by Sage Stossel (Penguin, 2013)

In Starling, Sage Stossel, who draws the cartoon feature Sage, Ink for the Atlantic, gives us a graphic novel about a female superhero -- with a few twists. For example, did you ever wonder how all of these costumed superheroes get time off from their jobs to go battle villains? Starling, whose day job is as a copy writer in an ad agency, has to go conquer the forces of evil at the most inappropriate times; when she has a big meeting on that new account, for example, or when she's trying to put together a focus group. These missed meetings and such are, of course, being exploited by the ambitious and ruthless guy in the agency who is shooting for her job, so she's in chronic danger of being fired.

It's also tough on your love life when your superpower is that your fingers shoot electric current, so as far as romance goes, Starling is pretty much off the market. Ahh, it's a lonely life, being a superhero.

Starling is a reluctant superhero, at that. When the novel opens, we see her at a therapy session, trying to come to terms with her double life. We learn in flashback that when she was in 10th grade, Amy Sturgess (Starling's name in her mundane life) was attacked at knifepoint by a guy trying to drag her into his van. She derailed his plan with electricity from her hands and wound up being recruited by a man named Roy Vance, who operates a group of superheroes -- each has his or her own section of the city to cover. Amy, sick of being an outcast because of her quirkiness and her abilities, joins his group and becomes Starling. She quickly learns that the benefits of being Starling are far outweighed by the disruptions to her life. The job doesn't pay, for example, and often the criminals she is called on to capture are just helpless victims of circumstance, so she winds up helping them instead of jailing them.

As you can see from the discussion so far, Starling is a funny and lighthearted book. But then the plot kicks in. As the conflicts build, Any finds herself fighting for her job, her love life -- she is pursued by both her old ex, who doesn't seem to remember he is now engaged to another woman, whom Amy likes, and a retired champion mixed martial arts fighter -- as well as her brother's freedom from a drug gang he has become indebted to.

Starling, the reluctant and often depressed superhero, has to learn to stop retreating from life and become the the person she really is, the woman who owns both her job and her private life, demanding as they all are. How she gets there makes a good read, especially for working women who struggling with the "You can have it all" expectation. Sure, Starling says, you can have it all but you've got to get over yourself, step up and take it.

That's pretty good advice. And it comes wrapped in an enjoyable package.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

14 December 2013

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