Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sad Wings of Destiny review

    Sad Wings of Destiny is that rare thing from Permuted Press, primarily known for its post-apocalyptic and/or zombie affair--a capepunk novel. Capepunk is, for those who are unaware of that term, "superhero novels." The difference between capepunk and a regular superhero novel or comic is that capepunk stories attempt to tell more "serious" tales of superheroism and it's downfalls.

    After all, in novel form, you can only describe someone being hit in the face with a magic hammer oh-so-many times while Spiderman dealing with his love-life and money problems is an eternal source of storytelling angst. My favorite capunk series is Wearing the Cape but I've been exploring the genre for some time now. Technically, long-time favorite of this site, Ex-Heroes also fits into the capepunk genre. Even Confessions of a D-List Supervillain.

    As befitting its comic book roots, Sad Wings of Destiny is a series of novellas Thom Brannan wrote before compiling them into a serialized narrative. This act of serendipity enhances the novel's feel by making it more like a comic book in literary form. A serious comic book, don't get me wrong. There is a decided lacks of Whomps, Whamps, and Whoops in this book (but more than I expected).

    The premise of the novel, named after the Judas Priest album of the same name, is a chronicle of Springheeled Jack and Archon. Two superheroes which are intimately involved in the transformation of the world from a goofy Silver Age one where gods fight silly villains to a dark and edgy Iron Age one where the government distrusts its champions more than they do the bad guys.

    This is a common-enough story arc for comic books, reflecting the fundamental realism that history is filled with people who resent the powerful and either try to control them or reign them in. The actual form this story tells is distinct enough to stand on its own. We also see the character flaws of superheroes who are, by and large, immensely selfless beings but who can persuaded into foolish mistakes by that selflessness.

    I like the character of Springheel Jack the most because, on the surface, he's very much the Batman meets Tony Stark of the setting. A supergenius, billionaire, playboy, and ladies man--Springheeled Jack has got all the answers. Or so he thinks. The man's arrogance seems backed up for much of the novel but is a paper-thin wall for the ruthlessness which belies a man who thinks he can fix it all. Does he go all Ozymandias? Die? Find redemption?

    You'll have to read the book to find out.

    Archon, by contrast, is a hard entity to discuss because he's multiple people at once. Like Firestorm meets Captain Marvel, Archon is a composite entity which makes his character very difficult to understand but intriguing to watch. Heaven is a real thing in this world but there's a distinct feeling its rulers may not be the benevolent beings spoken of so often in Sunday School.

    The supporting cast is awesome too with many memorable characters you'll feel for by the end of the novel. I was especially fond of Lady Sidhe, who was a character who managed to be mysterious, fascinating, reassuring, and a wee bit frightening all at once. I wanted her to be the hero of the novel. The fate of some characters by the end of the novel will make you cry.

    The novel deals with a lot of interesting themes from free will to good intentions to the idea of giving the government more power. Like all Judas Priest-inspired novels should be, Thom squarely comes down on the latter being a very bad idea. Villains the Tyrants are able to take advantage of this and turn the world upside down with ease--a far cry from the ease by which most supervillains were disposed in this world's beginning.

    In conclusion, I think Sad Wings of Destiny is an excellent novel and a great addition to the burgeoning capepunk genre. Anyone who is a fan of superhero comics will likely find the story to be interesting, heartbreaking, and nail-biting at various points. It's more than worth the cover price.


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