Velveteen vs the Junior Super Patriots/Multiverse
published in 2012, 2013
I had been following Seanan McGuire on her Livejournal for donkey ages, but I only got around to reading her Velveteen stories when they were linked from MetaFilter. Bad Martin. No biccie. Of course I then inhaled all the linked posts in less than an afternoon (not at work of course, nooo) and found I had to buy the actual ebooks, if only to be able to burble about them here.
I haven’t read anything else of Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant yet, so it may seem strange that this got such a hold on me, but it just perfectly fit the story crack receptors in my brain. Well told, short superhero stories done with flair and invention, lots of drama and emotional rollercoasters, no fear of consequences or of looking silly. Velveteen is a young superheroine just let go of the most famous superhero team in the world, the Junior Super Patriots, looking to start a new life without superheroing as long as the sinister marketing company behind 90 percent of superheroes lets her. Greatly lacking in self confidence and trust in her powers — which consists of being able to bring to life and manipulate toys — she thinks herself barely qualified to cope with real life, let alone the challenges walking away from the Junior Super Patriots have brought her.
When we first meet her, Velma “Velveteen” Martinez is driving through California towards Portland, Oregon, for a job interview, but has gotten hopelessly lost. She’d spent seven years as a trainee for the Junior Super Patriots, gotten out when she came of age and had spent the last few years or so working temp jobs. Now she finally has a shot at a proper job and getting her life back in order if only she wasn’t stuck in the small town of Isley, her car impounded until the annual crayfish festival is over and to top it all off, an old teammate comes calling, having turn supervillain, leaving her with no choice but to take up her powers again, just this once…
This however puts her back under notice of Super Patriot, Inc., the company that employs the vast majority of superheroes in the world, who haven’t forgotten her refusal to keep working for them and want her back, one way or another. So as she slowly, limited by her lack of money and clunker of a car, makes her way up to Oregon through California, she keeps getting into traps and other hazardous situations as people recognise her or company agents catch up with her. It leads up to the inevitable confrontation between her and her former friends and teammates, on the Oregon border.
This is of course a tried and true formula in superhero comics, having the hero cut off from everybody they love and cared about, insecure in their powers while their enemies, very much aware of the potential they deny themself, are gathering around them. It’s a great hook for a series of stories and Seanan makes good use of it, with each story moving the overall plot forwards while standing on its own.
In Velveteen vs the Multiverse Velveteen has settled in Portland as its resident, state sanctioned superhero. Not quite the life she wanted to build for herself, but better than the alternative. This new status quo of course cannot last as she’s drawn into new plots against her, both physical and legal and learns more about the real powers behind the superhero industry. As the title may indicate, Seanan McGuire also ups the crack here, getting Velveteen into several alternate worlds and dimensions, revealing more of both Velma’s and the world’s history, all in the best tradition of superhero stories.
You could indeed call this fanfiction, not so much of a specific univers or series but rather of the idea of a superhero universe as a whole. These stories certainly read like fanfiction, slightly rougher around the edges than “normal” stories, less concerned with plausibility and characterisation and the like and more with emotional effects. And angst. So much angst. As with most fanfiction, it builds upon what the reader already knowns about heroes like Velveteen and the sort of worlds they operate in, so that when it’s revealed she’s friends both with Jackie Frost, the daughter of Winter and The Princess, the closest equivalent to a Disney Princess superheroine the law allows for, it’s only slightly strange.
What’s really great about the Princess btw is that late in the book it’s revealed she’s actually a trans woman, in a pure moment of awesome. She isn’t the only queer person in the book either; many of Velveteen’s allies and friends are gay or bisexual, as opposed to the much more straightlaced opposition on the Super Patriot Inc. side (some of whom may actually be not as straight as they’re presented at, but that’s Marketing for you).
Seanan has a great imagination for superhero characters, from Velveteen herself to her former friends Action Dude and Sparkle Bright, who look exactly like you’d imagine them to look, to Victory Anna, a Victorian supervillainesque dimensional traveller. Not to mention the alternate universe versions of Velveteen like Marionette and Roadkill, whose powers are twisted versions of her own. The secondary and tertiary characters (e.g. Jack O’Lope, Jolly Roger) too are well sketched, immediately understandable from their codenames.
on the surface this is a lighthearted universe, and the first story especially could be confused for satire or parody, but as the story progressed things get serious and dark. Super Patriot Inc. is not a nice company and things happen to reluctant superheroes that are not nice at all. Velveteen’s personal life and background isn’t a bed of rose either, having been sold to SPI by her parents as soon as her powers had been revealed. Despite this however this is not a depressing story: the good guys win in the end and Velma does get her happy ending, sort of.