The comic book genre floods the movie market and, I assume, has prompted an increased interest into the often-underrated comic books as a media. Certainly, graphic novels have grown in popularity. Many of these stories deal with the angst and uncommon lifestyle of the super hero. Yet other than the cute movie, Sky High, very few deal with the life of the sidekick or support team. After all, much of the work, or at least rebuilding and redecorating, falls on someone else after the hero has kicked some ass and taken his/her bows.
Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn focuses on the San Francisco superhero Aveda Jupiter as seen through the eyes of her personal assistant, Evie Tanaka. The book starts with a hilarious scene of Jupiter handling a case of teeth-gnashing demonic cupcakes while Evie and her crew are attempting to film the event for social media. However, publicity is only one part of Evie’s job, along with cleaning up demon blood out of the heroine’s clothes and controlling Jupiter’s tantrums when the world doesn’t seem to love her enough.
Things become more complicated when Jupiter becomes too injured during training to keep up with the demon fighting and classy social events. Using a little magic help from her high school buddies, Evie Tanaka does what any good sidekick would do. She disguises herself as Jupiter and fills in at the social events. Unfortunately, the same events begin to turn into demon fighting, much to Tanaka’s fear and dismay. Whereas Jupiter comes with a superhero ego, martial arts, and flashy quotes, Tanaka is much shyer, keeping rigid control on her emotions to hide her own secret power, creating fire out of emotional overload. Of course, the stress of being a substitute flamboyant Jupiter blows her careful façade apart and the flames start to burn as the demon menace takes on more serious and less sugary forms.
The comic book story is a feminist homage to best-girlfriends-forever thinking. For example, while bedridden with a sprained ankle, Aveda Jupiter obsesses over what the media thinks of her and Evie’s (as her) actions, driving the entire crew crazy with her whines and attitudes. It is also a light commentary on blog bullying since the antagonist of the story is the blog queen of the city who uses fake-friendship quips and nasty personal comments to basically turn popularity away from the superhero.
The moral of Heroine Complex falls along the lines of “to thine own self be true.” At the beginning, Evie fears and hides not only her conflicted emotions of being a sidekick for Jupiter and substitute parent for her sister, but also her own true nature. She fears her fiery power both from its destructive nature and how it will push her into the limelight, possibly at odds with her best friend. In order to save the day, she must learn to regulate her emotions, accept her true feelings, and find her own way in the world by letting go of issues as much as accepting them. This is a tall order for Evie Tanaka, who has always put others before herself.
Sarah Kuhn’s book is well written and amusing throughout. Tanaka is likable enough for the reader to root for her even when she seems to be obtuse about factors in her own life and her own personality quirks. In the end, saving the day becomes a team effort as she accepts her own superhero ability and creates a persona that is much more comfortable for her rather than trying to mimic others. The only downside, in my personal opinion, was the foul language threaded through the book. The conversations sounded real and contemporary, which I suppose does include a lot of F-bombs, but as an older person I found them unnecessary.
All in all, I would highly recommend this quick, enjoyable urban fantasy, particularly for anyone looking for a new view of the comic book genre. The heroines are not too Superman-powerful and come with a lot of heart and human worries, all the while looking great in spiked heels and spandex.
Kuhn, Sarah Heroine Complex. Daw Books, Inc. 2016.