Bryant blends the cinematic display of classic superhero fiction with the emotional nuances of real life to create fast-paced action that focuses on women and minorities but will not appeal only to them.
This collection contains four short stories set in The Menopausal Superheroes universe, revealing details of events not shown in the novels. As such, there are spoilers ahead.
“Coming Out as Leonel”. Most superheroes struggle with keeping their identity secret; instead, Fuerte must prove the muscular man is still the same grandmotherly friend she was before. Displaying the trans experience of being judged by appearances through the lens of superhero origin stories without trivialising it, Bryant reveals—lovingly but clearly—that even those who do not want to be prejudiced cannot merely set aside years of unconscious biases.
“The Right Thing”. When Dr Liu disappears from the secure facility her deal with the UCU requires, Patricia is determined to hunt her down; even if it requires being pleasant to people. Before Patricia became another of Dr Liu’s experimental victims, she thought she was the doctor’s friend. Bryant paints an image of someone who has been betrayed by her best friend, who wasn’t sure about joining the official superhero unit in the first place, struggling between her desire to recapture the woman who betrayed her and her inclination to direct action—and the discovery years of caring about someone can’t just be switched off.
“Underestimated”. Patricia was aggressive before she gained the ability to become a bullet-proof lizard-monster, so she automatically leaps to protect her girlfriend. However, Suzie is determined to show she isn’tsome damsel in need of rescue—even if she might need rescuing. Focused on an ordinary person (which is to say a person without super powers), this story is every bit as filled with action and heroism as the others. One might even say that the fact it doesn’t feel like a different sort of tale from the others is a testimony to how well Bryant crafts superheroes who are real people who suffer the same doubts as everyone else first, and flashy powers second.
“Flygirl’s Second Chance”. Flygirl knows that this time she’s getting married to the right man and yet she can’t shake the feeling there’s something she needs to do; it might just be pre-wedding jitters, but how can she find time to think it through when there are people in need of rescue? As with the other aspects of her superhero universe, Bryant does not fall back on the simplistic binary of a wedding being either an inciting disaster or an uplifting finale; this is a second—hopefully forever—attempt at a loving marriage, with all the complexities of in-laws, step-children, and the tediously mundane that real life throws up—plus the unique concerns of being a superhero.
Although each story is filled with its own perspectives, perhaps the defining quality of the collection is that Bryant’s characters are not normal. Not in the trite sense of superheroes being, by definition not normal people, but in the deeper sense that they are not a polished aspirational image of pure virtue or a troubled figure struggling with a overweening issue but unique variations on the complexity of humanity. Where they are not straight, not white, not male, it shapes them but it does not define them.
I enjoyed this collection greatly. I recommend it to readers seeking superhero action that focuses on real people without foregoing fantastical action.
I received a free copy from the author with a request for a fair review.