so on top of all the other craziness going on in my life, I have a new superhero anthology that came out today. (Can you tell my precognition skills are kinda lacking here?)
Hiding Behind The Cowl was born out of several desires. One was to delve into superheroic fantasy as a serious medium for storytelling, when some folks can’t get their heads past the comic book aspect of it. Their loss.
Another was to reach out to several authors I know and work with them as an editor. In the end four took me up on the offer and we had a ball.
I learned a lot about the craft of editing, which was the entire goal for me. They got to go someplace outside their normal comfort zone and play in a brand new sandbox.
The final product contains stories by (in order): Annie Reed, Leah Cutter, Blaze Ward, JD Brink, and Michael Kingswood. We have teenage coming of age, manga as genre fiction, and an origin story, plus two others:
Kingswood’s story was what happens when an author looks at me and says “you would never publish a story about a racist superhero who was basically Klanman.”
Oh, really? Why not?
Is it a well-crafted story? Is it well told? Do the characters have arcs of development? Do they learn from their mistakes? Are there heroes and villains? Is it entertaining?
So, yeah, you have a outright racist who was gifted with superpowers. And he’s using them to protect the white race from extinction.
A lot of editors would have bounced the story right there. Which is exactly wrong, but I won’t fault them their choice. Not everyone would be comfortable with the heat that something like this might generate.
He’s not a scenery-chewing villain racist from the movies. He’s a man doing what he thinks is right, based on how he was raised. He hurts people he thinks deserve it, based on the pain he is going through in his own life.
And it can be a brutally hard read. I put it last in the anthology because some people will not ever be able to get past that story, and I didn’t want the authors behind him in the table of contents to be ignored and never encountered.
I also put it last because it is a powerful story, and putting it last gives Michael The Last Word. Literally. It will make readers uncomfortable, because it holds up a stark mirror for them to look at and wonder how close to those characters they are. How much of that darkness do they have underneath their cheerful facade?
Some of you will hate the story. That’s your choice as readers.
Some of you will hate me for publishing it. Fuck you. These stories need to be told, because we need to discuss the sorts of casual racism that is still out there. We need to confront the fact that we do not live in a utopian future.
And, more than a year after I started this project, we need to look at the people around us who do not believe the same ways we do. I have been accused of being SJW by someone who considered that an insult, rather than a badge of honor.
Social Justice means fighting for those without. Protecting the weak. Comforting the afflicted. Afflicting the comfortable.
Making the world a better place.
So you need to look at those places, and “those people” and see how to talk to them. Reach out to them. Many are lashing out in pain, not anger. It is a different kind of pain, but they hurt.
Our job is to help.
On the flip side, my story in the collection is about a 32-year-old US Army veteran in 1952. He fought in Europe. Silver Star. Purple Heart. Developed powers in 1947. Wanted to become a hero.
One catch. He’s 5’6 and weighs 130 pounds.
Working with a scientist hero who knows his secret, he became the “teenage sidekick” to another hero. Every major hero in those days had a teenage sidekick. Robin. Speedy. Bucky. You get the picture.
Oh, and this particular gentleman is Japanese-American.
442nd RCT. One-Puka-Puka. 34th Engineering Battalion. Varsity Victory Volunteers.
But he can’t even be a citizen of the country he was born in. There are places where he can’t own property, let alone vote.
People forget that the institutional racism that afflicts Blacks and Hispanics these days used to include Asians of all geographies (E, SE, S). For the Japanese-Americans, it eventually got better. But it took generations. Vietnamese refugees have been here for forty years now, and are beginning to be accepted as just another place that brought interesting cuisine to the party.
So in this anthology we get to explore more than just middle-class white American stories of becoming superheroes. We explore race, culture, and even sexuality to a certain degree. (Always PG-13, with shadows in the background, as it were.)
All things guaranteed to upset some delicate readers who don’t want to think. Just want to be entertained. More power to you.
The point of writing is to tell stories. The point of good writing is to tell stories that make people stop and reconsider their world.
I want you to think.
I want you to ask yourself what you would turn into if the genie offered you three wishes. I bet your place, your response, is far darker than mine is. Why is that?