Wednesday, 26 January 2011

‘Gods of Manhattan’ – Al Ewing (Abaddon Books)

It was way back in August 2007 that I reviewed Al Ewing’s debut Abaddon piece ‘El Sombra’, a book that I regret losing now as it totally delivers on its promise of honest pulp fun with a liberal dose of Nazi death robots. Can you tell that I enjoyed it (because I did)? In fact I’d go so far as to say that it completely rocked and the first thing that I did upon finishing was to email Abaddon and ask if we were going to see any more adventures from my new favourite masked swordsman. Unfortunately the answer was ‘no’ but this was balanced out by the fact that I got to read the excellent ‘I, Zombie’ and ‘Death Got No Mercy’ instead. I did wonder though if El Sombra was going to go the way of certain other Abaddon titles (that perhaps didn’t do so well) and be quietly retired. I should have known that you can’t expect a man like El Sombra to go quietly...
I was very surprised (and excited at the same time) to see El Sombra make his return in ‘Gods of Manhattan’. It took me a little longer than anticipated to finally crack the book open and (as has been the case with certain other books) I had to kick myself for not doing it sooner. ‘Gods of Manhattan’ is one hell of a read...

While Ulysses Quicksilver is busy protecting the Empire of Magna Britannia it’s a whole different world on the other side of the Atlantic... Superheroes walk the streets of Manhattan, battling super villains as well as the last remnants of Hitler’s Reich (seeking to undermine America from within). Top superhero in Manhattan (and probably anywhere else in the world) is Doc Thunder, possessed of near invulnerability and impossible for criminals to stop. Monk, his sidekick, isn’t so lucky though and when an attack leaves him bleeding out in hospital Thunder knows that a game is afoot far deeper than any he has ever played before. A new vigilante is in town that is ready to use his pistols to make sure that crime is stamped out permanently, what are his real motives? Are any of the criminals that Doc Thunder saw dying actually dead? And just who is the masked Mexican swordsman pursuing his own agenda through the blood pouring onto the streets of Manhattan...?

After Al Ewing got all metaphysical and broke the fourth wall, in ‘Death Got No Mercy’, I have to admit that even though I was looking forward to reading ‘Gods of Manhattan’ there was still a part of me that approached the book with some trepidation. Using that approach really threw things out of kilter for me and I didn’t want to see that happen again here. It turned out that I didn’t need to worry, Ewing is all about keeping things simple here and just concentrating on the plot to hand; what the very lucky reader gets as a result is an thoroughly gripping read that never fails to entertain.

‘Gods of Manhattan’ is only a mere two hundred and thirty eight pages long but, if you didn’t check the page numbers, you would be forgiven for thinking that there’s twice that here with the sheer amount of plot that Ewing manages to cram into a relatively short space. If there’s a back to be stabbed or someone to be double crossed then you can safely say that’s what will happen. Maybe this lends a slightly predictable air to the proceedings but when you’re looking at a pulp fiction read then that’s almost the point isn’t it? Heroes are there to win through at the very end and the villains’ plots to take over (or even destroy) the world are there to be shot down in flames right at the very death. It’s not spoiling things to say that this is how it ends because the real fun lies in getting there and Ewing does have a few surprises to throw our way when we are least expecting it. Everything comes together very well at the end with the chaos unfolding in the plot doing very well to draw attention away from a firm pair of writing hands at the wheel. There is plenty going on here but all of it serves a purpose.

All of this is driven by characters who may subscribe heavily to ‘pulp tropes’ but are still a pleasure to follow throughout the book. It was great to see the return of El Sombra and finally pick up the story of a man torn between two very different personas (and the situations that this condition throws him into). When you hear that laugh you just know that something great is going to happen!
Doc Thunder also made for an interesting character to follow with his invulnerability offset by dark secrets that the book brings to the fore. These may not come as much of a surprise but the real fun is in watching how he deals with them.

If you’re a fan of Marvel or DC comics then ‘Manhattan Gods’ also has a lot to offer as it’s clear where Ewing has got a lot of his inspiration, for his superheroes, from. Reading ‘Manhattan Gods’ is like walking down a rogues gallery of iconic comic book heroes but Ewing sensibly errs on the side of not overplaying this hand too much; preferring instead to give us quick snapshots of these heroes before turning them loose into his bustling and almost nightmarish vision of Manhattan. I think he gets it spot on here with an interesting spin on established heroes who are perfectly suited to this particular environment (I don’t want to give too much away but I think you’ll like the heroes picked by Ewing to star here...)

You can’t have a superhero novel without at least one ‘smack down’, it’s pretty much the rule. It’s certainly a rule that Ewing is happy to follow as he punctuates the intrigue with plenty of action that takes large chunks out of the surrounding landscape. If we’re looking for a comparison here then I would have to go with ‘Superman vs. Doomsday’; yes, it’s that kind of a stand up fight and well worth the price of entry.

I can’t emphasise enough how much fun I had with ‘Gods of Manhattan’, a read with no pretensions other than to give its reader a ride like never before. Not only does it succeed but it does so in some style. Now to track down a replacement copy of ‘El Sombra’...

Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten

1 comment:

Nicole said...

Also sounds like he's a fan of the Man of Bronze with his Doc and sidekick Monk.