Superheroes seem to be the new thing these days, not that they've ever not been the thing, it's just that they seem to be more of a thing now. Not only are they in the movies but now they're even combined with zombies.
Superheroes with no powers, well all except one of them, reflect on the meaning of being a hero. No this isn't The Watchmen silly, it's not even a graphic novel.
But seriously, it's hard not to compare to The Watchmen when you start reading. And after a while you realize it's actually quite a bit different.
A Once Crowded Sky [US] [UK] is a novel that starts with and is interspersed with comic pages in each "part," of which there are nine. It's really a very clever novel, from the slow reveal of the mysteries of the plot to the set up of novel/comic to the commentary it's making.
The novel starts with all the superheroes gathered around while their powers are voluntarily stripped from them so that The Man With the Metal Face, Ultimate, can use them to destroy the "blue" that is threatening to destroy everything. Each superhero gives up their power for the sake of the entire world, never to be able to use those powers again and Ultimate is completely incinerated in the process.
We slowly come to find out that Ultimate's sidekick, PenUltimate, actually never showed to the gathering to save the world and thus has kept his powers and simultaneously the ire of all his former friends who think he is a coward.
So, instead of being regular people who never had powers to begin with, these superheroes are going through some really hard times coming down down from the high and having to be normal people again, if they ever were. As you can imagine, not everyone deals with it well and some, one in particular, actually need saving over and over again.
In this superhero world, the superheroes we know about also exist in the form of comics, so the story ends up working as a post-modern/meta look at how we view superheroes and then how they view themselves. Some can no longer deal with the fact that they're useless, some continue to look for fights, and others have given up completely.
The commentary it makes really only works in novel form as well. It's looking at what comics do and how they effect people and what superheroes are to people. At first I wondered why the entire story wasn't in comic form, but as it progresses, it starts to make sense especially with one of the main reveals that's hard to hold back right now, but terribly clever as I mentioned earlier.
One thing I have to mention that bugged me was in the writing itself. There were a lot of odd contractions such as, "There're shots in the air," throughout the novel. The worst part is, I've been known to write like this, but suffice it to say, I will stop because it gets annoying and it's not smooth reading.
In the end, it's not The Watchmen at all, but a clever story that makes you think. The themes in A Once Crowded Sky are a bit lighter, but no less interesting, especially to a comic fan. I would love to read a comic with all these superheroes in it and maybe that will happen one day because I think King did a great job thinking these ones up from powers to personality they're excellently crafted.
4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)