I first met Tom King the Author of a Once Crowded Sky at Annapolis Comic Con, he was just a guy setting up next to me that was selling a prose novel about Superheroes gone missing from the world. I didn’t really pay much attention to it or to Mr King’s impressive resume, who knew I was standing next to some one who was an ex-CIA agent and could no doubt break me in two with his little finger. Impressive Secret Agent feats aside I did get a chance to flick the through book and I was impressed. Promising Tom and myself that the next show I see him at I will pick up the book.
Then we all rolled into Awesome Con and I found Tom at this event, making a mental note that I should perhaps buy one before he goes all 007 on me and builds a cunning weapon out of his business card and signing pen. Or I wake up in a dark room somewhere sitting on the blue chair. But… CIA references aside I did want a copy of this book and before I got chance to pick one up Tom sold through on the first day. The second day came around no Tom and I got busy selling and spreading the word about my stories. About half way through the day Tom appeared (probably airdropped by Stealth Copter) and this time I managed to pick up the very, very last book he had…
And that night I started reading it.
First off this book is a blend of prose with some comic strip passages, it even breaks down to comic scripting in places. All of which works well in a story of Superheroes and primarily a story about the game, or the story that the heroes all play there parts in. I was hooked.
Here is the book blurb that tells you a little more about the story setup ‘The superheroes of Arcadia City fight a wonderful war and play a wonderful game, forever saving yet another day. However, after sacrificing both their powers and Ultimate, the greatest hero of them all, to defeat the latest apocalypse, these comic book characters are transformed from the marvelous into the mundane.
After too many battles won and too many friends lost, The Soldier of Freedom was fine letting all that glory go. But when a new threat blasts through his city, Soldier, as ever, accepts his duty and reenlists in this next war. Without his once amazing abilities, he’s forced to seek the help of the one man who walked away, the sole hero who refused to make the sacrifice – PenUltimate, the sidekick of Ultimate, who through his own rejection of the game has become the most powerful man in the world, the only one left who might still, once again, save the day.‘
The story is written in chapters with titles that are reflections of superhero names and titles, it is cleverly done although at first I found it a little annoying and works towards part of what the story is about. It is hard to say if this is a story about Superheroes, but more of a story about humanity, about finding your way when your lost, about making your own destiny. Certainly the Heroes of Arcadia City are lost without their powers, and the one remaining Hero PenUltimate is lost with them.
I’m unsure what to say about this book that wont give a lot of it away, there are parts of it you do see coming, just like any good Superhero yarn and there is a huge part of this that will swerve you completely. I really like the Solider of Freedom character, even though he I wasn’t too sure how some can get injured that much and still keep going. There is a hard-bitten part of his character a refusal to give into the preordained that makes him the fixture and while not the hero, the necessity that may just keep the world in one piece. Pen, is the little lost kid of the story unsure of what to do and really just wanting to be left alone to live his life. Together like all good Team Up’s Pen and Solider get to the bottom of what is racking Arcadia and learn some dark secrets that lead up to the events of ‘The Blue’
As I was reading this book I could not escape the feeling that this really should have been a graphic novel, its breakdown of the superhero myth is on-par with the Watchman; and while this is a book about Superheroes they are not all that superheroic even Pen who is ultimately and reluctantly forced back into the role of a hero is full of doubt about his role in this new world. The pair of them struggle, win and lose in equal measure all trying to live up to their world view.
If I have one complaint about this story it is maybe the writing style, while at time fluid and dynamic, it dwells significantly on the self-reflection to the point it does I feel distract from the characters motives and I found myself losing my place on a page a couple of times as it felt the character was double guessing then triple guessing himself. This is the first novel out of the chute for Tom, and it is already a very, very good book working on so many levels this is such a minor gripe it will not distract from your enjoyment of this tale.
If you enjoyed Watchmen, if you are looking for a Superhero story that is more about the humanity of the Hero then get this book, you will not be disappointed. Ultimately this is a novel about noble sacrifice the true aspect of any Superhero and the reason why they all play the game…
4 thumbs up out of 5
Learn more about Tom King & A Once Crowded Sky by clicking here