The Colorado Review features my review of the latest book from Meerkat Press, Behind the Mask: An Anthology of Heroic Proportions, edited by Tricia Reeks and Kyle Richardson. Below is an abridged version of the review published in CR on July 17, 2017:
Rocketing into speculative fiction territory, Behind the Mask, a strikingly entertaining anthology of short stories focused on the everyday lives of those in possession of superhuman abilities, sparkles with vibrant luminosity and star-spangled hipness. Leaning away from the cartoonish elements of the superhero genre, editors Tricia Reeks and Kyle Richardson have put together a smart and stimulating miscellany of humor and pathos, romance and adventure. The twenty contributors, ranging from bestselling authors to those with relatively few publishing credits, approach the “prose nod to the comic world” idea in a variety of interesting, imaginative ways.
Enlivened by high drama, strong visual images, and a variety of fantasy elements, this fun anthology is made more absorbing by this notion of peeling off the mask. Many of the stories deal with issues everyone can relate to: aging, coping with injury and the recovery process, unexpected pregnancy, or maintaining relationships.
Some of the contributors shift the focus from superhero to super villain to good effect. In Keith Rosson’s “Torch Songs,” the scorched, seared, melted carnival spectacle Madam Glass, with her “ruined river” of a face and a “body like half-melted plastic”—the result of being thrown into a vat of toxic waste by her nemesis Sergeant Liberty—ponders if evil is born or cultivated. Living out her days enslaved to the circus, the former leader of a gang of super villains is presented with an interesting choice: vengeance or a life of penitence? Rosson’s lyrical prose and beautifully imagined tormented freaks elevate the story into something much more powerful, while Carrie Vaughn’s enjoyable, action-packed romance, “Origin Story,” set in the violent Commerce City, where epic battles routinely take place between heroes who fly and villains with ray guns, is in the mold of science fiction pulp from the Golden Age, but with a slight twist. Accidentally caught up in a dramatic bank robbery, the main character recognizes the famous archvillain as her high school sweetheart and, still smarting from their breakup eight years earlier, longs to renew their affair.
Perhaps the most inspired story comes from Keith Frady, who discards the gaudy costume to expose the thick layers of cracked make-up his grizzled, jaded supervillain wears in the delightfully melodramatic “Fool.” While “orchestrating the apocalypse” from his lair beneath a dormant volcano on a “skull-shaped tropical island deep in the Atlantic,” the maniacal Dr. Entropy, haunted by regret and uncertainty, suddenly has second thoughts about destroying the human race. Amusingly, Frady’s sympathetic villain, desperately in need of a nemesis, finds a worthy opponent in the form of an android that has evolved beyond its original programming and no longer recognizes him as its master and creator.
Presenting a full range of strong, articulate, varied voices, distinctive troubled characters, and thought-provoking narratives, Behind the Mask stands out as a mighty collection of supremely imaginative and innovative tales.
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