Tag Archives: superheros

Knights of the End (Knights of the End #1)

Title: Knights of the End

Author: J. D. Cowan

Series: Knights of the End #1

Teddy MacIsaac dreams of heroes in a world where heroic ideals have succumbed to world-weary pessimism. Undaunted, he follows his dreams and a voice calling inside until he discovers a golden coin with mysterious powers. It grants him what he always wanted: the chance to be a hero. But no hero stands unopposed, and the general evil that’s haunted his world is about to get a lot more personal . . .

I really liked this. I found it based on a blog post by its author, and the comment that it had been written for his (her?) 13-year-old self immediately grabbed my interest, as the summary promised an actual light-versus-dark conflict that’s becoming increasingly hard to find.

And we get lots of awesome. Transforming superhero powers, secret identities, magical powers strong enough to change the world, and a colorful cast of friends and enemies. I particularly liked what happened with Rock, and how Teddy’s relationship with him changes over the course of the book. Bits of this read like an old comic book or cartoon drawn in greater detail. And I mean that as a compliment—the bombastic fights, the witty exchanges, the soaring imagination, the love of what it actually is to be a hero.

There are a few minor typos and errors that detracted a bit, but overall this was a solid book. I do hope the series continues, and continues to explore more of what it actually takes to be a hero who holds on to right no matter the cost (along with increasing the superhero cool moves and powers). Teddy takes a few knocks this time around, but certain events seem to be setting him up for a much deeper conflict between who he is and who he wants to be. I rate this book Recommended.

The Ascension (The New Heroes #5)

Title: The Ascension

Author: Michael Carroll

Series: Quantum Prophecy/The New Heroes #5

They thought Krodin was gone. Burned up by Pyrokine’s ultimate sacrifice. But then reality shifts and nothing is the same anymore. The United States is under martial law—and has been for years. And Krodin is somehow in charge. Lance, Abby, and the rest of the superhumans need to unravel this mystery fast, and figure out how to put down Krodin for good.

I couldn’t make it through this one, due to the extreme totalitarian government going on, that looked like it was going to be in place throughout the book. I don’t like dystopias. And I couldn’t buy the timeframe (only fiveĀ  years?) and the sheer number of people who were quietly submitting without secretly rebelling. It was more, this America? Five years? And Krodin wouldn’t have time to go after everyone himself, which means his plans should’ve been more open to sabotage. Which is why I dislike dystopias—I start thinking of all the ways it would fall apart before it got that bad, or all the ways such a “total” hold is really very fragile, because people don’t like falling in line, especially not in a country where everyone involved would be able to remember something better.

Also, bringing Krodin back felt like cheating. I would’ve much preferred a new villain. Krodin’s abilities just don’t make him much fun to fight, either, since basically nothing is effective, which means even people with superpowers are going to need some deus ex machina rather than being able to work up to it with their own abilities.

So. I made it far enough in to tell I was disliking the experience and quit. I rate this book Neutral.

Swarm (Zeroes #2)

Title: Swarm

Author: Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti

Series: Zeroes #2

Ethan and the rest of the Zeros have started testing how far their powers will stretch—in the guise of a nightclub (illegal, of course). But when the unexpected addition of MORE people with powers sends it crashing around their ears, they realize they’re not alone, and not everyone is interested in keeping quiet . . .

I tried, but ended up picking up the book for a chapter or two, putting it down again, and eventually quit when I realized I was actively reading other books to avoid going back to this one. It’s not bad, but the whole “nobody is really all that great, just different shades of horrible” started to grate on me worse and worse, and when people I would’ve really liked to see killed off weren’t (or at least, not by the time I quit), I figured it wasn’t worth pushing through what was becoming a slog. I put it down around halfway.

If you liked the first book, you may not be as put off by that as I was. The writing is fairly solid, and everyone’s trying to advance their powers (or in Ethan’s case, using what he’s been given . . . putting him as a recruiter did make me laugh).

Again, I dislike this for tone and the fact that nobody’s really anyone I want to root for rather than for poor writing. Your mileage may vary, but I’m done with this series. I rate this book Neutral.

Zeroes (Zeroes #1)

Title: Zeroes

Author: Scott Westerfeld / Margo Lanagan / Deborah Biancotti

Series: Zeroes #1

Scam’s big mouth is always getting him into trouble. He’s got a power that can help him say whatever is needed to get what he wants—but he doesn’t know what he’s going to say until it’s already been said. So when he hitches a ride home with the wrong guy, he ends up on the bad side of drug dealers, bank robbers, and mobsters. And even Scam’s big mouth isn’t enough to talk his way out. Problem: will his former friends forgive him enough to come to his rescue?

This is a different take on the whole superhero subgenre. The powers themselves are fascinating (and I LOVE the nicknames!). Ethan (Scam) can be the ultimate con artist. Nate (Glorious Leader—no, really!) can focus a group on a goal. Riley (Flicker) is blind, but can use other people’s eyes to see. Chizara (Crash) can destroy any high-tech device. Thibault (Anonymous) has to work very hard to make anyone notice him at ALL, and they’ll forget him immediately. And Kelsie, the daughter of the bank robber, can nudge the emotions of a crowd.

