What is the difference between a hero and a villain? How does a superhero know that he is doing good? What happens if there are no villains to fight anymore? If superheroes lose their powers, what do they have to live for? Tom King, in his debut novel A Once Crowded Sky, takes a fresh look at these questions and turns traditional comic book superhero tropes inside out.
PenUltimate, former sidekick of the great superhero Ultimate, is the last hero standing after the rest of the world’s superheroes sacrifice their powers to stop the mysterious world-destroying force of the Blue. Considered a coward for refusing to relinquish his powers in the battle that Ultimate gave his life to win, Pen is an outcast among the newly powerless heroes. But soon a new threat arises and Pen is the only one who can face it. Will he meet the challenge this time? Can he defeat this new threat? Will Pen sacrifice himself to restore the other superheroes’ powers? Has Ultimate returned from the Blue? Will the world, in usual comic book fashion, return to normal by the final page?
King deftly creates a world of superheroes and villains that are also real people, with deep emotional lives who may not always do the right thing or have all the answers. Yet he also maintains and meddles with typical superhero themes, like the hero’s sacrifice for the greater good, the interconnectedness of the hero and the villain, and the eventual return of the hero, no matter what. Peppered with illustrations by comic book artist Tom Fowler and imaginatively written, A Once Crowded Sky is a great pick for readers who enjoy edgy comic books and superhero movies like Watchmen and The Dark Knight.