Reviewed by Chuck Rothman
Penumbra’s theme for May is “Superheroes,” an irresistible concept, especially in May, when the new crop of superhero movies comes out like dandelions. The issue attracted more submissions than any previous issues and resulted in a strong lineup.
In “Origin Story,” the narrator is a man who aspires to be a superhero, but is waiting for something to turn him into one. Meanwhile, life begins to take over and he finds out just how the origin story works out. Lindsay Morgan Lockhart sneakily builds her story with perfect misdirection, making the ending the type of logical surprise that makes for an excellent story.
“Dating Man’s Destiny” is a story by Eric James Stone about the Association of People with Unusual Abilities. Major Stupendous is their leader, with Superman-like powers and especially his Stupendous hunches. But even with that, his colleague Remote wonders why Major Stupendous had insisted that Dating-Man — whose power is the ability to tell the average age of the atoms in an object — join the group. The story shows just how Dating-Man became useful — but there is a catch. It’s slight and mildly amusing overall.
Gini Koch contributes “Alien on the Runway: An Alien Series Prequel,” which, as the title states, is an origin story of one of the characters in a series of novels she’s written for DAW. Jimmy is a male fashion model who has a shoot disrupted when an alien parasite takes over on the set. He goes into action immediately and without thinking fights and defeats the monster, and as he finishes, three mysterious men show up and compliment him on his action. The other two-thirds of the story has the men explain what they are and what just happened. While the dialog is clever, it can’t cover for the fact that this is one massive infodump that has no drama once the monster is dispatched. It ultimately leads to nothing other than filling in on how Jimmy showed up in the books.
“The Saviors” is flash fiction that covers the aspects of a superhero universe that are rarely covered and usually completely ignored. The narrator is trying to save her son as superheroes fight supervillains all around her. Jon Lasser makes an important point and gives it some strong emotional depth.
The final story, Rachel K. Jones‘s “Proton Girl Ascending,” is about the death of the title character, not in battle with a villain, but with end-stage melanoma. Her powers were the cause, and she is leaving her young daughter behind. It manages to turn the situation into one of hope and overcomes the sadness inherent in the situation with a new way to look at it.
The stories here are strong and affecting when dramatic, and funny enough for comedy, making the issue a success.