This was an interesting midpoint between “superhero novel about the superhero” and “superhero novel about someone completely unrelated to the superheroes.” (The latter is, honestly, pretty rare, and I think there’s more room for it to be explored as a concept. Agents of SHIELD is also somewhat on this line.) Spencer, the protagonist, certainly isn’t a superhero, being entirely powerless, but he’s also not not involved. His dad is the Superman archetype, and Spencer, being the obvious weak point, is… trapped in a secret bunker somewhere in the Arctic Circle.
The backstory of that bunker made me very happy, though—it’s not just “random bunker because Cold War,” it’s specifically explained later in the book that it was part of a network of those bunkers built by the Soviet Union… because in this world, as best as I can tell, the entire realm of “nuclear” just never happened. World War II ended with a strike team of superhumans; Chernobyl was a superhuman run amuck; the Cold War weapons race was both sides developing more and more superhumans.
Which is just a delightful twist. “They invented superheroes during World War II, but nothing else changed”? Tired. “They invented superheroes during World War II, and now all sorts of major historical events went differently because The Ultimate Weapon is now a superhero instead of a nuke”? Wired.1
And, really, the book just builds on that. The title works really well—the whole book, really, is about the legacy of that Cold War weapons development. Not just that there’s other supers out there, but that the governments had some programs officially trying to wind down the whole arms race… and that they weren’t entirely honest about how it all went.
- I think my favorite one of these was that, in this universe, there were no planes on 9/11; instead, there was a superhuman fielded by a terrorist organization, created using leaked Cold War superhuman tech. ↩
- This is an Amazon affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I prefer Bookshop affiliate links to Amazon when possible, but in this case, the book wasn’t available there, so it’ll have to do. ↩