Wearing the Cape. It's the story of how a young woman, just getting out of high school, gains super powers and teams up with the most powerful group of heroes on the planet and helps thwart a time-travelling madman.
The backstory is that, just a few years ago, there was rash of people who suddenly and inexplicably gained super powers. It was called The Event, and seemingly regular people would spontaneously generate these powers in times of extreme duress. Not everybody -- just enough to quickly call into being a few hundred, maybe a thousand, individuals who could now fly or shoot lasers from their eyes or turn invisible or whatever. Many of them banded together in the model of the Avengers or the Justice League. Others took more personal advantage of their new abilities and became celebrities of various sorts -- ranging from Hollywood actors to politicians. Others were more selfish and turned to crime. The heroes, while they did fight super villains, mostly acted as super-efficient first responders to disasters of varying magnitudes. They not only had a good network established among the different groups, but also with various organizations ranging from the police to the Red Cross.
In the midst of this, Hope Corrigan finds herself caught in an explosion as she was driving along the highway. Before any heroes can show up to start helping, though, she's tossing cars and chunks of asphalt around to dig herself out before going on to rescue others trapped in nearby debris. Her "breakthrough" is naturally noticed, and the premier superhero of them of all, Atlas, escorts her back to his team's headquarters. The story then follows her training as Atlas' sidekick Astra, at times kind of a baptism by fire, culminating in the take-down of a time-traveler who's been popping in and out sporadically throughout the story.
One of the problems I frequently see in starting new superhero universes is that the creators get too wrapped up in explaining the backstory and dragging the main narrative to a grinding halt. Harmon manages to avoid that by building off many of the superhero tropes that already exist. There's never an explanation of "The Event" -- some people just suddenly had super powers. And despite seeing dozens of heroes and villains in the book, we don't learn much of anything about most of them. Because we don't need to. While characters like Rush and Blackstone are necessary to the overall story, their origins are not. We get only as much information as we need to follow the story, and are only provided that information when we need it so there's not any long passages of exposition just to give readers background. It's sprinkled in throughout the book, so there's plenty of texture without making the reader try to digest it all at once.
Another problem I've seen repeatedly is that the authors are so focused on their protagonist(s) that they don't pay much attention to the world the characters inhabit. Here again Harmon shines, as he clearly shows a lot of thought into how the sudden appearance of superheroes would impact society on the whole. Without a decades-old history that you might find in the Marvel and DC mythos, how would these people act and interact with police and fire departments and the government and ordinary people? He talks about a "villain rap" subculture where normal people idolize and emulate the superficial elements of some super villains. There's an ongoing concern about people who try to jumpstart their "breakthrough" and accidentally wind up committing suicide. Plus the semi-obligatory fan groups and tabloid reporters and such. Harmon has put a lot of thought into what would happen in today's society if we suddenly saw superheroes start flying over head, and that provides a lot of texture and a sense of realism to the story.
Harmon also put a lot of thought into his story structure too. The narrative is built very well, and despite clocking in at over 300 pages, there's not much in the way of padding. Most everything is there for a reason, and that's to help move the story along. We get plenty of character moments, too, but they service the larger story. Lots of tidbits that are dropped early in the book get picked up on later, some becoming significant plot points. A fair amount of foreshadowing, too, but generally done in an eloquent way that doesn't blatantly reveal where the story is headed.
The one issue I had was with Hope's love interest in the latter half of the book. While it did make sense, and was needed to be introduced to get to the book's conclusion, it felt a little sudden. And with as much conscious work with set-ups as Harmon did with the other story elements, this came off as a bit tacked on. Like he realized he needed it to set up the ending properly, but didn't want to go back and rework earlier portions of the book. It's really only a chapter or two out of forty-five, and they're not written badly, just that it came as a somewhat sudden turn.
Overall, I thought it was an excellent book. Definitely a better superhero story than I've read in printed comics in many years, and a more positive and hopeful (if you'll excuse the pun) superhero yarn than I've seen in any media outlet in many years. There are some really good superhero webcomics out there right now, but for my money, Harmon does a better job nailing all the things that drew me to superheroes in the first place. It might not be a comic book itself, but Harmon has clearly taken his cues from the comics, not the movies, and turned in a better comic (albeit one written entirely in prose) than I've seen Marvel or DC publish in years.
I originally picked up the Kindle version of Wearing the Cape this past summer but only just got around to reading it. I enjoyed it so much, though, that went straight back to Amazon as soon as I finished to pick up the sequels. The paperback retails for $14.99 and the Kindle edition for $7.99.
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