Wearing the Cape is the first of a series of superhero novels by Marion G. Harmon. Its world is our own until sometime in the late 90's, when the Event created an alternate history. The Event was a worldwide sensory blackout that lasted 3.2 seconds; everyone experienced those brief seconds of sensory deprivation, and when the world came back they found that the Event had also triggered a temporary but worldwide loss of power (known as the Blackout). Most importantly, however, the Event changed The Rules.In the aftermath of the Event and the Blackout, as stalled and out-of-control cars and powerless planes turned freeways and cities into death-zones, a small percentage of people reacted to the trauma and danger by exhibiting superhuman powers. Called "breakthroughs", many of them exhibited powers similar to those of traditional comic-book superheroes, though others were patterned after older myths and some were just plain weird. The first recorded breakthrough, a Superman-knockoff who took the codename "Atlas", put on a jumpsuit and cape to do good in the days and weeks following the Event, setting the pattern for public-minded breakthroughs who followed. Much of the plot is driven by the separation between expectations and super-heroic reality as the main character, Hope Corrigan, gains superpowers and deals with all the changes in her life. Through her eyes, the reader sees the difference between media-driven stereotypes and the truth about the superhero profession.The story takes place ten years after the Event, and an entire generation has grown up in a world of "superheroes." Unlike the heroes of the comics, however, Post-Event superheroes are certified, licensed, and regulated by state and local governments; most active heroes are members of Crisis Intervention and Aid teams and act as civilian contractors to city governments. While they do aid local police in responding to superhuman threats, mostly they act as Emergency Response Personnel. They also milk their own media-value for everything it's worth, using costumes and codenames to market their images (and sometimes to cover true secret identities). The presence of breakthrough powers is the only fantastic element in the Post-Event world, which strives to be a socially realistic setting, in that the story explores the political, legal, social, and personal issues created by the reality of people with superpowers. In general attitudes, the setting's superheroes resemble the more nuanced heroes of The Golden Age of Comic Books.There are currently 4 novels and one short story, with a 5th novel in progress
Wearing The Cape features the origin story of Hope, aka "Astra," after her breakthrough leaves her one of the most powerful individuals on the planet.
Villains Inc. The first sequel, continues Hope's journey in the fallout of Wearing the Cape.
Bite Me: Big Easy Nights, Starring Hope's best (vampire) friend Jacky, aka "Artemis," functions as something of an interquel or parallel novel, set between the first two novels.
Omega Night is a short story set after Villains Inc.
Young Sentinels is the next novel, set after Omega Night, continues Astra's progress, and introduces several new heroes in the junior version of the Wt C universe JLA or Avengers.
Girls Night, forthcoming, an Astra/Artemis/Galatea adventure that takes place in Japan.
This book contains examples of:
Anyone Can Die: Wearing the Cape begins with a terrorist attack that leaves bodies all over, the Sentinels are shown to have lost several members before the story begins, the murder of a street-level hero is casually alluded to, and finally, in the attack on Whittier Base no less than three Sentinels die—including two main characters.
Balkanize Me: Happened to China as a result of a messy post-Event civil war.
Beware the Nice Ones: Hope, who at the age of 18 stands less than 5 feet tall and is self-described as an "underdeveloped teenage Tinkerbell", is one of the strongest superheroes on the planet. Also, though she spends a good deal of time worrying about accidentally hurting anyone, she opens an alarming can of Whupass at the end of the story.
Bittersweet Ending: Although the Sentinels beat the Big Bad, Wearing the Cape ends with a state funeral for close to half the team.
Seven: I walk through firefights and the guns jam, misfire, come apart, get dropped, or just plain miss. Bombs don't go off when I'm in the blast zone or if they do, I'm in a blast shadow. The world's greatest martial artist would trip and break his neck if he tried to hit me. If I need a ride, a taxi or obliging fan just happens to be there.
The Cape: In the Post-Event world the more powerful and photogenic superheroes are major media celebrities, who often publicly play to the Golden Age Hero stereotype and have whole marketing campaigns and PR departments to back them up.
Cape Busters: The Department of Superhuman Affairs is the federal agency tasked with assessing superhuman threats to national security and assisting local authorities who can't deal with their superhuman problems. The DSA, with ties to the Secret Service, FBI, and US Marshals Service, and run by former US President Kayle—the man who created it—has a shadowy reputation and is every conspiracy theorist's Holy Grail.
