Continuing the review of MASKED
Daryl Gregory offers what is probably the most meta story in this book in Message from the Bubblegum Factory. Even after reading it, I'm still left wondering if it's as much an indictment of the fans of the superhero genre, or if it is simply a clever story about the connection between fans, creators, and the fictional universes they uphold. Implications aside, it's a rapid-paced action story that leaves you with a lot of questions, and precious few answers.
If you're surprised by the black comedy and bittersweet tragedy of Thug, then you really don't know much about Gail Simone. And that's all I need to say on this score.
Vacuum Lad by Stephen Baxter is more science-fiction than your typical cape and mask fantasy story, but it's made that much more compelling by a richly realized and well conceived future Earth backdrop. Owing more to Isaac Asimov than Jack Kirby, we are treated to a young man's unlikely journey into adulthood and a new world that is immediately familiar and alien at the same time.
A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows by Chris Roberson is the most pulp-influenced tale in this tome - full of dark avengers, supernatural thrills and tragic twists. What seperates this from generic pulp homages is the attention to characterization and the struggle to maintain humanity in the face of the inhuman.
Headcases is a story by the husband and wife team of Peter and Kathleen David. Actually, that's not entirely fair -there really isn't much story here - just a couple of scenes with little build-up or payoff. It might work as a teaser for a larger work, but it falls dissappointingly flat.