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Masked Paperback – July 20, 2010

3.9 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Anders (Fast Forward) delivers an ambitious collection of superhero tales that provide top-notch plots and characterizations while honoring their four-color roots. In Daryl Gregory's superbly metafictional "Message from the Bubble Gum Factory," a former sidekick finally realizes the broader implications of superheroes. Stephen Baxter nicely applies hard science to the futuristic "Vacuum Lad." Gail Simone's "Thug" and Mike Carey's "The Non-Event" bolster predictable plots with solid characters and prose. Joseph Mallozzi's "Downfall" and Marjorie M. Liu's "Call Her Savage" embrace comics clicheÌüs and make them both more complex and more entertaining. Only Mike Baron's dull, heavy-handed, and predictable "Avatar" stands out as noticeably weak, though Peter and Kathleen David's witty "Head Cases" feels more like the opening of a novel than a complete story. Overall, Anders has assembled a solid anthology that provides first-rate entertainment.
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From Booklist

Since Clark Kent first donned his red cape in 1938, comic-book superheroes have been steadily gaining notoriety in all niches of popular culture. In the last decade, with novels such as Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay (2000), superheroes have even gained respectability in mainstream literature. This volume of short fiction, featuring all manner of costumed crusaders and average-appearing citizens harboring secret crime-fighting identities, continues the trend. Under the guardianship of Prometheus Books’ SF editor Anders, some of the leading names in comics and speculative fiction make contributions here. The superhero in Matthew Sturges’ “Cleansed and Set in Gold,” obtains his assorted powers from consuming the flesh of other dead superheroes. Mike Baron’s “Avatar” recounts a martial-arts-trained teen’s disillusioning efforts to deliver vigilante justice. Stephen Baxter’s “Vacuum Lad” is a Saudi-born superhero wannabe who fortuitously survives a space accident. Although several tales stray into pulp-fiction territory, countering Anders’ promises of literary merit, every author here provides abundant creative vision and a sure sense of heroic storytelling. --Carl Hays
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books; 1 edition (July 20, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439168822
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439168820
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,368,800 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lexie VINE VOICE on July 20, 2010
Format: Paperback
As usual I'll review each story individually and then give a wrap up. From the offset I should say however that at least five of the authors here are comic book writers that I idolize ::cough Gail Simone cough:: so this may be slightly more skewed then usual. I take my comics very seriously (which is why you rarely if ever will see me review them, I get too passionate).

"Cleansed and Set in Gold" by Matthew Sturges
A reservist member of the League of Heroes, named Wildcard because his powers are "variable", finds himself at the center of an ongoing conflict that killed the supposedly immortal hero Veraine. I couldn't quite guess the trick to Wildcard's powers. The trick is disturbing, though in all honesty I see the merit in it. While the basic premise of the story is one that floods comics on a monthly basis (uber-powerful enemy kills one of the greats and everyone else has to figure out how to stop it), the delivery is more than worth it. Wildcard felt realistic, like an ordinary guy who just stumbled into this hero gig. I did not guess how he resolved the reporter thing, or how he came to terms with his powers.

"Where Their Worm Dieth Not" by James Maxey
Death is as commonplace to heroes as rebirth is. But sometimes the knowledge that you are one of the few who can--and has--returned from death multiple times can be more torturous than anything else. Oh this story made me tear up. It hit home a lot of pertinent facts about superheroes and villains--the whole game can be very like the myth of Sisyphus. While death for most people is the final act, how often has Superman or Cyclops or any hero been brought back to life through some weird invented excuse. I guess that's part of the charm, good will always rise again.
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Ever since Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' complex and literate, Watchmen, came out there have been more intelligent examinations of the world of superheroes. Deeper explorations of the personal angst and separation experienced by these heroes, moral confusion, unavoidable inconsistencies, and the overpowering weight of responsibility have provided great fodder for smarter tales. Joseph Mallozzi's contribution in this collection called Downfall captures this succinctly with the line, "Always playing to the media, their public acts of altruism little more than a patina glossing over the ugly truths - alcoholism, malignant narcissism, anger management issues."

It seems we have created a sub-cottage industry to the original super hero comic book trade. This has meant more original efforts that move the genre forward. Take into consideration the movies Hancock, Unbreakable and The Incredibles, Michael Chabon's Pulitzer-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay, Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, and one will see that characters in bright tights and capes have evolved.

And to my surprise, while reading this collection, I read a story in the February 26, 2011 edition of The Wall Street Journal called, Bam! Pow! Superhero Groups Clash In an Epic Battle of Good vs. Good. It covers the true story of individuals dressing up as superheroes in the Seattle area (among them Phoenix Jones - Guardian of Seattle, Zetaman, Knight Owl, Dark Guardian, and Mr. Raven Blade). And like the stories in Masked these real-life characters are revealed to have conflicts amongst themselves. Life imitating art indeed.

This collection has a dark and deep tone that appeals. The stories are all highly original and cover a range of subjects that add reality to the unreal.
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Unless I misremember, I really, really enjoyed all but two or three stories in this anthology. The thing really is surprisingly good. The story "Call Her Savage" really doesn't fit at all and wasn't really to my taste, but I just couldn't believe how many stories in here I really liked. And the writing's good! I mean, not just passable, but--by the standards of fun, non-serious fiction--it's really good. Much, much better than the average just-for-fun read. I'm a huge fan of Austin Grossman's _Soon I Will Be Invincible_, and, until now, I've always told everyone that that's head and shoulders above other books in the genre. I still rank it at the top, but, honestly, I think this anthology isn't all that far behind.
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I ordered this after seeing several of the authors listed. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The book provides a wide range of hero/villain stories that are atypical. While the book does include the typical tights and cape story, the best stories are the ones that are a little different. My personal favorite short story in the collection is Downfall.
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Format: Paperback
Masked, edited by Lou Anders, is a collection of 15 short stories about superheroes written by comic book and science fiction authors. I'll review each story individually and then provide a summary below.

Cleansed and Set in Gold by Matthew Sturges (writer of JACK OF FABLES) 9/10 - A B-rated superhero named "Wildcard" (for his ability to take on the powers of other heroes, seemingly at random) must fight alongside his peers against The Ghoul King, an ostensibly indestructible villain who is mowing down everyone in his path. The real story here is not the battle, but the back story behind Wildcard's powers. There is plenty of death and violence in this one. This was a well thought out concise story and Sturges took an unusual twist that I was pleasantly surprised with. I wouldn't mind reading more by him. I was still thinking about the ethical considerations the story leaves you with well after finishing it. I have no idea what the title has to do with the story.

Where Their Worm Dieth Not by James Maxey (Author of the fantasy series Bitterwood (Dragon Age)) 6/10 - The villain Prime Mover is in prison and things go horribly wrong at his trial when he manages to get out of custody. It is up to Retaliator and Atomahawk to stop him. This story had some potential, but was way too confusing and the resolution didn't make much sense to me. I could actually figure out what happened at the very end, despite reading it twice. Additionally, there is a bunch of backstory thrown in that is just way too extraneous. Maxey describes a relationship between Retaliator and Nubile that serves no purpose to assist the story. In this case less would have been more for most of the story, with more exposition needed at the end.
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