Have you ever had a book you weren’t sure you would like, but then once you started reading it, you couldn’t put it down?
That’s what happened with the first volume of Van Allen Plexico’s Sentinels series. I’ve known this author’s name for a very long time, had it come up many times in the writing circles I run in. But until now, I’d never read anything of his. And despite all the positive reviews about the Sentinels series, I was a bit gunshy.
You see, when it comes to original superheroes, it really is hit or miss with me. When superheroes first appeared. there was some hook to them. Superman was…well, Superman. He was the first, the big one. Batman was an evolution of characters like the Shadow, mixed with the burgeoning superheroes. When we came up to the Marvel heroes of the early 60s like the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men, etc., they all had these great hooks to set them apart.
But now, it’s 2012. If you’re a fan of superheroes, you’ve got over seventy years of stories to choose from and chances are you’ve read more than a few. So if you’re trying to get people with a new hook, you’ve got a pretty tall order. Most of the times, people think they’ve got a good hook, but it’s really not and the characters aren’t well developed.
Plexico, however, takes a different route. He knows that you know all these stories. He knows that there’s no hook you haven’t heard. And instead of trying to find the next hook, he does what writers of all other mediums do — he makes you care about the characters instead.
And really, that’s all that matters, isn’t it? How many times have you seen the basic hero legend retold over and over? How many times have you see the lone warrior story? If you show someone Yojimbo, A Fistful of Dollars, Brick, and then ask them to read Red Harvest, chances are they will get a very different experience each time, despite the fact that it’s basically the same story. And when it comes to superheroes, I doubt you could come up with a super power that hasn’t already been thought up. But does that matter? Are there many differences between the abilities of James Bond and Ethan Hunt and Jason Bourne? Not really, it’s the characters that make them different.
And it’s the same with superheroes. The Sentinels does not have a unique hook. There aren’t any reality TV shows or hidden conspiracies or trying to overthrow the existing order or anything like that.The Sentinels are superheroes who fight supervillains, pure and simple. But if you’re expecting a cheap, Avengers/Justice League knock-off. you will be pleasantly surprised. Because despite the superficial similarities with popular comic book heroes (and while they’re there, they are very much in passing — I doubt you’ll confuse Ultraa with Superman or Esra with Iron Man), what sets Plexico’s Sentinels apart from the numerous other books is that he focuses on his characters as characters, not as powersets. Even the Cavalier, who is set up from his first appearance as unlikeable, becomes someone you can relate to. And that’s a real testament to Plexico’s characterization skill. Even when Plexico hits the familiar story beats (and I won’t detail what they are because I don’t want to spoil them), there’s a sense of originality because of the great development he’s invested in these characters.
And because of these characters, I could not put this book down. When it comes to books, some take me longer to finish than others. On average, I take about a month or so to finish a book. I finished all 236 pages of this book in a week. Whenever I had some downtime, my first inclination was to read more of Sentinels, and I found myself thinking about it even when I didn’t have the time. It’s rare for a writer to inspire that kind of dedication in a first-time reader.
Needless to say, immediately after I finished this book, I bought the next in the series. And that’s a rare thing for me. Not long before this, I finished The Gunslinger, the first book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. But I have not yet bought the second book. Yet I already bought the next Sentinels book.
Van’s got me hooked. Fortunately, I’ve got quite a bit of material to catch up on.