Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Book Review: Beat to a Pulp: Superhero

Beat to a Pulp: Superhero
Edited by David Cranmer, Scott D. Parker
September 2012, 1.99 Kindle

Beat to a Pulp: Superhero, available at Amazon.

The Beat to a Pulp anthology series may be a throwback to the era of pulp magazines, but don’t expect dusty relics. The collections have a decidedly modern sensibility, keeping the action and the grit, while discarding some of the more dated tropes. As a whole, the series encompasses all that the pulps once offered: crime fiction, noir, hardboiled detective stories, westerns, sci-fi—even the occasional weird tale. Usually bargain priced, the books live up to their imprint’s name, packing a lot of punch for the buck.

This collection may be the best of the Beat to a Pulps to date, and that’s partly thanks to the theme. Each story takes on the topic of superheroes, and the fun is in finding out just what that means to the authors involved, as each has a decidedly different interpretation.  The heroes (and villains) range from children to senior citizens, from masterminds to ordinary garbage men. Some follow a solid code of ethics, while others are out of control and bent on revenge. The story’s settings span from the Revolutionary War era to some time in the far future, though plenty take place in the here and now.

Don’t worry that the unusual settings and characters are just a gimmick. These stories show some writing chops, and even the simplest of them are just waiting to give you a wallop when you least expect it. Jake Hinson starts things off well with “The Long Drop,” in which a future New York City patrolled by caped super-cops is combined with an old-school frame-up. The ending manages to be both witty and satisfying, if not happy, but that’s the nature of noir—if anything seems to be going too well … just wait.

Kevin Burton Smith’s “Revenge of the Red Avenger” is narrated by a six year-old, yet manages to avoid sentimental cheese. While it just might get you in the feels with its world of secret clubs, best friends, and cobbled-together hero outfits made of towels and rain boots, the dark grimness of reality is painfully present. Even childhood wonder has another side. Liam Jose’s story (“Dark Guy in … Terror on the Digger!”) also features children, but gets even more gruesome. It may be the most brutal revenge story you’ll ever read that transpires in classroom coat closets and on the playground.

The characters aren’t all kids—not by a long shot. (And they’re not all good guys, either.) In “Spoiled,” Keith Rawson introduces us to an aging megalomaniac millionaire who is more villain than hero, and has become even more frightening as his mind starts to crumble. The heroine of Sandra Seamans’ “Moon Mad” would seem more at home collecting cans from dumpsters than busting up a sex slavery ring, but that’s the beauty of the story. A self-appointed (and mentally unstable) vigilante tries to keep his apartment building free of what he perceives as villains among the tenants in “Phantom Black and the Big Wide Open” by Garnett Elliott, even though it means frequent beatings for himself. In one of the strongest entries in the collection, Thomas Pluck’s “Garbage Man,” a trash hauler gets into a tense standoff with a neighborhood gangbanger.

There’s not a bad story in the bunch, though some will naturally resonate differently with different readers. Just as comic book fans have their preferred heroes, you’ll definitely have a favorite.