Upside Down & Inside Out

MutantIn his introduction, editor Ben Langdon states that he wanted the stories in This Mutant Life to “reflect the collision of the ordinary with the extraordinary.” His goal was to explore the lives of heroes and villains, monsters and aliens in a way that was both nostalgic and contemporary. Furthermore, he wanted to include stories that were fun but not stupid.

As such, This Mutant Life extols Langdon’s love of superheroes, naïve super-science, nefarious criminal masterminds, mad gods, and giant octopi. And guess what? We love that stuff too.

Langdon has selected 21 stories that twist the clichés of pulp fiction into unexpected knots. “Raiden’s River” is a foreboding superhero/hoodoo mash-up. “Avon Calling” features a vigilante superheroine who is a little bit like Betty Draper and a lot like Frank Castle. “The Scoundrel’s Wife” gives us a glimpse into the domestic life of a supervillain (spoiler alert: it’s a bit drab). And “Clean Up” lets us spend a day with the garbage men who sweep up after messy superhero battles. Each of these stories does a great job of turning the world of superheroes upside down and inside out.

For variety, there are a few non-superhero stories in the collection as well. One of our favorites (“Salt and Foam” by Aaron J. French) is about a mutant octopus that terrorizes a beach community. We guarantee it will put a smile on the face of anyone who has a fondness for Guy N. Smith’s out-of-print killer crab novels. In fact, we would like to encourage the author to revisit his short story and expand it into a full-blown novel.

The book comes to a satisfying conclusion with “Comics on Strike,” a story about an artist’s complicated relationship with his comic book creation. “You wouldn’t exist without me,” says the artist looking down upon his Bristol board. “You’re just a drawing, a blot of ink, a collection of pencil lines, nothing more.” Yes, it’s a silly piece of metafiction. But we wouldn’t be surprised if Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had similar late-night conversations with Superman while flipping through the pages of Action Comics.

[This Mutant Life / Edited by Ben Langdon / First Printing: September 2013 / ISBN: 9780987530813]

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