Third Class Superhero
We didn’t hold out much hope for Yu. Reading the back cover of his debut story collection, it seemed like it might be filled with a lot of premise-heavy, gimmicky tales that rely on the ridiculousness of the situation to propel the story. And yet, something happens halfway through most of Yu’s stories, when he slides the premise to the background and brings the emotional state of his protagonist to the fore. The stories become real. It’s a neat magic trick, one that saves these tales from becoming cute novelties.
The title story, for instance, concerns a “hero” with powers so lame he is barely able to justify his “good-guy card,” the membership badge that proclaims him a do-gooder. But after he suffers a series of embarrassments (including being caught on camera unable to unlock his seat belt while his team routs a group of baddies) he questions whether he’ll ever make it as a true superhero. Approached by a shady “gray” hero—a guy who’s neither good nor bad—he must decide whether to sell his good-guy card in exchange for the power of flight. The dilemma of trading in his morals to finally get some success feels real, even wrapped in superhero spandex.
That sort of anxiety over aging runs throughout these stories. Many of these characters face themselves for the first time, take hard looks at how they’ve lived their lives, and it freaks them out. Even heroes are shaken to their cores.—Jonathan Messinger