Heroine Complex, Fun Superhero Romp

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.

The Diabolical Miss Hyde, A Review

The steampunk phenomenon takes the best of Verne and Wells style science fiction and mixes in a sense of magic among the technology. The costumes feature Victorian-elegance and detailing, the art forms often carry a touch of the grotesque, and the story possibilities are boundless.

The Diabolical Miss Hyde: An Electric Empire Novel by [Carr, Viola]In literature, Viola Carr‘s The Diabolical Miss Hyde stands out as an easy-to-read murder mystery that has the protagonist moving through theaters, jails, magic undergrounds, and insane asylums. Dr. Eliza Jekyll serves as a forensic scientist in a culture that easily dismisses women. Like her famous father, she battles an internal foe, Lizzie Hyde. The extra personality resembles a drug addiction, which Eliza must fight while assisting her police friend solve homicides in gritty London without interference from the government sponsored Royal Society.

In terms of voice, Ms. Carr excelled in this novel. Though much of the story comes from Eliza’s viewpoint in third person, the real narrator of the story is Lizzie Hyde who uses first person perspective. Where this change might sound confusing, it actually strongly delineates the two women in a clear and immediate way for the reader.

Her steampunk world was engaging as well. The Royal Society, led by a mysterious arbitrator of science purity, keeps an iron-clad control on scientific discoveries, burning those individuals who go against ancient principles or smack of magic. As a result, scientific investigations have become stunted while the fairies and other magical creatures have gone to the slums and dark alleys as well as underground in caverns. In some ways, Lizzie fits better in this dark slum world than Eliza does in her scientific one.

The story divides between Jekyll’s ongoing fight to control her own demons, and the investigation of a crime that features the mutilation of beautiful women and the collection of body parts. Along the way, Ms. Carr incorporates vague references to literary greats other than the creator of the Jekyll and Hyde classic, Robert Louis Stevenson. Side mentions include a reference to Tesla’s work, a vampire in the asylum, Dr. Frankenstein’s experiments, and the legend of the werewolf.

The ending, like many books, sets up the two main characters to continue into a series. In fact, two more have come out in the last two years. Whereas Ms. Carr hints at a developing relationship between Eliza/Lizzie and the Royal Society Enforcer, Remy Lafayette, it never devolves into saccharine sacrifice of her giving up her career or position to the man. Such plot twists are common in Victorian literature but irritating to 21st century women.  The Diabolical Miss Hyde remains at its heart a feminist novel as well as a mystery, making it more enjoyable to modern audiences.

I highly recommend this mystery, particularly if you love steampunk and/or a new look at old stories. Unlike some others in this genre, Ms. Carr doesn’t bury the story in overdone romance or difficult Victorian writing styles. This makes the book easier to read and allows the audience to focus on the mystery rather than the art of the genre.

The Diabolical Miss Hyde was published in 2015 by Harper Voyager.