Wearing the Cape
Hope Corrigan always wanted to be a superhero, to fly the skies of Chicago with her idol, Atlas. When a terrorist bombing gives her the chance, she finds out there's more to being a superhero than just putting on the cape and flying around.
Wearing the Cape is a good old-fashioned superhero romp in a world that’s just a little bit more like ours than those portrayed in the comics, with a somewhat unlikely hero. Marion Harmon has created a world with superheroes, but also with superhero unions (superteams with both team physicians and team shrinks on staff), as well as marketing and public relations people — either on staff or outsourced. The results are very interesting and unexpectedly a lot of fun as well!
Violence: Lots of typical superhero violence, including the deaths of several civilians, supervillians, and even superheroes.
Sexual Content: References to intercourse and tantric (sex-based) magic.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Characters are occasionally described as drunk, and some scenes take place in a nightclub.
Spiritual Content: Several scenes in a Catholic church presented in a sympathetic manner; also references to magic of various kinds.
Language/Crude Humor: Surprisingly little for a superhero novel.
Other Negative Content: Again, several types of magic including tantric magic are mentioned prominently.
Positive Content: The main character appears to be a devout and practicing Catholic. Bringing good out of evil is a prominent theme.
Imagine an America where anyone can develop superpowers during any stressful or traumatic event. That’s the world Marion Harmon shows us in Wearing the Cape. Our young heroine, Hope Corrigan, begins as a high school graduate about to enter college. One day she’s driving across a bridge in Chicago when a terrorist bomb explodes on it. Rather than being killed by it, she experiences a “breakthrough,” gaining her powers. She gets what in this world is called the “Atlas-type” package, which means most of the powers we associate with Superman, except for things like freezing breath and heat vision. She’s also nowhere near as invulnerable as the man with the big S on his chest, which means she can and does get hurt. Taking the name Astra, she becomes the sidekick of the very first superhero to appear, Atlas himself (the man the power set is named after).
However, in this world, superheroes have to pass psychiatric examinations before joining super-teams such as Chicago’s premier team, the Sentinels, in order to satisfy the team’s insurer. Property insurance policies also have superhero damage riders available. The Sentinels have their own TV show, line of action figures, and so on. But it’s not all a life of fame; the Sentinels act as emergency responders for the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois, and they’re also civilian contractors to law enforcement when supervillains are involved. Hope/Astra is a fascinating lead character, as she’s described as very short and petite, yet becomes one of the strongest superheroes in America. She also has some details in her past that make her very sympathetic and believable, and they’re mostly revealed a little at a time, which makes it that much more interesting.
What follows is a story of a time-traveling terrorist — the same one that planted the bomb on the bridge — and Astra’s part in the fight to stop him from changing the past in order to make future America a totalitarian state. Rather than face the Sentinels and other super-teams around the country directly, he uses proxies in some very interesting ways, including one capable of mass mind-control. Along with the usual “save the world” superhero story, there are moments of lighthearted humor and some serious reflection as well.
The book is not perfect. There are, as stated above, many references to tantric magic, as one of the Sentinels uses it as her superpower. There are also a few large superpowered fights, and some people do end up getting killed, both good and bad guys. Hope/Astra’s mother sees the Catholic church as mainly there for “good works” and not spiritual growth, and the team’s main hangout when not in their base of operations is a nightclub for superheroes and their fans. However, good does triumph over evil, and Hope/Astra appears to be devout in the few scenes where her faith is mentioned — even reaching out to her priest for advice on whether or not to become a full-time superhero or stay as a “reservist.”
Another quibble is the “breakthrough” mechanism. While it works well enough for people like Astra or the team’s super-speed expert (codenamed Rush), it doesn’t really do a good job of explaining people like Chakra — the Sentinel who uses tantric magic — or Blackstone, the stage magician who’s able to teleport himself and a few other people, cast illusions, and levitate. The author tries to flesh it out in later books but to me, it still feels like it has holes. Also, as a self-published book through Amazon’s CreateSpace, there are a few errors even in the latest editions, but nothing that should really impact your enjoyment of the novel.
There are, as of this writing, seven books in the series, and there are plans for a tabletop RPG set in this world, which sounds like a very fun way to spend an evening!
+ Positive portrayal of some Catholics (Hope)
+ Strong tone of good coming out of evil
+ Heroes shown sacrificing for the greater good
- Magic portrayed as real
- Superhero violence leading to deaths
- Character running away to a remote cabin with a man 9 years her senior, though it's described as "hands-off"