Superheroes are a uniquely American thing, one of the few cultural phenomenon that definitely started here. It should come as no surprise to us that they’ve slowly leaked out of comic books and into TV and movies, and the national consciousness. And now they’re starting to stake a claim in the realm of written fiction.
While few superhero novels can claim the august status of literary works they do offer the superhero archetypes an opportunity to be explored with more time and depth than any other medium. Austin Grossman took an early stab at this when he wrote Soon I Will Be Invincible and others have since followed in his footsteps.
Marion G. Harmon’s Wearing the Cape is an interesting addition to this small but growing genre of fiction.
It focuses on Hope Corrigan, who becomes the superhero Astra after nearly getting crushed by a falling bridge. Like all origin stories, Wearing the Cape shares a few of the problems Astra has with her identity, secrecy and changed living arrangements. But for the most part the story is focused on Hope’s sense of responsibility, her problematic relationship with her new powers and identity as Astra and her odd relationship with a person who calls himself the Teatime Anarchist and can somehow travel through time.
It’s that last bit that makes things really interesting, if you were wondering.
Wearing the Cape does more than just tackle the basic issues of identity and responsibility that most superhero stories focus on. It also pokes a little into the structure of superheroes and society and how people might react to having superpowered individuals around for over a decade. Also interesting is Harmon’s decision to give all superheroes the same basic source for their abilities – a strange, unexplained occurrence a decade ago that left the world without power for a few seconds and the latent potential for superpowers in its wake. Since “The Event” people exposed to life threatening situations have a chance of awakening superpowers.
Life in the world of the Cape is interesting. Capes (which is to say, superheroes) have to deal with supervillain gangs, drunk and disorderly supers, legal woes and more. One of the most interesting ideas are origin chasers, people who willingly undergo life threatening circumstances such as stepping off a building or in front of a truck in order to awaken superpowers. This does not always end well.
But at the core of Wearing the Cape is a story about actions and consequences. As soon as Hope puts on Astra’s cape she’s in a different world, and how she deals with the heroes and villains she meets is as important as what powers she uses in dealing with them. Harmon does an excellent job weaving Hope’s actions and their consequences into a story that is fun and exciting.
While superhero stories are not everyone’s cup of tea, Wearing the Cape is definitely an accessible and enjoyable one. I recommend it, particularly if you’re interested in writing in the genre yourself.