REVIEW: Karma Girl by Jennifer Estep
Dear Ms Estep,
I was never a comic book fan and it’s been a long time since I read one but I recognized a few givens of the standard American superhero comic book. We’ve got your big city, alter egos, intrepid newspaper reporter, heroes, villains and brightly colored spandex for everybody.
Carmen Cole steps into the dual role of reporter and possible love interest. I wasn’t so sure of her reasoning for spending so much time unmasking superheroes wherever she could. Sure her fiance turns out to be one and she discovers this 1) on their wedding day when 2) she catches him shagging a] his nemesis who is b] her best friend but since superheroes are almost duty bound to spend their time saving the average citizen who needs help and/or thwarting the villains, why is the general public so happy that she exposes them and makes their lives more difficult? The excuse that cities want the superheroes to help pay for the damage they cause while battling villains doesn’t make much sense when compared to the fact that they’re saving the city from villains and crime. Do the people of Bigtown want a nice, neat city that’s under the thumb of the evil Terrible Triad? Or one that’s kept safe by the combined efforts of the Fearless Five even if it’s a little messy? I think I’d opt for messy.
The fact that the people in the story can never easily recognize the superheroes even if the disguise if fairly flimsy and the clues are obvious is standard for comic books. Yet most alter egos are not as flashy and prone to flaunt themselves as those in Karma Girl. You did seem to stick to the Comic Code in that most violence is subdued, authority figures are respected, the details of crimes are vague (though presented as sordid), villains pay for their actions and Right triumphs in the end. With respect to nudity and love scenes, it’s more detailed than your average comic (but not comix novel) book but hey, this is a romance book! The Fantastic Five adhere to the basics of the superhero genre: extraordinary powers and abilities, a strong moral code and sense of justice, nifty identity concealing costumes, special weapons, independence, stories explaining the origin of their powers and as a fantastic headquarters and base of operations, I’d move into Sublime anyday (though I still don’t see how it can operate without any daily servants).
As for Carmen’s love interest, I thought their falling in love was nicely handled. Both were a bit startled by it but took their time and I thought understood each other, until Carmen almost blew things. Carmen is given a good reason to feel guilt for what she did yet she takes the “I’m so not worthy of hero’s love” and guilt complex to extremes. By the end, I wanted to slap her. Though I did like her habit of ruminating with a Rubik’s Cube over drumming her fingers or pacing around. Another area that was problematic was Carmen’s search for the identity of the Five and the Triad. She endlessly searches through articles from the library then when she can’t figure it out, starts searching through that same material all over. That got boring. For me as a reader, the alter egoes of the superheroes were easy to figure out but the villain’s twisted intentions was a nice touch.
I do like the names of both heroes and villains. I think my kitty wants a superhero name. Maybe Clawz or Panthera. And I loved explodia and Mr Frost’s Freezoray. Loved them! The so fit with comic world conventions. The names say it all without requiring lots of explanation and since comics require a suspension of belief and willingness to accept what an author says this is a good thing. Did I miss the identity of two of the Triad or is this To Be Continued in another book? I’m just checking but I would assume there is one given the ending of this one.
I read that a comic book writer has to have good dialogue, a cohesive plot and strong visuals. Your dialogue was good, the plot needed a little work but I could “see” what you were describing. However, comic book heroes usually don’t have much character depth. As per standards the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad but that’s about it. Readers looking for multilayered people in this book are going to have to look high and low. For a quick read and fun time, this book works but for lasting thought, it won’t cut it. B-