Are we heading into a new age of comic book popularity, much like the Golden Age of Comics? Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe seem to have dissolved the barrier between comic geeks and… well, everyone else. With films like Man of Steel, The Wolverine, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Kick-Ass 2, next year seems poised to continue that trend. Meanwhile, DC has rebooted all of its comics, and Marvel is doing a similar thing with Marvel Now. It’s a time of increasing diversity—with superheroes we know and love being adapted to a new day and age. In popularity and the sheer amount of superheroes, it’s starting to look like the 1940s and ’50s—the Golden Age of Comics—are repeating themselves with a new and modern twist.
An age of comic literature
In this time of heightened popularity of comics, speculative literature seems to be following suit. Some of the most popular fantasy series, like The Wheel of Time, The Dresden Files, and A Song of Ice and Fire, have their own graphic novel adaptations. On top of that, there seems to be a new trend. One might say that 2012 was the year of superhero literature. Books like Paul Tobin’s Prepare to Die, Tom King’s A Once Crowded Sky, and Christopher L. Bennett’s Only Superhuman adapt comics to books. These are superhero novels that read very much like comics.
The new mindset
Unfortunately, as Justin Landon accurately points out here, many of these books also have the same problem comics still have: they over-sexualize women. We’re settling into a place where the general concept of comic book is no longer tied inextricably to teenage boy, and where serious, mature adults can read Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter without getting funny looks. It would seem that this new place should have no room for scantily clad superwomen. Perhaps the true new age of comics will arrive when, like their film adaptions, comics comply with this egalitarian mindset of our generation?
One book that definitely does embrace this mindset of our generation is Adam Christopher’s Seven Wonders. It is his second superhero novel of the year; his debut novel, Empire State (reviewed here), was published in January. Seven Wonders does exactly what it set out to do: this tour de force novel reads like a wonderful superhero comic, with strong characters both male and female. Its fusion of astonishing comic-book-style storytelling and literary fiction creates a new version of our near-future populated with superheroes. It is, in and of itself, an ode to the Golden Age of Comics, and is most comparable to Watchmen.
Good or evil?
Like Watchmen, Seven Wonders is set after a Golden Age of Superheroes. Nearly all supervillains have been defeated, and all the superheroes of old have retired. Except for the Seven Wonders, who continue to protect the fictional Californian shining city of San Ventura from the last living supermenace, The Cowl. When Tony, a normal dude, suddenly wakes up one morning with superpowers and decides to take The Cowl down, he discovers that things aren’t quite as they seem.
Seven Wonders follows the trend of many modern superhero depictions. Its moral ambiguity is evident from the very start. The characters in this novel are neither good nor evil. They have their own ambitions and convictions. The Cowl may be a supervillain, but he truly believes that he is doing the world a favor and that the end justifies the means. The Seven Wonders may be superheroes, yet they let evil exist simply because to defeat evil is to defeat their own purpose in the world. And Tony… well, Tony is simply an angry teenager with super strength, super speed, and super everything. Christopher has an incredible talent for creating these versatile, multidimensional characters.
Themes and setting
While the themes in Christopher’s novel are dark and most of its characters are questionable, Seven Wonders doesn’t quite reach the gritty darkness of modern age comics. Yet its world and background have more depth than many of today’s comics. In fact, I would say that Seven Wonders proves that novels are the new comic books. While reading, I constantly found myself imagining the story of this superhero novel on the pages of a comic book, the art appearing before my mind’s eye. The action scenes, especially, are marvelously well-written.
The city of San Ventura, meanwhile, is exactly what you would expect from a modern comic book setting. It lives and breathes, and has a character of its own. Through the viewpoint of Tony, but also that of two SVPD detectives, this city is incredibly well-fleshed-out. With this setting, Christopher creates something out of a comic, yet gives it more depth than a comic ever could. However, he doesn’t shy away from breaking it all down before your very eyes when the story calls for it.
If Adam Christopher meant to write a book that reads exactly like a comic novel, yet exceeds comics on every level, he succeeded. We may well be headed for a new age of comics, and if that age is shaped like Seven Wonders, I can hardly wait. For me, this novel nailed everything I want in a comic. It has amazing action, characters with depth, realistic themes, a lot of superheroes with a lot of innovative super powers, and an impressively devised foe that is perfectly balanced between comic book cliché and ingenious originality. Its only problem is that Seven Wonders—much like comics—is quite predictable. More than anything else, though, this novel is one heck of a lot of fun!
Why should you read this book?
If you are a fan of comic books and superheroes, Seven Wonders may well be your perfect read. Its grand scale and impressive prose will definitely appeal to anyone who enjoys comics. Its flamboyant action and incredible characters will entertain you for hours. I dare say that—if done well—this may make one of the best film adaptations ever. I would love to see Christopher Nolan or Joss Whedon take a swing at this.
Stephan received a review copy of this book courtesy of Angry Robot Books.