In Part 3 of Bit by Bloody Bit Corrupts Absolutely? edition, the review column for taking apart books limb by bloody limb, we take a look at the next five stories in this dark metahuman anthology. Now beyond the halfway point, we continue to delve into the cruel reality of meta-human life like the previous five stories, but instead of grappling with their own personal demons it’s the corruption of others that put them in danger.
First up is Joe McKinney’s “Hero.” McKinney introduces Robert Hanover, a man with the power of premonition–exactly seven minutes and twenty-two seconds into the future–and Dr. Lange who is working with Hanover in the insane asylum where he now resides. Hanover wasn’t always a crazy man confessing his woes to a doctor in the nuthouse. Once a media darling, saving lives left and right, his ego turned the public against him. Now he is denyed that much needed attention. Dr. Lange seems unimpressed with Hanover’s claims despite the undeniable heroism he’s shown in the past. McKinney’s story demonstrates that it’s not always the superhero’s ego we have to watch out for. There are plenty of other people that will be inclined to exploit the gift. McKinney is known for his horror as well as crime fiction with a heavy police procedural angle, but he weaves a delectably suspenseful yarn with “Hero.” He builds the tension between Hanover and Dr. Lange without spoiling the ending and includes little details to throw the reader off as well–Hanover calls Dr. Lange by his first name, Gene, which Lange attributes to his narcissism, but could these men have a past history? While I had questions that were never answered, I could appreciate that McKinney was coercing me into thinking outside the story and this was one of my favorites in the entire anthology.
“Pride” by Wayne Ligon shows that superheroes aren’t exempt from the corrupt world of politics. In fact, they are perfect targets for a politician’s selfish agenda and unfair legislation. Calvin Carmichael is a young meta-human trying to overcome his dark past. Carmichael worked as sidekick Kid Kinetic for the Detroit’s Teen Corps One. When his mentor put a woman in a wheelchair after a botched job, Kid Kinetic took the blame. Now, he works construction with the threat of prison looming over him like a dark cloud and all it would take is one more screw up to put him away for life. Of course, this makes Carmichael an obvious candidate for playing the fall guy (again!) when the Detroit Mayor’s plans for expansion are threatened. Like McKinney’s tale before it, Ligon’s “Pride” takes a more realistic approach to a world of metahumans. Ligon also introduces an important real world component — metahuman legislation. In a world with superheroes, there would have to be laws and regulations to control their activity. Ligon addresses the social implications of a metahuman world without bogging his story down with too much legislation talk, but instead uses it as a backdrop for the main action. For a story about a kid with superhuman strength and power, Ligon spins a believably realistic yarn.
Keeping consistent with this group of stories, “G-Child” by Malon Edwards is a tale about the marginalization of methumans. In this short, Aieesha (a.k.a. Bliss) and her partner Ray J (a.k.a. Rayge) are the result of an experimental prenatal supplement. Luckily these children were born healthy, but have the unfortunate side effect of superpowers. This has alienated them from parents they love and need most. Relegated to the institution that created them, both Aieesha and Ray J suffer from emotional turmoil. When this story opens Ray J has gone rogue, destroying homes and putting innocent lives in danger. Aieesha is there in hopes of reigning him in. Initially I struggled to get into this story. “G-Child” is a high action narrative from the opening and I was a little confused about what was going on and the relationship between Aieesha and Ray J. The turning point for me was when Edwards started to intersperse flashbacks in the present day storyline. The reader gets some much needed background on the origin of Aieesha and Ray J, but also a heartbreaking glimpse into how this life has impacted our protagonists. The element I’ve enjoyed most about many of the stories in this collection is the realism the authors bring to this supernatural fantasy world. Edwards does this successfully with “G-Child” as well. Even though I found the opening to be a bit disjointed I found both Aieesha and Ray J to be sympathetic characters that heightened the harshness of Edward’s metahuman world. This author also addresses how these superbeings might act out given the emotional abuse they suffer. Aieesha, like any other angsty teen, finds unhealthy ways to deal with her internal demons, but when you’re a superhuman they’re particularly dangerous.
Jason Gehlert’s “Static” goes in more of a supernatural direction with a story about a spirit resurrected. Skylar comes from beyond the grave, taking over the body of Jamison, to challenge New York City police officers Lincoln Carter and Joe Buchanan for signing his death sentence years ago. Gehlert’s police procedural focuses on the battle between Skylar (in Jamison’s body) and Officers Carter and Buchanan, but the reader never has the opportunity to connect with any of the characters. I wasn’t necessarily rooting for Carter and Buchanan to defeat the resurrected criminal Skylar, but I wasn’t cheering for him either. I also didn’t feel particularly bad for Jamison, the innocent vessel caught up in this battle. Without having that connection with at least one character in the story I found it difficult to stay engaged. Skylar is genuinely creepy and I found the scenes between him and Jamison most effective. There were horror elements, which have been mostly absent from this collection, and there are extensive fight scenes that fans of action will enjoy. I still would have liked to have characters I could connect with beyond the surface. Since the stories that precede “Static,” and the one following, focus on the human component of metahuman and the psychology of that existence, this story felt a bit out of place as a straight up action narrative.
Karina Fabian’s “Illusion” returns to the exploration of personal tragedy in being a superhuman. Deryl Stephens is thirteen years, four months, and seven days old. He is in eighth grade. His favorite subject is science. He likes metrology best. His worst subject is Social Studies. He has to repeat that mantra multiple times everyday because Deryl can hear everyone’s thoughts and has seemingly no control over his gift. To Deryl this is a curse. The voices flood his head in an unceasing cacophony of chaotic, foreign thought. Fabian’s sad drama is much like Edward M. Erdelac’s “Conviction” in that both deal with a young child not quite in control of his power, but who also have the likelihood of misusing their strength to lash out at those who have hurt them. Both Fabian and Erdelac’s perspective on metahumans show the terror and isolation of having power you don’t understand. Fabian easily gains the reader’s sympathy for Deryl, illustrating his pain and anguish exquisitely.
Despite a little misstep in the placement of the action driven narrative, “Static,” amid the dramatic, psychological driven stories, Corrupts Absolutely? continues to offer a wide range of dark metahuman fiction. At the 15th story mark, editor Crisler shows there is much to offer in the realm of superhero fiction from the authors he has picked for this collection.
Stop back next week for part 4 of Bit by Bloody Bit! Link to Part 4 here.