The Year of the Superhero continues at The Book Smugglers with a story that complicates the idea of the superhero. That looks at invulnerability and pairs it with a very aching sense of vulnerability. Both of the physical sense, because the main character is not unable to be very injured, and the emotional kind, which is even more complex and moving. The story weaves together the ways we think of strength and provides a touching and great narrative about a failed super soldier and love and family. Time to review!
|Art by Melanie Cook|
"How To Piss Off A Failed Super Soldier" by John Chu (7216 words)
To me this is a story about abuse and trust. About love and consent and autonomy. Aitch here is a bit of a government experiment, super strong but, as the story begins, not super durable, unable to stop from hurting himself when he uses his powers. As the story progresses, though, Aitch's situation changes. Not just with his powers and his body, but beyond that, as well. He's in a situation, after all, where it's very difficult to trust, where he has to do what people tell them as long as he cares for them. It's a complex situation and it's sort of the perfect storm of trust issues and paranoia because of the abuse that he's suffered. Because this was done by his mother and because almost no one, once they've had a hold over him, has wanted to give him back his free will. When his brother, one of those few people, shows up to "fix" Aitch's powers, it starts a chain of events that take Aitch into new and frightening territory, that prompt him to choose how he is going to live.
I absolutely love the relationships in this story. Aitch and Jay have an extremely complicated sibling relationship, Aitch with an inferiority complex because Jay was made more…"correct." More durable and with powers over people's minds instead of the other way around. He represents something of the pinnacle of the tech that created Aitch and is aware of it, and yet also cares deeply for his older brother. It's a compelling mix of sympathy and interest and condescension and it works incredibly well, especially when mixed with super powers, which means that brother squabbles can easily leave parking lots smoldering canyons of craters. Jay shows up because their mother is dying and wants to see Aitch again, and Aitch reluctantly agrees to see her one last time. Oh, and to break into a government facility to retrieve and destroy her research.
[SPOILERS] Paired with that is Aitch's conflict surrounding his relationship with Simon, an agent of the organization who created him but also the closest thing to a friend he's ever had. I think it's really interesting how both Jay and Simon have…not exactly lied to Aitch, but definitely hid plenty from him, and how Aitch does have the right to be upset about That. And yet there's something deep going on, the realization that it only hurts because he cares about them, and that they only hid things from him because they care for him, because they don't want to scare him off. And it's a powerful moment when Aitch begins to change. Jay does the largest of the work by giving Aitch a body matched to his powers, durable and more dependable. And Simon brings him the rest of the way, both of them giving Aitch something to hold to, something to trust. Not without risk, not with any slavish certainty, but with the delicate and necessary knowledge that this trust can lead to so much hurt and pain. And that Aitch finally decides not to run from it, decides to embrace it, and it makes for a resonant and super sweet story that I hope is not the last time we see these characters (because color me unconvinced that their mother actually died as is claimed…). But it's very fun and charming and go check it out!