BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Raised on a steady diet of plutonium, Lenard Sikophsky grows up to become the world’s first superhero. The key to Lenard’s transformation? The Manaton, a sacred tome outlining the path to manhood. Now Lenard has a son of his own to teach, but an enemy exists that desperately wants to claim The Manaton as its own.
PROS: Mature, funny, and unexpectedly moving.
CONS: Don’t buy this expecting an action packed, superhero thrill ride.
BOTTOM LINE: For those looking for a story with something to say, look no further.
Prior to reading Samuel Sattin’s League of Somebodies I was stuck in a week-long reading rut. I had picked up, started, and set back down six different books. There were no major problems with any of the books, I enjoyed each in varying degrees before giving them up, but each failed to hook me. Enter League of Somebodies, a coming-of-age story of dysfunctional families and uber-masculinity. I’ve read several superhero stories this year and strangely enough, my favorite is the least super of all. I’ve never been a fan of literature but League of Somebodies is interesting enough to carry mature themes without becoming too self absorbed to enjoy. It’s the sort of book a bold English teacher might assign to students – likely offending some, confusing others, but managing to change the perspective of at least one student.
Putting a label on League of Somebodies is difficult and describing it is even harder. Imagine Kal-El crash landed on Earth, not to be discovered by the kindly Kent family, but instead their misogynistic Jewish Scot neighbor. Imagine Bruce Wayne’s father faked his death and Alfred was under orders to frighten Bruce at every given opportunity. It’s a superhero novel that suggests nurture, and not nature, is the path to becoming a caped crusader. From an early age Lenard is fed plutonium by his father, and read to from The Manaton, a sacred book on manhood. The book praises masculinity, a man’s place in the celestial hierarchy (the top), the proper way to fight a lion (hand-to-claw combat), explains the procedures of manscaping, and much more. This is all done in a satirical light, lampooning the mindset while providing a frame for the father-son relationships that drive League of Somebodies.
“Heroes, of all sorts and series, are the children of darkness. Which is why they long so deeply for the light.”
It’s a powerful story that examines the age old tale of fathers trying to prepare their sons for the world, and sometimes irrevocably damaging them in the process. It is a story of expectations and actualities, generational gaps and the progression of the 21st century man. The characters are larger than life, but undeniably down to earth. Lenard makes a compelling protagonist, indoctrinated as a child, he attempts to recreate the same conditions so that his own son Nemo might grow up to be a hero. Nemo though, bequeathed with his mother’s intelligence, doesn’t take to the teaching of The Manaton with the same dedication as Lenard. The cycle of misunderstanding continues. The cast is rather small, but the characterization is strong, from the brilliant-yet-suicidal Laura/Lily to Lenard’s sidekick of sorts Carl. THEY, the villains of League of Somebodies, are underdeveloped and relegated to a short portion of the novel, though I can empathize with their motivation. Given the strength of the heroes the novel could really benefit from some added depth to the villains.
Those of you who saw Shane Black’s Ironman 3 and complained about the lack of Stark jetting around in his suit probably won’t want to pick up League of Somebodies. This is a book about relationships above all else, and the superheroics is kept to a bare minimum. It’s more about becoming a hero and the implications thereof, than fighting crime and villainy. I would love to see a low budget film adaption of League of Somebodies by James Gunn, director of Super (starring Rainn Wilson).
With Father’s Day approaching as of this writing, as well as the release of Man of Steel, Samuel Sattin’s debut struck a very strong chord. It is not the novel I expected but it is the novel I needed.