Everything I know about superheroes (and whatever the Transformers are) came from movies. I’ve watched Spiderman, Superman, Batman, X-Men, and the Green Lantern, but I never read superhero comics as a kid. I was an Archie girl. Having not even wandered into the superhero section, I was–and remain–largely ignorant of the superhero world of comics, graphic novels, and–I just learned–novels.
Just Cause is a new superhero novel by Ian Thomas Healy recently published by New Babel Books. (Congratulations to Ian, the most write-aholic writer I’ve ever encountered, the only one who makes me feel truly guilty for sleeping or eating or doing nothing at all when I could be using that time to write, and one whose refusal to not NOT be published by someone other than himself finally served him, as it should have.)
I read Ian’s engaging, energetic, funny, and page-turning novel Blood on the Ice (a “new adult” [vs. "young adult"] book) last year. In it, non-vampire hockey players battle vampire hockey-players (it’s cheating, really, to use vampire powers in a hockey game – as if they aren’t threatening enough off the ice), and the hero character, when not trying to figure out how to battle vampires, navigates a relationship with a woman whose sex-act preference (one you don’t often encounter in novels) and self-absorption have started to bore him.
Before reading Blood on the Ice, I enjoyed his short novel The Milkman:
When Liza, an intrepid reporter, stakes her career on an interview with a milkman named Blake, things go from weird to worse when they are abducted by aliens. After finding out the real reason aliens anally probe their abductees, the two heroes have no choice but to recruit a makeshift army of genius bikers to take the fight to the aliens and save the world!
No one writes what reviewer Jenn Zuko calls “snickering, boyish humor” better than Ian Healy, and I can only assume (having not yet read it) that Just Cause gives readers more of the same, in addition to a fascinating story and unusual–but highly likeable–characters.
I asked Ian to stop here on his blog tour so I could ask him a few questions about Just Cause (and the superhero genre, in general).
KT: Why superheroes?
IAN THOMAS HEALY: I’ve been obsessed with the powerful heroes in their brightly-colored costumes (or even the dark and grim ones–I’m looking at YOU, Midnighter) since a very early age. I didn’t really get into comic books until high school, but I remember reading Mordecai Richler’s Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang, with the two “Child Power” superheroes of Shapiro and O’Toole (Jacob’s older brother and sister) over and over again as a child and then running around the neighborhood with a towel safety-pinned over my neck as my cape. I wanted to be a superhero. Hell, I still do. If anybody’s got an experimental serum or a radioactive beastie handy, I’m willing to talk.
The first comic book I recall owning was Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew #12 (a DC funny-animal comic book that sent up the genre quite brilliantly). Ever since then, I collect and read anywhere from 15-20 titles a month and have been for more than twenty years. Holy crap, that’s a lot of comic books!
KT: I’m admittedly unfamiliar with (ignorant of?) a superhero novel genre. Is there a superhero novel genre, or had they all been graphic novels, primarily?
ITH: Superhero fiction straddles a fine line between fantasy and science fiction. There have been superhero fiction novels for many years, but they’ve generally been out on the fringes of the speculative fiction universe. They don’t fit easily into a bookstore’s traditional divisions, because most people think “graphic novel” when they think of superhero fiction. That’s starting to change, thanks to people like George R.R. Martin and his lengthy Wild Cards series, Michael Chabon, Austin Grossman, Rob Rogers, Van Allen Plexico, Carrie Vaughn, Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge, and (I hope) Ian Thomas Healy.
KT: What makes Just Cause different from the others?
ITH: It’s accessible to new readers compared to the staggering histories in comics. Even Wild Cards, which I believe is the longest-running superhero fiction series, has put out 21 novels since 1987. That’s kind of a daunting amount of history to explore. Just Cause is a ground-floor opportunity for readers to get to know a brand new superhero universe as it develops.
ITH: Salena “Mustang Sally” Thompson is a third-generation superhero and the fastest girl in the world. She’s just graduated from the Hero Academy and hopes to earn her place on Just Cause, the premier superhero team, not only because it’s what she’s been trained for since childhood by her superpowered mother and grandmother, but because she wants a chance to hunt down and defeat the battlesuit-wearing villain Destroyer, who killed her father shortly before she was born.
And, as is often reiterated, one should be careful what one wishes for, lest it come to pass…
KT: And why did you choose the revenge story? That is, is there a particular super-hero story format that writers tend to follow, or was there something about that particular narrative that drew you?
ITH: One of the biggest problems that superhero fiction authors have to overcome is the tendency to get “power-blinded.” That is, making the story about the powers and how they match up against other powers first instead of focusing on storytelling fundamentals. I make a conscious effort when I write superhero stories to make sure they are about the characters first and foremost. Developing Mustang Sally as a three-dimensional character, with her needs, wants, dreams, and fears, was a challenge I enjoyed. Her powers are a fundamental part of her, and the story requires them for plotting purposes, but she’s not just a collection of powers in a fancy suit.
I chose Mustang Sally’s story as the starting place for the Just Cause Universe. As she’s a third-generation hero, her family has been involved in the history of the JCU in some way or another since World War II. Three generations of speedsters–her grandmother Colt, her mother Pony Girl, and now Mustang Sally–have become the focal point for the whole setting. Mustang Sally’s story leads into others both future, past, and parallel to the events of Just Cause (which will have long-reaching ramifications in future books).
KT: Is the picture on the cover how you pictured your superhero (and did you get to provide input on the cover)?
ITH: I did get to provide input on the cover, but for the most part I only provided the artist with some basic descriptions and character concepts and he did the interpretation on his own. She’s wearing red (the traditional color for speedsters in comic books), and her costume has some of the features which I outline in the book. Her boobs on the cover are impressive specimens, although in the book I describe her as very slender (like any long-distance runner would be). But I understand that sex sells, and if those luscious melons get a few more readers to buy copies of the book, I won’t complain.
KT: You wrote in your blog stop at Gae Polisner’s site that picking a favorite super power is like a chef picking a favorite meal: impossible. I’m going to make you pick one, but not for all time – just today. What would be the superpower you would want today?
ITH: There’s a minor character in my novel Deep Six, which probably won’t be released until 2013, who doesn’t require sleep at all. Consequently he’s one of the most well-read people you’ll ever meet, and he has three very understanding girlfriends. Although my wife probably wouldn’t be nearly as understanding, I like the basic idea of not having to sleep. That’s six more hours a day I could get stuff done.
I’m not surprised.