Monday, 3 November 2014

Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher / review by Stephen Theaker

The supervillains of the world are gone – defeated, retired, arrested – leaving two to fight the bad fight: The Cowl, billionaire industrialist by day, conscience-free killer by night (and sometimes by day too), and Blackbird, his untrustworthy sidekick with a heart of ice. Gangs throughout San Ventura, California wear his omega tag with pride. The city cowers. With no other supervillains to battle, the world’s superheroes have retired too, leaving just the Seven Wonders – Aurora’s Light, Bluebell, Sand Cat, Linear, Hephaestus, SMART and The Dragon Star – to deal with The Cowl, a job they handle with staggering and apparently wilful ineptitude.

Into this comes Tony, who wakes in the night with energy powers, then gains strength, bulletproof skin and flight, that last while interfering with The Cowl’s bank robbery. New friend Jeannie trains him and creates a costume with her atomic sewing machine, but the question for Tony is: what to do with these powers? Take out The Cowl? But if that’s obvious to him after just a few days of having powers, why haven’t the Seven Wonders done it? That question also troubles Sam Millar, detective on the SVPD SuperCrime unit, her husband one of thousands killed by The Cowl.

From that point on, Seven Wonders (Angry Robot, pb, 480pp) by Adam Christopher could be admired for not going where expected – this isn’t The Boys – but where it goes instead could have been more interesting. Though the novel has a detective at its heart, it gives her very little to detect; she doesn’t get to unmask anyone, for example. Bluebell’s ability to manipulate minds casts doubt over much of the novel’s action, but if we take events as read this is a simple story of power that corrupts. The incorruptible heroes are those without character flaws. Those corrupted can be set straight by siphoning off their powers.

Recent comics dealing with similar themes have given us the superbly evil Batman of Nemesis, the genocidal Superman of Irredeemable, and Invincible battling his own father to defend the human race from enslavement. In Seven Wonders there are no grand revelations, no ethical conflicts, no great insights into the way power corrupts over time or the immense pressure that would come with such immense responsibility. Everyone is pretty much what they appear to be, and that’s generally either bland or angry. Had the novel’s finale revealed the Seven Wonders as Billy Batsons pretending to be grown-ups it wouldn’t have surprised.

Happily, an alien invasion ends the book on a high, its cosmic fire and fury playing to the strengths of the novel and its heroes better than earthbound plots. The heroes and villains that assemble in space are entertaining and imaginative (Lucifer Now! Lady Liberty and her team of android Presidents! Connectormatic! A Terrible Aspect!), as is, earlier, the explanation for Aurora’s Light’s awkward name: supervillain Red Tape’s “final act of bureaucratic terror”, a contract so binding it would wrench the West Coast apart if broken! It’s a shame such fun ideas don’t play a bigger role in the novel.

After a bit of editing, this review appeared in Interzone #242, back in 2012.

No comments:

Post a comment