Kevin Hosey and K. Stoddard Hayes, ed.
Mark Offutt and Joel Gomez, ill.
Cliffhanger Books, 205 p., ebook $4.99, print (forthcoming)
This is turning out to be the summer of the superhero. Not only are we seeing more superhero movies than we ever have in a single summer, but print-wise superheroes seem to be on the rise as well.
Case in point, Gods of Justice, edited by Kevin Hosey and K. Stoddard Hayes. This the sophomore publication of Clffhanger Books, a new small press. Their first publication was an anthology of paranormal romance. It was a nominee for Best Book of 2010 for The Romance Review. That means they set a high standard their first time out.
The question is, do they live up to it in this book?
The answer is "Yes, they do." The book's webpage summarizes the stories, so I won't try to do that here. Instead, I'll give you my overall impressions.
First, these stories are not set against a common background or universe. Of the ten stories, one is set in a dystopian future and one on a distant planet (that one is a Western, of all things, and one of the best in the book). The remaining eight take place on Earth, with one occurring in No Man's Land in World War I.
The tone and settings vary widely. So do the characters. Some are about scared people trying to do the right thing when the right thing isn't always clear or could be quite costly. Some deal with the obligations of heroes and power, while others examine the corrupting effects that power has on the hero and how heroes can sometimes become villains. More than one author deals with time travel, a popular theme in superhero tales. Although there's no explicit sex, a couple of stories contain mature themes and language, so if you're thinking of giving the book as a gift to a young reader, you might keep in mind age-appropriateness. I'd say the book is a PG-13. But if your reader is mature enough, you should give the book.
I met editor Kevin Hosey back in February at ConDFW. When the review copy showed up, I had let the book slip my mind, so it's arrival was a pleasant surprise. The next pleasant surprise was in reading it. With the exception of DC Comics writer Ricardo Sanchez and Star Trek author Dayton Ward, the lineup seems to consist of fairly new authors. At least I wasn't familiar with the authors names, so I was a little unsure about what to expect. I needn't have worried.
While one or two entries didn't do much for me (primarily for reasons of personal taste), I found the quality quite high over all. If most of the writers are at the beginning of their writing careers, they should only get better with time. I'm going to watch for some of these people. The variety makes this another diverse anthology, meaning most readers should find plenty to like here. I certainly did. I seem to be blessed with a number of this type of anthology lately, with one more I should have finished in a few days.
A couple of stories committed what I think of as comic book logic, which threw me out of the story, but the level of craftsmanship is better than what you would find in most anthologies with a high percentage of new writers. I think this is the first time I've read a western set in space in which I want to read more. While I like westerns, I've found they usually don't work well on other planets. This one did, and it couldn't have been set in the Old West and worked. The story about the time travel murders was a refreshing twist as well. And "The Justice Blues" had one of the best character developments of the book.
Most of the stories have an illustration, which was a nice touch (particularly the one on p. 71). But the focus here is on the stories. As it should be.
All in all, I found this to be a fun book. The contents were well-written, thought provoking, imaginative, and entertaining. I was sorry there were no more stories when I reached the end of the book. If you like comics and superheroes, by all means give this one a try. This is the first in a series with at least two more planned, although I have no idea when they'll be published. Hopefully soon. I'm looking forward to them.
This review was also posted at Futures Past and Present.