These days, Hollywood seems to be oversaturated with tales of super heroes. There’s Marvel, there’s DC, and they’re all over the silver screen and your TV screen. Add in to the mix the reboot of the Heroes series on NBC this fall, and you’ve go from saturation to domination. The trope has become ubiquitous to the point it’s hard to tell one hero and his story from another, and at that point, it’s kind of hard to care about said hero’s journey. As the Tony Starks of Hollywood take over the world, the original ethos of the super hero tale becomes more and more forgettable. Super hero stories began originally as an outlet to tell tales about society’s misfits, the weirdos who never quite fit in, and consequently had trouble forming human relationships. Tony Stark is definitely not the oddball loser super hero of yore. So where did all those awkward misfits go? Where can we find their tales? Well, I’ll tell you: You can find roughly 6 of them in this week’s Zeroes, a new novel kicking off a planned trilogy about some not-so-super “heroes” who nonetheless have some unique powers.
Meet the Zeroes, a group of young people in Cambria, CA from varying backgrounds and walks of life. First off, there’s Ethan aka Scam. He’s got a crazy knack for always knowing just what to say to get him what he wants, or so it seems, but really he’s home to an all-knowing voice who’s good at talking its way out of messes…and into them. Then there’s Flicker, also know as Riley. Riley is blind…sort of. She can’t see through her own eyes, but she can see through yours. There’s a newcomer to the party, Mob, better known as Kelsie. Kelsie is good with a crowd. What does that mean? Well, it’s complicated. Then there’s Crash, who generally prefers Chizara. Crash has an unhealthy relationship with electronics, specifically things on a network. In a word, when she gets the itch, something is gonna crash. Then there’s Nate, their Glorious Leader as he likes to be called. Nate is one charming dude. It doesn’t hurt that his family is wealthy, and it sounds like he’s got political ambitions….amongst other things. Oh, and we can’t forget about Anonymous, whose power is…wait, what? Oh, yeah. Without putting any effort into it, Anon aka Thibault is immediately forgettable, allowing him to maneuver through crowds and sticky situations without ever being noticed.
The first third of Zeroes is action packed as Ethan scams his way into a series of dangerous events, none of which exactly follow the letter of the law. The book switches perspectives between our Zeroes, each chapter more or less told from a different point of view. The transitions are flawless, and the story greatly benefits from allowing the reader to see how each character views the others, a handy device personified in Flicker’s ability to switch perspectives herself. During this section of the book, each Zero gets an illuminating introduction, and the rift within their group that occurred the summer before becomes apparent. Ethan’s voice inadvertently dropped some truth bombs on everyone in a fit of petty rage, but petty or not, the words left their mark on the other Zeroes. As the characters are fleshed out, it’s refreshing to see that all of them are realistic teens with rich backstories that amazingly (for the most part) avoids archetypes. The group is diverse, and each Zero FEELS like a person you could run into around the corner.
After Scam’s voice creates chaos, Nate rallies the group to attempt to get Scam out of this mess he’s made for himself. Some are reluctant. Besides Scam’s harsh words, there are some trust issues at the heart of the reluctance. What does Nate want, ultimately, from combining the powers of the Zeroes? His dismissal of the consequences of their actions has Crash in particular worried. And the remainder of the book has the Zeroes dealing with the aftermath of Ethan’s mess as well as pondering those consequences.
The book asks, through the characters’ tugs of war with one another, just because you can do something, should you? Should you allow things to occur organically, or is their “cheating” ok? Ethan’s voice in particular is prone toward seeking immediate gratification with no thought toward long-term consequences. There are a lot of moral and ethical questions floating around, and it’s easy to forget that it’s just regular old teenagers who are forced to ponder these deep issues, even as they also struggle with day-to-day normal issues like family responsibility, hormones, and just the general struggle to make it through high school and adolescence. (The struggle is real!)
As these normal kids deal with their extraordinary abilities, they also process crushes, rejections, and failures. This is in addition to, oh you know, Flicker being blind, Thibault being a ghost, Crash being unable to be anywhere near technology, and Ethan being, well, Ethan.
Each Zero is a bit of a loner, as it’s not easy ordeal to grow up dealing with “normal” problems as well as the problems relating to dealing with their “powers.” Given that, the most interesting thing about this series is that, excluding Ethan, all of the Zeroes’ powers are social in nature, working best in a group setting, with 6+ being the ideal number. It’s an interesting scenario that the authors have concocted: What happens when you put kids who have had trouble relating to others their whole lives in a situation where not only must they relate to each other, but also learn to hone their skills which are themselves inherently social? It’s a masterful, really, setting up a situation where these “heroes” who avoid people out of discomfort rely on others to make their powers work. It’ll be interesting to see how that dichotomy plays out.
So now that we’ve met the Zeroes, it’s safe to say that not all super heroes run a multi billion dollar corporation. Not all are devastatingly handsome. Not all can fly or even have a fancy job in media (we’re looking at you Clark Kent). And that’s ok. Because weirdos and misfits need heroes, too. So when people ask “Where have all the weirdos gone?” you can point them squarely in the direction of this new engaging series.