superhero fiction in their spare time?

Let’s see … you get a little bit of wanking, some bad New Yorker mimicry, a smidge of genre awkwardness, and scattered amounts of literary flimflam.

But you also get a whole bunch of inventive, well-written prose that aims higher than most anthologies of this nature. No doubt about it, there is eye-rolling MFA-tainted stuff in this book. But there’s also funny, thoughtful, and compelling stuff as well.

And there is love here too. “The Snipper” by Noria Jablonski is a tipsy tribute to all the wacky ads found in old comic books, “Girl Reporter” by Stephanie Harrell provides a pinch of insight into Lois Lane’s superhero envy, and “The Quick Stop 5®” by Sam Weller celebrates “the world’s most unlikely super team.” These stories and more confirm the nerd status of every contributor in this book.

Even better are the stories that raise the bar even higher, bringing complex emotional depth to the superhero genre. “Roe #5,” for example, is about inappropriate science and “transhuman pattern-recognition devices” that are trying to figure out their place in the world. “Do we help or harm humans? asks He-Roe #5 at one point. “And how do we tell the difference?”

And finally, “My Interview With the Avenger” by Tom Bissell brings up the ultimate question that all superhero fiction must address. Are superheroes public servants, outlaws, or madmen? “Most people drawn to what I do are sadists, revenge addicts, morons, or insane,” says the Avenger during his interview. And that, in a nutshell, is the great dark side of all superheroes that continues to fascinate us all.

The editors have done a good job assembling a worthy crew of writers for their project. It’s a shame the book’s inside pages were put together so carelessly. Each of the stories kicks off with a nice illustration by Chris Burnham. But more often than not the page gutter obscures these illustrations. For example, take a look at pages 260-261 and 334-335. The gutter running down the spine completely destroys the drawings. And the problem persists (to a lesser extent) throughout the entire book. The editors and the artist could be at fault for lack of communication. But we blame the designer. She was clearly not paying attention during the pagination process. A little cropping, or creative tweaking could easily have solved this problem. Something this fatal should never have been sent to the printers. Tsk.

[Who Can Save Us Now? / Edited by Owen King and John McNally / First Printing: July 2008 / ISBN: 9781416566441]

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