2020’s Mutant Pride is the first novel in SJ Whitby’s Cute Mutant superhero series.
Teen Dylan Tayler has always felt like a screw-up. Now it’s worse. Her pillow is talking to her. Other inanimate objects are waking up around her, suddenly becoming animate and chatty1. As this continues, Dylan (a long-time fan of X‑Men comics) is becoming increasingly sure that she’s a mutant and must have a superpower.
Teenagers being terrible at keeping secrets, it does not take Dylan too long to discover that a few of her schoolmates have also discovered that they have superpowers. Alyse Sefo can shapeshift, Dani Kim has telekinesis, Bianca Powell can manifest her inner demons, and Lou can project light and heat. Some of the powers have onerous limitations (Dani has to hurt herself first, while Lou has to be horny) but hey, genuine superpowers.
The common element? All of the teens attended Emma Hall’s party. All of the teens had brief make-out sessions with Emma. Emma apparently has the superpower of conferring powers with a kiss.
Leaving aside the awkwardness inherent in Emma making out with people who are dating people who are not Emma, this would be a wonderful development, save for one complication. Jealous because a girl he didn’t know was kissing other people he didn’t know, odious incel Jack Firestone forced a kiss on her. Now he has powers as well, powers he cheerfully abuses.
Clearly the correct response is for Dylan, Lou, Dani, Bianca, and Emma to form an ad hoc superhero team (the Cute Mutants) to confront and confound Firestone. There’s just one thing wrong with the plan. None of them have any idea what they are doing. It’s a flaw that may allow Firestone to kill them all.
Spoiler, of sorts: the Cute Mutants do not die in this, the first of five volumes in the series. Of course, few protagonists do die in the first story, Boston Brand aside.
Dylan being a comics fan, references to X‑Men abound. This underlines a crucial difference between Dylan’s group and the X‑Men. There is no wise mentor figure, not even a Magneto. The kids are on their own.
Although the tone of the book is cheerful and upbeat for the most part, violence escalates throughout the book. Firestone does something bad; the good kids try to contain him. But they try to do so without killing him. I will give them this: their ultimate solution does technically meet the No Killing rule that all good superheroes follow. However, said solution is spectacularly violent and not one for which the kids would want to answer in court2.
This is a studiously diverse (along many axes) collection of teens. They do have one thing in common: a tendency to turn anything into DRAMA. Given the drama inherent in gaining superpowers only to discover there’s a bona fide supervillain who needs stopping, that’s a lot of drama. For some reason, adding journeys of personal self-discovery and teenaged romance to the mix seems to make everything even more dramatic. Scott Summers could take lessons in fraught personal relationships from this crowd.
This falls nicely into the set of novels that were not aimed at the “almost old enough to remember when inexpensive ball point pens were first marketed” demographic to which I belong. If you’re not an impossibly haggard elder, you might find this thrilling tale diverting.
Mutant Pride is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), and here (Barnes & Noble). Apple Books successfully prevented me from finding Mutant Pride on their site. Chapters-Indigo appears to offer volumes two, three, and five but not one or four.
1: Dylan’s power to Disneyize inanimate objects has some disturbing implications. The animated things scream in pain and terror whenever they are damaged, which happens all too frequently. Thank goodness her power does not seem to work on disposable items like Kleenex or toilet paper. At least, I hope it doesn’t.
2: A frequent comic book ploy to handle villains without killing them is to dump them in an extra-dimensional prison. I didn’t think any of the Cute Mutants were described as having that talent, but then it occurred to me that maybe Bianca, who can call up demons, could send someone to the demon dimension. But since the portal is in her chest, cramming someone into it might be a bad idea.