The Chessmaster: Presented as a simple anti-government terrorist at the beginning of Wearing the Cape, The Teatime Anarchist turns out to be oh so much more. The full extent of his interference is only revealed at the end of the book.
Chest Insignia: In Hope's world they are called "crests" and are adopted and copyrighted by superheroes for marketing purposes, even if their crests appear nowhere on their actual costumes.
The Chosen Many: Hope Corrigan gains Atlas-type powers, making her one of dozens (although she is A-class—in the top 10% and therefore a hot commodity). After trying to dissuade her from taking up a superhero career, Atlas offers to train her and she joins the Sentinels as a probationary member while working on her certification.
City of Adventure: Chicago is the post-Event Metropolis of the Wearing the Cape setting, with good reason; Atlas and the Sentinels created the template for superheroes and superhero teams, and with the Sentinels and the Guardians teams, the city has more superheroes per capita than any other city. Chicago is also the center of the Villain-Rap culture, which means the place is crawling with street-villains and fashion-villains. The Sentinels' reputation is also creating a problem, in that supervillain-terrorists and thrill-villains who want to make their reputations may target them and the city they protect (it has been noted that Chicago was the only freshwater port to get a godzilla attack).
Cliché Storm: Jacky in Bite Me: Big Easy Nightsintentionally invokes as many vampire tropes as she can, sleeping in a coffin on native soil, wearing lots of black and goth-like clothes, even studying to become a private detective, so that she go undercover in the local "vampire" culture, who play it distressingly straight.
Code Name: Most superheroes have codenames that are descriptive of their power or just cool-sounding. Atlas gives Hope the temporary codename "Astra", which he says is Latin for star. She keeps it, despite later finding out it's the plural form—star(s).
The Commissioner Gordon: Max Fisher, the senior detective in the Chicago Police Department's superhuman-crimes division. A competent "normal" with secrets of his own.
Curb-Stomp Battle: Astra nearly loses in her first hero/villain fight, against Brick, a superstrong gang-banger supervillain—partly due to inexperience, but also due to being handicapped by an intruding second supervillain. Later she gets a rematch and the fight is so one-sided Brick doesn't land a single hit, as a dramatic way of showing how much she's progressed.
Die or Fly: The usual way for breakthroughs to occur. Tends to follow a pattern of allowing one to fight the danger, escape the danger, or become immune to the danger.
Domino Mask: Dominoes or their equivalent are often worn by superheroes whose civilian identities are already publicly known. It's an expected part of the costume, but is also useful for making them unrecognizable to anyone who doesn't know them personally, allowing them a measure of privacy in public—a humorous inversion of movie-stars tendency to don baseball caps and sunglasses to go to Starbucks.
Deus ex Machina: Seven's power is often this, especially in the Omega Night. when he picks the one live nuclear warhead from 25 decoys, even though they are not aimed at him.
On the other hand, Astra correctly guessed that Seven's power would work because he had a personal stake in choosing correctly.
Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Supernatural-type breakthroughs encompassing basically every kind of story, myth, folklore, or religion exist, ranging from the superhero types, to Hermetic magicians, Native American medicine men, European druids, and more.
Green Thumb: The aptly named Green Man from Young Sentinels. An eco terrorist with the ability to make plants grow at enormous speeds.
Heel-Face Turn Riptide, superpowered gangbanger who assists the heroes after the California earthquake and has joined the Chicago Sentinels in the 2nd book.
Hero with Bad Publicity: Villains Inc. finds Astra going through a bit of this. Sure she helped save the President of the United States and took down a big bad super-terrorist, but she's also accused in the sensational media of being underage and having an affair with a much-older Atlas (her mentor and the setting's version of Superman). Add to this that she publicly opposes superhuman registration—a popular cause after a supervillain-triggered earthquake leveled southern California—and she's not the media-darling that she was.
Heroic Build: Atlas, the setting's Superman character, wears a sculpted muscle-suit that mimics a Mister Atlas body. Elsewhere, Hope notes that not all superheroes can get away with spandex, and the Hollywood Knights are chosen not just for their powers but also for their physiques (often the result of personal trainers and plastic surgeons).
