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Multicultural Superhero Drama

By Ysabetwordsmith, member

Sep 21, 2010: "Wonder City Stories" is a slipstream story that blends a number of genres. First, there is the superhero aspect. You need at least a reasonable grasp of superhero tropes, because the author plays against those to create the dramatic tension and irony in the storylines. That’s the foundation—our collective imagination of that colorful superhero world—on which a gritty, messy, engrossing story is built. If you like movies such as "Sky High" and "The Incredibles" that warp those expectations, you’ll enjoy this too.

Second, there is the soap opera aspect. Strands of personal and objective drama, romance, and character development weave together to create the larger plot. Characters have intensely detailed backgrounds and connections that play out over the long term. The interactions grow out of that.

Third, there is the multicultural aspect. Classic superhero and soap opera offerings are predominantly mainstream, populated by characters who are straight, white, Christian, middle class or above, and otherwise ordinary to idealized representations. This cast, however, is not. There are strong female characters, people of color, queer folks, and other members of under-represented groups. And the storylines show both the ways in which these are everyday folks, and the ways in which they are unusual because their abilities or worldviews complicate their lives. This is where you really want to watch the subtle interplay of the superpowers that characters have, or don’t have, because those interact strongly with other aspects of their lives.

So that’s the background and an overview of what kind of action happens. There are several viewpoint characters, and each post usually focuses on one of them. It hops around, so you need to read a lot of the story before you can really see the wide view. Beyond these are the major non-viewpoint characters, who appear in numerous scenes and have important roles such as being the romantic partner of a viewpoint character; and there are minor characters who only appear occasionally but are fascinating and memorable when they do.

The story itself is messy, sweet, tragic, and valiant. It doesn’t have the razor-sharpness of a story in which ever detail is planned meticulously in advance. It’s more like real life—people make mistakes and try to compensate for them, which sometimes has the result they want and other times not. It is filled with tiny, plausible moments that make you want to wince and cover your eyes; moments that make you think "aha!" and remember a clever solution for your own use later; little realizations that shift your own worldview just a bit to accommodate something you hadn’t ever noticed before. The characters grow on you until you want to cheer their successes and lament their failures.

I am not ordinarily fond of soap operas, and not that big on superheroes. I am, however, fascinated by stories that deal with issues or character types that are rarely covered. That’s what hooked me. And then I realized that the drama is actually pretty cool, in a "Wow, am I ever glad that this meltdown is not happening in MY living room, because from the safe distance of another universe, this is wildly entertaining" kind of way. That’s what makes "Wonder City Stories" so special.

It’s a city. It is full of wonder and stories. Go visit it. It’s worth the trip.

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