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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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09/27/2004 Archived Entry: "Book Review: Exterminators"

Exterminators
By Christopher Golden
Pocket Books

Review by Chad Denton

The Justice League wards off an alien invasion. Normally this wouldn't really spark much interest, but Christopher Golden's "Exterminators" tries to merge a big "The Authority"-esque threat, incorporating elements from the classic "Alien" model as well as kaiju, with DC superheroics. The plot follows both the original incarnation of the Justlice League (you know, the one with the Black Canary) and the present team (well, 'present' as of Grant Morrison's relatively recent run) as they deal with two separate alien invasions - although probably more accurately described as infestations. The former had massive kaiju-like beings land in the United Kingdom and start wreaking havoc, forcing the first Justice League to destroy them after all attempts to communicate with them fail. The second begins with people across Britain inexplicably gaining super-powers, only to slowly 'evolve' into monstrosities called 'burrowers', seemingly similar to the aliens the Justice League fought a decade ago.

The best part of the book is its opening half, as the members of the Justice League find themselves running into very powerful and very British superhumans (or metahumans, as the DC Universe lexicon go) who, for the most part, want no part of the spandex life. Most endearing is the character of Ian, a young, happily married Englishman who finds himself with telekinetic powers, becomes close friends with the Flash and the Green Lantern, and becomes for the entire book our 'de facto,' non-JL hero. For these chapters we find iconic superheroes running into people who have powers but don't want to become superheroes. There's one wonderful scene where Ian briefly considers becoming a part-time superhero, but realizes that he finds the costumes the Flash and Green Lantern "daft" and desperately the two heroes try to justify their choice of work clothes.

An interesting and little explored premise would have been to see some of the down-to-earth consequences of a world where people fairly routinely gain superpowers. In fact, Golden does skirt through some of the issues with a prominent actress who finds she has to keep her abilities secret, a man who loses his mind and makes a nonsensical threat against the Queen Elizabeth II, and a woman who tries to take revenge against a hopeless political situation. Unfortunately, as the new alien threat manifests itself, that is all brushed aside for the Justice League fighting monsters. Fortunately, it's not that simple, as the Justice League finds itself in a number of ethical dilemmas as well as posing the harsh question: did their predecessors ten years ago do the right thing and are they to blame for the current crisis? (Frankly, though, I don't think the ethical situation is as complicated as Golden wants us to believe, but it still works.)

The beauty of the final chapters comes from its scope, as the narration views all sorts of heroes from around the DC Universe responding to the crisis, from the Atom to Mister Terrific to Booster Gold. Someone who isn't exactly in tune with the very, very, very sizable cast of the mainstream DC Universe might be daunted, but Golden gives enough space to these different champions to leave hardcore DC fans satisfied.

Golden does a fine job of conveying the threat and the power of the aliens and the solution the Justice League does find to the problem is almost like something out of a Japanese b-movie (not to give too much away, but you should know what you do when you're faced with a big monster´┐Ż). Also, luckily, Golden brings forward a few characters that are fleshed-out and sympathetic to the point that, while we know the Justice League members will go unscathed, the audience might very well worry for their well-being.

Despite the abrupt change of gears about halfway through the book as the narrative goes from a story about normal people getting superpowers to one about monsters, Golden's writing is quite good, whether it's a basic character-building scene, a shout-out to old-fashioned DC fans, or an epic fight scene. Unfortunately, Golden's prose does feature one annoying habit.

The habit involves one-sentence paragraphs like these to build suspense.

All in all, though, this is quite a solid, entertaining book. I'm not sure, given the number of characters drawn in, how accessible it will be to those not up on their DC characters, but like all good prose based on comic book superheroes it manages to invoke a real love for the characters with an eye to the more down-to-earth details.

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