Superheroes are all the rage right now. They’re running, or flying, all over the media: movies, TV shows, games, Netflix, anime, and, of course, books. With such a skyrocketing social saturation, it is very easy to produce something crappy. I mean, just look at all the romance stories out there, the vast majority of which are mediocre at best, or even painful for an functioning brain to digest. …or is that just because my system runs on testosterone instead of estrogen? 😛 Either way, I digress! 🙂
Point being, it would have been pretty easy for this superhero story to suck spectacularly, and I was aware of that going in. But, hey, taking a little risk is the very nature of trying new things, isn’t it?
So what did I think of it?
I found Wearing the Cape, by Marion G. Harmon, to be an enjoyable and fairly unique take on superheroism. It’s not perfect or anything, but I liked it quite a bit more than I expected to.
It’s actually pretty difficult to get heroes “right,” as evidenced by Marvel, DC, and the rest. Even the titans of the superhero industry can fail abysmally. It’s all in how the protagonists are characterized, and the term “hero” can be a double-edged sword. That’s one reason villains are so important, and why I’ve enjoyed such works as the Please Don’t Tell My Parents series. Villains don’t need to be perfect. We can have more fun with villains. So, telling the superhero story directly from the hero’s perspective? Risky gamble, that. But Harmon manages it.
The story follows Astra, real name Hope Corrigan, the newest superhero. As a rookie, just barely having gained her powers, she has a lot to learn and she learns a lot of it on the job. No pressure, right? If that wasn’t enough, she also finds herself standing at the heart of a great conflict between two time travelers, making her choices instrumental in which of two competing futures is realized. It’s like standing in the eye of a temporal hurricane. Again, no pressure, right?
Thrown into the deep end, meeting crisis after crisis while still learning the basics, Hope exceeds every expectation. She’s strong, clever, and keeps her head. She’s very composed when she needs to be, determined and resilient, but still shows human reactions to terrible situations. That is her real strength, how she can lose it, and pull herself back together. And she’s such a ball of sunshine, bright and genuine, that it’s impossible to hate her.
As Hope tells the story, I loved watching her developing relationships with fellow super-people. Mostly heroes, of course, but her inaugural fight with a supervillain ended with her earning some respect from her adversary. She has plenty of teachers, though some of her teammates remained less developed background characters, but there were some intriguing personal relationships as well. Hope still maintained her old friendships, of course, but her blooming friendship with Artemis, a vampire with a tragic life story, was fantastic. The two of them were great together, with complementary strengths and personalities, like Yin and Yang.
And then there is Atlas. He’s almost a full decade older than her, and her primary mentor, but their relationship surprises them both when it turns romantic. Most stories feature couplings less distanced by years, so this was unusual, but not in a bad way. Sure, eighteen and twenty-seven may look a bit far apart, but the difference would decrease as they grew old together, so why not? And I love how they treated the physical aspect of their romance, as something which they want, but are willing to wait for.
On a completely different note, I can appreciate how Harmon built this world of superheroes and villains. Sure, fights between them get a lot of attention, but most of the time, the heroes are handling everything from simple law enforcement, to random good deeds (the cat in a tree thing, for instance), to disaster relief, to public relations. The rise of superhumans had immediate and far-reaching consequences across the globe, and there are a number of conflicts still raging, but for the most part, a superhero is a humanitarian worker. That was a fascinating aspect, and one which came into play within the plot.
Reading Wearing the Cape felt a lot like reading Hope’s memoirs. She’s telling a story and engaging with the audience, but her goal is more to educate than to entertain. She’s making the facts known, guiding her readers through her own experiences, sometimes glossing over some things as they become everyday activities, like training and studying, and having protracted arguments with her parents. It made the narrative flow pretty swiftly, building up the most relevant facts to a situation, and then telling us what happened.
“Swift” is a pretty good word to describe this book, actually. The books I’ve been reading lately have usually been a bit longer, with longer chapters. I’m reminded of my experience with The Black Company, which had virtually no chapter breaks whatsoever, and kept plodding on and on and on. Wearing the Cape, by contrast, is much shorter (I read in in about a day and a half, while spending time with my family) and the chapters are bite sized. Like, seriously, the chapters kept surprising me with how short they were. Not a bad thing, but I kept thinking, “Wait, what, but we just started!” 😛
This means that the moments of joy, the moments of tragedy, and everything in between all hit us in rapid fire. It’s not entirely unlike life, which fits with how generally realistic this short novel felt. But it did leave me wishing we’d lingered on a few moments, especially towards the end. For one thing, the joy and tragedy both would have been enhanced if we knew some of these characters better, which is generally better done with those everyday moments we blurred straight past.
Also… this may sound a little weird, but I was disappointed when none of my misgivings were realized. I refer especially to the time traveling character, and the alliance he forms with Hope. I had actually feared that she had been duped, and most capably so. There was just something that felt off about this fellow she agreed to help, so I was waiting for the big reveal of his true nature. It might have been predictable, but it would have also made sense. Instead, he turned out to be an even better, more heroic person than we were told, and while he had been a little duplicitous, it was not in the negative way I had imagined it to be. So, on the one hand, I was caught by surprise, instead of having predicted the ending, but it was in such a way that almost felt… flat.
I know, it’s weird. A friend of mine and I were just having a talk the other day about how people bemoan the lack of new material from Hollywood, and then they don’t pay attention to what is new. Annoying psychological paradox, that.
To wrap this up, I enjoyed Wearing the Cape. I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece or anything like that, but it is a good, worthy work and a nice addition to the superhero lore of our generation. I am interested in following the rest of the series.
Rating: 8 stars out of 10.