tumblr_mgdrfouR2v1qfi0coo1_500Late last year, a campaign went live asking for people to help self-publish a novel about super-powered teens. The request was simple: $3500 to print the first small batch of books. The project went live on Indiegogo’s site on December 15th and ended a month later. This was a small project, put out by a superhero fan and author and passed along through Tumblr and online sharing. In the midst of the crowd-sourcing era, where projects can live and die by word of mouth, the outcome was unknown.

By the time the project closed on January 16th at midnight, it had raised over $18,000 – over five times the asking goal.

I heard of the The Posterchildren through friends and being part of Kitty Burrough’s online following. I appreciated her ideas on comic culture and discussions of characters. When her book came out, I backed it on a gamble. Crowd-sourced material isn’t always the best quality. It’s easy for the superhero fan-made shows and movies to disappoint the incredibly picky fans and hard to pass from fanfiction to original fiction. But I want to say this upfront, in case this is the only part of the review you do read: The Posterchildren is a good story and worth the $5 price tag.

Mild spoilers from here out!

Described as “a YA superhero novel that focuses on LGBTQ themes, female empowerment, POCs, and minority issues,” it’s easy to get intimidated but everything about those qualifiers is what makes the story unique and fresh. It centers on four poster (superpowered) kids at Maillardet’s Academy, a school for teaching teenagers about their powers and adjusting them to fit into society.

This school isn’t Xavier’s; it’s a sometimes mandatory stop for the kids with the most dangerous or helpful powers. Behind the pine trees and picturesque campus, there’s an underlying tension about the school that peeks in the smallest places in the novel. There’s no direct reference to the underlying darkness around such an academy existing, yet the author herself seems to be aware that the school, while noble in looks, reads almost like a prison.

The only difference? The rules are there for the protection of the kids (so it seems) – yet it restricts their freedoms at the same time. Enforced dieting, school gates and limited contact with family outside of the school reflect the world the school exists in. It’s a world struggling to control a group of superpowered people.

What really stands out in this book is how rich the characters feel. The main four have a wonderful and diverse dynamic with varying relationships between them as a group and makes the four different POVs interesting and not redundant. Even the secondary characters have distinct voices and aren’t just there to talk back to the main group for the sake of plot. They live and breathe at the school the same as the main kids, and their words and presence in the book reflects that. It’s easy to see why one of the incentives to back the book is a secondary set of stories, Timely Tales, featuring all the characters that didn’t get a chance to shine on their own.

The main kids in question are Mal Underwood, Zip Chance, Ernest Wright and June Hovick. The narration jumps between them regularly, but favors Mal. An abrasive teenager, Mal, simply put, has issues. The novel begins at his father’s funeral, who in life went by The Rook and was part of the world’s greatest trio of superheroes. While The Rook is held in mixed regards by society and his son alike, Mal’s relationship to his father and the legacy a mystery driving the story.

While his healing power isn’t a selling point, his training – which could rival Batman’s bootcamp – and lineage make him the top of the class… usually. Mal finds out his good academic standing at the school has fallen to a dismal degree and sets himself on a quest to regain his pride and grade. For an ass, his narrative is surprisingly endearing. Struggling with nightmares after the complicated death of his father and being under the watchful eye of his mother – who is also an A-lister hero and teacher at the academy – makes his attitude understandable.

His oldest friend, Ernest, is a posterboy for the American do-gooder, which makes the dynamic between them as fun as Batman and Superman (which may or may not be deliberate). Still, both Mal and Ernest have the trouble of living up to their parents’ careers as champions of justice for all. It is clear Mal has a heart somewhere under all that teen angst.

The campaign promised diversity and the novel delivered. Mal is Arab (not Arabic, as the story teaches) as is his mother, The Queen. Zip is a lesbian and June has dealt with being overweight her entire life. None of the characters are defined by these traits, however. Zip’s sexuality isn’t all she is. It’s not even part of her story arc. It’s refreshing to read about characters that aren’t used as bait to sell issues.The representation didn’t feel force-fed either, but instead a natural part of the character’s lives. Instead of being a barrier between reader and character, it actually helped make them more relatable and interesting. When the characters are so well written, their differences become endearing and fun to read more about.

