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Monday, August 12, 2019

Kingdom of Heroes by Jay Philips

Official Author Website
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Jay Phillips lives on the Gulf Coast with his wife and two children. A lifelong lover of comic books, Star Wars, Doctor Who, and everything else from the nerd culture, he prides himself on writing fiction that crosses boundaries. 

OFFICIAL BLURB: Years ago, a gene virus ran rampant across the planet, leaving a small percentage of people gifted/ cursed with extraordinary abilities and humanity itself forever changed. Suddenly, there were people with super strength and speed, people who could read minds, people who could teleport themselves from place to place with but a single thought. 

FORMAT/INFO: Kingdom of Heroes is 411 pages long. It was self-published by the author in 2013. 

OVERVIEW: The world is full of books about superheroes, but only a handful revolve around a murder mystery and incorporate neo-noir aesthetic. Kingdom of Heroes contains most of the stock ingredients of the genre; the femme fatale, the morally ambiguous hero, complex plot, hard-boiled dialogue, and so on. It never wastes a second - thanks to short, action-packed scenes it’s ridiculously addictive.

Set in a world ruthlessly ruled by former superheroes known as the Seven, it pulls no punches in presenting a new form of dictatorship. We learn about world-altering events through a short introduction and skillful use of the newspaper clippings, transcripts of recordings and diaries between the scenes. Before the change of the power structure a gene virus affected a small percentage of the world population by mutations that manifested as enhanced mental and physical skills. Each mutated individual was affected with different abilities, some got immense powers while others useless ones.

Philips paints a gruesome picture of people discovering their powers:

“A woman in Peoria accidentally burned her husband alive when her ability to manifest flames turned on as she was climaxing during sex; a college student in Houston inadvertently lobotomized his History professor while searching the teacher’s mind for the answers to a test; a child in Denver was killed when he unknowingly teleported himself onto a major highway.”

Initially, superheroes wanted to protect the United States against crime and supervillains. But then the government made a fatal mistake and started to perceive them as a threat to the world’s safety and to persecute them. Agent America, and his team of powerful mutants, The Seven conquered states and created a dictatorship their leader perceives as a real-life Utopia. When a mysterious killer murders The Seven one by one (in gruesome ways), Agent America offers a deal to Canadian superhuman knows as the Detective who hates The Seven himself. Mayhem ensues in the best possible way. 

The novel draws from famous comic book arcs and presents characters similar to Marvel’s iconic characters. It starts almost like the Watchmen - with a brutal murder of the member of the Seven, a brilliant scientist Anthony Barren who flies around in technologically advanced suits. When the killer puts his hand on Anthony’s most advanced suit, he gains access to the hidden records concerning the strengths and weaknesses of members of the Seven, which include plans to neutralize them allies in a fight (an arc inspired by excellent JLA: Tower of Babel by Mark Waid). 

You won’t have to look very hard to spot characters inspired by Iceman, Captain America, Colossus, or Cloak&Dagger. And if like me you’re a geek raised on Marvel and DC, occasional nods to well-known characters will add another layer of fun to the edge-of-your-seat narrative. The action moves at a breakneck pace, from one location to another as The Detective tries to solve the murder mystery and stop the killer. The Detective himself is an intriguing character with a knack for the witty that’s top of the line (as long as you enjoy lines from 80’s B Movies). He speaks a lot and I could describe him as a mix of Peter Parker and Deadpool. See for yourself if you’ll enjoy his voice:

“Nothing like a bullet wound and sex with a beautiful woman to make a man feel the pangs of freedom.”

Or this exchange with a gal who’s just about to kill him:

“Oh well,” she said. “At least we had tonight. That means something, doesn’t it?” “Not to me,” he said, smirking for what he assumed would be the last time. “I doubt I’ll even remember you in the morning.”

Such cheesy lines brighten otherwise gruesome and violent reality of survival in the world rules by Agent America. You just can’t approach them seriously. The characterization has enough depth to make the reader care, but it doesn’t try to explore the deepest layers of a human psyche. Despite some shortcuts, I would never call the Detective one-dimensional. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about female characters who are shown as hot and flirtatious types who can’t resist the Detective. Sure, it’s part of neo-noir canon, but it’s also sexist. As long as you accept it and turn a blind eye to the flawed characterization of females, you’ll enjoy the story. Dissect it, and I don’t think you’ll want to finish it.

Kingdom of Heroes is an excellent popcorn fun. It’s fast, furious and loud. If you like Hollywood pacing, superheroes, and crime you’re in for a rare treat.



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