Super Born: Seduction of Being by Keith Kornell

Super Born follows a single mom with a crappy job who has the misfortune of being stranded in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The book aims to be a straightforward but comedic superhero story that focuses on her struggle to fulfill her own needs and take care of her daughter, all of which her powers and sense of responsibility to the public at large complicates.

The humor is hit and miss, and it occasionally veers too far into the absurd, but it does its job well enough. The author’s use of multiple perspectives also undermines the pace and substance of the story. Despite that, his focus on a single mom who is unabashed about enjoying sex, conflicted by the desire to live her own life while raising her daughter, and who acts like most people actually would when they get super powers makes for an enjoyable read. And she enjoys calling herself the BIB. The last bit of it is “In Black,” so you can figure the rest out.

First, the humor. The real meat in the story focuses on how a quirky single mom deals with her life. The superpowers give it an air of the fantastic, but ultimately, the story is about how someone in her position would handle getting superpowers. What really keeps the story going is that she’s a goofy, normal person with superpowers, rather than a billionaire that beats up the economically underprivileged. She’s not an extraordinary person, just a mom trying to do her best. There is a good amount of grounded humor dealing with her struggles that really works in the book.

There are, however, many jokes that are outright absurd. The basic premise of the book is that there’s a special kind of radiation that makes men complete morons and gives women super powers. The men in Scranton, in this book, are so stupid they walk into lamp posts, can’t hold down jobs, and put antlers on their heads and shoot rifles at each other in a bar game to entertain themselves. For a story that finds its strength on the down to earth confronting the fantastic, humor like this is a bit far out there. Sure, make the men stupid, but not to the point that they’d drown themselves drinking out of a water fountain. Whenever the book veers into unbelievably absurd humor, it undermines its strengths. That being said, I frequently ended up laughing my butt off as I read.

The second issue with the book is that it follows two major perspectives: there’s the mother and the reporter who, after one meeting, is desperate to track her down because of his attraction to her. I think the reporter himself is an important character with a lot to contribute, but the book can never quite decide if it’s about him or the BIB. Although he gets more page-time than she does, the portions involving the BIB are more entertaining and interesting. The reporter is just another love-stricken schmuck, and most of his character development revolves around showing that he’s basically a decent guy.

Given that the BIB and the story of the single mom with super powers is what really drove this book, I think the bulk of it should have been from her perspective. The reporter only needed a couple of chapters, maybe three, but even then he should have been strictly viewed from the BIB’s perspective rather than as an independent actor. What makes this book good is a fun female character who is allowed to want and enjoy sex, to be insecure, and to beat up mobsters  so she can blow off steam after an argument with her daughter. Having so much of the book dedicated to what amounts to her boy toy undermines her central role and passively counteracts her agency as a character. The book would have been stronger had it simply stuck to her perspective besides a chapter here and there.

All of that being said, she’s still a great character to read. One of my favorite scenes is when she wakes up after being black out drunk and realizes just how much trouble someone with super powers can cause. The author also does a fantastic job of lampooning a lot of the things that make comic books ridiculous via her character. When the mayor develops his version of a bat signal and rolls out the red carpet (literally) for her, she just ignores it and goes to a movie with her daughter and her friend. Why would she want to bother with all of that?

On the same note, the author does a great job examining the tension between living a mundane life working a crap job and being a superhero at the same time, how the need to preserve her secret identity forces her to put up with a terrible boss and all of the tedium that comes with it. She can throw trucks around like pillows, but unless she wants to endanger her daughter she can’t really stay honest and capitalize on her powers. Also, there’s the part of her that still wants to find romance and her own life, but she also has to take care of a daughter trying to act like her mom and clipping her wings. There’s a lot to be said for exploring those sorts of themes, and the fact you have the woman in a superhero costume doing it makes it that much better.

Overall, the book is a success. It made me laugh, and I really enjoyed what the author did with the BIB. The humor got a bit silly in some places, but there was always something within a chapter or so that’d get a sincere grin out of me. I think the author should have dropped the reporter as more than a token perspective so he could really focus on the BIB, but it didn’t ruin the book. This book is fun, quick, touches on some real issues, and leave you with a smile or a chuckle. I give it a 4/5.

You can pick up a copy of it from Amazon here.