Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher
Angry Robot Books September 2012 £7.99 411pp
Reviewed by Adrian Middleton
In the wake of his debut novel, Empire State, Adam Christopher steps sideways from the noir city to the shining superhero city of San Ventura to bring us a trip into the four colour world of the Seven Wonders, the last great superhero team, protecting the world and, in particular, the West Coast of America, from the last supervillain team up, The black-clad Cowl and his girl-wonder sidekick, Blackbird.
The pulp style of the novel gets the story off to a cracking start, with a touch that made me believe the book started life as a comic script rather than a novel. Each paragraph feels as if it’s describing an individual comic-book panel which, while giving the feel of authenticity to the piece, made me feel bereft of the depth that the prose of a novel, rather than a graphic novel, can bring.
More influenced by the superhero universes of DC and Wildstorm comics – particularly Batman, Superman and The Authority – Christopher’s world is filled with shades of grey, enthusiastically raising questions about the morality of its heroes and villains, making the reader question who are the real heroes and villains throughout the story.
The story follows the lives of the Cowl, San Ventura’s greatest billionnaire-supervillain, as his powers are mysteriously on the wane, the city’s newest hero, Tony Prosdocimi, and Blackbird, whose own motivations drive the story forward at a speed more like that of a cancelled soap opera than a speeding bullet.
Ultimately is the soap element – the relationships between the characters and their interactions with the San Ventura police and the Seven Wonders themselves – which drives the story forward. Unfortunately, the promised depth isn’t forthcoming, and the story dwells more on set-pieces like the protagonist’s fight to come to terms first with the emergence of his superman-like powers (clearly inspired by Larry Niven’s seminal essay ‘Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex’) and on the TV-style police procedural investigation by Sam Millar and Joe Milano, cops from a SuperCrime department responsible for dealing with the city’s super-powered community on zero budget. These are nice vignettes, but they don’t make up for weak characters who go through the motions with tenuous motives.
The book has some great moments, but they pass quickly, stopping short of what could have been comic-book gold had they been explored in the four-colour medium. Take an early scene where the Cowl touches upon the question: who is acting in the best interests of the city? Aloof heroes with no connection to the people, or career criminals who know every corner of the neighbourhoods they grew up in, protecting their territory while perpetrating crimes in other parts of the city. Unfortunately, when moments like this appear, they fade quickly and are not returned to, making potentially great thematic story elements into little more than passing thoughts.
Ultimately this brings me to the conclusion that as pulp prose, Seven Wonders should have been a comic book, and not a novel. Yes, it is light, action paced and entertaining, with lots of twists and turns as the story progresses, but ultimately without pictures to add depth to some fairly weak characterization, the book leaves me just a little too under-whelmed.