Superhero novel series, written by Marion G. Harmon. The first book was "Wearing the Cape: A Superhero Story," published in the spring of 2011. The other books in the series include "Villains Inc.," "Young Sentinels," "Small Town Heroes," "Ronin Games," and "Team-Ups and Crossovers," along with "Bite Me: Big Easy Nights," a novel set in New Orleans and focusing on a member of the supporting cast, "Omega Night," a short story, and even a roleplaying game, written by Harmon himself using the Fate system. 

The series focuses on Hope Corrigan, a society girl and freshman at the University of Chicago. After a terrorist attack by a supervillain who calls himself the Teatime Anarchist, Hope winds up with superpowers, including superstrength, nigh-invulnerability, and the ability to fly. She's quickly recruited into the Sentinels, one of the country's most prominent superteams, and finds her life turned upside-down. She's given a superhero codename (Astra) and costume (padded, partly to make her fit the expected superheroine profile and partly because she's short, thin, and looks like she's underage). Atlas, the country's most famous superhero, agrees to train her as his sidekick.

From there, we get super-battles, feats of derring-do, and a heck of a lot of training, so Hope doesn't accidentally crush her parents when she tries to hug them. She has to somehow make time for college and her old friends, while also getting to know her new teammates, including Atlas, the magician Blackstone, the slinky psychic Chakra, the acrobatic Harlequin, the speedster Rush, and the impossibly awesome vigilante vampire Artemis. And she has to worry about the prediction she hears from the Teatime Anarchist, that if she doesn't survive the coming days, the future is doomed. But can she trust the villain who caused the disaster that gave her superpowers? 

Other storylines in the series involve attacks by organized supervillains, Hope's attempt to lead a team of younger superheroes, encounters with new superheroes, including a spellcaster who claims to be the actual Ozma of Oz, a kitsune who calls himself, um, Kitsune, and her childhood friend, who's been dead for years. The "Team-Ups and Crossovers" book even sends Astra across the multiverse as she meets up with Velveteen from Seanan McGuire's "Velveteen Vs." series, Halo and the other characters from Dave Barrack's "Grrl Power" webcomic, characters from Shakespeare's plays, and even Santa Claus

Y'all, I've read a lot of superhero novels. And as far as I'm concerned, the "Wearing the Cape" series is the very best of the bunch. You can probably find quotes from me somewhere calling it "the gold standard that all superhero novels should aspire to," and I absolutely stand by that. It's my very favorite book series, and it frustrates the snot out of me that it doesn't light up the very top of the bestseller lists. 

There's a great level of realism in these stories -- not so much that it stops being about people who pick up cars, run at superspeed, or read minds, of course. But we get lots of details about what life would be like for a superteam. For one, there's not a lot of real crimefighting that goes on -- they're mostly there for serious emergencies, to provide backup for police and emergency services, and to deal with super-powered threats. Superteams also have large dedicated staffs of professionals -- mostly working to monitor the police bands and dispatch heroes to wherever they're needed. Also on staff? Clothing designers. Because superheroes don't sew their own costumes.

Hope also has to learn to deal with her powers realistically -- including being careful not to injure normal people. But she also learns hand-to-hand combat so she can deal with all the superstrong supervillains out there. And she learns why it's not a smart idea to bash your way through a wall when you can go through a door or window instead. Even as she improves and becomes a more effective hero, she still has to deal with the loss of teammates, bad publicity, having to hide behind a secret identity, and even Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

But all the realism in the world won't do your superhero novel much good if there's not some action to go along with it -- and this series delivers. From the opening scene, we get a couple of elevated highways getting pancaked into each other, and that's followed by battles against superpowered gangsters, mind-controlled mobs, natural disasters, unnatural disasters, plenty of super-terrorists, attacks from Godzillas and giant plant monsters, and much, much more. The action is furious, desperate, terrifying, and just all around excellent. And all that action and realism doesn't make it a grim, unappealing series, like so many other "realistic" superhero stories. It's still enormous fun to read, and to re-read.

The series' other big strong point is the characters. Astra, Atlas, Artemis, Hope's parents and friends, Blackstone, Chakra, Riptide, Ozma, Grendel, and tons more — all are pretty well-defined, very likeable, and you want to read more and more about them. Luckily, there's a whole series of books you can work your way through. Go get started! The best superhero novel series deserves more readers, and you deserve all the fun and joy these books can bring you.

scifiquest

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