EMERGENCE Edited by J.M. Martin

This review originally appeared at Fantasy-Faction.com.

 

Emergence is a shared-world anthology that takes full advantage of its format, building one story atop the next to create a three-dimensional world that ultimatelyreaches its peak with Edward M. Erdelac’s Perennial.

As Ragnarok Publications Editor-in-Chief Tim Marquitz explains in the book’s introduction, he originally intended to write a superhero novel, but soon realized that rather than telling the story of a single superhero or a group of superheroes, what he truly wanted was to create a world of superheroes – men and women of varied backgrounds, cities and motivations facing a variety of challenges. As Marquitz says, he wanted to create a world “in the vein of Marvel or DC.”

Recognizing the enormity of such a project and the advantages to bringing a variety of authors into the project – each with their own perspectives on the superhero genre – Marquitz approached Ragnarok Creative Director Joe Martin about turning his idea into a shared-world collection.

The resulting first book in the Humanity 2.0 series is Emergence, which includes stories from Jeff C. Carter, Marquitz, C.T. Phipps, Eloise J. Knapp, Erdelac, Rob J. Hayes, G.N. Braum, Martin and Steve Diamond. Each story features super-powered individuals, known as chimerics, many of whom have taken on alter egos with which they either fight or commit crimes. It’s a broad ideas that creates a vast playground for the authors involved.

Early on, I wasn’t certain what to think about Emergence. Carter’s From the Barrel of a Gun kicks off the book with the tale of a superhero, The Red Wraith, seeking revenge against a sniper who has been picking off superheroes and villains alike.

The story’s plot does a good job of introducing us to a world adjusting to the sudden and largely unexplained appearance of superheroes and villains, but I was disappointed to discover that many of the superheroes were clearly based on some of the most popular characters in comics history. From Obsidian (real name Benjamin Grimes), who’s uncannily similar to the Fantastic Four’s Thing (real name Ben Grimm), to Magnetar, the self-proclaimed Master of Magnetism, the very first superheroes we meet in the anthology feel like cheap knock-offs. Admittedly, these are secondary characters, but as the opener to the anthology, I was concerned regarding what would follow.

Subsequent stories introduce readers to super-powered characters trying to adjust to their new powers and the changes those powers have forced in their lives. Marquitz’s Whiplash stands out thanks to the first-person perspective of his teenaged protagonist, a punk rock fan and secret superhero who prowls the city streets fighting crime.

It is with Perennial that Emergence truly hits its stride. Erdelac, Amazon tells me, is the author of the acclaimed Judeocentric/Lovecraftian weird western series Merkabah Rider, Buff Tea, Coyote’s Trail, Andersonville and the compiler of Abraham Van Helsing’s papers (in Terovolas). His entry represents the first story in the anthology to feature a non-superhero protagonist, a welcome change of pace.

Perennial begins by introducing readers to Niko “Tink” Tinkham, a scarred former child actor working to stop a woman who kidnaps newborns from hospitals. When his efforts to stop the kidnapping place him in the path of a fireball-wielding chimeric, we’re introduced to Niko’s own chimeric friend, Pan, a perpetually young, flying superhero modeled after Peter Pan.

As the story progresses, we learn about the relationship between Tink and Pan – what brought them together, and why their past is coming back to haunt them. It’s a character-centric superhero story, complete with a painful origin story, three-dimensional relationships, and a hero whose powers come with legitimate drawbacks.

The story’s primary villain is far more terrible than any other we meet, primarily because his pedophilic crimes truly exist in our world. The crimes committed aren’t motivated by grandiose plans to take over the world or eradicate humanity, but by greed and power – all-too-human qualities. Erdelac’s characters aren’t homages to Marvel or DC heroes, but to recognizable pop culture figures, making it feels as though the world of Humanity 2.0 is a world parallel to our own, with a few slight tweaks (and more than a few super-powered battles wreaking havoc in the streets).

The next story, Avenger, features another human trying to make his way in the world of chimerics. Stoner, a former Australian special ops soldier turned mall security guard, stumbles upon a chimeric and soon finds himself part of a special unit designed to battle evil chimerics. Stoner brings another unique voice to the proceedings, and his story serves as a clear set-up for Martin’s Bring It On, Hero.

These later stories do a much better job of taking advantage of the shared world, making frequent references to characters from previous stories and showing the way that different characters relate to the organizations in place to bring order to the new chimeric-filled world. It results in a much deeper world, and better reaches the series’ potential.

Emergence goes on sale Sept. 13, and will be followed in 2017 with Chimeric. Now that the authors have an established setting and collection of heroes and villains to build upon, I’m excited about the possibilities. Humanity 2.0 is a great opportunity for authors to create their own superhero stories in a shared world, and as the story continues, it promises to get even better in future collections.