In one sentence: Interesting premise, slightly poor execution.
Last weekend was Free Comic Book Day, and while I was out I picked up some non-free trade paperbacks (still discounted, though; I’m not made of money!). Less Than Heroes was one of them, and I picked it up mostly because of the Warren Ellis blurb on the cover, but the book itself looked potentially good as well.
Summary from Amazon:
In the city of Philadelphia there is a tall building at 18th and Market Streets atop of which lives four individuals. They are the official protectors of the city. Their job is to be around when traditional law enforcement fails. But are they really heroes? Meet Philadelphia’s contracted super-hero team, Threshold. A quartet more interested in milk and cookies than crime and punishment. A team more concerned with battling indigestion than their arch enemies. Sure, they have super-powers. They can leap tall buildings, fly, and do all the stuff other heroes do. More than human? Probably. Less than heroes? Without a doubt.
Less Than Heroes is a nice take on the superhero genre, which isn’t one of my favorites (blasphemy, I know). I liked that superheroes were treated differently than they might have been in another comic book world. I thought it was really interesting that cities hired their own heroes, instead of waiting for them to just show up. It means that superheroes aren’t just these crazy people in tights running around fighting baddies; they’re validated, and necessary. Er, even though it seems that most of the villains in Less Than Heroes are ridiculous and not really scary (with some exceptions). Though the superheroes are ridiculous and not really heroic as well (with some exceptions), so it works.
The story starts off a little slow, and a little confusingly, but it soon picks up. The characters are interesting and fleshed out rather subtly, which I appreciated. I hate getting character infodumps in the first three pages, or whatever. The book’s style reminds me a lot of old 90’s zine comics, so if you like that kind of thing I suppose you’ll like Less Than Heroes, too.
Most of the problems I had with Less Than Heroes wasn’t the characters, story, or writing. Instead, I had problems with the visuals: the art is interesting and unusual but can sometimes look blobby and unfinished. A lot of the characters look alike. The typesetting is distracting– it’s too close to the edges of the bubbles, some of the letters run into one another, making it hard to read, and, again, it can look blobby. I don’t know if these problems were in the comic to begin with or if it happened when it was turned into a trade paperback, but it’s annoying. (You can read some of it here and see for yourself.)
For all that, though, the last third of the book was so well done, so exciting and touching and heartbreaking I found myself wishing it would never end. If only the rest of the book had been like that last section! I think I would have liked it a lot more.