Everybody’s favorite faceless hero is back for more bad-guy-beating in Failstate: Legends. After completing his victory tour with America’s Next Superhero, Robin Laughlin (a.k.a. Failstate) returns to his hometown of New Chayton to find that he’s the only licensed hero around to protect the city. Being the new kid on the block and winning his license through a reality show don’t reflect well with his VOC (Vigilante Oversight Committee) handler, Agent Sexton.
But none other than the great Meridian (Alexander Magnus, the richest man in town and Rob’s friend from the last book) has agreed to semi-come out of retirement to mentor Failstate. This includes getting his powers reanalyzed, which leads to some interesting developments.
To help him with the recent zombie attacks in New Chayton, other heroes have come to visit. Otte’s world takes on new depth and breadth when we learn more about Rob’s personal heroes, the living legends. Turns out, these big shots aren’t all that. They bicker about how to protect New Chayton, distrust each other, and get distracted from their true goal.
Not so for Failstate.
Rob shows remarkable maturity since the first novel. His relationship with his mom and brother has improved, he’s more careful about the girls he finds himself liking, and he steps up as a leader among heroes. He confronts even the greatest legends without hesitation, and because he knows New Chayton best, he usually has the best plan.
In fact, he’s almost too good. He never once gives into jealousy when his brother Ben (a.k.a. Gauntlet) once again inserts himself in the limelight, and his superhero blunders are never really his fault. His relationship with Charlene, the new cute girl at church, carries on without a hitch. When his biggest pet peeve is never being called about secret hero meetings, I wish something else would go wrong in his personal life.
Failstate: Legends explores a lot of common themes from today’s nerd culture. A long-dead superhero returns to the present-day world and faces similar social and relational challenges to Captain America in The Avengers. The VOC licenses, monitors, and pays its heroes, and sometimes the two groups even get along (S.H.I.E.L.D., anyone?).
And, of course, zombies!
Otte had a great idea mixing zombies with superheroes. Raising the dead is no superpower, and no scientists have accomplished it. So why does Failstate keep encountering these hard-to-kill monsters? And why will no one believe his stories about them?
The novel is openly Christian in a good way. Rob/Failstate is one of the few characters who doesn’t sound cheesy praying every time he goes into battle. The big surprise, however, was when I finished the book and tried to come up with one defining moral or theme.
I couldn’t think of one. And I was okay with that.
Otte concentrated on nothing but story, and he delivered. The plot takes turns I never would have expected. When I though the battle halfway through the book felt a lot like a climax, everything turned on its head. (Actually, the battle does feel like a climax, and the book’s end feels anti-climactic after it. Who’s to complain about awesome battle scenes, though?)
One subtle lesson Rob learns stuck with me, however. When Failstate’s license is temporarily revoked, leaving Failstate in the cold and frustrated with the VOC system, Meridian tells him to relax. Take some time off, and return only when the “itch” to be a hero returns. A few weeks later, when Rob learns how Failstate unknowingly saved someone’s life, he’s ready to use his gifts again.
The occasional plot hole or deus ex machina rears its head (was the scene of Rob yelling at the old guy in church just to show him impressing Charlene, or did I miss something?), but these are minor. Overall, Failstate: Legends is a brilliant, just-stepped-out-of-a-comic-book adventure.