Book Reviews

Generally speaking, I’ll read just about any superhero novel that is put in front of me. Or at a minimum, I’ll give it a crack. I’m not undiscriminating – there are plenty of pieces of superhero fiction that I’ve gotten one or two chapters into and then said “No thanks, I’ll pass,” – but I’ll at least try most superhero fiction, just because I love the genre so.

A dirty secret of mine is that I don’t really love comics. I love superheroes. Comics just happen to be the easiest medium for me to get my fix. But I far prefer long-form fiction. So, superhero novels? Give me more of that, please.

The Paragon of Animals – A review

paragon-animals-scott-bachmann-paperback-cover-artby Aaron Einhorn
The Paragon of Animals is the debut novel by Scott Bachmann, an Ohio native author. On the surface, the story is quite simple; a “Freaky Friday” set-up where the Paragon (this world’s Superman pastiche) meets with his greatest fan, one Liza Lang, and the two end up switching bodies. Liza and the Paragon both must figure out how to get back into their own bodies, all while maintaining the fiction that each one is who they’re pretending to be.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Goofy even. There’s a reason that when this kind of story is made into a film, it’s usually a screwball comedy, and the differences between the two swapped individuals is as extreme as possible, all to play with audience expectations. And it’s no great stranger to superhero stories either. Body-swap stories show up in comics and cartoons all the time. In fact, the current Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon has done it more than once in its three seasons.

What Bachmann does that is unexpected is that he doesn’t play it for laughs. Oh, there are comedic moments, to be sure. Liza’s first experience trying to use the restroom as a man is both funny and deeply uncomfortable, and several of the characters (most notably the fire-wielding Cinaed) have a wonderful dry wit. But the story is not a comedy.

To begin with, Liza’s discomfort is very real, and she quickly realizes that lives are at stake. It might have been tempting for Bachmann to write several scenes where Liza’s inexperience with using her powers leads to disaster and destruction, but he avoids this, fortunately for the denizens of his world. Instead, Liza struggles to learn how to be the best possible hero, and the audience follows her along on this journey.

Just as significantly, Bachmann plays against expectations with the character of John West, the current Paragon. He’s the current Paragon because there have been two Paragons before him. The power of the Paragon, unique among “Outlier” abilities (Bachmann’s term for superpowers) is one that can be passed on from one person to another. But West, while he may fit the “Paragon” archetype, is no hero. He fights crime, stops disasters and saves lives, but he is also manipulative, deceitful, rude, petty, chauvinistic and completely untrustworthy. No member of his team can consider him a friend, and in fact many members of the team actively dislike the Paragon.

Liza quickly realizes that there is much more at stake than simply trying to return to her own body, and finds herself literally trying to save the world, and the audience get swept up for the ride.

The Paragon of Animals establishes a larger world with super powered individuals, which Bachmann has continued to explore. There are two comics that expand on this world, Raymond Hardcase, which tells the story of the Defense Force following the events of the book, and Our Supermom, which shows us where Liza ends up a decade or so after the novel. Both comics have print editions available, with trade paperbacks collecting the runs expected this fall. There is an RPG manual (authored by myself) in the works, and a sequel to The Paragon of Animals is due out in the fall of 2013. You can examine these other works at ScottComics.

Now, all this praise aside, that doesn’t mean that The Paragon of Animals is a perfect book. Bachmann’s writing can be clumsy in places, and transitions are often not as clear as they should be. His grammar and punctuation are not the cleanest, and the first edition of the novel (it is currently on its Second Printing, with a Third Edition slated to come out at the same time as the sequel, To Thine Own Self Be True) had numerous typos within the book.

Bachmann is also still clearly an inexperienced novelist. The pacing of the book is somewhat uneven, and some characters never rise beyond the level of stereotypes.

All of these criticisms aside, The Paragon of Animals is an incredibly fun ride, and Bachmann shows promise as a writer. The issues I mention above are ones that will be corrected with experience, and never keep one from enjoying reading the work. So, while it may be a flawed novel, it’s one that should excite the reader to see future works from this author.

The Paragon of Animals is available in both print ($7.49) and for Kindle ($2.99) at Amazon.com.

Disclosure: Scott Bachmann is a close friend, which probably biases my opinion. On the other hand, I have other friends who are writers whose work I have not enjoyed. Scott did not ask me to write a review, nor did he have any preconceived expectations of a positive one. I was not compensated for the review, although I did receive a copy of the book as a gift.