BOOK REVIEW: The Astounding Antagonists-by Rafael Chandler

A cryogenic drug lord, a hellbound jewel thief, a metallokinetic communist, a church-burning psychopath, and a megalomaniacal inventor: they are the Antagonists, the most dangerous supervillains alive.

Pursued by violent superheroes and high-tech billionaire vigilantes, these villains have assembled in order to pull off the perfect crime. There’s just one catch: if they succeed, they might just save the world.

When a lot of people hear the word ‘diversity’, they think of politically correct tokens created to pander to ‘Tumblr Social Justice Warriors’; a tale where good storytelling is sacrificed for ‘an agenda’; a world where everything is so squeaky clean and so sanitised that it no longer reflects real life, but tells us what real life should look like if we could all start being more politically correct.Astounding Antagonists demonstrates why a diverse cast creates a great story. This is an ensemble piece with a large cast so unique, so different from each other and all so loveable flawed in their own way that every single person who appears is memorable.

We have Motley (or Criminal Comedienne), a 40 year old Mexican woman who’s arguably this world’s answer to Harley Quinn. If Harley Quinn had a better taste in men and was less, you know, certifiably axe crazy. Okay, so she’s basically Harley Quinn In that she’s clown themed and funny. After spending half her life fighting to keep herself above the poverty line, Motley’s a pragmatist who’s used to putting herself first. She’s got a lot of compassion- she uses the proceeds of her theft to keep a woman’s shelter financially in the black- but again she’s no robin hood and she isn’t just forced into theft out of circumstance. She’s a thief because she loves the thrill of the chase and her self-centred ways have caused her to hurt the people closest to her. She is a great character because while the other superheroes and villains have powers like ice control, super strength or the ability to manipulate metal, Motley can jump really high. She’s outmatched by everyone around her and knows it, but she still uses her smarts and pragmatism to pull through.

Then we have Dr Agon, a black gay man who’s the mad scientist and driving force behind the story. He is a rebel who hates the way the superheroes and their big companies have unquestioned control of society. He’s brilliant, but is completely socially awkward and seems to lack empathy. His drive is so intense that although he wants to have a happy life with his husband Gideon, he knows he can’t because his ambition is so overwhelming that he will continue down his path even though he knows it will one day destroy him, and the people he loves around him.

Then there’s Helen, a telepathic alien pacifist who has a touching back story. And Danjiro Tamaki, a young extremely idealistic college graduate whose naiveté makes his world perception a little unrealistic.

These are just a few of the great characters in this book- and each one of them is brilliantly fleshed out and every single one has character development. But it isn’t just the characters that are good; it’s the story and world. As you’d expect from a story with supervillains as the protagonists, it’s a deconstruction of the superhero genre. Or, even more specifically, the DC Universe (okay, we have a version of The Fantastic Four in there too, so a little Marvel). In the DC Universe, your Iron Mans and your Batmans are powerful billionaires. The heroes also tend to be hypernationalistic Americans (Black Panther being the only exception I can think of) with Wonder Woman and her stars and stripes leotard, and Captain America…well, being freaking Captain America. And we all know what super wealthy, super nationalistic Americans can be like in real life. This world takes these traits to their logical conclusion. This is what would happen if a wealthy all- American (lets face it, the kind of people who Donald Trump appeals to) were the ones with superpowers.

They hoard jealousy safe guard the ability to create superheroes to ensure that no one other than Americans (whom they approve of) are able to become superheroes. They use their powers to interfere in international affairs and cause grievous harm abroad.

One of my favourite sub plots- which I’m going to delve into in a lot more detail in another post- is the subplot where it brutally attacks the crushing beauty standards that are placed in women in comic books- and the media. You see in every aspect how the male Superheroes treat the women on their various teams. They’re always seen as a piece of meat, chosen for their looks for and foremost. Even the hero Princess- (a female version of Fantastic Four’s ‘The Thing’) is clearly extremely deadly and a fantastic brawler, she’s first and foremost treated like a sex object; she constantly loves being the centre of the moment, but fears when she will lose her beauty, when in spite of all she’s accomplished she will become no one. Especially in the wake of the nonsense surrounding Carrie Fisher for daring to have aged in her 30 years since return of the Jedi, this is all extremely poignant.

The ending is so good as well. It was wonderfully seeing how every single member of the cast member changed, every single one of them had learnt and grown from where they were to begin with. I cannot recommend this book and would urge anyone reading this review to go out and read it.


RATING: 5 levels of Badass / 5

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