The Astounding Antagonists by Rafael Chandler
At the urging of his alien partner in crime, Helen Damnation, Dr. Argon is putting together a supervillain team to pull off the ultimate crime – the destruction of Helen’s space station to keep it out of the hands of super heroes.
If they pull it off, the world will be free – if not, the heroes will have unprecedented power to impose their vision on the world – a vision garnered from their ivory towers that cares little for the people who are disposed of out of their view.
This book hit all the right notes for me and it’s actually taken me a while to try and find the way to explain just how excellent this book was. I’m struggling because I really don’t know how to truly explain this book without spoiling it.
While there are certainly many elements of the Superhero genre that are willing to go dark, to espouse an anti-hero and even flirt with the ideas of oppression and superheroes being on the wrong side, I don’t think any book I’ve come across has gone as far, as dark or as brutally critical as this one
Rather than aiming for typical castings of good and evil, this book is cruelly scathing on what we ACTUALLY consider good and how that would reflect on superheroes in our world. So we have superheroes with their millionaire secret identities (playboy, genius, scientists) and they have vast, multi-national companies… But vast, multinational companies are responsible for all kinds of abuses – employee rights, pollution, raiding developing nations, having vast influence over governments – how much more so would this be if they were headed by beings with super-powers and the unquestionable support of the populace.
Historic heroes from the US’s Cold War past are still around, champions of the American Way – but super hero comics have used heroes to combat all kinds of real world issues – especially during World War 2 and the Cold War. What is the actual implication of super-powerful beings being involved in a lot of proxy cold-wars, regime changes and a myriad of other actions in the name of fighting communism and/or terrorism? There’s even a superhero slaughtering undocumented migrants along the US/Mexico border.
And, of course, in a world with actual super-villains issues like “due process” and “enhanced interrogation” are much more dire – if “terrorism” has us excusing torture and detention without trial, what would be our reaction to super-powered villains?
In short, the superheroes, the paragons of law and order pretty much do exactly what I would cynically expect paragons of “law and order” to actually do. It’s corrupt, it’s brutal and it’s all the abuses that the powerful can inflict to maintain that power and the system writ large. Especially since the most common way of becoming super heroes, the Prisms, are tightly policed by the superheroes and American government themselves furthering their power and control by controlling this vital new resource. Many of these superheroes are obvious excellent parallels with major DC or Marvel characters