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Gods of Justice (volume one)

Posted: Wednesday, July 27, 2011
By: Ray Tate

Various
Various
Cliffhanger Books
Gods of Justice is a not-to-be-missed anthology for fans of the superhero genre. It's a professional production throughout. The cover employs live models in the costumes of the heroes within, and the talented Mark Offut and Joel Gomez accompany each tale with an illustration of the star. These designs act as signs of respect for heroes that issue more resonance than the generic cloaks and hoods roaming around the comic book racks.

The first tale, "The Mass Grave of John Johnsons" by Micah Urban, offers a fascinating time travel deviation that starts out with an unusual forensic-based group of superheroes. It's only until late in the tale that you realize these minor masks serve merely as red herrings for a sweet exploration of a father-and-son relationship.

"The Daughter of Nyx" by Kelly Wisdom demonstrates that sometimes superheroes face more than just physical danger. Ideologies can draw in the valorous, and zealots can exploit them as symbols even when all they wish to pursue is love. This tale is the saddest in the collection, and itís the one most open to interpretation. However, no matter what you read into the tale, the story is moving because you care about the central character. It's my hope that in a hypothetical sequel Nyx deals with both sides in the war.

Dayton Ward's "Going My Own Way" relates another father-son dynamic. Here, the father lets his boy choose his own destiny, and the reader follows that destiny for thrills, natural danger, and the bravery of a hero straddling the boundary between fantasy and reality. Ward also incorporates his superhero world to an otherwise isolated incident to rescue a deserving character from certain doom. I respect that.

"Identity Crisis" by Lisa Gail Green is the most straight forward of the anthology. It introduces a heroine, a villain, and the hero's loved ones for a battle royale. Green plays with the conventions, and her superior skill in creating point-of-view narrative, as well as fully developed characters, makes this tale a winner.

I don't believe Green's tale would work as a comic book. In fact, most of these stories would not possess the same effect if they came out as comic books. The manipulation of the English language, can deepen an experience more than a mere visual. A picture is, as they say, worth a thousand words, but those words come at you all at once. A picture is finite. Words create ever-changing imagery in the mind. It's much more involving to describe the psyche than to simply draw a character's reaction based on that rationale.

Kevin Hosey's "Blunt Force Trauma" is a complex detective story that swerves in a direction similar to a short pastiche called "Night Man," which deals with the running gay joke pop culture has bestowed to Batman and Robin. "Blunt Force Trauma" seems to sully the story's hero, and if you've read comic books long enough, you're just jaded enough to believe it. However, rather than end the tale at a low point, Hosey twists the plot and then twists it again to create a more satisfying finale for the superhero.

Jordan Taylor explores fertile, untapped territory in "No Man's Land." Taylor brilliantly utilizes his vividly crafted setting. Her superhero is well thought out, and the characterís limitations, which could have proven sour in the end, turn the finale into an affecting coda.

Of all the stories, only "Breaking the Circle" crashed and burned. Derek Tyler Attico really had me with his opening that details the loving relationship between hero and spouse, but then he revealed that "everything we knew was wrong." Attico seems to be trying to tap into every comic book element--including the Jack Kirbyís New Gods--which ultimately sunk his story with too much ambition. Had he stuck to simply one theme, "Breaking the Circle" would have been more than a well-written fizzle.

The next tale, "Dodge," is simply perfect. K. Stoddard Hayes chooses another unusual setting, and she uses it to prepare the birth of her hero. The trappings also recreate a classic good versus evil battle, and one of the rather colorful myths associated with the period provide perhaps the inspiration for the superhero's power. Authentic-sounding dialogue adds to the enjoyment of the tale. However, despite all these enviable assets, the story is still fundamentally about the characters--a family of law bringers who you cannot help cheering on.

The penultimate tale is very tough to read. At first, writer Carla Lee Suson appeared to suggest superheroes are sphincters. Such a belief is patently antithetical to my philosophy. However, reading on, I realized that it's not the first superhero that Suson refers to in "Justice Blues." She's in fact creating a supervillain who does not believe he's a supervillain, and it's only toward the end that she develops a hero to defeat him. This is a tough, brutal, no punches pulled look at a real problem dressed in capes and cowls. The story allows Suson to address the crime with an escapist solution, and that is perfectly in keeping with the heroic ideal.

Finally, Ricardo Sanchez contributes my favorite tale in the book, "The Death and Life of a Hero." I'm a sucker for such an uplifting story in which the hero receives his due from the people he has saved. I loved that same theme in Buffy, the Vampire Slayer as well as in Early Edition, and I love it here, too. Sanchez also should be commended for creating a unique Superman-like figure that never once actually imitates the Man of Steel. The archetypal Hero really does seem like a different man here.

While other anthologies of prose dealing with the superhero have come and gone, most of them as denigrated or mocked champions, a good anthology celebrating modern mythology occasionally appears on the bookshelves. You may add Gods of Justice to that very short list.



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