It’s almost like, gasp! Homosexuals/Arabs/fat girls are real people. This was probably the biggest selling point for many of the backers as I saw it make the rounds on Tumblr. It just goes to show that the industry could survive with a little more diversity.

While the novel isn’t actually a comic, it does feel and read almost like a mini-series. It’s split between seven “Issues,” each stretching longer than a normal chapter would. The dialogue is fresh and quick, and the scenes move along at an easy pace. The characters are quirky and the humor is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. There are clear references and parodies to comic book culture and heroes, but only on the surface.

The story does a fantastic job making use of the tropes and keeping away from clichés. It’s not about a Fatman’s son and Ultraboy, but rather a world built upon the respect of the comics so loved by many. There are hints of favorite heroes in all of the characters, but they become their own legacy by the end of the novel. It’s a refreshing read, rebuilding everything loved in comics with new concepts and ideas. The author is definitely a fan and it shows through the level of care in the world building.

There is a tiny fault, though. The plot is character-centered, focusing more on the natural progression of the characters and relationships between them than an outside force. There’s enough action to satisfy the superhero fans of the audience, but it isn’t a book that ends in a giant smashing contest. There isn’t even a hint of evil scientist or alien attack. In fact, the strength of characterization might be the cause of the only negative found in the story. There’s very little outside conflict. While the internal struggles of the kids is enough to push the book forward, it ends on a very similar plane as it began.

While there’s a possible sequel in the mix, the book feels half-finished plot-wise. This is the biggest drawback. There’s no climax, no defining moment that really brings the book into its final act. The attack on Zip and Maks – a secondary character that is the most deserving of a follow-up short story – makes for a hair-raising page turner, but the drama is over way before the book concludes.

The final show down between Mal and his mysterious and probably evil brother Marshal doesn’t last long enough to cement a Final Event, nor does it reveal anything more about The Rook’s death (which is set-up to be the main plot line of the book). While sequels are great, there does need to be a resolution in the book that establishes more than just a friendship between the cast. Friendship is magic and romance is great, but five hundred pages of Mal learning to be a little less of a jerk leaves the comic book enthusiast in me a little disappointed. There is nothing really at stake or accomplished. It keeps the reader turning pages but the satisfaction isn’t all there at the end. The fight with Marshal should reveal more about The Rook’s death, even if it’s just to us and not the characters. There are too many loose ends that leave the reader feeling unraveled rather than pulled to the next one.

Despite a solid ending, The Posterchildren is not a flop. With the quality of the writing, it’s no wonder fans blew the original goal out of the water. It’s entertaining and interesting enough to satisfy any fan waiting for the next issues of their comics to come out and maybe even sooth some of the burn left by the Big Two’s editorial decisions. It also seems like a great way to get a younger crowd into comics. It’s $5 for a digital download and a few more for a subscription to Timely Tales. For me, it was worth it to support new and original content. If any of that sounds good, feel free to add The Posterchildren to your library.

About The Author

I'm a recent Grand Valley State graduate with a BA in writing. Unwinding with a good cup of tea and a rain storm is my ideal writing setting but my real process is something a little more hectic. Growing up in a world of Sailor Moon and Disney, I’m a big dreamer and optimist. A fan of Batman since my early years, I’ve been involved in the comic community for almost half my life.

I was a DC girl for most of that time but have started venturing out into Marvel and Image and now look for anything I can find. I may be a stranger to giving an opinion and writing reviews but not to sharing my passion to anyone that will listen. On the off time I’m not writing reviews or working in customer service, I don the capes of my favorite female heroes and travel to conventions like NYCC and C2E2. In addition to cosplaying, I also take commissions for plush dolls and love finding new ways to express my interests. Feel free to look me up on tumblr or twitter as I spend too much time on social media, devouring new information on comics and movies.

My love of travel and writing has taken me across the United States and over the pond to the United Kingdom. I’ve also worked the craziest time of the year at Disney World one Christmas (and thinking of doing it again)! I’m always looking for an excuse to visit a new place or get together with friends. There will hopefully be a book out there someday with my name on it but until then I’m thrilled to write for Destroy The Cyborg! and be part of this awesome geeky family.

One Response to A New Breed of Hero: The Posterchildren Review