Stack Overflow: Power Up

Reading Time: 8 minutes

In honor of Comic-Con this past week, here’s another Stack Overflow about people with powers. Some of them are superheroes … and some may be something else entirely.

Superheroes AnonymousSuperheroes Anonymous by Lexie Dunne

I mentioned this book in my last Stack Overflow about superheroes, but wanted to revisit now that I’ve finished reading it. The plot centers on Gail Godwin, also known as “Hostage Girl” because of her frequent kidnappings by various villains and subsequent rescuing by the superhero Blaze. First off, I’d say that it’s okay for young adults–there’s some romance involved but there’s nothing explicit, and there’s some PG-13 language. The romance is a little more understated than you’d find in a typical YA novel, which was pleasantly surprising to me.

A couple of things stood out to me: first, this is a story that does pass the Bechdel test. There are multiple female characters, and they talk to each other about more than just guys. (Though there are conversations about guys, too.) There are both male and female superheroes, and Gail evolves beyond the “Hostage Girl” storyline, which is good. I liked the superhero world that Dunne has built, the way that things function, but I don’t want to give away too many spoilers. Suffice it to say that it seems fairly realistic: if there were superheroes in our world, there would be blogs about them, and the news would probably be filled with helicopter villain chases.

The book does end on a big cliffhanger, setting it up for the next book, but I can’t say much more without some spoilers. So if you don’t want those, skip ahead to the next title on the list… Gail is kidnapped by a mysterious Dr. Mobius, who wants to use her as a bargaining chip against Blaze. He does some weird experiments on her, but then something happens and she finds herself free, though missing about a week of her life. And she has some new powers–she’s stronger and faster and her senses are souped up. Pretty soon, she’s inducted into the secret world of superheroes, and that’s when things really get interesting. It’s never entirely revealed what Dr. Mobius was up to, but I imagine perhaps we’ll find out more in the next book. In the meantime, Gail finds herself wrapped up in the shenanigans of a new villain.

Overall, I enjoyed Superheroes Anonymous and I’m curious to see what the next book brings.

Jumper: Griffin's StoryJumper: Griffin’s Story by Steven Gould

Having read the rest of the Jumper series by Steven Gould, I decided to check out Griffin’s Story from the library and read that, too.

Griffin’s Story is a little bit of an oddity. It was published in 2007, shortly before the release of the Jumper movie. The movie itself was based on the first two books but took things in a different direction, and Griffin’s Story takes place in the world of the movie, but isn’t consistent with the rest of the book series.

The central premise, of course, remains the same: the ability to teleport. In this case, it’s Griffin O’Conner, who first discovers his ability to jump when he’s five years old. Pretty soon, there are mysterious people after his family, and they move several times, trying to hide. But when he’s nine, he makes a mistake and his parents pay the price. He barely escapes with his life, and is on his own.

Parts of the story seem parallel to the original book, with Griffin learning more about his powers, making a place to live that’s inaccessible to non-jumpers, and trying to find out more about the people who are hunting him. There are a few differences, though. The most significant may be that the people out to get Griffin are apparently trying to kill him, not just capture him. And they have the ability to detect when somebody jumps near them, which makes them quite formidable.

This book leads into the movie–Griffin eventually meets David Rice (the main character in the movie) and tells him about this war between jumpers and the people hunting them, so it serves as a sort of prequel to the movie.

I liked Griffin’s Story, but not quite as much as the “canonical” books. It bothered me that you never really get the motivation behind the attacks. It is revealed in the movies, but in the books you just end up with this creepy shadow organization with big guns, and you don’t have any idea why they would be trying to kill teleporting kids. Still, I stayed up late finishing it, so it certainly kept my attention.

The DivineThe Divine by Asaf Hanuka, Tomer Hanuka, Boaz Lavie

The Divine is a new graphic novel from First Second Books, and it’s a doozy. I should mention up front that this one isn’t intended for kids: there’s strong language and pretty graphic images of gore.

The story takes place in Quanlom, an obscure Asian country that’s at war. Mark, an explosives expert, gets an offer from his old friend Jason to travel to Quanlom for a military contract: blow up a mountain to give access to minerals. It pays well, and Mark–with a child on the way–really needs the money.

But in Quanlom, things aren’t what they seem. An army of children is led by twin brothers, known as the Divine. They’re said to have magical abilities, to be friends with dragons. When Mark gets caught up in their battle, he witnesses some amazing things (and the aforementioned gore).

The story was inspired by the photo of Johnny and Luther Htoo, the leaders of “God’s Army” in Myanmar. At age 12, they were already seasoned fighters, surrounded by legends of their abilities. The Hanuka twins and Lavie took that photo and the mythical powers, and created a fantastic story around it. The illustrations are remarkable and the story is entrancing.

