Fri
Jun 13 2014 1:00pm

Fresh Meat: Protectors, Inc.: Volume 1 by J. Michael Straczynski

Protectors Inc. Volume 1 by J. Michael Straczynski, Gordon Purcell, and Michael Atiyeh is a superhero comic series where superheroes are rented out to the highest bidder (available June 17, 2014).

In this superhero comic title from one of the masters of the field, superpowers first manifested in the skies over 1944 Normandy, changing forever the life of one average soldier. Taking on the moniker The Patriot, he would turn the tide for the Allied nations in World War II, even as he carefully cultivated his anonymity. Decades later, he would put down the mantle, never explaining why, and disappear into the masses.

But he wasn’t the only one gifted with, seemingly, the abilities of flight, super-strength, super-speed, invulnerability and agelessness. Other individuals soon stepped forward with similar powers, though slightly different motivations:

[The Patriot] seemed like a regular guy who got lucky. He just wanted to be a good soldier. Never let it go to his head. Never put on airs, never took a dime in endorsements… not like the bunch who came after him. See, whatever entered the world that day, it wasn’t done doing what it came to do. After that, guys with powers started popping up all over the United States, as if the power that hit him in France followed him home. Not only were all the new powers Americans, most of ‘em were rich Americans, a fact the government used during the Cold War to argue the superiority of capitalism over communism. They said the power that entered the world was drawn to people who would know how to use it for freedom and the good of mankind. Now there’s fifty of ‘em. All good guys, no bad guys, if you believe the press. They called themselves Protectors… a name that got incorporated in the 1950s when there got to be a bunch of ‘em. The company took over their public appearances, finances, bookings, designed their costumes, helped ‘em pick hero names, the whole catastrophe.

Our narrator is an overworked Chicago police detective named Riley, who is one of the few people less interested in the literal light shows that herald the appearances of Protectors than in the sordid business of solving everyday crimes. That soon changes when The Huntsman, a local superhero Riley finds particularly obnoxious, is found murdered in a way that indicates that the only person who could have possibly done it is someone with similar powers. Protectors, Inc., however, refuses to countenance such a thing, insisting that malice doesn’t exist between the superheroes it represents. Riley finds himself facing an uphill battle in his investigations as his suspects close ranks but finds an ally in The Angel, another of the few Protectors to keep a low profile. Their conversation as they cozy up for her to fly him to The Huntsman’s hideout is a charming bit of banter, a hallmark of J Michael Straczynski’s writing:

The Angel: Can I ask you a question?

Riley: I suppose.

The Angel: You made it a point to talk to me separate from the rest. And you never gave any sign that you thought I might be the killer. Why?

Riley: A cop learns to trust his instincts. I… just had a feeling about you.

The Angel (with a grin): Yes, I can tell.

Riley: Those… are my keys. In my pocket.

The Angel: Hold on tight. Do you trust me?

Riley: Not… entirely.

The Angel: Then hold on very tight [...] Do you have a problem with heights?

Riley (as they’re flying): No. Yes. Why do you ask?

The Angel (with a serene expression): I think you lost your keys.

Protectors, Inc. Volume I weaves together the death of The Huntsman with the disappearance of a German spymaster and the drowning of a missing New York City resident for a deftly written, tantalizing tale of multiple murder that hints at darker revelations to come. Ordinarily, I’m impatient with books that serve mainly as groundwork and background without resolving plot points—I almost always wind up feeling a little cheated—but in the hands of J. Michael Straczynski, Michael Atiyeh and Gordon Purcell, I feel like I’m on the cusp of a story even better than what has been presented to me so far in this thoroughly realized world they’ve built. So much happened that it’s hard to feel disappointed as one might at lazy storytelling, which is hardly an accusation that can be levelled at this creative team. Volume I served as a fantastic introduction to a world of which I’m eager to read much, much more.

See more new releases at our Fresh Meat feature page.

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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.

Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.

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