Kid Sidekick: Hope (18 years old) becomes Atlas' sidekick in order to learn the butt-kicking ways of Atlas-type heroes. The whole mentor/sidekick angle is played up for the media (her costume is even color-coordinated to match his), but it's clearly understood to be a temporary arrangement, more like an apprenticeship.
Knight Templar: The Dark Anarchist's goal is to keep the human race alive in the face of a crapton of wars, supernatural events and natural disasters, but his idea of how to do this is to create a police state that practices Fantastic Racism against people with powers.
Little Miss Badass: Hope/Astra. She wears armor and carries a 100lb titanium maul, partially to raise her game but mostly because without it she doesn't look threatening at all.
Living Lie Detector: A government agent with the code-name Veritas is noted to be able to know if anything (spoken, written, recorded etc) is true or not. This proves invaluable when Hope has to determine if she can afford to trust a certain person.
Mass Super-Empowering Event: Called simply The Event. For 3.2 seconds everyone on the planet simultaneously suffered from total sensory deprivation. Still no explanation for what caused it though, or how this was connected to people developing superpowers.
Meaningful Name: While superheroic codenames are usually deliberately meaningful, the Teatime Anarchist's name was chosen for him by the media and is accidentally meaningful. They don't know he's a time traveler.
Hope's given name also turns out to be descriptive, both of her determinedly optimistic personality and the revelation that she may be responsible for saving the world—or at least a large part of it—in the future.
Military Superhero: Blackstone, a superhero/stage-magician, is a former US Marine; he mustered out and began his stage-magic career some time after a battlefield injury rendered him incapable of field operations. He appears to have worked in military intelligence, and is the security/intelligence specialist of the Sentinels.
Platoon and Watchman are also former military. The US military has several squads consisting entirely of superhumans.
Most Common Super Power: Hope/Astra, a Flying Brick, has a stuffed bra built into her costume to make her look older and much more well-endowed. Elsewhere she comments that the practice of incorporating wonderbras into superheroine's costumes is almost universal.
New Powers as the Plot Demands: Justified. In Villains Inc. an encounter grants Astra the ability to sense magic, allowing her to make several observations key to the plot. It is suggested that this added power is temporary, however.
The Obi-Wan: Blackstone was a retired US Marine when he had his breakthrough and became one of the founders of the Sentinels. Ten years later, as the last surviving and active Sentinel of the original five, he is both the spiritual mentor to the newer Sentinels and the team leader.
Sifu is another Obi Wan; mentoring Crash, Rush's new speedster-sidekick, it is hoped that he will balance Rush's more impulsive influence.
One Super One Powerset: Averted in Villains Inc., Astra finds herself outclassed and consequently follows Ajax' example, leveling up by adding armor to her costume and even using Ajax' maul to increase her ability to Hit Things.
Our Monsters Are Different: Breakthroughs are often shaped by the beliefs of the individual person. A person who became a werewolf may be a Loup-Garou, which is sort of a French bogeyman, or a Benendanti, a more benign creature from Italian folklore that fights evil witches.
Personality Powers (Justified): In the post-Event world, the psychological component of breakthroughs means that the powers of new-minted superhumans are seldom at odds with their personality types. Aggressive breakthroughs gain offensive powers, non-violent breakthroughs gain defensive powers, and so on.
Randomly Gifted: In Hope/Astra's world, the vast majority of superhumans are randomly gifted through the unpredictable survival mechanism of the Breakthrough. There are no publicly known exceptions. Children of breakthroughs are slightly more likely than the average person to also experience a breakthrough (although the odds of getting struck by lightning are still better).
Reality Ensues: Hope/Astra is given a lesson in momentum and force and why it's a good idea to know how tough something is before you fly yourself into it like a missile. The book is actually full of little reality-checks, like superheroes getting warrants before going after supervillains, villains whose lawyers get the charges dropped, and strangers committing random acts of badness.
Reed Richards Is Useless/The Spark of Genius: Verne-types (gadgeteers) are superhumans whose power is the ability to create Weird Science stuff—like powersuits and antigravity pods—but only for themselves; nothing can be mass-produced from the designs and formulas they create.
Regular Caller: Crisis Aid and Intervention heroes (the setting's city superteams) aren't patrolling freelance crimefighters. Instead they are special services contractors tied into a city's emergency-response department, and most of Hope/Astra's action-scenes start with a summons from Dispatch.
