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Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Astounding Antagonists by Rafael Chandler review

 

Order The Astounding Antagonists over HERE (US) and HERE (UK)

ABOUT RAFAEL: Rafael Chandler writes novels (The Astounding Antagonists, Hexcommunicated), video games (SOCOM 4, Rainbow Six: Lockdown), and tabletop role-playing games (ViewScream, Pandemonio). He's a metalhead, kaijuphile, gamer, and gorehound. 

Publication date: October 19, 2014 Page count: 390 p (paperback). Cover art by Mark Ecob

GENRE: superhero fantasy

OVERVIEW: I'm always in the market for good superhero novels. I don't remember when or why I picked up The Astounding Antagonists, but the more pressing question is why I didn't try it sooner? It's excellent.

Part origin story, part revenge drama, The Astounding Antagonists is a hilarious deconstruction of the superhero mythos from the point of view of the supervillains. Except that the supervillains aren't really the bad guys here. 

Dr. Agon, a megalomaniacal inventor and genius, wants to change the world, but heroes stand in his way. Without spoiling too much, they plan to activate an alien system that would allow them to control everyone on Earth and wipe out all the villains in the blink of an eye. Events force Agon to rebuild a team, an idea he's not thrilled with, preferring to work alone. 

"Freedom is a tough sell, man. Take it away, nobody complains. Surveillance, drones, no problem. Everyone keeps on trucking. But you make people feel unsafe, and they'll swarm you like zombies. They will fight like hell to protect the system if it makes them feel safe."

Chandler impressed me with his ability to keep the action running and the plot twists exciting. The novel starts out light-hearted and humorous but becomes more serious as the story progresses.  Evocative prose, acerbic wit, and fast pacing complement the action-packed plot. The characters engage in complex and evolving relationships as the story progresses and all show lots of spunk. To be fair, though, the superheroes lack depth and Chandler paints them as one-dimensional jerks. Fortunately, the villains make up for it! 

Take Agon - he has zero social skills. He loves to scheme and prefers to spend his time alone or in the company of the only two people he tolerates - his alien friend Helen Demolition and his husband Gideon. He can't relate to others and he doesn't understand human emotions but he still comes as a likable character. Plus, he deeply cares about chosen people, he just doesn't know how to express it. Helen, the blue-skinned alien, speaks broken English and comes off as the most sympathetic character. She loves being around others and has a rather idealistic approach to villainy. Motley, on the other hand, tries to convince herself (and readers) she's in for the money but, of course, she's not. She loves Schwarzenegger movies and quotes them more often than is decent. Plus, her snappy retorts made me laugh more than once. I'll quote one:

"You're going down," he growled. "After you," Motley said. "But maybe you could shave first. That stubble's going to chafe my inner thighs." 
Not the most subtle humor, I know, but I love it anyway!

Other team members/characters include Coltan (an idealistic youth who despises capitalism), Baelphegor (basically a rotting corpse), Cube-Girl (you would never guess what pink cubes can do to a human body!), and more. It's clear Chandler had lots of fun creating characters and their superpowers. He pokes fun at the genre and its beats but never at the cost of the plot and the high stakes of the story. I don't want to spoil too much, but one example of the author having fun is the name of a sensual heroine named Pheromoan (this name still makes me laugh). 

Above all, though, The Astounding Antagonists is a pure reading delight. With its strong characterization, tight plotting, sense of humor, and riveting twists, I couldn't put it down. Highly recommended!



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