Monday, July 11, 2011

Gods of Justice Review: The Mass Grave of John Johnsons

I won Gods of Justice from Lisa Gail Green. It's an anthology of superhero short stories. Lisa asked if I would write a review of the anthology, but since I like to give more than asked, I decided to do a review of each story, one at a time. In case you didn't know, I really like superheroes, so this was a great prize for me. I'll be reviewing them one story at a time in this "Gods of Justice Review series."

The first story in the collection is The Mass Grave of John Johnsons by Micah Urban. Urban's true strength in this story is the extremely creative (though macabre) ideas he works into the characters, world, and plots.

Most of the setting is presumed to be "Earth normal" and "modern times." A mortician is given the mystery of a mass grave of 44 bodies, and calls upon the county, the state, and even the federal level for assistance. Our first clue that something in this world might be different is the Federal Office of Super Heroes that finally answers his call. Superpowered individuals being licensed and employed by the government isn't part of our status quo. I don't think. Let me check with my CIA contacts on that; I'll get back to you. This is an interesting idea that isn't present even in most of the current superhero dogma. Makes sense, though, and certainly smacks of the way Government works. If it has something to do with power or control, they're going to want to be in charge of it.

The heroes from the FOSH organization have very specific and limited abilities. A team of three arrives to assist the good doctor with his problem. The first of the trio goes by the name WhoDied and has the ability to tell who a body belonged to no matter the state, or how much matter is left. His companions, a girl named Locality and a quiet youth called 4D, can tell where and when a body died, respectively. Without a doubt, these are some unique abilities that have rather specific applications. Coming up with unique super powers, while creative, isn't all a character needs. A character, particularly ones so unusual as these, need their own voices. WhoDied succeeds in this, creating a macabre vision of bland detestation. The simple, matter-of-fact way that he goes about his wretched business makes one's flesh tremble. Locality, on the other hand, mostly serves as narrator to explain subtle points of WhoDied's work and the situation at hand as it unravels to be more mysterious, and devious, than it at first seemed. 4D has almost no character at all, serving primarily as a vehicle to put the feather in the cap of the introductory (primary?) plot.

These characters are weaved in to this setting through the use of three plot lines: the mystery of the 44 dead bodies, the mostly interior-conflict subplot of the main POV character's paternity, and the prevention of the 45th murder. The mystery is handily solved, but the initial action of the story, in fact most of the story, centers on it. The solution of that mystery yields a new plot to follow. These two plots are uniquely twisted, which is wonderful, and their pacing is well done. However, they are each rather simply solved. There feels to be no real challenge to them.

The third plot centers around an internal conflict as to whom the narrator's real father may be. While this plot is worked heavily into the story from the very beginning, and continues until the very end, it feels weak. As I read the story, I was interested in the mass grave, and I cared about preventing the next murder, but the daddy-dilemma didn't matter to me at all. It was an afterthought, a minor character trait. Finally, though we got the answer, it felt obvious and unfulfilling in the end.

I came away feeling as though this story was a bonus, side story taken from a rich, wonderful, interesting world. I felt as though the characters were much deeper than shown here, and that the plots, at least the one about the dad, continued beyond where the story stopped. I hope to find that this story is, indeed, a small taste of a larger world. Meanwhile, it got my feet wet for the rest of Gods of Justice, and I look forward to Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom.

The Rest of the Series:
Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom


  1. Wow! You really did go all out, didn't you? :D I look forward to reading the rest of your reviews too.

  2. Great review of this story Jace. I love superheroes too. I'll check out the link.

    Thanks; I'm a serious fan of short stories ya know.

    I hope your contest is going well :)