January 26, 2006


The Government Manual for New Superheroes. By Matthew David Brozik and Jacob Sager Weinstein.  Andrews McMeel. $10.95.

     One of the many delightful minor characters in Pixar Animation’s film The Incredibles was the sour-faced little government guy charged with cleaning up the mess after superheroes’ superheroic exploits.  Take this idea one step further: what if the government put out a guide for superheroes before they started doing all those superheroic things, trying to help them along in the usual friendly government way?

     If the government attempted such a benevolent project, you might expect something like The Government Manual for New Superheroes to be the result.  It covers everything from choosing a superheroic name to picking the right costume and equipment, establishing a base of operations, finding a sidekick if you want to have one, hooking up with fellow good guys and with appropriate supervillains, and more.

     This sounds like a marvelous sendup of government training manuals, but unfortunately the book is better when described than when you actually read it.  There is nothing pointed about it: Matthew David Brozik and Jacob Sager Weinstein go for the easy, usually juvenile laugh at every opportunity.  For instance, “If you are The Beachball because you are as wide as you are tall and your costume is made up of brightly colored strips of plastic, fine.  But if you are The Beachball because your primary, perhaps only, tool of the trade is a beachball (of justice, rightfulness, what have you), then you had better have that beachball on or near your person.”

     The authors’ approach works better in some sections than others.  It is fun to read their comments about locating a base of operations in a crowded metropolitan area “for financial, logistical, or elderly-aunt-tending reasons.”  They warn “that many districts require extensive site impact reports before any new superhero construction, in order to mitigate concerns regarding noise, giant alien death rays, and additional traffic.”  A few more words like “mitigate” would in fact go a long way to make the book more satirical and less silly.  The warning about what to do if a superhero organization chooses not to admit you is especially enjoyable, because part of it is just the sort of thing you might find in a real government guide: “Applicants who respond to rejection by becoming evil and devoting themselves to the destruction of the offending heroes are rarely invited to apply for future openings… However: Under certain circumstances, it might be appropriate to file a lawsuit.  Under the Super-Disabilities Act of 1992, superorganizations may not discriminate on the basis of physical handicaps that have caused you to develop other uncanny abilities in compensation.  Additionally, discrimination is forbidden on the basis of race, ethnicity, alien origin, religion (your own or that of those who worship the ancient pantheon of which you are a part), sexual orientation, or milquetoastness of secret identity.”

     More government-ese like this would make the book cleverer, but the authors simply aren’t sure that they want to be clever.  Silliness does have its place, of course: “Except for the occasional skirmish in The Silent Zone, The Eternal Vacuum of Dimension X, or the Library of Congress, battles will be noisy, chaotic affairs.”  But Brozik and Weinstein flip-flop so frequently between juvenile humor and more-trenchant satire that they seem unsure what sort of book they wanted to write.  Maybe one of them wanted one type, the other a different sort.  What they have produced is an amalgam that doesn’t quite hang together, despite its frequent funny moments.

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