The Greatest American Superhero Novel

My thanks to San Francisco’s own Eric Searleman for this truly terrific review on his blog, superheronovels.com. Check him out!

Superhero Novels

VillainsSidekick We don’t want to read a Hulk novel written by Jonathan Franzen. Nor do we want to see Lorrie Moore’s name listed in the table of contents of a new Wild Cards anthology. Even though Franzen and Moore are incredibly talented authors, we’re not pining for them to write the Great American Superhero Novel.

All we want is a tightly wound adventure filled with great humor, hyper magniloquence, and preposterous characters. We want it to be clever and a little bit naughty too. Is that too much to ask?

Stephen T. Brophy has written such a book. The Villain’s Sidekick is everything we’re looking for in superhero fiction. It’s funny and ridiculous and a little bit raunchy. As an extra bonus, the author also includes a couple of “aw-shucks” moments for added value. Compared to everything else in our tiny genre bubble, Brophy has written the perfect novel.

HandCannon is a…

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Razorcake Review

Because punk zine Razorcake is something that people of a certain age might be familiar with as a “print publication” and doesn’t put the bulk of its content online, I feel compelled to share this recent review of “The Villain’s Sidekick” by laboriously typing it in by hand.

“Like you and me, Duke a.k.a. “Hand Cannon” has problems. He’s got a resentful ex-wife, a custody battle, a shitty apartment, and a cat to feed. He’s got a criminal record, debts to pay, and he’s on parole for past drug-fueled misdeeds. Oh, and he’s a giant man with a machine gun arm, a steel jaw, and an infrared camera eye who just got his ass kicked by a small-time vigilante and failed to deliver the goods to his boss. Fans of film noir and true crime whodunits will relish The Villain’s Sidekick, as it employs classic tactics of both; lush mental visuals of dark and dangerous urban sprawl, unexpected murders with several suspects to investigate, concise storytelling through the inner monologue of a complex protagonist, and dialogue inflected with mob-style slang. A short, fast read, it hits the ground running with action from page one.

Parts of this book bear awkward markers of a first novel. A level of cheesiness is inevitable with superheroes, but monikers like HandCannon, Heatsource, and Nightguard make one wonder whether we’re actually talking about industrial-strength cleaning products. Female characters are flat and underdeveloped, with descriptions revolving around their sex appeal; Miss Thang, Bitch Goddess, Twiliter. What’s a good film noir without a femme fatale, or a strong love interest?  A notable exception is Duke’s six-year-old daughter, Cordelia, who is the brains of the final operation to take down the bad guy–though in this case, it’s technically the good guy. We’re on the villain’s side, and Duke’s nuanced, human relatability is the book’s strongest trait. Most punk rockers have that been misfit schmo who takes issue with authority and struggles to make something of themselves in a harsh world. It’s pure entertainment, but The Villain’s Sidekick would make a good quick read on a long plane trip, or perhaps in the back of a van on tour.”–Claire Palermo

While the review is (justifiably) critical in spots, I was pleased with it for a few reasons. One, because it’s always nice to be reviewed by someone who clearly knows how to write well themselves, and because at least some of those criticisms are dead accurate. Now, the cheesy character names I will defend with my life because hey, there’s satire here and those barrel-scraping monikers are most definitely part of the joke. But the accusations of sexism-through-author-laziness I’ll totally cop to. It’s something that bugged me enough when I finished the original draft that I made efforts to go back and strengthen Twiliter’s character as much as the demands of story allowed. But more importantly, it’s informed much of what I’m doing with the novel-length sequel, which alternates between HandCannon’s and (the now former) Twiliter’s first-person POVs as they embark on parallel adventures. Likewise, there’s more for Cordelia, Duke’s ex Liza, and a number of other female characters, both good and bad, to do. And while some of these characters do engage in sexual acts, they most certainly aren’t defined by their sexuality (well, not exclusively–I’m sure I indulge in incidental male gaze in a few spots, but I’m tryin’). Anyway, I thought it was a solid, thoughtful review and deserved a look for whatever fans might be out there.