Religious Bruiser: Seif-al-Din believed his powers were given to him by Allah, and was strong enough to fight and even kill Atlas.
In the post-Event world there seems to be enough super powered heroes to go around; there are even "reservist" heroes who live normal lives unless called upon for help in cases of extreme disasters. That said, some superhumans (like Hope) feel the need to Use Their Powers For Good deeply enough to force them to put on a costume and fight crime when they would really rather be doing something else.
Some super-teams, such as the Hollywood Knights, are unionized and have a maximum number of hours they can work before they have to "clock out". As Seven explains to Astra, it's a necessary evil because otherwise, superheros can get exhausted and start making costly mistakes.
Secret Identity: Secret identities are optional and a lot of superheroes in Wearing The Cape don't bother with them. Some have undergone physical transformations that make secret identities impossible, but many also had public breakthroughs that "outed" them from the start. Others just find them too much of a pain in the butt to maintain for the few benefits they give. One variation on traditional secret identities is a legal second identity, established with the help of the government, much like that of witnesses in the Witness Protection Program.
Self-Duplication: Redux type superhumans. Examples include Platoon, who duplicates himself permanently on a regular basis (there are implied to be dozens of him), and the supervillain Flash Mob, who can make 20 or so temporary duplicates.
Single Power Superheroes: A significant percentage of breakthroughs are single-power types, loosely or tightly defined. Blackstone practices "stage magic" (illusions, levitation, teleportation), The Harlequin is bouncy to the point of physical invulnerability, Rush is "fast", etc.
Spandex, Latex, or Leather: Post-Event superheroes use all three plus other materials. Choice depends on body-type (latex and leather can "hold in" bulges spandex can't), gender, attitude, and superhero personae. Many male heroes wear cotton or leather bodysuits much like race-car driver's outfits, for example. One female character wears a spandex catsuit under a tailored kevlar vest-skirt.
Stuffed into the Fridge: Played with. Early in Villains Inc., Astra is presented with a superhuman murder where the victim was reduced to soup-in-a-box. Then she learns that Blackstone, one of her teammates and mentors, was killed in the same fashion in a potential future. The threat is very motivating.
Stripperiffic: Played with. In the post-Event setting, superhero costumes are flamboyant but practical...in the field. It has been mentioned that many young and fashionable superheroes have much less practical club-versions of their costumes for partying, and superhero-cosplayers dress much more stripperiffically.
Superhero Speciation: The Sentinels' power-sets are extremely diverse, and it is implied that most other Crisis Aid and Intervention teams are as well. The openly stated rationale is that superhuman combat is paper-scissors-rock, so you'd better have a mix on your team to cover any weaknesses. Also, power-duplication doesn't always play well in the media...
Superheroes Wear Tights: Post-Event superheroes consciously model themselves after comic-book heroes, and this extends to their wardrobes so tights are common among heroes with the physiques to wear them. But in the Sentinels alone, Astra starts with a shorts-and-vest costume, then a skirt, and finally in Villains Inc. a reinforced Leotard of Powernote which she complains makes her feel like she has a permanent wedgie and tights, Atlas wears a leather jumpsuit, Blackstone wears a tuxedo, Chakra wears a tribal dancer outfit, Ajax wears body-armor, etc. The only Sentinel in tights throughout is The Harlequin, because that's part of a traditional harlequin costume.
Thou Shalt Not Kill: Hope's expectation is that superheroes follow the Golden Age superhero code, and this is strengthened by Ajax' statement that "heroes don't use guns." But in her first fight she discovers that Atlas is perfectly willing to let the bad guys kill each other, and in the surprise-attack on Whittier Base half the team breaks out automatic pistols, the better to cap their attackers. In the same attack, Hope herself kills an unspecified number of terrorists along with the Big Bad in the heat of combat, then kills two heroes in the Dark Anarchist's secret base.
With Great Power Comes Great Perks: Most superhumans who can make a career out of their powers, and even the superheroes are working for big paychecks. The more successful ones are idolized, with their own merchandise lines, fan-clubs, and even TV shows fictionalizing their adventures. This doesn't mean they're all in it for the perks—just that a superhero career can be financially rewarding.