Velveteen lives in a world of super-heroes and magic, where men can fly and where young girls can be abducted to the Autumn Land to save Halloween. Velma lives from paycheck to paycheck and copes with her broken-down car as she tries to escape from her old life.
It’s all the same world. It’s all real. And figuring out how to be both Velveteen and Velma is the biggest challenge of her life, because being super-human means you’re still human in the end.
Join us as award-winning author Seanan McGuire takes us through the first volume of Velveteen’s — and Velma’s — adventure.
Seanan McGuire, alongside My Little Pony and other franchises, adores the X-Men comics franchise; she’s long expressed a strong desire to write for them. It is, perhaps, no surprise then that since 2008 McGuire has been writing her own series of superhero stories, and posting them on her blog; these are the tales of Velma Martinez, or Velveteen. In 2012, ISFiC collected the first nine stories into a single volume, Velveteen Vs. The Junior Super Patriots…
Velveteen Vs the Junior Super Patriots is an interesting combination of (genre-savvy) humour, commentary on poverty and pressures on child stars, feminism, and straightforward superheroism; McGuire doesn’t simply tell superhero stories, but also uses those stories to comment on the tropes of the genre, especially as they apply to characters like the Teen Titans. The emphasis placed on the way child superheroes are treated, and the mistreatment of them, is fascinating, and McGuire is unsubtly linking that to the treatment by companies like Disney of child stars – and the responses of those stars when they hit the age of majority. It’s a sensitive portrayal, although Velveteen Vs the Junior Super Patriots‘ portrayal of the marketing departments of megacorporations like Disney takes their villainousness and really does send it up to supervillainous levels.
The stories that themselves make up Velveteen Vs the Junior Super Patriots work well as a single narrative; the exceptions to this are the two flashback stories, which seem a little clumsy as a way of filling in backstory as compared to how McGuire tends to do it across the rest of the collection. Those two stories feel weaker in part because they’re not looking back on events with rueful hindsight and Velveteen’s sarcastic commentary, but instead simply drop us into those parts of her life. One of the things that really lifts the collection is Velveteen’s voice; throughout, she’s worldweary and frustrated and very self-aware, and that gives these stories a great feeling.
The real strength of the collection is, in fact, that level of characterisation. While some of the characters are a little two dimensional – Action Guy, for instance, and Marketing – the rest are absolutely fantastic; Velveteen Vs the Junior Super Patriots has a better cast than most superhero comics from the Big Two you’ll read. They jump off the page and sparkle with wit, verve, and humour, and even those who look like two dimensional jokes, such as the crab-human hybrid, are shown to have really well considered and developed backstory if you look a little deeper with McGuire.
The other failure of the collection is, surprisingly, a plot-level one. Velveteen Vs the Junior Super Patriots feels frustratingly unfinished; as a collection, there are at least three, if not more, substrands of major plot set up and foreshadowed as huge world-changing things that are just left hanging. While McGuire makes each story fun and action-packed, the fact that so many end with their real plot left hanging, and that this collection doesn’t resolve anything, leaves a slightly hollow sense when the stories are consumed together.
In the end, Velveteen Vs the Junior Super Patriots is rather like an arc in a Marvel or DC comic: setting up some things excellently, and with great characters, but with a very frustrating feeling of McGuire not really having concluded anything that matters.
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