Tansy Rayner Roberts
If like me, you love superhero stories but sometimes get a bit frustrated with the way things play out in the superhero universes, and with the lack of representation of women, differently abled people, QUILTBAG people and so on, you need to pick up “Kid Dark Against the Machine”. A sort-of sequel to Roberts’ spectacular story “Cookie Cutter Superhero” (in Kaleidoscope, 2014, Twelfth Planet Press), “Kid Dark” carries on with a new character and a completely different scenario, twelve months after the events of the first story. We meet ‘Griff’, as he’s now known, one-time child sidekick, now volunteering at the same boys’ home he once lived in, trying to put his superhero past behind him and just be a normal person. Which isn’t all that easy when all the boys love superheroes, and the machine was never really through with him.
This is a novelette-length standalone story, and is easy to devour in a single sitting. While I highly recommend “Cookie Cutter Superhero” (because it’s amazing), you don’t actually have to have read that piece to enjoy and appreciate “Kid Dark” in any way. Roberts does an excellent job of seeding the worldbuilding through this story, and expanding on it a little at a time; in fact, one of the things I most appreciate about both the stories is the feel that there is a heck of a lot more to learn about the world they take place in – it means there will almost certainly be more to come!
Roberts cleverly manipulates the reader’s “cultural stash” (her phrase, shared in the informative and interesting essays that make up the second part of the book) of comics and superheroes to help establish the setting – the hero characters are somewhat familiar (without being subject to trademark lawsuits) and I particularly like the little Australia-specific elements scattered throughout.
I have been a fan of Roberts’ writing for more than 15 years, and have published her work myself, so it is probably not surprising that I loved this story. Roberts has a gift for engaging characters and dialogue that makes you grin, but over the years, she has become better and better at unpacking and subverting some of the powerful stereotypes and tropes that can undermine the genre – this story is no exception. Highly recommended.
Thank you to the author (and publisher) for the advance review ebook copy.