I have a not-so-secret love of comic books, graphic novels, manga–whatever you want to call it. In high school, going to the local bookstore (a Borders, RIP) was a treat, something saved for my post-birthday cash, and allowed me to amass a pretty solid collection of graphic novels, including Battle Royale, Peach Girl, and Inu-Yasha. Though I’ve been out of high school for eight years now, I still enjoy a good comic now and then: Watchmen, Fables, The Walking Dead.
I give this back story to illustrate that I am not some sort of comics snob. I think they can be fantastic stories, legitimate works of art, and a great way to encourage reluctant readers of all ages to read. Comics have a wonderful history, and many leave behind a wonderful legacy.
So it is not meant (entirely) as an insult when I say that I think Seven Wonders, by Adam Christopher, would have been more successful as a comic book.
Seven Wonders tells the story of Tony, an average guy who wakes up one morning to find he has superpowers. Superpowers–and more importantly, superheroes–already exist in this world, and Tony happens to live in the city of San Ventura, which has its very own superteam called (you guessed it) the Seven Wonders. Tony not only wants to join the team, but also wants to one-up them by capturing the last known operating supervillain, the Cowl, and his sidekick Blackbird. Along the way, we meet Detective Sam Millar, who has her own plans to capture the Cowl.
I’ve actually streamlined the story quite a bit, and the climax/plot resolution ends up having very little to do with what I’ve detailed above. (There are aliens involved.) Part of the problem with Seven Wonders is that it tries to do too many things at once, cramming in multiple twists and reveals that range from obvious to out-there. To use the terms from one of my favorite time-sucks, TV Tropes, there are heel face turns, Clark Kenting, I’m not a hero, I’m…, and Phlebotinum batteries galore.
Now, if it had been a comic book, the multiple cliff-hangers and twists would have been perfect spots for issues to end; an 8-issue mini-series would have been ideal, I think. The shorter format of comic books allows for these sort of fast-paced ebbs and flows of plot, whereas in a book, it’s just sort of tiring and unrealistic. This character is good! Now he’s bad. Now he’s dead! Now he’s even badder. Now he’s good again. I can buy that in the almost soap-operatic pages of a comic, but not in the black-and-white pages of a book. I needed more build-up and more justification, and there is room for that in prose novels.
I did like that we had multiple point-of-view characters, including the Cowl, Tony, Sam, SMART (the robot member of the Seven Wonders), Blackbird, and Dragon Star. The attempts to distinguish their voices were largely successful, though everything tended to be written with a casual, conversational tone. Again, that’s something you often see in comics (though certainly not all comics). Sometimes I felt that the prose veered into “too casual” territory; Christopher, for example, seems preoccupied with detailing how his characters eat and drink as they talk:
‘I wonder why the FBI were interested in that shooting?’ Joe lifted the lid on his drink, apparently admitting defeat as he gently blew across the surface of his coffee.
Sam kept the straw of her milkshake in her mouth. ‘What shooting? She took another delightfully chilled mouthful.
This doesn’t really achieve anything other than avoiding using the word “said,” and bogging down any potential action and exposition.
And while I enjoy comic books, there are admittedly some topics that comic authors struggle to handle sensitively–the treatment of women and people of color being one. While the character of Sam is strong and independent (and often the one person speaking any sense), Seven Wonders members Bluebell and Sand Cat are carictures. Bluebell is called a “bitch” numerous times–the only superhero to be called that, and the only superhero to be called an expletive in the first place. (“Wow, somebody really didn’t like Jean Grey/Sue Storm.” – me) Sand Cat, a woman as well as someone of Middle Eastern descent, is spoken about derisively by someone trying to mimic a Haitian accent, and accused of using voodoo. Again, the origins of the other (white) heroes are not called into question. Sand Cat is also one of only two main characters of color, the other being Sam Millar’s fellow detective, the ambiguously Hispanic Joe Milano.
Overall, while this is a good effort at translating the content and action of a comic book to a novel, Seven Wonders is not as fun as reading an actual graphic novel. For those new to comics, I recommend Fables, Watchmen, or anything by Gail Simone.
I received this book free for review from the publisher, Angry Robot Books, through NetGallery. Seven Wonders will be published on August 28th, 2012.
Bookwanderer Rating: Two and a half out of five stars
Bookwanderer Tagline: “Everybody in the whole world was the center of their own life drama. Everybody was their own superhero, everybody was a good guy.”