Corrupts Absolutely? Dark Metahuman Fiction.
Lincoln Crisler, editor.
Damnation Books, 2012.
Reviewed by Michael R. Collings
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
But sometimes, with great power comes…other things.
For one character in Lincoln Crisler’s enjoyable anthology of tales about warped, convoluted, perverted, and otherwise twisted superheroes, with great power comes great revenge…the ability to wreak destruction and devastation on the families, cities, and nations of those who killed his wife and unborn child. And when he is finished, and all about him is in ruin…he can do it again!
For another, the self-appointed task of patrolling the streets of Hollywood leads him to a perfect opportunity…to satisfy a need for malevolence that has been building over decades, and along the way fulfill his role as the new avatar of The Shadow.
For yet another, possession of a unique mental power gives him the chance to fulfill his potential…and, unfortunately for him, to realize what that potential actually implies.
And thus it goes through the twenty-one stories of Corrupts Absolutely? Each begins with the introduction of a superhero, either already fully cognizant of his or her powers or on the cusp of discovering them. Then comes a time of trial, of exploration, of growth, of discovery—often at the instigation of other superheroes with other powers. And finally, a moment of decision, of revelation, of final understanding…or so each thinks.
Midway through Weston Ochse’s “Hollywood Villainy,” one character takes a moment to lecture his soon-to-be victims:
There are three types of heroes. There are those who have something done to them that gives them power. There are those who actively seek out heroism, most often, but not always, attaining their powers through technology…. And of course, there are those who are born that way.
But more crucial to the story—and to all of the stories in Corrupts Absolutely?—is his response to the question, well, if there are three kinds of superheroes, are there three kinds of villains. No, he answers:
No matter the power, no matter the ability, no matter the technology, the single factor that decides if someone is a villain or not is their desire to do evil.
Here is the crux to each of the stories in this admirable anthology. At some point each individual chooses; and that choice releases the great power…for good or, more frequently, for evil.
The stories range from the graphically horrific to the comedic (although, given the premise of the collection, even such comedy as one finds in Jeff Strand’s “The Origin of Slashy” is likely to be blood-soaked and gore-laden). In most, the superpower functions directly to save or destroy; in a few, as in Joe McKinney’s “Hero,” it is deflected to serve evil purposes, even as the original ‘hero’ suffers torment and horror. In some, society itself has turned against the superheroes, licensing them or limiting them in stringent ways, until the heroes set their powers against their oppressors…who in some senses are the readers themselves. In all, Lord Acton’s famous apothegm—“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”—is tested and found true.
Few anthologies are evenly excellent—there are one or two stories in Corrupts Absolutely? that, while well written and cogently told, failed to capture my interest. Still, the large majority of the stories establish intriguing conditions, insert equally intriguing characters, add appropriately devastating consequences to either action or inaction, and let the chips—or bodies—fall where they may.
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