Can you have too many middle grade superhero novels? Not if they’re well done!
School for Sidekicks. The Academy of Metahuman Operatives #1 by Kelly McCullough. Feiwel and Friends, 2015.
Years ago, the Hero Bomb went off in St.Paul/Minneapolis, killing many and giving others superpowers. Now the Twin Cities are called just Heropolis, protected from the evil Hoods by the good Masks. 12-year-old Evan Quick is the biggest fan of the Mask’s most prominent hero, Captain Commanding. He plays the video games, drinks the MaskerAde soda, and had his birthday in the 3-D Mask simulation. But on one odd trip to the theme park, he experiences a strange tingling in costume-fitting machine and receives a real hero ring. And on his next school trip to the Mask Museum, he ends up saving Captain Commanding from his arch-nemesis, Spartanicus.
Before he knows what’s happened – literally, he’s unconscious – Evan is whisked away to Academy of Metahuman Operatives, where he meets a bunch of other superpowered teens. But as fast as he can decide he wants to be there, the life he’s always wanted loses its shine: his parents are completely opposed to him being there. Captain Commanding hates his guts. The only mask who will accept him as a sidekick-in-training is the washed-up recovering alcoholic Foxman. It’s also quite the downer to learn that Evan, like all the other recent students, only has sidekick level powers and will never be a full-fledged Mask. There are a lot of secrets to discover, and all the students will have to work together if they want to get anything done.
Cybils season is when I’m reading as fast as I can. So when I have a book that I’m still thinking about several books later, it’s a good sign. This is a book that in many ways follows the formula of being welcomed into the coveted secret organization, only to discover that many of the secrets aren’t happy ones. But McCullough still made me believe in Evan and his school. I appreciated the diversity of Evan’s team at school, even if, as Charlotte pointed out in her review, some of the diversity seems randomly assigned in “rainbow sprinkle” fashion, without backing it up with, say, related powers and background. I also approved of Foxman trying to be a good mentor to Evan despite having mostly given up the Mask business years earlier. The explanation for the constant battles between Masks and Hoods and the Hoods constant and easy escape from prison so often seen in comic books was quite clever. I really enjoyed seeing the teamwork between Evan and his new friends, though (perhaps going along with the complaint from earlier) I would have liked to have their characters fleshed out a little more.
This is a solid story, recommended to superhero fans middle grade and up. Try also Sidekicked by John David Anderson and Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities by Mike Jung.
As always, this is my personal opinion, not the Official Cybils Opinion.
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