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Graphic Novel Review: LESS THAN HEROES

Superheroes just aren't what they used to be. Faster than a speed bullet? Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? Uh-uh. Self-obsessed and full of post-modern ironic detachment? Yep. At least, that's the kind of heroes we get in David Yurkovich's comic-book universe.

The situation in Less Than Heroes is explained in an introductory section, complete with slide show and Starbucks rant: in this universe, superheroes are unionized, and most major cities contract with specific superheroes for protection against supervillains and their evil plans. Philadelphia, however, where this story is set, has hired a quartet of non-union heroes -- namely, our heroes, who collectively call themselves Threshold. Since Philly sees very little in the way of supervillainry, the members of Threshold tend to spend more time hanging out around their headquarters and eating cookies (Hydrox cookies are a featured favorite) than acting in the city's defense.

This wouldn't make much of a comic-book adventure, but problems arise when a number of New York's villains decide to make Philadelphia their new home. In addition, Threshold must contend with an escaped top-secret government living weapon named Lightning Man, and the fearsome Stamp Collector, who turns his victims into stamps in his book. This last adventure was my favorite, especially during the sequence when our heroes are trapped inside the Collector's book, and wander from stamp to stamp trying to find their way out. One member of the team, who is obsessed with dental hygiene, also runs into what seems to be his perfect arch-nemesis -- a villain who goes by the name of Root Canal and holds the power to "show you pain the likes of which you've never experienced."

This comic novel is a lot of fun -- even laugh-out-loud funny at points -- but there are also some genuinely disturbing moments, particularly in the Lightning Man saga. At the end of the book is an essay by the author that considers the question of how comic-book characters age: should they only exist in monthly installments, so that they age very slowly and span decades with little change, or should their adventures take place in real time, so that they grow old at the same rate as real people do?

Kathryn L. Rampage, is a reviewer for The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society (LHLS) Authors and Editors News and Reviews

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