Don't Be a Hero by Chris Strange (REVIEW)

As a teenager, I probably spent more time in comic books stores than was wise, and certainly spent far more money there than I care to remember. I witnessed the rise of of superstars like Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee, enjoyed Tim Burton's stunning cinematic rebirth of Batman on the big screen, and suffered through Sidney J. Furie's death-blow to the Superman franchise on VHS. I saw comic books stores explode across North America . . . and then slowly die of attrition a the 'coolness' factor of comic books waned once again.

While I stepped away from the comic book world when the reboots and restarts made it clear the writers had run out of stories, I never lost my love of superheroes. As a result, I'm always on the lookout for new books that feature superhero themes. They're generally hit-or-miss, but Don't Be a Hero is definitely more hit than miss. From the writing style, to the characters, to the storyline, to the dialogue, it's clear Chris Strange has not just a love for the genre, but an understanding for what makes it work.

Yes, it's derivative and cliched at times, but honestly so. Strange wears his superhero cape proudly, and tells precisely the kind of story you might expect. Simultaneously, it's also daring and original at times, with some rather unique touches that undeniably make the story his. Rather than reuse another nameless, faceless, booming North American metropolis, he transplants us to the streets of New Zealand, giving us a setting that's familiar, but which has room for invention. It's a world where mankind has made it to the Moon, establishing a colony for unwanted superheroes, but still gets by with steampunk-ish technology.

Similarly, he resists the urge to go with either the 'super' masculine or the endearingly geeky hero, giving us instead a lesbian superhero - one who's disillusioned and cynical, but otherwise quite ordinary. Heck, there's even a sidekick with the corny "guess my power" name of Carpenter, but he provides a nice balance to Spook. As for the villain of the story, he's very well-crafted, a character who serves as both a worthy foil and source of tangible menace - and who, it must be said, has some memorable henchmen. Strange clearly understands that at the heart of every great superhero tale is that balance . . . that conflict . . . that dichotomy of good versus evil. Without a worthy adversary, even the greatest superhero is just an impressive guy (or gal) in tights, and Quanta certainly helps to make Spook matter.

After a pair of superhero-themed novels that I left unfinished last year, and another pair that I quite enjoyed, I was curious to see how Strange would tilt the balance. Fortunately, this is another story that I quite enjoyed, and one that has me anxious to see what he'll do next. Not only does he keep superheroes cool, he makes then fun again.