Saturday, August 24, 2013

Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? - Andrez Bergen

One by one, the superheroes that protect the city of Heropa are falling. Assassinations, apparent accidents, sabotage, a myriad of incidents have one thing in common: a cape - a superhero - is dead. Trouble is, that's against the rules. Everybody knows heroes can't die.
Meanwhile, in the real world...
Andrez Bergen steers us carefully through the layered reality of an Australian dystopic future mixed into a fantasy comic book past. Equal parts Stan Lee and Raymond Chandler, with Gibsonesque twirlings, this story could easily get away from a writer. But, lacking the visual framework of the comic books that it draws on for its own legends, Bergen eschews the grandstanding and instead focuses on the characters. The novel is full of empathy and emotion. After all, when you're not sure how real your world or your fate is, what else have got to rely on except your own sense of self, of right and wrong, love and hate, friendship and enmity? And of course, your chosen superpower.
Not that you have to be into comic books to enjoy this. Comics have always been more incidental in my life than a mainstay, and yet I still got most of the references, or at least understood them. Superhero fans certainly will enjoy it, but there's as much mystery, intrigue, and romance as there is action. And  Bergen does a great job in not only bringing the world to life, but also in toying with the conventions of pulp and comic book lore. When we do find ourselves out in the 'real world' it is insufferably grim and forbidding, neatly contrasted to the shiny newness of Heropa, where whole city blocks can be destroyed and repaired over night  - in true comic book fashion, consequences never last longer than a story arc. At least, not when things are working right.
It's very well done, and that he produces all this and still makes the pages turn is quite an achievement. The whole experience is bolstered with sketches and illustrations from a number of contributors around the world, adding to the comic feel of the story without distracting from its literary execution. And some of them are very fine indeed.
If anybody else is as inventive and bizarre as Andrez Bergen, then they aren't half as good a writer or everybody would know their name. In 'Who is Killing...' pulp fiction and comic book tradition are brought bang up to date and then slammed hard into the roots of their own mythology. Equal parts mystery, science fiction and comic book fantasy, it's a stylish, creative, noirish romp full of darkness and fun.
I don't know any other writer that could quite pull this off. Nobody else today writes with the same dark wit, style or mad creativity. Bergen is already making a name as a cult favourite, and this book deserves all of the plaudits that will undoubtedly be coming its way.

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