Superhero Complex(ity)

A review of Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories (edited by Claude Lalumiere and Camille Alexa, Tyche Books LTD, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of Masked Mosaic courtesy of Tyche Books

Cover photo of Masked Mosaic courtesy of Tyche Books

There has been a recent increase in the public interest in the superhero genre with increasing numbers of superhero movies, increasing numbers of people wearing superhero related merchandise and increasingly larger population groups getting excited about the figure of the superhero. Yet superheroes that are being represented often embody American ideals of the self-made man, the perfect body, and dichotomous views of good and evil. It is therefore timely that Claude Lalumiere and Camille Alexa released Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories.

Masked Mosaic seeks to push the boundaries of the superhero genre: to include complexities and issues that were often ignored in the Golden Age of comics and continue to be ignored in our culture’s nostalgia over comic figures of the past. The stories in this volume often play with Golden Age themes and complicate them. Rather than replicating hegemonies, the characters are diverse: aged, not ideals of bodily perfection, queer/ LGBTQ2, and culturally diverse. They represent a more inclusive reality of Canadian culture. It is a combination of pastiche and resistance to the past hegemonies that were embedded and encoded in Golden Age comics.

The binary image of superheroes with a universal idea of good and evil is disrupted in this volume, blurring the boundaries between hero and villain. The authors of these short stories recognise that heroes often support causes that are unjust and that heroism is often tied to political beliefs of the time and are not, in fact, universal concepts. Heroism is tied to ideologies of the ruling elite, enforcing power structures. Yesterday’s heroes may be considered today’s villains or vice versa. This volume is a reminder that heroes can fall.

Superheroes as mythic and iconic symbols are explored as well as exploring the complexities and problematic nature of symbols.

Featuring the work of E.L. Chen, Kristi Charish, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Jonathan Olfert, Kevin Cockle, David Nickle, Derryl Murphy, D.K. Latta, Emma Faraday, Mike Rimar, Emma Vossen, Patrick T. Goddard, A.C. Wise, Rhea Rose, David Perlmutter, Lisa Poh, Marie Bilodeau, Rhonda and Jonathan Parrish, Chantal Boudreau, Michael S. Chong, Jason Sharp, Alyxandra Harvey, Michael Matheson, and Jason S. Ridler this volume contains a diversity of voices in Canadian SF – both new and established. The stories involve everything from supervillains in a relationship with heroes, superheroes made out of dreams, Mexican wrestlers, aliens, seamstresses, archaeologists playing with possession, and figures from the Canadian mythic past and from history.

In an era of obsession with origin stories, Lalumiere and Alexa collect stories that represent every part of the superhero’s life from origin to retirement.

You can find out more about the Masked Mosaic collection at Tyche Books’ website http://tychebooks.com/ . You can check out a review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Iron Justice Versus the Fiends of Evil” from this volume at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/unmasked

“Everyone wants to be the hero of their own story, but there’s not enough room for them all, so they fester from bitter self-righteousness.”

-E.L. Chen – Fin-de-siecle (in Tesseracts Nine. Edge, Calgary, 2005)

Quote – Everyone Wants to be the Hero of Their Own Story

Anonymous in the Age of Face Recognition Software

A review of: E.L. Chen’s A Safety of Crowds (in Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales. Edge, 2011).

By Derek Newman-Stille

E.L. Chen’s A Safety of Crowds explores the anonymity of modern society and the idea that one can be lost in a crowd and can lose oneself in a crowd of people. Chen explores two women who are mirroring each other’s lives in different versions of the same reality, both being stalked by the same man. Jan has scarred shoulder blades from where she one possessed wings. Jenna Crow still has her wings, but is flightless, using her wings as a vehicle toward celebrity.

Chen creatively explores the furthering of technology for tracking people and registering their presence. Cell phones are constantly broadcasting adds, offering to share photos of exciting events that occurred at certain locations, updating people on potential dating prospects in the area and their interests. People are bombarded with information.

For Jenna to hide, she creates a fan culture that all emulates her so that the face recognition software on cell phones will suggest that all of her fans are actually her: “We’re all Jenna Crow”.

Although marketed as a teen/ YA short story, A Safety of Crowds explores issues involving the public access to personal information and the increasing trend of youth to share huge amounts of personal information as well as the danger that occurs when people can readily find out details about a person’s personal life. Conversely it also explores the value and danger of crowds for producing anonymity and the potential loss of selfhood that can occur in anonymity as well as the loss of self that occurs with celebrity. This is a novel that reveals the contradictions of modernity and Chen does an excellent job of capturing the ambiguities of the modern age and the mixed response of both desiring celebrity and desiring anonymity simultaneously.

You can explore Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/ and see this and other Tesseracts volumes.