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Ascendant: Star Spangled Squadron

Graphic Novel Review: ‘Ascendant: Star-Spangled Squadron’ by Macris, from Baen

Ascendant: Star-Spangled Squadron

Ascendant: Star-Spangled Squadron by Alexander Macris, David Campiti, and William Macris, published by Baen Books, gives a new look at classic superhero tropes, at once cherishing the inspiration and taking the story in a modern direction. All the components of the superhero genre are here: mad science, selfless heroics, the unending question of what it means to be a hero, and plenty of face-punching action. With the impeccable art of Mel Joy San Juan, Ascendant continues the canon of superherodom from the tabletop RPG.

Ascendant: Star Spangled Squadron

Ascendant: Star-Spangled Squadron’s story begins with the creation of heroes, or at least the attempt to do so. Super-science, much as with the origin of Captain America or Luke Cage, is handled much more realistically, with prisoner-volunteer experimentation. In Fort Leavenworth, a notorious war criminal nicknamed “Manticore” undergoes the procedure, which turns him into a monstrous literal version of his name. He is not alone as other people begin developing superpowers across the country. These powers take each person to their moral extremes. The bad become drunk on their ability to deal out destruction to whoever stands in their way. The good take a stand to do everything they can to help others.

Many of the characters in Ascendant: Star-Spangled Squadron follow well-established archetypes. Firefighter Bill Goddard discovers his powers while protecting kids in a burning building, hoping they might survive shielded under his own body. His selflessness and pure idealism lead him to become American Eagle, who can challenge even Silver Age Superman for optimism. Stiletto is the brooding femme fatale with violence to rival Elektra or Aeon Flux, using pheromones and minimal costuming to distract the bad guys while she clobbers them. Quirky nerd-girl Dr. Quantum plays D&D in her off-time while the glamorous Aurora pauses to take selfies in the middle of battle. Different as their backgrounds are, they still all believe in fighting for what is right.

Rather than being cookie-cutter heroes, the characters go into depth analyzing their outlooks. The greatest juxtaposition is American Eagle and Stiletto. At the end of the day fighting super-crime, American Eagle flies home to be with his family, narrating, “They make the world worth fighting for.” On the opposite column of the page, Stiletto drives her motorcycle through the worst parts of the city, looking for still more evildoers to wreck, herself narrating, “The world never changes. It’s always the same sad s— show.”

Through the course of Ascendant: Star-Spangled Squadron, the heroes are gathered into a team by the United States government. They face down a team of supervillains attacking Area 51, leading to an epic battle to cap the end of the first book with radiation blasts, telepathy, animal mutations, and much more. Through it all, the heroes overhear strange comments from the attackers that build the mystery of Project Ascension and the origins of powers. It shows that, even if the day is won, the war goes on since we are all human in the end.

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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