The conflict between the paranoid and the privileged is one of the great reoccurring themes of 20th century pop culture. It was used effectively as the climax to the classic H.G. Wells movie THINGS TO COME in 1931 and in Rorschach’s conversations with his therapist in Alan Moore‘s WATCHMEN. The theme has been used in movies as diverse as TANKGIRL, SCARFACE and ROLLERBALL, and is at the very center of just about all the really good Oliver Stone movies.
Rachel Kadushin, Ruben Caldwell and Ed Meares use the paranoia/privilege conflict well in their comic book HEROES IN BIRMINGHAM. In the first issue, we see a group of people in a movie theater watching what appears to be one of those old newsreels. We learn the film is actual footage of local superhero F-27 Pulse fighting marauders, and a hero called N-ergyzer saving a business executive from being kidnapped. The audience debates whether the footage is real and whether the N-ergyzer is “enhanced.”
From there we move on to the life of Mercutio Bishop, his struggles to become a hero and his fellow heroes increasing suspicions about the agenda of his corporate sponsors.
But trying to summarize the plot of the first two HEROES IN BIRMINGHAM in a few sentences is nearly impossible. The story is rich in plot, featuring businesses that use toy prototype technology as possible military weapons; some superheroes who are considered “unregistered public performers”; a state-managed train system that is both necessary and dangerous; and hints of a past catastrophe that has left America (or at least the deep South) as a series of city-states. The story is set in an alternate history future Earth where different world wars were fought during the 20th century and “clean” nuclear power was developed earlier.
There is also plenty of subtle humor in HEROES IN BIRMINGHAM. Mercutio (like his namesake in Shakespeare‘s ROMEO AND JULIET) has a talent for spotting impending disaster that is largely ignored. There is a Horseman galloping in like the cavalry in an old Western movie to help in the nick of time; a Latino hero who thinks the “gringo vigilantes” are much better at talking than fighting; and a hero who doesn’t question his fighting skills or moral compass, but worries he might not have the “acting finesse” to look good in the newsreels.
The story is rich in jargon, as the writers create a language of their vision of the future. Small towns are called “flat-tops” because of their low-rise buildings; lightweight paper is “plas-paper,” a working class inner-city neighborhood is a “favero,” and areas outside of Birmingham are “out-burbs.”
Kadushin and Caldwell expect their readers to be fairly smart and to pay attention. HEROES IN BIRMINGHAM isn’t a comic book that you can read lightly or skip through. But for readers who have an eye for detail and nuance, HEROES IN BIRMINGHAM can be a rewarding experience.
Add to all this Ed Meares’ art, which is a cool combination of visual exaggeration and unpretentious sketchiness. Meares can handle both a great sight-gag like Mercuito falling off a roof catching a thrown book and a more dramatic fall like Mercutio being blown out of a skyscraper window by an explosion. Meares’ art complements the unfolding story.
If you like science fiction/action adventure told from a unique perspective, HEROES IN BIRMINGHAM is something you will want to check out.
In a world where paranoia versus privilege is an increasing part of our daily lives, the concepts presented in HEROES IN BIRMINGHAM may not be just fantasy much longer.