by William Freedman
Reviewed by Christopher DeFilippis
(Click book cover to buy)
Seeing that William Freedman’s terrific new novel, Mighty Mighty, is a superhero satire, it’s fitting that this review has something of an origin story.
Back in 2011, I gave Freedman’s first satiric novel, Land That I Love, a less-than-kind review. My chief criticism: indiscriminate joke cramming at the cost of character and plot. For all that, I acknowledged Freedman’s considerable potential and genuine absurdist flare, hoping that one day he would use his powers for good.
And I’m happy to report that he has done so. Mighty Mighty is the perfect vehicle for Freedman’s manic inventiveness and unbounded comedic style.
Mighty Mighty is set in a world where super-powered people are common—so common, in fact, that laws have been passed to corral them into mundane occupations like TSA screeners and mall cops. Only one government-sanctioned super team remains: The Crusaders, led by Colonel America and compatriots like Pantagruel, The World’s Largest Human; his wife Midge (sort of a pixie); Christ the Son (just what he sounds like); and The Carbon Avenger, a once-human slab of malleable shale.
The Crusaders have had their hands full lately, thwarting evil voudon sorceress Maman Brigitte, The Incomprehensible Singh and other members of the American Malevolence Institute from compiling a full Malificium Deck (kind of like Magic: The Gathering cards which impart real powers) for nefarious purposes unknown.
But when Maman Brigitte and her minions descend on a collectible card shop in the Chesterfield Mall in St. Louis, the mall’s super contingent are forced to take up the fight: Orville Ortley—a.k.a. Mucus-Man; mild-mannered Mindy Maguire, who must reluctantly transform into her distractingly beautiful alter-ego Supermodel; superslacker Bobby Bolter, also known as The Blur; and their seemingly un-heroic back-office manager Shel Shapiro.
And that’s just the beginning of a story that quickly leaves the mall and becomes so sprawling and intertwined that it gives DC’s Silver and Bronze Ages a run for their money. It’s hard to believe just how much story Freedman manages to cram into 414 pages. But for all that, the narrative remains quick-paced and funny, breezily embracing every convoluted comic book trapping.
And though Mighty Mighty is a superhero satire at heart, Freedman uses it as a springboard to lampoon many other SF&F and Horror mainstays, turning it into a cheeky meta-wink to genre fans of all stripes. Because of this, Freedman’s Mighty Mighty joins the ranks of genre send-ups like The Venture Bros. and Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog. Its scathing eye is all encompassing, but every satirical tackle is grounded in genuine love and respect.
On a more basic level, Mighty Mighty is also filled with terrific characters that you can really care about and root for. Orville, Mindy and Shel are chief among them, but even ancillary players like The Indomitable Lugh and Lou Noble, America’s Greatest Dick, inspire a measure of sincerely whacky affection. In fact, the cast is so extensive and the action so furious at times that the story threatens to fly apart. But then Freedman swoops in and carries the narrative in new and unexpectedly draw-dropping directions.
Of course Mighty Mighty wouldn’t be much of a comic book homage if it didn’t leave room for a sequel, and Freedman obliges. But unlike most comic books, each of the featured heroes (and villains) have definitive story arcs that combine to form a complete narrative. So a sequel isn’t strictly necessary. But I for one eagerly await more thrillingly absurd adventures in the Mighty-verse.