Monday, May 14, 2012

Thrusts of Justice

Despite sounding like an awful superhero-themed porno, Thrusts of Justice is actually a surprisingly successful blend of comedy and action in a literary format that hasn’t seen any decent worthwhile output from seemingly anyone but John Green in a long time.

While you and some fellow unemployed journalists are BSing plans for the future over drinks, suddenly there’s a strange voice in the air warning of impending doom. Then all hell breaks loose as a supervillain explodes out of the side of a bank, a mech-suited space warrior saves the city from meteoric annihilation, while a grim avenger of the night looks on. Those journalist instincts kick in, and it’s just a question of who to follow, and whether you can really pull off a bit of world-saving on your first time out.

Actually, you probably won’t, because the cover isn’t kidding about how easily and often you’ll die in some over-the-top, sometimes silly way. This works well, though. Both because a lot of the endings are fairly amusing, and it makes a certain kind of sense if you think about it. After all, you’re nothing but a boozed-up former journalist who stumbled into a set of powers you barely understand just in time to have to prevent a global cataclysm with them. No, you probably aren’t any match for the psychotic, revenge-crazed archenemy of the previous owner of your heroic mantle, come to think of it. Even if it does feel a bit like playing I Wanna Be the Guy! after a few deaths.

On the other hand, I did like how the book seemed to be giving me a little respect for the progress I had made after making it a ways in and not meeting a horrible untimely death. Upon meeting other veteran metahumans, they start deferring to your judgment. Rather than feeling like the reason for that is because it’s an interactive book, it feels like you’ve earned the characters’ respect by doing well enough to get that far despite being a complete noob. As often as I was killed, that was rewarding.

The story’s divided into three sections depending on which particular power set you end up receiving. The basic plot behind the book is the same no matter which one you pick, but you’re only privy to certain parts of the story behind what’s going on in each particular section. This was a great motivator to keep reading, to thoroughly plumb each section for something more than just that rare ending where I actually pulled off saving the world.

Aside from the story, though, this managed to be a rare game book where I didn’t mind dying so much because the humor the book’s saturated with works more often than it doesn’t. I chuckled a lot, and a couple times I laughed out loud. I was even going to begin the review with a few of my favorite quotes, until I decided I’d rather let you read this and experience them for yourself. If I have to complain about anything, it’s that perhaps the author leaned a little too hard on getting drunk as a source of humor.

I mean, being a neophyte superhero up against harrowing odds could only be milked so much, sure, but it’s not even consistent. In one section you can find out one of your fellow unemployed journalists also got powers, and you have the choice of either going out and getting drunk to celebrate, or remembering that you’re a superhero now and should probably be out catching villains. In that same section you can run into a pair of retired heroes, and you don’t even get the choice to decline getting wasted with them.

I know, I’m not supposed to take it too seriously, but this same section of the book also brings up topics like the value of life of cloned beings, or the insane hosts of alien shock troopers. You can be funny and dramatic in the same work, but it seems a weird thing to do to combine boozer humor with who decides who’s worth mourning. Particularly since as we all know, superheroes don't drink. Especially when they're on duty.

Also, while there’s no multiple-X content despite the title, there is one part with a makeout session between a pair of retirement-age heroines.

But that said, on the whole I really did enjoy the book. The characters you meet are memorable, and a lot of them are silly and likable enough to add to the experience rather than detracting from it. It was a lot of fun working with a crotchety old lady with power on a par with Superman's, and I'll admit it, I even kind of started to like Ox when he stopped trying to beat my face in. It even includes the “geriatric superheroes” trope and dares to take it in a direction in search of humor other than "here's a bunch of superheroes who you'd expect to be all cool and strong, but they're actually old and decrepit." It has some great twists, I like how the background was revealed with different bits in its different sections, and I liked that you’re not forced to be a good guy. There’s one path where you can become a villain, and save the world to take it over yourself.

Highly recommended. More spoofs should strive to be like this.

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