Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book review: Masks, by RM Hendershot.

To begin with, all of the heroes were dead. Dead as a doornail. Ten years ago, they were all slaughtered as part of a supervillain’s killing spree after he learned that he was dying of cancer. After that, no superheroes call LA their home anymore.

Enter Rae Masterson , the “mask” known as Peregrine -- powerless, unless you count snark as a superpower. She has nine arrests under her belt, even though five of them have been of Captain Catastrophe, whose name is suitable in more ways than one. Our story opens with Rae witnessing the kidnapping made by one of the local supervillains, Cobalt.

In another part of the universe, Trevor Gray, a former sidekick, modeled somewhere along the lines of Tim Drake, has been recruited by one of his fellow homeless to find his friend – someone who had been kidnapped by Cobalt.  He's a genius-level detective ... but he still can't understand girls.

As Rae and Trevor investigate the abduction from two different angles, they run into each other, and hilarity ensues.

Welcome to the world of Masks, by RM Hendershot, a superhero novel that openly states that this will be "different" from all the others out there.  Is the author right?

I generally don’t like Young Adult novels. You have to get someone very specific and very good to get me to bother with one. Timothy Zahn, David Weber, Peter David, CS Lewis, are the few authors of YA books that I’ve read and that I’ve liked. Take your Hunger Games and your Twilight, and I’ll sooner given you back Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Chronicles of Nick first.

However, I like this one. It’s witty, and it’s fun, and it’s smart. It’s better than anything comic books – the usual medium for such things – has put out in years.  Unless you count J. Michael Straczynski.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and that’s not because I helped with one of the death traps. It has a lot of stuff most comics lack – character, for one. Everyone here has a surfeit of personality, even the bad guy, and the sidekicks, and the local superman equivalent (everyone has at least one). Chapter eleven has a shootout between three female characters, and not one mudwrestling joke…. someone should send it to DC Comics.

Everyone in it has a solid story arc ... or a character arc, if you prefer. And our hero and heroine have some good, natural chemistry.

It has the snobbery of high school, the stupidity of bureaucracies (in short, it's very realistic) and, the most important part: this book doesn’t treat the audience like they’re stupid.  The last time I saw someone treat the audience like this with superheroes it was Straczynski. It has offhand references to the Fischer King of Arthur, and even Universal monster movies. They also have some nice nods to actual comic books -- there is a Busiek hall, named after the creator of Astro City, a Lieber hall, named after Stanley Martin Lieber, who also goes by the name Stan Lee.

Not to mention, I also like the art. I’d post a few samples, but they’re not mine to post. No, this isn’t illustrated; they’re just pictures at the opening of each chapter, that’s all. But they’re nice and straightforward, and I can tell who’s who. Which puts the artwork above some Marvel comics I’ve read.

All in all, it was fun. There were some nicely executed Hitchcockian moments along the way, as well as some moments that J. Michael Straczynski would love.  Is it Les Miserables? No, of course not -- the book's too short.  But it's fun.  But Ms. Hendershot also has a plan, and a multiple-book arc, so we'll see how it all shakes out. 

The novel is quite enjoyable. I recommend it to anyone who believes in truth, justice, intelligence, and heart.  And ghost cowboys. Can't forget the ghost cowboys.

Buy it here -- seriously, for some reason, it's disappeared from Amazon and B&N.

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