by John David Anderson
Recommended Ages: 13+
Michael Marion Magdalene Morn was about a year old when he was found abandoned in a White Castle restaurant. Raised to age nine by nuns in a part-orphanage, part-school for wayward boys, he walked the line between the two groups, perfecting a secret power to make people do whatever he wants. All he has to do is look them in the eyes and tell them, gently but firmly, what to do. For a while, he has fun making other kids give him their cupcakes and persuading one of the sisters to do a breakdancing routine.
But then Benjamin Edson comes into his life, an adoptive dad who admits to being a mad scientist planning to take over the world. Soon they are developing Michael's talent together, but not in the interest of world peace. Using Edson's gadgets to jam phone signals and scramble security camera footage, along with Michael's knack for pushing people, they rob a couple of banks, getting away with enough money to pay their bills and buy the ingredients for more gadgets. A cozy relationship with the criminal element in the city of New Liberty comes natural. The neighborhood crime boss brings them business, protection, and a 50-percent discount on their power bill. Edson's gadgets find their ways into the hands of villains, of both the vanilla and super persuasion. Michael's best friend is an up-and-coming supervillain named Zach, who breaks out in porcupine quills when threatened. And most of the uses they find for Michael's talent are on the wrong side of the law. But confused as he is about right and wrong, good and evil, a girl from the right side of the tracks spots him at the mall one day and recognizes right off that he's on the right side.
Naturally, a girl would have to figure in it. The confusion she adds to Michael's adolescent struggle competes even with a plague of masked supervillains and the appearance of a costumed superhero called the Comet. In New Liberty, business as usual has gone out the window. Something scary and unpredictable is happening, and it puts a strain on the relationship between the young homeschooled supervillain/minion and his mad scientist dad. When Edson gets himself mixed up in something he isn't genius enough to get out of, he tries to send Michael out of the way. But Michael is determined to save his dad, even if it means walking both sides of the hero/villain line to a super degree.
This is another nifty adventure in an immersive comic-book reality, with believable consequences for real people, psychological motives and character conflicts that ring true, and a satisfying blend of thrills, laughs, light romance, and touching humanity. It explores the moral philosophies of the light and dark side, as well as the gray middle, represented by Edson's explanation that "power is the realization that you have choices." And it adds once more to the impression that John David Anderson is one of the top writers for junior-high-age readers who are ready to make the jump from graphic novels to novels, period. His other teen fantasy titles include Insert Coin to Continue and The Dungeoneers.