Saturday, March 11, 2017

Truth, Justice, and the Lovecraftian Way

Let’s be honest.  James is a superhero.

Okay, so he’s powered by an alien sentience.  It’s not like Marvel isn’t littered with those.
Okay, so he starts out as a murderous weapon for hire.  It’s not like Marvel isn’t littered with those.

Think about it.  He meets all the criteria.  Lightning fast reflexes?  Check.  Super-strength?  Check.  Alter-go?  Check.  Gal pal?  Check.  He even has his own sort of Commissioner Gordon in the form of the Cobb and Tom show.  Orphan?  Check and check.  The only thing he’s missing is brightly colored tights and a cape, and I have high hopes those will show up in the sequel.
Where James departs from the mold is that his story arc mirrors that of the typical Stan Lee/Jack Kirby character.  Instead of a goony loner given superpowers and learning to use them responsibly in a world where he can act like a god, you have a goony loner with god-like superpowers thrust into a world where he’s just another player and learning to use his powers responsibly.

All right, so it’s not a total inversion, but you get the idea.
Misha Burnett’s timing with James was note perfect.  He doesn’t come off well in the earliest parts of the story, and it’s only the sudden threat posed by Dr. Madeline Klein combined with Madeline’s actions that lend him any sympathy.  Victor was obviously the evil brains of the outfit, and Klein suffering James to live while snuffing out Victor provides enough uncertainty and hope in the reader to follow along with James for another chapter at least.  Then he turns down Godiva’s first advance – and oh thank God for that, had this book gone the tentacle mouth porn route I’d’ve aborted faster than NASA on a cloudy day – and we are reminded of his humanity.

Each passing revelation, even those that lead to further mysteries, reassures the reader that James really is the good guy here.  He neutralizes Tom and Cobb without killing them, for instance.  He grew up on the streets with only Catskinner to guide him.  All of this, combined with his tentative steps to achieve a greater intimacy, work to draw the reader into his world, and to root for him to make it through the book better, stronger, and somehow more human than when the book began.
He may not be the hero you’re used to, but that doesn’t make him any less super.

1 comment:

  1. I hadn't thought about it in quite those terms, but you're right--James & Catskinner go from being superhuman among ordinary people to being superhuman among other superhumans. This actually continues through the rest of the books as I introduce more kinds of superhuman characters.

    And I do have some tentacle porn in the later books. Not a lot, just two explicit scenes in four books. But it is there.