In the bustling coastal California city of San Ventura, there is an uneasy tension between the Cowl, supervillain extraordinaire, and the Seven Wonders, the resident superhero group. Despite the group’s continual efforts to stop his nefarious plots, the Cowl and those who claim to swear them have often made San Ventura a city under siege.
When Tony, an ordinary citizen, suddenly develops superpowers of his own, its not only his new girlfriend who finds the changes in him surprising and revolutionary. In point of fact, the emergence of a new superpowered hero quickly means that the long standing balance of power is upset between Supervillain and Superhero team, and in unexpected ways as well. A dark secret of the Seven Wonders will come to light, loyalties tested, and old wounds as well. And what will happen to Tony, the Cowl, and the Seven Wonders when the *real* threat to San Ventura emerges?
Seven Wonders, a novel by Adam Christopher is explicitly and unapologetically a paean to superhero comics, and reads very much like a Bronze Age era comic given novel form. It’s not quite the darkness of the modern age, and the tone of the world that Christopher has created here, as well as the themes, plots and subplots are a little more mature than the early age of comics.
Both the strengths and the weaknesses of the novel tie directly into the stratum of comics that the author is often explicitly tying into in the novel. First of all, in terms of theme, style, tone and plot, the novel strikes hard and realistically. Again, and again, I could imagine scenes from the novel playing out in the pages of a period comic book. This is especially true of the action sequences, which block out very well indeed. Its done well enough that a graphic novel adaptation of this book would have difficulty living up to the words on the page.
In addition to Tony as a major viewpoint character, we also follow two cops, Joe Milano and Sam Millar, who are assigned to a squad in the police department involved with supervillain crime. This gives the novel a man on the street feel for their scenes, as these two ordinary individuals find themselves caught in extraordinary circumstances. These and the other characters, by and large, have a good depth, emotional range, and are complicated and complex individuals that, often painfully, change in the course of the novel.
San Ventura itself, comes across as well imagined as Metropolis or Gotham City. This is a case where the City itself reaches the level of a character and the city feels like a real place you can go and visit–if you don’t mind the disadvantages. When the action does move away from San Ventura, I think the novel suffers a bit from that scene shift. The other locales in the novel do not compare to the vivid depiction of the fictional metropolis. The worldbuilding in general is well done, and there is an implied history and backstory that feels organic and strong. The novel comes across as Issue XXX of a long running series, instead of the first issue.
The diversity of the superheroes and glimpses of other heroes we see in the story is another treat. Hephaestus is doing duty in this universe as the Maker and Forger of the superhero group, a touch of mixing in Greek Mythology into the crockpot of inspirations that the novel draws from. None of the heroes and villains we meet feel like copies of existing heroes. There is also at least one tuckerization of a genre personality amongst the roster of heroes outside of the Seven Wonders that shows up. I thought that was a particularly nice touch by the author.
Consequently, though, the weaknesses for me revolve around the conventions of the comics used in the novel that are lacking as devices. There is a Face Heel Turn in the book that is necessary, but it feels to me as a reader as being somewhat mechanically done, rather than an organic change in the character. It needs to happen for plot reasons, and certainly such changes in character are well in keeping with the traditions of comics as expressed in the novel. However, in terms of a novel the change requires some work that isn’t quite expressed on the page.
Without spoiling it, the ending is a classic trope in the comic book universe, and well done. I don’t necessarily expect or want a sequel. The novel is complete on its own and happily so. This reinforces the idea that this is just an episode in the history of this comic book universe, rather than its beginning and/or end.
Readers of comics, especially from the Bronze Age (70’s and mid 80’s) are going to find a lot to like in Seven Wonders, as I did. Those who want grittier comic fare might think the tone of the novel a tad too light for their tastes, with the exception of a couple of scenes that have a more Modern Age feel to them. But overall, having started reading comics right in the time period of the 80’s, Seven Wonders pressed all of the right buttons for me.