Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Cover by Randy Thompson
The Shadows That Linger, by M. Andrew Rudder.
Dallas, TX, Argyll Productions, July 2015, trade paperback $17.95 (314 pages), Kindle $7.99.
The Shadows That Linger is a superhero comic book in text form, in a funny-animal world.
“Superpowers had begun to appear five years ago, and with those powers came superheroes. With superheroes simultaneously came supervillains, government agencies to try and sponsor, control, or extinguish them, and a different kind of warfare.” (p. 5)
Among anthropomorphic animals or humans. Well, if I suddenly gained superstrength, superspeed, the ability to fly or to phase through solid objects, invulnerability, or anything else like that, I don’t think that the first things I’d do are to design a flamboyant costume and name for myself, and get together with similar individuals to form a club of superheroes – or, if I decided to become a supervillain, to join others in a society of supervillains. But maybe that’s just me.
Let’s see: The Protectors in Seattle are the good guys. They include Thunderwolf, a “muscular wolf” with a “shockingly blue Mohawk crackling with static electricity”; White Magus, an arctic fox with shimmering fur dressed in a tuxedo, “brandishing a ruby-topped cane like a sword”; Pathfinder, the leader, “a husky, tall and muscular, dressed in segmented body armor that gave her freedom of movement while also protecting her from those criminals who preferred guns to lasers” who can track anything; Zahnrad, a diminutive female pine marten with a thick German accent “dressed in functional overalls” who can undo property damage – well, you get the idea. The Consortium are the supervillains, with Puppeteer, “a fox in black leather motorcycle gear” who controls minds; Firestarter, a superfast female dhole dressed in “a tight outfit in red, black, and blue, completed by a streamlined helmet with a tight visor over her eyes”; Dazzlewolf, garishly costumed who can create multiple copies of himself; and others.
Pariah is the newest member of the Protectors; a 19-year-old “fennec fox” with a thick Iranian accent “in white and green spandex with a green mask. There was a stylized green nightingale on his chest, and a cape billowed behind him thanks to Thunderwolf’s gales.” (p. 7) (Dazzlewolf’s costume also includes a “massive flowing cape”. I’m sorry, but I can’t take either superheroes or supervillains in capes seriously since seeing Pixar’s 2004 The Incredibles.) Pariah’s powers include the ability to heal physical injuries.
“He’d never healed this many people at one time before, and he was definitely tired, but he wouldn’t pass out or anything. He’d only joined the Protectors a month ago, and though his ability to patch up their comrades after skirmishes with the more destructive superheroes had been invaluable, this had been his first large-scale healing. Moving from person to person, letting his power course through them, pushing away their pain and repairing their bodies would definitely earn him a full night’s sleep.” (p. 12)
Pariah is cleaning up after their latest battle when he comes upon the mortally wounded Puppeteer, the leader of the Consortium, dying from one of Thunderwolf’s lightning bolts. Even though he knows that helping their enemies can get him expelled from the Protectors, he cannot refuse to heal anyone needing his aid. The cured Puppeteer promises not to fight him in exchange for having saved his life. The rest of the Consortium would never approve such mercy, so they both have a motive to keep this a secret.
Puppeteer, a 47-year-old red fox who can read minds as well as control them, now knows Pariah’s secret identity and past. He is Aziz Jobrani, who had escaped from the oppressive Iranian government’s genetic experiments, drugs, and torture that had resulted in his superpowers of flight and healing. By an incredible (and not really believable) coincidence, Puppeteer is Suleiman Madani, also an escapee from the same Iranian experimental labs after he developed superpowers. He came openly to America, used his mindreading ability to make himself a billionaire, and has amused himself playing a Seattle society leader and a supporter of the Protectors at the same time he has been building up the Consortium to oppose them.
Puppeteer is no Robin Hood, but he has only stolen from the rich who can afford their losses, and manipulated politicians into voting the way he wants. He has not considered the Protectors a serious threat – he is contemptuous of their only appearing where they can expect favorable receptions and media, not where they might be truly needed. Now he is impressed by its newest member’s genuine desire to help those who need his medical talent. He also knows that Pariah is secretly gay. And so is he.
The Shadows That Linger is intriguingly imaginative. The Consortium only works because all of its supervillains are intelligent, not psychopathic killers as in most comic books. If a crime isn’t profitable, they aren’t interested in it. They don’t slaughter masses of civilians or their own gangs just to demonstrate how evil they are. They don’t monologue at length about how clever they are, giving the heroes/the authorities/anybody plenty of time to prepare their counterattack.
The two groups maintain a wary communication between themselves, since these supervillains aren’t (usually) deliberately destructive.
When a new supercharacter appears in the world, both the Protectors and the Consortium try to recruit him or her until it becomes clear whether he/she will accept “do-gooder” work; is selfish, preferring to join a group devoted to self-interest; preferring to operate alone, whether for good, evil, or self-interest (for personal enrichment by legal means such as superpowers-for-hire); or is a murderous psychotic whom neither the Protectors nor the Consortium want running around loose.
One of the reasons that Puppeteer is not worried about the Protectors is that he has infiltrated them, disguised as Nocturne, a “mystery” superhero from another city who occasionally visits Seattle and “drops in” to socialize with them. [There are many different superheroes and –villains in other cities, such as Ricochet in Baltimore, a grey mouse “dressed in white tights with an orange line down the middle of his chest, with other smaller lines bouncing off of the middle. He did not wear shoes or gloves, but did wear a domino mask, and had an assortment of pouches on a toolbelt.” (p. 32)] That way he can learn their plans without getting too close to them. At least one superhero, Dissimulo, appears as a different “species, gender, sex, or civilian identity” each time he/she appears. I don’t recall any regular comic book in which a supervillain infiltrates the superhero organization in disguise.
In this world, both the Protectors and the Consortium enjoy considerable “down time” when they are in their secret identities as individuals. Aziz and Suleiman meet privately to get to know each other. They are both gay, and the young Aziz is impressed by the more mature Suleiman. It’s hard to say whether they become lovers or whether Suleiman becomes a willing comfortable father-figure.
They have hardly begun to meet when they, and all the Protectors and the Consortium, are confronted by a nameless and insidious menace that destroys by causing overwhelming despair:
“Swirling blackness engulfed the front of the Headquarters of the United Nations. Phantoms walked through it, some kneeling over those trapped within its depths, some whispering to the captives, others reaching for the press or superheroes. As Puppeteer stepped forward, the tendrils solidified into people, people the red fox recognized.
‘You killed us,’ one of the wolf guards from the facility in Iran whispered, floating closer to him.
‘You killed all of us,’ one of the other victims of the experiments said, a crow who had died when he’d set the building on fire.” (pgs. 90-91)
The Shadows That Linger (cover by Randy Thompson) tells how both groups, and Pariah and Puppeteer personally, are affected by and deal with this new menace.
There are several inconsistencies and amateurishnesses in the writing, such as introducing a new character as a stallion who is then referred to as “she”. But on the whole, if you are interested in costumed supercharacters at all, you will enjoy this. (I was amused for personal reasons by one sentence: “Since he [Pariah] didn’t have posters, framed pictures, or had even changed the colors of the walls, his room looked […]” (p. 47). When the Iranian revolution took place in 1979, many of the upper-class monarchist refugees settled with their wealth in Los Angeles. They almost all decorated their new homes and businesses with framed portraits and calendars of the deposed Emperor, or travel posters of scenic Iranian locations.)