Supernatural Superhero Secrets

A Review of D D Barant’s Death Blows (St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2010).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Death Blows will be the second of DD Barant’s The Bloodhound Files novels that I will have reviewed. You can check out the review of book one by clicking on DD Barant in the Tags section.

In a world where everyone has supernatural powers, there are no need for comic book superheroes, so why does a man get murdered wearing a Flash costume… the costume of a superheroic figure from our world? Like the world of comic books itself, full of multiple realities, crossovers, dimensions colliding with one another, the comic BOOK itself becomes a vessel for taping into other realities, it becomes a conduit for crossing the dimensional barrier.

Barant’s world, dubbed Thropirelem because it is made up primarily of (lycan)thropes, (vam)pires, and (go)lems is one that recognises the power of the comic book. It is a world of magic that looked at the comic book and saw a medium that combined pictures, words, concepts of multiple worlds, and mass production and realised what this could do. When a comic book cult formed to use the power of the written word and inscribed image to change the face of reality, the population of Thropirelem could see the danger – True Crime Comics could become comics that were foretelling crimes that would soon come true.  As conduits for dangerous magic that could shift the mentality of all of their readers, comics were seen as a danger to society and banned.

So when murders begin happening in Thropirelem that have allusions to comic books, who do they call in but Jace Valchek, a human FBI forensic psychologist from our world who has been brought over to Thropirelem to find a serial killer. She may not have a lot of experience with comics, but she at least comes from a world where they aren’t illegal and where the figure of the superhero has permeated popular culture.  Plus, her background working with people with mental illness means that she can grasp the nuances of a mind that would use comic books as a method of murder.

Through the course of her investigations, Jace discovers a secret that the government has kept hidden, that comic books had been used as a counter-weapon against the comic cult and that even supernaturals need superheroes. But these superheroes, now having retired their super-powered weapons and hung up their tights, are now under attack and each of the murders is charged with comic and cosmic significance.

Comic books are the ultimate interface between the imaginary and reality, creating an imaginary world on the page – penning and inking it into existence. They are the perfect point of obsession for the deranged mind of a killer who intermixes reality and the imaginary and can’t distinguish between the two of them. Barant’s interplay between ideas of reality and imagination and the power of the written medium as a communication tool and point of connection evokes in the reader a curiosity about the nature of the university and the possibility of multiverses.

Barant’s discussion of the power of the comic reveals an interest in the persuasive influence of popular culture, and the ability of the written medium to create change. What we write about DOES have an influence on the world, though perhaps not so directly as the comic medium in Thropirelem.

Derek Newman-Stille

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