I’ve read Beat to a Pulp’s site for a while now, never disappointed at the weekly short stories they put up. This is the first anthology of their’s I’ve ever read, but now I have, the Hardboiled series is on the list, for this is a brilliant collection. I was a little reluctant to buy it, because I’m sick of all the superhero films, and still shaking my head at the Spiderman reboot. I didn’t want to read about po-faced men of steel smacking skyscrapers from their foundations, thanks. However, as I said, I’ve not yet seen Beat to a Pulp publish a stinker.
I enjoyed all the stories here, but Kevin Burton Smith’s The Revenge of the Red Avenger grabbed my shirt collars and pulled me right in, making me realise (though the fabulous introduction by Scott D. Parker should have clued me in) that this collection isn’t about indestructible men and women boring us with daddy issues and teenage angst, which has paid off so well. Smith’s story is about two kids just playing in the woods, making up superhero identities, fighting pretend crime, and loving each other in their innocent way. Parker calls it “nostalgic”, but it’s so much more than that. The loss is tangible, and it hurt. Beautiful story.
Then you have Liam Jose’s Dark Guy in … Terror on the Digger!, about the darker side of a child’s psyche. Harry pushes Anthony off the digger toy in the school playground so he can play on it longer, triggering Anthony’s descent into Dark Guy mode (a superhero only in the boy’s mind). And Dark Guy wants revenge. The revenge is horrible. You get used to reading dark stuff like this at sites like Shotgun Honey and Flash Fiction Offensive, and it’s all about adults doing terrible things to other adults. When a kid does something to another, it’s even worse, more so when the kid has no real idea what he’s done, or fantasises his actions. Great story, and really horrible.
Children are at most of the stories’ hearts. Sandra Seamans’ Moon Mad also has kids in danger, three girls kidnapped for sex slavery, until an old woman with a similarly heartbreaking past and a fading grasp on reality, takes matters into her own hands with the help of a shopping cart. It’s exciting, full of depth, and glorious.
So, you have kids in peril, a couple of historical superheros featuring a great man vs tiger battle in an Asian forest, and another in Revolutionary America (those bloody Brits, those poor overtaxed Americans), and a supervillain intent on ruling a metropolis. Many of the characters wonder what Batman would do in their situation. I got about halfway through and I started wondering if any of the tales would wrestle with the idea many recent articles have explored, about superheros being a bunch of fascists. Step up, Keith Rawson, with Spoiled, about a young man who follows his adopted father’s steps into the superhero mould, only he ends up fighting said adopted father because he’s a fascist who sees himself above the population. The old man sees everything in absolute terms to the extent that he will blow up a building containing a couple of drug dealers, and not mind about the collateral damage (killing everybody in the building), because they’re all complicit in the dealers’ crimes – guilty of doing nothing about the criminals in their midst.
The Revenge of the Red Avenger is my favourite, but Thomas Pluck’s Garbage Man tussles and gives it a good pounding to level in rank. Denny the Dent is a big man with a dent in his head, teased by everybody when he was growing up, now teased as an adult by children and grown-ups alike. Soft as a badger’s tail with those kids, he still smarts at what they tell him their parents say about him. But when they’re endangered, he will step in and take action to try to protect them. I’d heard about Pluck’s books over the internet. With a name like Blade of Dishonor, I didn’t think it’d be my cup of tea, and so I also thought I wouldn’t like this. But what a great story it is. It slow burns to a dramatic ending, and has you thinking about it for days afterwards, like Stephen King’s Stand By Me. Blade of Dishonor on the TBR list, then.
I’ve hardly scratched the surface, mentioning the ones I liked best, but there’s not a single dud in the anthology. Well worth putting a hand in your pocket for.
Here’s two examples of how good Beat to a Pulp’s stories are (from their website):
Fair Warning by Hilary Davidson http://beattoapulp.com/stor/2013/0908_hd_FairWarning.shtm
155 Rounds by Mike Miner http://beattoapulp.com/stor/2013/1211_mm_155Rounds.shtm