Sep 27, 2010: I first came across Wonder City Stories last week during a cursory check of WFG, and managed to read the entire back catalogue inside of 2 or 3 days. Given that my job involves a lot of between-site travel and a lot of planning, that’s pretty stupendous and should say a lot.
It’s a serial of vignettes following several characters who have intertwining story strands, who all live in Wonder City, home to many a great hero and inter-dimensional hiccup.
A great deal has been made of its inspirations, ‘Astro City’ apparently being one of the chief ones. I have to confess that I’m ignorant of most of the cited inspirations, so I’m not sure how this will dispose you towards the review. I’m more of a ‘Powers’ or ‘X-men’ kind of a gal.
The writing style has been described as light by some. Perhaps because there isn’t always a mass of description, but I find that McLaughlin always sets the scene well, detailing it gently, and does it in a way that you can imagine it sharply. While we do get to see some super-hero action from time to time, the main thrust of the serial is the minutae and more domestic side of super-hero life. Powers are cool, but have you ever thought about having to clean up after a fight between super-powered folk, or even the burecracy that might be involved? Wonder City Stories does consider this, and provides us with interesting answers.
One thing that is certainly in Wonder City Stories’ favour, is its discourse with characters and the diversity of those characters. Many are super-powered, but they are all human and fascinating, and while each one has their own quirks and flaws, it is not to the point where one flaw dominates and/or destroys their lives in an over-dramatic way.
As for diversity of cast, the serial deals with issues like gender theory and sexuality, disability, peer pressure, mental health and coping with grief. Quite a few web serials claim to deal with ‘difficult’ subjects, but this one actually delivers the goods. The prinicpal characters are all from groups that are often marginilised or under/misrepresented within in mainstream comics, so women, characters of colour, LGBTQ characters, disabled characters, older people, people from different religious backgrounds.
Special QI points must be awarded for having STRONG, FEMALE characters who are realistic and NOT ripped from Hollywood’s hard-bodied heroines – their strength does not magically become a weakness when the going gets tough. This is something of a pet peeve of mine, I admit. Words like ‘strong’ and ‘fiesty’ tend to be abused in modern fiction, and I now have a habit of translating them to mean ‘studied a bit of self-defense, but will be rescued by a dude with a machine gun or massive sword in critical moments’. Wonder City Stories does not do this, for which I am very grateful.
On the less positive side, initially I found the navigation of the web site itself to be a little awkward. I’d recommend you bookmark the table of contents, as the set up of the page is somewhat similar to LiveJournal, which may confuse some readers.
All in all, if you’re curious to explore a path not-as-travelled within super-hero stories, then Wonder City Stories could well be what you’re looking for.