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There's Nothing Funny About Superhero'ing

By Seth Freilich | Books | May 4, 2009 |

By Seth Freilich | Books | May 4, 2009 |

The idea behind Captain Freedom is a pretty good one, picking up the comic book, superhero world and dropping it plum square into a satirical, narcissistic one. The focus of the story is Captain Freedom, a superhero who was under contract with a comic book company, fighting crime and saving the world, until he was fired by Upper Management. The first third-plus of the book mostly involves C-Freed’s first-hand account of his backstory — his ascendancy from sidekick to full-fledged hero, his acquisition of a sidekick of his own, and his quest to quench his insatiable thirst for having a true archenemy all of his own (even leading him to leave a profile on the e-Harmony-like “NME Online”). I can’t really tell you what happened beyond that, because I had to stop reading about 90-odd pages in. Because, although the book’s blurbs would have you believe it’s a funny little satire, it’s really a thin, unfunny attempt at something good.

I realize it’s not fair to judge a book based on only the first-third, but lookit — with a real world job that piles on the hours, and a whorish need to watch far too many hours of TV, the free time and motivation to read books just isn’t easy to come by. So I couldn’t justify spending any more time reading this disappointment of a book, even though it’s a relatively easy and quick read. I originally picked it up on a whim, my eye having been caught by the cover and my mind having been sold by a blurbed endorsement from Christopher Moore, who said that this “truly funny and energetic romp of a social satire” was “a book that claims to be funny that’s actually funny.”

Not so much with the actually funny. To be fair, there are a few amusing things here and there (I ‘m particularly a fan of the notion of “Glenfiddich, a sort of flying beach volleyball/softball/Frisbee game with a cask of Scotch at every base”). And there are a few good bits of social satire here and there (“DJ wants to go to public school, but I patiently explain that, in California, only kids whose parents are in jail have to go to public school”). But more often than not, the humor is cheap, easy and not all that funny. Like when Captain Freedom is trying to gain custody of DJ, an adolescent with a super power — the judge asks Captain Freedom if his last name is Spears, and when he says no, she lets him have the kid. See, ‘cause Britney’s a bad parent.

Or like when Captain Freedom’s talking about trying to write a book, and then says he’ll have to pin his hopes on celluloid, and then we get a parenthetical telling us that “No, I’m not talking about the unsightly skin condition.” See, because “celluloid” is close to “cellulose.”

Or like one of his early sidekicks being a talking, animated paper clip named Whizzy, who can spell-check, talk about popular software products and help people cheat on their taxes. See, because Microsoft Office has a little animated paper clip. Satire!

So yeah, not exactly what I was expecting when I thought I was buying an “actually funny” book. Too bad, really, because I do think the underlying idea is one rife with potential. But even putting aside the humor issue, Robillard’s writing is rather unrefined, readily exposing that this is his first book. In fact, there was one point, about a dozen or so pages in, where I had to reread a chunk about three times to make sense of it. In on paragraph, we’re told it’s been several years since Captain Freedom hung up his cape while, several paragraph later, we’re told that it’s only been a few months. I eventually realized that we had a shift in perspective from the present to the past going on, but it shouldn’t take me multiple readings to figure out what’s going on behind the sloppy scenes.

Now despite the above, I didn’t hate this book. It’s not terrible. And I can see how others might even find it decent and funny. But I don’t. Nevertheless, I hold no grudge against Captain Freedom for a simple reason. I was in a local coffee shop reading it when I reached my breaking point, and I was so frustrated — because I desperately wanted to read a book that actually made me laugh — that I marched right over to the local B&N determined to find a fucking funny book. And thanks to my anger, I spent more time than I even usually do when I wander into a bookstore, and I found my diamond in the rough. Which I’ll tell you about, right after the commercial break (which is going to run about 24 hours, so stop back in tomorrow morning, yo).

Seth Freilich always forgets to add these little author blurbs to the end of his review. You know who he is. And if you don’t shame on you — because you should — now drop and give him twenty.

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Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.