Ms. Marvel 3: CrushedMs. Marvel 3: Crushed by G. Willow Wilson, Mark Waid, Takeshi Miyazawa, Elmo Bondoc, Humberto Ramos

I’ve been picking up the trade paperbacks of Ms. Marvel when I notice them, and I was pleased to see volume 3 at the store this week. As the back cover proclaims, in this book “Kamala faces a new, terrifying threat: excessive feelings!”

It’s Valentine’s Day, and there’s a school dance–and Loki is involved, in a very funny introduction to this story arc. But then Kamala’s family gets a visit from some old family friends, and she’s surprised to discover a real connection with their handsome, overachiever son. Meanwhile, Bruno, Kamala’s friend and sort-of sidekick, is still struggling with how to express his own feelings–particularly since everyone tells him there’s simply no way it will happen. Don’t worry: there’s still lots of smashing and embiggening in this story, but I like the way that Kamala is growing not just in her powers and abilities, but also just as a young adult.

Also fun: a story from S.H.I.E.L.D. #2, where Agent Jemma Simmons goes undercover at Kamala’s school. I actually hadn’t seen Simmons and Phil Coulson outside of the TV show (I’m currently catching up on Season 2) so it was fun to see them interacting with Ms. Marvel here.

Michael Midas Champion

Michael Midas Champion Book 1 by Jordan Gorfinkel and Scott Benefiel

Michael Midas got his superpowers as a kid when a meteor fell from the sky … or maybe it was while he was eating some radioactive organic yogurt. The story, as told to a young boy by his grandmother, skips around a little, but Michael eventually becomes Champion, the hero of Urbana Falls. He has super strength, but he has to work out to keep his powers.

The first volume is mostly an origin story, though it’s more about setting up the characters than explaining how Michael actually got his strength. Dani, the girl he’s liked since fifth grade. Truck, the class bully (and later, Dani’s boyfriend) who becomes Michael’s arch-nemesis. Burt, Michael’s dorky best friend. And, of course, Michael, who hides behind his mask because despite his super-strength he’s still afraid of being hurt.

There are some brief glimpses of what’s ahead: for one, Michael becomes a father, and he’ll be dealing with a rebellious teenage daughter in his future. When his wife is expecting, he gets a job as a sanitation worker because he doesn’t have any job skills other than beating up bad guys.

Benefiel’s artwork is good, but I felt like some of the characters (Michael and Dani in particular) look a little too much like typical comic-book pretty people. The book is done in a “wide-screen” format, and I enjoyed reading the story, though this first volume feels mostly like a setup for what’s coming later. The central question of the book becomes the tug-of-war between Michael’s responsibility to his family and his duties as a superhero, but this volume ends on a big cliffhanger. I’m curious to see what comes next … but I guess I’ll have to wait, because Volume 1 isn’t even officially out until August 4.

Story ThievesStory Thieves by James Riley

Here’s one for the kids: I read Story Thieves aloud to my kids, and it’s another one that got a lot of laughs throughout. Bethany has a secret–she can go into books, because she’s half-fictional. Yep, her dad was a fictional character but he went missing, and she’s been searching for him in books.

Her classmate, Owen, loves books, particularly the best-selling series about Kiel Gnomenfoot. When he catches Bethany climbing out of a story, he forces her to take him along, because he loves the idea of being in a story and meeting his favorite character. The problem is, where Bethany has always been very cautious about changing stories, Owen’s really just interested in saving one of the main characters from his death … and thus changing the entire direction of the books.

The book reminded me just a little bit of Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart series (another favorite of mine), but for younger readers. It leans more toward the silly side than the serious, and the Kiel Gnomenfoot series is a funny mashup of magic and science fiction. The book is told in alternating chapters focusing on Owen and Bethany, and it really plays around with the idea of stories and the magic of storytelling.

My one major complaint: at one point, the book provides a spoiler about the death of a major character in the Harry Potter series. While my sixth-grader has already read the whole series, my third-grader hasn’t yet. I’d argue that this book is appropriate for a younger audience than the later Harry Potter books, and therefore really shouldn’t include that sort of spoiler. But since I was reading aloud, I was able to just skip over that. If your kid hasn’t finished Harry Potter yet and you like avoiding spoilers, you may want to wait on this one.

My Brother Is a SuperheroMy Brother Is a Superhero by David Solomons

11-year-old Luke Parker left the treehouse for five minutes because he had to pee. When he came back, he discovered that his big brother Zack had gotten a visit from an intergalactic representative who gave him superpowers. Yep. Worst time for a bathroom break ever.

Told from Luke’s point of view, My Brother Is a Superhero is a funny kids’ book in which Luke, the comic-book geek, tries to teach his brother the ins and outs of being a superhero, all while being envious of his powers and angry at the unfairness of it all. The book plays up Luke’s general cluelessness about girls, or parents, or … well, a lot of things, really.

But then Zack, aka “Star Guy,” gets into a sticky situation, it’s up to Luke to set things right. Because the one thing Luke does understand is how superheroes and supervillains work.

Disclosure: Except where noted, I received copies of these books for review.

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