Last week I had a very annoying evening. I wanted to read in a very specific genre—superhero fiction—but every book that looked interesting was either not available in a format I wanted to purchase … or might have existed in that format but was effectively concealed from me by Kobo’s grotesquely ineffective search function.
Eventually, I discovered that Seanan McGuire’s site offered a selection of her Velveteen stories. So I read those.
I believe the stories on her site are those also found within Velveteen vs. The Junior Super Patriots, so I am going to pretend I went out and acquired a copy of that.
Velveteen vs. The Isley Crayfish Festival:
We meet, Velma “Velveteen” Martinez, whose
“semi-autonomous animation of totemic representations of persons and animals, most specifically cloth figures, including minor transformation to grant access to species-appropriate weaponry”
earned her a spot on the Junior Super Patriots. Having tired of the superhero life and taken a series of less rewarding but far safer jobs, she is on her way to a crucial job interview when she encounters an old teammate. He too has left the life of a superhero, but in his case it was only to embrace … villainy! Crayfish-themed supervillainy!
One of the great drawbacks of being a super-villain is that if you encounter someone who has a really specific focus for their powers—if, say, their ability to animate objects is limited to stuffed animals—you will encounter them somewhere in the close vicinity of a surprisingly large number of power foci. Because of plot, that’s why.
Velveteen vs. The Coffee Freaks:
When her aging car breaks down (while still on route to that job interview referenced above), Velma is forced to take a job waitressing to earn the money to have her car fixed. Luckily, it’s not as if coffee shops are known for being hives of villainy. Or of cults. Or of … fans.
Balancing the whole “no matter how unlikely it is for foci to be available, foci are available ” perk, superheroes, retired or otherwise, always wander into situations that force them to save the day and it does not matter how unlikely that seems. Because of plot, that’s why.
Velveteen vs. The Flashback Sequence:
Recruited—cynics might say “purchased from her terrible parents”—by the Junior Super Patriots, Velma is transformed into the heroic and toyetic Velveteen! Is she awesome or what? And unlike a lot of her youthful teammates, she actually survives her tour with the Junior Super Patriots.
Oddly, many of the Patriots have noticed that Marketing is evil, but nobody seems to have done anything about it. That seems out of character for superheroes. It makes me wonder if some of the fatalities are actually kids who did try to do something, only to find out who or what’s really running Marketing.
Velveteen vs. The Old Flame
An encounter with old flame Action Dude brings Velma face to face with an ugly truth: Velma may be done with the Super Patriots, but that does not mean Marketing is done with Velveteen.
“She’d learned over the years that understanding Marketing was nowhere near as important as avoiding upsetting them.”
Yeah, I am really leaning towards Marketing being run by whats and not whos.
Velveteen vs. The Junior Super Patriots, West Coast Division
Only one thing stands between Velma and her job in Oregon: the assembled might of the Super Patriots between her and the California/Oregon border.
There’s an interesting comment early on in this story
Of the three percent of the world’s heroic superhumans not employed by some division or sub-division of The Super Patriots, Inc.
World. That’s an interesting word. 97% of the whole world’s supply of superheroes belongs to the Super Patriots, even in places that don’t have any reason to like American companies? I suspect that this claim is based in a corporate policy that defines any superhuman who does not join them as a super villain. Nothing in these stories contradicts that.
Velveteen vs. The Eternal Halloween
A youthful Velveteen finds herself fighting a disturbingly familiar evil in Halloween’s realm.
I was reminded a bit of Simak’s Out of Their Minds , but I would be astounded were I to hear that McGuire had ever read it as Simak is largely forgotten these days.
Velveteen vs. The Ordinary Day
Safe within Oregon, Velveteen faces her greatest challenge yet: a night out with her pals!
Not 100% sure the legal underpinnings of this setting make sense … but then, I am not 100% sure that the legal underpinnings of the real world make any sense.
Velveteen vs. Patrol
After nearly a decade out of the Life, can Velma become Velveteen again? And can the Super Patriots adapt to something unprecedented: the world (or at least Oregon) having an alternative to Patriot protection?
The main reason people see the Super Patriots as good guys seems to be that the Super Patriots are the ones who get to define who counts as good and who counts as bad. Up until Oregon decided to have its own state-level superhero anyway.
Velveteen vs. The Blind Date
Yeah, this is pretty much what it says on the label.
Well, this was amusing light fun, except for the references to the Junior Super Patriots’ death rate (around 50%) and the way Marketing recapitulates Procrustes as they mentor the superheroes. And the way Velma’s parents basically sold her. And the stuff lurking just unseen around the edges of all the stories. Aside from that stuff, though, this was just the sort of upbeat adventure stuff I wanted to read.
Authors dabbling in superhero fiction have to make a choice very early on whether to embrace the rather simplistic moral views of Golden Age and Silver Age comics (as they existed up to the fall of the Comics Code) or to reject those views. During the Gold and Silver Ages, not only were all the good guys good, but government and society as a whole were good as well. The cop on the corner was always honest and sincere, never corrupt. Very wholesome. Kind of dull. Hard to believe, once you’re old enough to follow the news. Modern superhero fiction often rejects such whitewashing … which can lead to the equally boring choice wherein everything, from government and society to the hero’s pet dog, is evil and twisted and self-centered. McGuire steers a middle ground.
(If you find Velma’s struggle with Marketing enthralling, I suggest you check out the anime Tiger & Bunny, which plays with similar ideas.)
1: Unless (HERO Games nerdery here), the hero bought the relevant superpower on an activation roll. Then they might not be.