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With a premise like that, and chapter titles like 'Facing the Ultimate Archenemy' and 'Iconoclastic Means "I Can!"' I was expecting light entertainment, tongue-in cheek caricatures of Marvel and DC's finest, but I got much more than I bargained for. Faust has delivered a well-paced suspense novel packed with twists and bluffs, together with an intelligent satire on post-9/11 Western society, all wrapped in a veneer of enjoyable silliness with capes, gadgets and superpowers.
Omnipotent Man (last son of the dead planet Argon, raised in small-town Kentucky), The Flying Squirrel (ageing right-wing upholder of justice), Iron Lass (Norse goddess), X-Man (former member of the League of Angry Blackmen), The Brotherfly (hip young victim of a biology student prank) and Power Grrrl (apparently a superheroine because it helps her sell more albums and branded clothing) have been ordered by the FOOJ to attend Dr Brain's clinic before they destroy themselves, each other or the planet. In the aftermath of the final battle in which almost all known supervillains were destroyed or imprisoned, members of the FOOJ are at something of a loose end. With no more supervillains to combat, and still being funded by the taxpayer, serious questions were being asked about the need for the FOOJ, and some of its members were questioning their own purpose.
So we follow a little over two weeks of Dr Brain's sessions with the six hyper-hominids, delving into their secret identities, failed marriages and strained relationships with ex-sidekicks and associates. During this time the greatest superhero of them all, the ancient Egyptian deity known as Hawk King, is found dead (official verdict: natural causes) and it soon becomes clear, at least to the more paranoid of the group, that this is part of a global conspiracy to bring down the FOOJ. While Dr Brain counters every claim with her circular, self-affirming logic, X-Man attempts to solve the mystery and bring the miscreant to justice. Amid family reunions, shocking revelations of addiction, affairs, and hypocrisy, the sextet forge temporary alliances with each other in order to save the FOOJ (which, incidentally, is about to elect a new Director of Operations, a post both Flying Squirrel and X-Man are in the running for).
Wonderfully written from the patronising and dogmatic viewpoint of Dr Brain, continually missing the point and coming out with tortuous analogies like 'to fill up the tank of personal reintegration, he was going to have to pull into the filling station of exhaustive self-assessment.' and enough pseudo-babble to sink a ship, this was a multi-layered and satisfying read. Naturally, given the set-up, Faust made use of a few stereotypes, but on the whole the main characters were three-dimensional, believable people, for all their extraordinary powers. My experience of well-known superheroes comes purely from a couple of the major films, and the 'everybody knows that' in mainstream culture, so this is certainly not just for comic fans; I would recommend this to anyone with a cynical sense of humour, whatever their views on superheroes or therapists;
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