Book Review: Superpowers

Hi, my name is Jim and I’m a superhero-themed novel junkie…

(Chorus) Hi Jim!

I’ll admit it. I like superhero comics and I like superhero novels. I’m drawn to comics that have a tinge or more of reality. I liked the deconstructionist stuff of the 1980s and 1990s. Watchman is a great graphic novel and while I enjoy the superheroics of Batman, it’s when he struggles with the strange position being Batman puts him in. Perhaps that’s why I’m drawn mostly to the Marvel characters: Spiderman and Daredevil in their solo titles in particular. A good mix of harsh reality and the freedom of having superpowers.

Anyway, I came across Superpowers by David J. Schwartz a few months ago while trawling for superhero-related titles in Amazon. There were some reviews about it being too soap-opera-y though most were favorable. It was worth a shot.

The story centers around five people loosely connected as room-mates or friends who inexplicably develop superpowers over night. Each of the five gains one power: speed, strength, mind-reading, invisibility, and flight. These revelations are at first treated a little casually by the author, not spending too much time in the initial shock of them. Each power has its liabilities and issues firmly grounded in asking a simple, realistic “what if”? If you suddenly had super strength, how would you keep from breaking things? If you gained super speed, would you start to have trouble slowing down?

Once they understand their powers and they learn who all got powers, one character drives them to follow the superhero paradigm: wear costumes/disguises, do good, don’t get caught. They ponder the equally weighty viewpoints on powers:

Ben Parker (Spiderman): “With great power comes great responsibility.”
John Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

Now in a typical superhero tale, there is a foe worthy of superhero powers: a supervillain, alien invaders, something out of control of normal authority. In Superpowers, there is no supervillain. Our five heroes foil burglaries, domestic abuse, robberies, and save people from burning buildings. They are powerful, but they aren’t perfect. Things don’t always turn out nice and clean and they have to deal with that as well.

This all plays out over the summer of 2001 in Madison Wisconsin. Knowing the tragic date that is coming lends a dark undertone to the whole book.

All in all, it turned out to be a book I couldn’t put down. I got invested in those five people and in how Mr. Schwartz was handling the ‘reality’ of superpowers. It wasn’t a four-color, Hollywood ending but isn’t that the real fantasy?

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