2017’s Heroine Worship is the second instalment in Sarah Kuhn’s comedic superhero Heroine Complex series.
In Heroine Complex ( reviewed here ) superheroes Annie “Aveda Jupiter” Chang and Evie “No Cool Superhero Name” Tanaka vanquished the Demon Queen and closed a gate to the Otherworld. Since the Demon Queen’s shenanigans were the primary source of superhero-level threats to San Francisco, life has been pretty quiet since that battle.
That is a big problem for Aveda, because her self-image is tied up in being San Francisco’s premier saviour. She cannot save that which is not being threatened. Even if a threat did materialize, she’d have to share the spotlight with Evie, and Evie’s recently revealed pyrokinesis is much flashier than Aveda’s acrobatic martial arts. Not that Aveda is jealous of Evie, exactly; she’s just used to having the spotlight.
Many superheroes in Aveda’s position would resort to creating a robotic villain only they can defeat 1. Happily for Aveda, fate is going to hand her a challenge worthy of her talents.
Half-demonic reformed minion Maisy Kane owns a lingerie emporium, Pussy Queen, which houses a closed gate to the Otherworld. The gate is supposed to be completely sealed, but Maisy insists that the gate is still active or at least noisy. On the off-chance that this is not just a bid for attention from Maisy, Aveda and Evie investigate. The battle that follows is invigorating but all too short.
In the absence of demonic enemies to pummel, Aveda turns to the only other challenge worthy of her abilities: micro-managing Evie’s upcoming wedding. She only wants to ensure that her best friend gets the wedding Evie would want, if only Evie had Aveda’s vision. What could go wrong?
Aside from finding the limits to Evie’s forbearance, that is. And aside from the slowly escalating crisis involving an invisible, intangible demon whose field of interest happens to be brides …
I’m not sure there are any actual super-villains in this series, at least none who don’t have a personal connection to the Otherworld. All superpowers are ultimately demonic in origin, but not everyone who gets powers is on speaking terms with Otherworlders. The ones who are not either become costumed adventurers or more commonly decide that e.g. the ability detect all citrus fruit within one hundred kilometres is no basis for a career 2, and embrace mundane lives.
I thought that the author had not fully considered some of the consent issues involved. Magician-for-hire Scott Cameron has dabbled in love potions, with which nobody seems to have a problem. Supporting character Bea can induce emotional states in other people, an ability her friends and family kept from her for REASONS. The consent issues in Bea’s case are flagged, but only because her abilities get used on one of the central figures without prior permission.
(I’m hoping the third novel focuses on Bea, because I am very curious to see how the author deals with a heroic take on the Purple Man.)
Aveda’s skills and abilities are reasonably impressive: she’s a decent enough martial artist to go toe-to-toe with demons and survive. Her telekinetic abilities were boosted at the end of the first book. The author has realized that that endless series of curb-stomp battles are dull, so the problems she throws at Aveda are ones that cannot be solved by kicking them in the head.
Aveda has a clear idea of how things work. She maintains her clarity by rarely comparing notes with other people and eschewing whenever possible what the alt.poly crowd called “processing.” This effective strategy has made it possible for her to be Aveda, since it has insulated her from all the reasons why superheroism might be a bad idea. Her chosen lifestyle has also estranged her from her mother, routinely endangers her friendship with Evie, and manages to stall a romance that everyone but Aveda can see is inevitable.
Readers looking for a light-hearted superhero adventure, one in which characters might conceivably smile or even fondly embrace from time to time, in a world that rejects the drab, washed-out palettes of contemporary superhero noir, might want to consider sampling this series.
Please direct corrections to jdnicoll at panix dot com.
1: Which always turns out badly. Just in case any of you are considering it. AI is a crapshoot.
2: They could get a job keeping out-of-state fruit out of California, which may not be flashy but is socially useful.