Really, you can’t go wrong with a book that has a character everyone calls Glorious Leader only half-ironically. (The ringtones the various kids have for his number is also hysterical.)

The powers mostly remain a mystery, although one Nate has been trying to solve for ages. I do hope he gets farther in future books, as the crowd-based mechanics is an interesting twist: only Ethan/Scam works best one-on-one. I’d love to know if he really is the same as the rest of them, or if he may be, as Nate once suspected, a different species.

The morality is mostly shades of grey. Chizara is the only one of them concerned with using her powers for good and not just for their own sake; Nate in particular was interesting to watch, as his power is influence, and he has a very amoral stance on just about everything that happens. So he’ll urge the group towards what he thinks is best, rather than try to build them up as potential heros. And he wants to be a politician . . .

Overall this is a great read, although people who find Ethan/Scam really annoying might be turned off at first, since much of the beginning is from his perspective. I’m going to have to hunt down the second book now. I rate this book Recommended.

Super Human (The New Heros #4)

Title: Super Human

Author: Michael Carroll

Series: The New Heros #4

Once there was a man who was more than a man, a warrior who single-handedly conquered the known world and whose death is still a mystery. In the present, though, superhumans are a bit more common, and when a virus starts taking out all of the adults, it’s up to a group of teenage heroes-to-be (and one teenage con artist) to figure out what’s going on and to stop the Fifth King from coming again.

Maybe I should’ve read The Quantum Prophecy first (I felt like I have, but I don’t see it marked), but in any case, what little I’ve read of that book convinces me this one is much stronger. And since this trilogy looks like a prequel to the other, it’s not even a problem to read them out of order. Basically, don’t be fooled by the #4 designation—this one reads fine by itself.

The choice of villain is interesting. Krodin is not exactly evil, but he’s about like a natural disaster. Powerful, amoral, and not something anyone wants around. But his abilities make him formidable even when other people with super powers are around. His chapters in the past alternate with the story in the present, until the two stories intersect. (I’m a little disappointed by how it ended for him, as reading the summary of the next book was enough to tell me my guess about what really happened was correct. Oh well.)

In the present, we begin with Lance, who is about as far from the model of “hero” as a kid can get. I really liked how Thunder confronts him. Thunder correctly deduces that Lance has zero regard for anyone outside himself, and devises a clever lesson to help drive the point home. (It was fun to see a budding sociopath get his due.) But what Lance lacks in empathy or heroics he makes up for with smarts and a knowledge of how a criminal’s mind works. And he has a big mouth.

The other characters that make up the teen hero team are more traditionally minded heros. I liked the little details, like Abby continually fumbling with introducing herself because she can’t think of a good hero name for herself, or Thunder’s absolute refusal to let anyone find out his secret identity (which drives Lance nuts), or Roz’s creativity with her powers.

The action is strong and fairly nonstop, which makes for a fast-paced book. And it’s not just the battles—Lance in particular has a way of walking right into interesting situations and making them worse.

All in all, this is a fun read, and a decent addition to the superhero genre. I rate this book Recommended.

School for Sidekicks (The Academy of Metahuman Operatives #1)

Title: School for Sidekicks

Author: Kelly McCullough

Series: The Academy of Metahuman Operatives #1

After a mysterious explosion in Minneapolis triggers superpowers in a large number of people, heros and villains (otherwise known as Masks and Hoods) leap from fantasy to reality. And because new people are still discovering powers, Evan Quick hopes desperately to be one of them. But when an encounter with a Hood finally unlocks the abilities he always wanted to have, he finds that life isn’t so simple anymore. Masks and Hoods aren’t what he thought. Now he’s a sidekick to a washed-out Mask, looking for answers.

This was an odd one for me to read right after My Hero Academia because the two have a very similar premise up front. Superpowers have become normalized in society. The main character is a powerless kid who obsesses over heros, particularly the greatest one who has spectacular power but also a dark secret. And the powerless kid suddenly gets a power, but not one he can easily use to do awesome things like he originally thought.

In Evan’s case, though, the story takes darker turns. Captain Commanding has it out for Evan after Evan helps him out in a fight against the strongest Hood, Spartanicus. The hero school Evan attends will train him to be a Mask, but they also have complete legal authority over him, and can override his parents on everything. And the reason meta-humans exist . . .

I did like how well Evan could navigate even without a flashy power, and especially how he finds creative ways to use his abilities to actually fight. I liked the conversation he has with his parents about that first fight, too, where they’re urging him to consider what it actually means that he can now go so far beyond human boundaries. And I liked the entertaining take on many of his classes. Combat with Dinnerware was easily my favorite.

Sometimes the superhero homages made less sense. A class in quipping? And I get having superhero handles, but not being able to choose one yourself sucks a lot of fun out of it (and Evan’s is terrible considering it doesn’t tie into his powers at all, nor is it really a great pair with his Mask’s except that they’re both animal species). And I’m still trying to figure out how radiation from a bomb can cause you to grow jewels under your skin that shoot out laser death-rays (perhaps a different explanation of how the powers are triggered would have sat better with me). Even if it is a very special bomb.

