I was also apprehensive, because I’m honestly not in the business of pulling punches; if I don’t like something that even a friend has written, I’m going to tell them so. I’m not a jerk about it; I don’t revel in telling people “their writing is terrible” like some of the writers I know—I tell them because, as an amateur writer who’s been working hard to get published for over ten years, I think the most important things for a writer are a) to get honest critiques about his or her work and b) to be able to accept those critiques, understand them, and learn from them.
All of that said, I accepted Mr. Harmon’s request, hoping I wouldn’t have to write a follow-up “so… I’m going to be very honest in my review…” email.
Ten pages in, I realized that I wouldn’t be writing that email.
I could go on and tell you “I’m a really hard critic” and “I usually (and literally) throw bad fantasy novels away before I hit page one hundred.”
Instead I’ll just say that Wearing the Cape, is, in all honesty, not just a good hero fantasy novel—it’s an awesome and important one.
The novel follows Hope Corrigan, a young teen who just had a “breakthrough”—an event that awakens super powers in her. She finds herself now a part of the super hero world—a world which is surprisingly realistic in this novel (I’ll get back to this in a minute). Now following a course that steers her away from her own plans and the life she expected, Hope finds herself fighting alongside her childhood heroes against horrors that she never could’ve imagined.
Maybe this doesn’t sound revolutionary to you. That’s fine; it wasn’t exactly the freshest concept to me either. But Harmon manages to snag your interest and keep you entertained throughout, always serving up something fresh to keep you engaged (whether it’s a conspiracy to murder a government official at a convention, a solo investigation into the whereabouts of a dark vigilante, or an attack from an emotionally triggered, hero-hating super villain).
On top of all of that though…
It’s Incredibly Realistic
Think of it like this; you’re one of two people: the kind who reads comics and the kind who doesn’t.
- If you’re the kind who reads comic books, then you’ve probably never questioned half of the things that happen in them. You read an issue of Superman and probably say, “Well, of course he caught Lex Luthor! He’s incredibly smart!” instead of, “If he’s so damn smart, why doesn’t he ever see Lex coming?” You read Spider-Man and say, “Oh no! He ran out of web fluid again!” instead of, “Seriously? Why doesn’t he carry around a million cartridges of web fluid at this point? Why doesn’t he use science and make cartridges that last longer?”
- If you don’t read comics, you’ve always questioned these things, adding a pinch of, “Why the hell do these guys wear spandex, btw? Would anyone really do that?” And you’ve never experienced the wallet crushing addiction of single issues (good for you).
The thing is, there’s a magical breed of people out there who are perfectly in the middle; people who do question comics and the worlds they propose but who still read them because they love them.
Marion Harmon is one of these people. And he also happens to be a good writer.
Wearing the Cape really shines because of this; as I said earlier, the world Harmon gives us is a surprisingly realistic look at super heroes. Not the kind of gritty, noire, but-I-still-have-lightning-powers-and-a-humongous-revolver-(or-something) realism that you would find in a graphic novel either. What Harmon has done is show us our own world as it would be if there really were heroes. Although he doesn’t bog us down with it, Harmon puts his characters into situations that involve things like government sanction, disaster response (hoo-boy does he ever), and (most unexpectedly important) actual team battle tactics.
Like I say, he doesn’t bog the story down with it, but he gives us enough to make us realize what a real super team would actually be like. You’ll wind up rubbing your chin and saying, “Huh… Yeah, I guess their primary function would actually be crisis control, wouldn’t it?” or “I guess they wouldn’t just be able to kill super villains whenever they wanted because of public image.” I’m sure there are comics that have hinted at points like these, but I can promise you that none have given readers such an informed, cohesive, and interesting look from that perspective.
The most surprising part of that perspective is the battle tactics aspect; when you’re done with this book, it’ll feel silly when you read the next issue of GL and find Hal flying into a stand-off with a mysterious new villain with absolutely no information about what’s going on. And, yeah, where is he supposed to get his information from? The answer—a ton of places the average super hero comic just doesn’t consider.
All That Said, the Flair Is Still There
I just have to say that doesn’t mean there are no costumes and everything you love about heroes. Hope is a costumed hero (she takes the mantel of “Astra” and works with and meets a retinue of charming [and charmingly named] heroes called the Sentinels, their leader a weary, southern, Superman-powered hero named Atlas). The twist here is that Harmon also makes sense of this whole powers business; unlike most comics, Wearing the Cape presents readers with a very, very real sense of danger for his characters by illustrating that even ones like Atlas (and Astra, who has the same power set) are easily beaten by the right counter power (say, several, high-powered blasts from an electrokinetic) or practical things (like flying directly into a solid object).
There’s also a social twist that adds more flair to being a hero though—in a world that’s exactly like our own, heroes wind up being celebrities that civilians mimic; most notably, musicians adopt personas as pretend super villains to appeal to young audiences (because, seriously, wouldn’t they?), although the trend carries over to general fashion as well. Touches like these make civilian life surprisingly present in a genre where it usually isn’t.
So Is There Anything Wrong with the Book?
I honestly can’t say there isn’t, but both of my issues are small.
The first is teen slang; Harmon does an awesome job of giving us a protagonist we like in Hope Corrigan. She’s intelligent but spunky, responsible but so spirited that you can’t help but like her. Chances are you won’t like when she uses words like “woogy” though. Or rather, it’s not that you won’t like her; it’s just that those moments may grate on you if you’re anything like me. Even so, they’re few and far between and ultimately don’t detract from the read; I just think that it’s important for you to remember that you are reading a young, teen girl as a protagonist, complete with slang like “woogy” and a few moments where she, possibly, prioritizes things that you (if you’re, say, a Hellboy fan) may find it painful to read about.
The second isn’t actually a problem—it’s more of advice. There will be a moment when a romance kicks into full throttle. It will nearly come out of nowhere, but (but) if romance is not your thing, you don’t have to worry about it suddenly dominating the rest of the novel (as I worried it might); this is not a romance story, and I promise you that if you hang around for it, you’ll get to a truly epic battle and an ending that will definitely leave you wanting more!
Want to give Wearing the Cape a shot? It’s available in paperback and ebook format at Amazon!