We are nearing the home stretch of the Bit by Bloody Bit Corrupts Absolutely? edition. This is the Final Chapter where we wrap up the closing stories in the dark metahuman fiction collection. Unlike the Friday the 13th entry by the same name, editor Lincoln Crisler will not come back from the grave to torment you and other mentally unstable residents of a backwoods halfway house. Not yet anyway.
I think Crisler’s team of author-heroes have almost exhausted every possible angle to dark metahuman fiction. While some of the superheroes featured in these stories are inherently corrupt by their own evil, others are puppets of the government, and others still are driven to corruption from the pain and anger of abuse and exploitation. Until now, the majority of the stories in this collection highlight the human element in metahuman, tugging on the heartstrings of the readers as we are offered a glimpse into the psyche of man and woman burdened with superpower.
This anthology closes with a healthy mix of metahuman tales, but many of the stories celebrate the Tony Stark and Bruce Waynes of superherodom. They are powerful corporate moguls for whom monetary influence isn’t enough. Or in other cases, they use their endless funds to control the superhero game, rigging a system to work in their favor, and never for the little guys.
We finally get some much needed female sex appeal in Anthony Laffan’s “Sabre” which features a powerful, seductive protagonist Leandra Shields, a.k.a. superhero Sabre. Katy Pierce, a journalist with The Informer, is determined to prove there is a connection between Sabre and Miss Shield’s company Aegis Inc. “Sabre” is one of the shorter shorts in this collection and more of the beginning of a story than a complete tale, but with an undeniably sexy edge that will leave the reader wiping drool from their mouth. I run the risk of revealing too much by saying more since this is a very brief story, but the heavy eroticism, while understated, was a welcomed surprise.
While the first two stories in this section have a bit of fun with the traditional superhero mythos, Lee Mather’s “Crooked” is a dark and violent drama. When we meet up with Leon Light, a.k.a. Lightfingers, he is making his way to Dale Howard’s place, though at the time we’re not sure why, then he heads over to his former girl Willa’s place. When he gets there Willa is missing along with their kid. Leon Lightfingers has been on the run from Jimmy Delvita, the Mouth of Truth, after taking his money for sixteen years, but his past has finally caught up with him. The history between Leon and Jimmy is deep. He took Leon in when he was just a kid, starting him in his burglary racket. All the sordid details play out from the time Leon is picked up by one of Jimmy’s henchman at Willa’s to the blistering finale at Jimmy’s headquarters. “Crooked” is one of the few stories in this collection with strong horror elements. Both Jimmy and Leon have acquired their power in tragic accidents. The former proudly displays a scar across his stomach known as the Mouth of Truth which mimics Jimmy’s emotion in its varying forms. And the latter can control objects with his mind, the result of a crippling beat down, and subsequent stroke, by his father. Only one can survive this final standoff. Vicious and cruel, “Crooked” is a heartbreaking story with a satisfying twist.
We get back into the mechanical gadgetry of superheroes with Trisha J. Wooldridge’s “Fixed.” Victoria Chattham works for a real asshole of a boss – excuse my language – Broderick. Despite her over qualifications in engineering, she’s treated like a glorified secretary. She also sports a prototype prosthetic arm, a project in which she was lead engineer. This bionic arm becomes the focal point of the story. Broderick needs her expertise to make an entire suit of the same caliber. This may sound a lot like Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit, but this story isn’t about the suit or Broderick, it’s about Victoria breaking free from his corrupt power and taking back what is rightfully hers. But that requires hard work and late hours, both threatening to breakup her already fragile marriage with Bill, a serious hothead. Wooldridge reveals the volatile relationship between Victoria and Bill tactfully and the tension between them is palpable. The only trouble was I wasn’t particularly interested in them making it work. As I mentioned, Bill is a hothead, but not just a little irrational, he is at times violent and often whiny. I feel like I may have missed an integral point to what drives this relationship, besides their children. Victoria was relatable though. She’s obviously strong and highly intelligent, but marginalized for more than just her disability – she’s a Hispanic female in a predominantly male field. A minor downside for me, though, was a majority of the scenes were focused on the mechanics of the project Victoria is working on with heavy mechanical speak that went right over my head. This made it difficult for me to stay engaged. At the same time, that’s the point of the story! I suspect that fans who dabble in straight sci-fi, or fans that are less superficial than myself, won’t have that complaint. Don’t get me wrong, I like straight sci-fi too, but I struggle with too much technobabble.
Next up is a piece from a writer with a name worthy of only a tried and true badass, Cat Rambo and her short “Acquainted with the Night.” She has either the coolest name or pen name in the history of names. “Acquainted with the Night” is heavy on the supernatural elements focusing on a group of superheroes, the Weather Team, that enjoy a bit of pleasure with their work, in particular our protagonist Captain Hurricane. Unfortunately, Captain Hurricane can’t have the love he truly pines for, an alien from beyond Betelgeuse named Waterlily Elegance. “When she returned home to engage in the mating ritual that would lead to her explosion in a rain of seeds,” Captain Hurricane finds himself in the arms of Sunshine Princess. He can’t shake his infatuation for Waterlily Elegance and Sunshine Princess’ affection only fuels his anger and depression further. Too bad his convienent lay bears real fruit and Sunshine Princess reveals that she is with child. This is much like a fantasy-fueled Jerry Springer episode in its dramaticism, but despite this Rambo makes the whole tragedy play out in beautiful prose. All this culminates in a gut-wrenching conclusion that will turn any reader’s stomach. “Acquainted with the Night” has very light and dreamy prose, but seriously dark subject matter. Bravo to Cat Rambo for offering up a piece that lives up to the soft / hard dichotamy of her name.
That wraps up this edition of Bit by Bloody Bit. Remember when I said there would be no ressurection? OK, I lied. I know this isn’t the way to foster healthy relationships, but I promise this is the last time ;)
I’ll be back next week with the final two stories in this collection and the wrap-up!