I was also a little disappointed Evan completely skipped out on the memorial. I was hoping to get some insight into the metamorphosis brought up, but the story went in a different direction, so perhaps in a future book. This does leave plenty of room for future stories, and I hope we get at least a few more (please bring aliens, any kind of aliens, whether friendly or not). Evan and his new friends have hardly scratched the surface of what’s going on and what they might one day grow to do.

If you like superpowers, superheros, and don’t mind a somewhat darker take on the whole thing, this is a good read. (For a similar premise, but much more positive story, see My Hero Academia.) I rate this book Recommended.

My Hero Academia

In a world where 80% of the population has some Quirk granting a supernatural ability, real life has come to resemble a comic. Villains prowl the streets, and heros rise up to stop them. Izuku Midoriya wants nothing more than to be a hero, but he’s one of the few Quirkless. Undeterred, he’s set his sights on the most prestigious hero-training high school: UA. Then an encounter with the greatest hero, All Might, gives him an unexpected chance to live out his dream.

I’ve always been fond of superpowers, and My Hero Academia gleefully portrays a huge variety. From augment quirks like the ability to harden one’s body to the ability to manipulate elements like ice and fire to the more alien-looking who sport extra limbs or animal-like features, Quirks can be pretty much anything. Which is not to say all of them are particularly useful, especially for those who want to become heros.

With such a huge percentage of the population sporting some type of power, heros have somewhat supplanted the police when it comes to managing crime. Most of the villains they deal with are low-level criminals, and some heros choose to focus more on rescue operations than crime-fighting. Either way, heros tend to be celebrities, and none more so than All Might. His trademark smile and catchphrase—combined with a staggering amount of physical strength—has made him the top hero.

I really liked what the series does with All Might. He’s traditionally heroic, with a strong sense of justice, but he can also be goofy. His larger-than-life public persona hides a wrecked, weakened man failing from an old injury. I liked his brutal honesty telling Izuku that attempting to be a hero without power was pretty much impossible, and pointing him towards the police as an alternative if he wants to still help people out. I liked that he can admit when he makes mistakes (although I still don’t think he was wrong pointing out that what Izuku can do against superpowered villains is going to be severely limited without some ability of his own). It’s also interesting that for all his greatness (and he is great in a lot of ways), All Might isn’t perfect, and he has his own areas to grow. The strong teacher-student relationship between the him and Izuku, which in many ways is also a father-son dynamic, lends a touching depth to the story.

Because Izuku does end up with a Quirk after all: he inherits All Might’s powers.

From there Izuku must struggle to master the insanely powerful Quirk he now possesses, because although he now has the power to be the hero he always dreamed, the Quirk is in many ways too much for him. So he ends up trying to solve most of his problems without using his Quirk, as using it will break whatever part of his body he tried to strengthen. Izuku is an interesting lead because he frequently shows his thinking is going in a totally different direction than one might expect. He’s a long-term planner, and his hero-worship gave him a vast knowledge of various Quirks and fighting styles. But even beyond that, as he quickly demonstrates in the initial chapters, he’s humble, and inclined to believe better of others than himself. He also understands that he’s starting from the bottom in many ways, and that drives him to work incredibly hard to try to catch up.

In addition to Izuku, the story digs into many of the other students that share his class. The most prominent is Bakugo, someone Izuku has known since they were little, and whose strong Quirk has left him with a mountain-sized ego and a vengeful attitude. But it’s the little nuances to his character that make him such a fun one to follow. Bakugo’s always been the best—but at UA, all the students are the best of the best, and he’s in the odd situation of not only having peers but being outclassed. And despite his looks and attitude proclaiming him a delinquent, he works just as hard as Izuku and refuses to do anything that might get in the way of him becoming the top hero. (Amusingly, one chapter reveals he’s actually got higher grades than Izuku: he may be hot-tempered and short-sighted, but he’s NOT stupid. Which will get very interesting if he manages to put the pieces together about Izuku’s transformation.)

The class, teachers, and villains who round out the cast are also interesting for the most part, though for the sake of length I’ll avoid talking about all of them. Aizawa, Izuku’s homeroom teacher, is one of my favorites. His Quirk is the ability to erase other people’s Quirks (which seems incredibly useful for a teacher at this kind of school, although he rarely has to use it on the students). Although he’s scruffy and disinterested in those without potential, he cares just as much for his students as All Might, and goes to tremendous lengths to protect them from evil.

All in all, if you’ve read or watched any shounen manga or anime you should have a good idea what you’re in for: lots of high-octane fights, a massive cast, interesting powers, and an epic story slowly unfolding through the various smaller challenges the characters must face. As of this post, the anime just finished its 13-episode run, which was my initial introduction to the series. It was hard to stop after episode 13 so I got caught up on the manga in the meantime; the anime is a faithful adaptation, though it’s only gotten through a relatively small part of the chapters released to date. But season 2 is coming! I rate this series Highly Recommended.