My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Let’s address this right off the bat. This is a book about superheroes, and so I’m going to take a moment to contextualize this piece.
It’s easy to place the spiritual setting of book in The Watchmen universe, although it’s a much less dystopian Earth. Despite a similar “Who Will Watch the Watchmen?” plot point, the main characters inhabit a world more like the one painted by Christopher Nolan in The Dark Knight Rises.
All of that is to say: This story is set in a non-fantastical world, and all is not well on our fine planet.
The Protectors, a group of four humans with extra-sensory powers, were a group of superheroes who worked for the world government to keep the peace. They were both loved by the people of Earth, and feared by those in power since they couldn’t be controlled.
Adding to the team’s complexity, The Protectors were just people who happened to have special powers. They weren’t given a deeper emotional maturity or an understanding of what it means to be human. They were just broken people like the rest of us.
And that’s where the book showed the most promise: What if superheroes were actually a bad thing for humanity because they brought out the worst in us? Imagine if you lived in a world where four people could – at any moment – change everything?
There’s almost no chance that ends well. Hang with me for a minute, and I’ll explain.
The story opens with Knockout, the first-person narrator and leader of The Protectors, forced to go on “one last mission.” The group had long-ago broken up, and he was tasked with tracking down one of the former members who had taken it upon herself to make the world a better place. As it turned out, the CIA didn’t much care for that kind of thinking.
What followed was a series of Jason Bourne-like adventures (er, MacGuffins) that as an avid sci-fi and comic book reader I found familiar. I never felt as if The Protectors were in danger; I was more interested to see how they might escape. Along with that sense of “superhero-ness,” I couldn’t help but see a little bit of Malcolm Reynolds and Hellboy in Knockout, and a smidge of Storm and Jean Grey with a touch of Lara Croft for good measure in Aphrodite.
But that felt like the purpose of the book: To take those much-love anti-hero tropes, and turn them just a bit.
What kept me reading (and I read the book in 2 sittings) was that the “bad guys” continually had all of their fears about The Protectors realized. Even as the antagonists double-crossed, battled, and pushed against The Protectors, who were doing good (at least as told to the reader), by the end I wasn’t sure who I was rooting to win.
And that’s the real trick of the book. In most anti-hero stories, you end up rooting for rogue. You want Han Solo to come back to save Luke. You need Mal Reynolds to broadcast that final message about the Reavers.
As The Protectors raced towards their final battle, I wasn’t sure for whom I was rooting. (And I didn’t feel better after I read the Epilogue.)