Mark Misercola,
Death to the Centurion
(Twilight Times, 2004)

I wanted to like Death to the Centurion. Like author Mark Misercola, I'm a fan of comics, including the lighthearted, four-color superhero fare that dominated the American market in years past. The idea of a story based around the industry, drawing on the public relations stunts and personal dramas that fuel and cripple the best books, was appealing. Sadly, despite claims to the contrary, Death to the Centurion isn't that story.

Misercola gets almost everything about the comic industry wrong. The death of a superhero and the shifting of creators on a mainstream title are treated as controversial, shocking acts instead of the common practice they've always been. There are frequent references to the glory days of the comic industry, when creators were well treated; but artists have only begun to receive fair treatment, or even acknowledgment, in the last couple of decades. The past mistreatment of creators is the stuff real drama is made of, and people are still fighting so the people who made the glorious, uncomplicated stories Misercola claims to love can have their names even somewhat associated with their work.

It's possible that these complaints are coming from someone too familiar with comic books. Someone who knew as little about comics as I do about, say, Canadian professional sports might not have a problem with the bizarre business practices. But even without the boardroom blunders that make up much of the plot, Death to the Centurion can't get out of its own way. The narration slams from first to third person, present to past to future tense, without so much as a break in paragraph. The poor novel suffers from an identity crisis, unable to decide between being a Tom Clancy-style thriller and a lighthearted fan's escapade. This may be the first novel I've ever read that needs a dialogue coach.

Misercola takes great delight in phoneticizing a wide range of accents that he doesn't appear to know. His idea of "perfectly British English" must be read to be believed. Misercola delights in applying his version of colloquial speech to any available character, apparently as shorthand warning that these individuals can be mocked. There are strange versions of New York, New Jersey and Italian accents floating around, all unrecognizable as anything but insults. There's even an unfortunate speech impediment that gets mocked with impunity, though Misercola's dialogue attributions make the poor speaker one of the more coherent members of the cast.

It might be worth slogging through such a phonetic nightmare if there was a worthy payoff. Death to the Centurion is, sometimes, a murder-mystery, as people connected to the Centurion property are killed with methods ripped from the back issues. But read just the first page or two of every chapter, and you'll be far ahead of the characters by the time the big revelations roll around.

For all the problems here, Misercola's authorial instincts aren't entirely incorrect. There is enough drama and comedy in the comics industry to fill a decent novel. Until someone writes one, check out your local comic shop for a dose of the real thing.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 29 October 2005

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