Sunday, June 22, 2008

Nobody's a Hero

The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Last recently wrote about how comic-book heroes have changed over the years from conservative patriots into left-leaning insurgents. Instead of Captain America punching out Hitler, we now have series such as The Twelve and Project Superpowers wherein the good guys battle alternately a racist and corporate-controlled U.S. government. Then there’s James Maxey, who posits a third option for the extraordinarily enabled in his novel Nobody Gets the Girl -- the libertarian superhero.

Richard Rogers wakes up one morning to discover he doesn’t exist. There’s no record of his life, his friends and family have vanished, and no one seems able to see him, save the mysterious scientist Dr. Nicholas Knowbokov, a.k.a. Dr. Know. A philanthropic physicist with the gift of psionics, Dr. Know attempted to track his anarchistic nemesis Rex Monday with a time machine and accidentally undid Richard’s birth. Anchored to the world only by force of will, Richard is a ghost -- and the ideal spy. Christened Nobody, he soon finds himself fighting alongside Dr. Know’s daughters, ferrokinetic Rail Blade and the Thrill, who can persuade anyone with the sound of her voice. But is Dr. Know -- who manipulates everything from the climate to world leaders in his quest for peace -- any better than Rex Monday in the end?

Nobody’s worldview dovetails nicely with its action. Dr. Know’s heavy-handed intervention in global affairs appears more and more futile as the novel progresses. A particularly effective section features Rail Blade trying to quell a Middle Eastern conflict, using her powers to crumble the combatants’ bullets, guns and knives into dust. Exhausted, she watches helplessly as they begin pelting one another with stones. Similarly, Rex Monday, who treats the idea of collateral damage like a quaint Victorian hang-up, does more harm than good in his attempt to rid the world of autocrats.

So what’s a nobody like Nobody to do? In the finest comic-book tradition, he engages in fisticuffs with friends and foes alike, dodges explosions, loses loved ones, fells a Godzilla-sized monster, endures plot twists every few pages that make one’s head spin, and -- yes -- gets the girl. Readers will likely excuse occasional patches of rough prose since Maxey is very good at keeping the plot moving. And what of the idea that only a world free of meddlers is a world free indeed? They’ll have to decide that one on their own, which is just how I think Maxey would like it.

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