“Silverwolf, that doesn’t look like a comic!” you say upon viewing the image for this week’s Silverwolf’s Den. Well, dear readers, you’re absolutely right! But fear not, this book is actually about comics and superheroes! Tom King, who formerly worked for DC, Marvel, and the CIA, penned A Once Crowded Sky, the story of a world much like our own where heroes once dominated the landscape. Thanks to the great folks at Trident Media Group, the team who brought us Nevsky, I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy. How does this new novel stack up?
A Once Crowded Sky is set roughly one year after Ultimate, the Earth’s greatest hero, collected powers from all of Earth’s superheros, save one, in order to stop a threat known only as The Blue. The one hero who did not show up and consequently still has his powers is PenUltimate, former sidekick of Ultimate. The former heroes attempt to endure their daily lives: some have moved on and just think of the old days fondly, others cannot accept the changes and desperately want to fight against evil once again. Pen, though claiming to be retired, still begrudgingly commits heroic acts, often at the behest of the mysterious Prophetier. Meanwhile, the Solider of Freedom, a war hero, tries desperately to reconcile all the shattered pieces of his once glory-filled life. It’s not long before a new threat rises and it’s up to Pen and Soldier to root out the threat and neutralize it…but does the world really need heroes? Can the only man with powers walk away? And can heroes without power still affect change?
The plot of the story itself is rather interesting. It’s rare to see a superhero story where the heroes themselves are no longer super. It’s common to see heroes without powers (like Batman) and it’s common to hear a story of a hero losing his powers (like M-Day in X-Men) but it’s less common to discuss their lives after the fact, especially in a context of the mundane. The story was rather intriguing, often lampshading common comic tropes and poking fun at some conventions of the comic industry. There’s one character who even lives his life by comic book conventions, and forces certain events to transpire since that’s how things would happen in a comic.
The way the story is set up is also fairly cool. The chapters are divided into sections titled as if they were the titles of comics. For instance, the story begins with “Ultimate, The Man with the Metal Face #566.” As a result, the reader sees the story in medias res and has to piece the events together as he or she reads on. Even better, this novel structure allows us to see visions of the characters one by one, bringing us closer to each of them in turn. The characterization is quite good, and one can really feel connected to the struggles of all the characters.
The book, sadly, is not perfect. I felt that, though the characters were interesting, their names were banal. Perhaps this was done to use them as Everymen to represent common hero types, but I honestly wish King had used more creative names (for instance, Strength is by far the dullest superhero name I’ve ever heard). Furthermore, I loved the progression of the story, but the ending felt a bit cliche and tacked on. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I felt the way it wrapped up was far from perfect. I’m not sure how I’d have preferred it to end, but based on the build up I expected something a bit more exciting.
Overall, A Once Crowded Sky is a good and quick read for anyone looking to enjoy some good fiction. It’s not a flawless piece, but it’s definitely enjoyable. If you don’t like fiction, steer clear, but even if you aren’t into comics whatsoever you can enjoy this book.
Brett Simon is a twenty-two year old comic enthusiast. He’s slightly weirded out that the character of Devil Girl seems almost perfectly based on one of his friends.