2018’s Heroine’s Journey is the third instalment in Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex series.
Like her sister Evie and her sister’s best friend, Aveda Jupiter, Beatrice “Bea” Tanaka has bona-fide superpowers. However …
The ten-year age difference between Evie and Bea means that Evie sees Bea as a kid sister. Not only that, she’s the kid sister whom Evie raised after the death of their mother. Evie cannot see Bea as anything but a child and relegates her sister to support roles.
Evie is also suspicious of Bea’s superpowers. Bea can control other people’s emotions, which is a super-villainous sort of power. (It doesn’t help that Bea once sided with a black hat.) True, Bea can also scream loudly enough to shatter solid objects, but it’s not at all clear that she can use this superpower in an emergency or that it will even be useful when used.
Bea is afraid that Evie will never accept her as an equal; she is less and less interested in helping Evie and Aveda.
When Bea isn’t using her mental powers to nudge customers to buy books (at the bookstore where she works), she’s enjoying an endless series of one-night stands. Work demands very little from her and the meaningless sex is fun. She seems content with her life as it is.
Two seemingly unrelated events kick Bea out of her rut.
A: She is given a box of letters sent by Bea’s late mother to a friend. She takes another look at the family issues that have shaped her life.
B: There has been a sudden change in the behavior of the demons that occasionally plague San Francisco. If there’s another full scale demonic invasion (as opposed to the odd incursion), getting along with her sister may become necessary after all.
The walls between dimensions are breaking down, allowing demons to cross. However, this also allows another entity to cross over … or at least communicate. Bea discovers notes in a familiar handwriting and hears a voice she has not heard since she was a child. It seems that Bea and Evie’s mother is not dead; she is merely trapped in a hell dimension.
Bea has no idea how a woman who was dying of cancer could end up transported into another world. She does know that she is determined to rescue her mother. Somehow. And if standard ethics and morals get in the way? Well, Bea’s superpowers would make her an awesome villain …
Nerdy nitpicking: I will admit that younger comic fans would know what a canary cry is … but would they really be familiar with 1981’s Uncanny X‑Men #1491?
A superpower like being able to control other people’s emotions can’t be used without raising serious issues of consent2. Bea seems oblivious to such. Her problem may be that she grew up in the tech-bro-centric Bay Area, which seems (in this series) to be surprisingly friendly to unchained superheroes. Bea has learned that “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” Still, a course or two re ethics might clarify matters.
You may wonder about how “can alter people’s feelings” intersects with “enjoys knocking boots with a wide variety of people.” I do too. Bea doesn’t seem to be influencing her partners but really, how can she be sure?
While I was reading this, I was exposed (avert! avert!) to the trailer for the latest Teen Titans show.
The show looks to be dire. The young superheroes are so so angsty and tormented. Bea and Evie are exemplars of resilience compared to those Teen Titan dudes. Bea and Evie have had to deal with lots of trauma: mom dies, dad abandons them. But they do not become poorly lit sadistic brutes. Bea deals with past trauma and current romantic complications (her own and her friends) without succumbing to despair3. Why, the characters in this book even manage to smile occasionally!
This is apparently the final book in the trilogy, which seems a pity. I enjoyed reading about the adventures of Evie, Aveda, and Bea. I would be curious as to what might happen to the trio after the events of this book. Ah, well. At least I had a pleasant trilogy to read.
1: A related question, equally nerdtastic, is “would there even have been X‑Men comics in a world with actual superheroes?” In this case, superpowers didn’t show up until AFTER Uncanny X‑Men #149 was published. It would make sense that pre-superpower history would be the same.
2: Her abilities might be useful in a therapeutic context, but of course comic book therapists go supervillain nine times out ten.
3: Well, Bea did have a few teen goth years.