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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Those Who Walk in Darkness

Reviewed: July 27, 2005
By: John Ridley
Publisher: Warner/Aspect Books
384 pages, $9.99

Deconstructing comic books is a trend that probably began with Mad magazine’s barbed spoofs of the super hero genre nearly fifty year ago, but it hit the big time when Frank (“Sin City”) Miller gave us a darker Dark Knight in the 1980s. His Batman was was pretty nearly an anti-hero. Alan (“League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”) Moore took this a step further with his “Watchmen” limited series, a idea spun off the old saying “Who watches the watchmen?”

George R. R. Martin brought the idea in the nineties with his shared universe “Wild Card” books, in which a shifting group of SF writers examined the notion of a real world response to super powers. There were 12 anthologies in that original series, and I see they are in the process of being reissued even as I write this column.

I provide all this background not to discredit the work John Ridley has done in Those Who Walk in Darkness, but just to give it a context. As early as Philip Wylie’s S.F. classic, Gladiator (one of the inspirations for Simon and Shuster’s Superman) science fiction writers have assumed that power of any sort came with a price.

In Ridley’s world it appears that the early appearance of super powered being in America was greeted with enthusiasm. They helped the helpless, righted wrongs and fought the good fight. But super heroes tend to mean that there will be super villains, and that the battles will get ever larger. In the world of comic books, one company even went so far as to produce a book called Damage Control, about a business firm that makes its living cleaning up the toppled buildings and dented vehicles.

Soledad O’Roark loved the heroes, but that love curdled and turned to hatred when Nightshift, the Nubian Princess and others were not quite fast enough to save San Francisco when Bludlust decided to destroy it. She wasn’t alone. The President issued an executive order banning the use of super powers were banished from the country and any who remained did so on pain of death if they were discovered.

MTacs, meta-tactical squads, were set up in all major cities with one simple set of instructions: find the freaks and kill them. Soledad’s aim, from San Francisco on, was to be the best of the MTacs, finding ways to kill the pyros, telekinetics, invulnerables, shapeshifters, energy conductors, levitators and telepaths.

Soledad is actually very good at figuring out ways to take down freaks. invulnerables still need air; pyros overload on phosphorus; metal morphers can’t deal with synthetic shells. She has a special weapon with special ammo for unusual perps. Trouble is, the weapon and its slugs are non-regulation. Even though she survived the mission -- her first - on which she used it she finds herself in big trouble with the big brass on the force,, reduced to pushing paper and other routine duties while they figure out what to do with her.

It is during this down time in her career that she forms what turns out to be the first romantic attachment of her troubled life. Ian is a gentle soul with the patience to wait while Soledad finds a way to deal with her emotions. That makes what comes later on all the more devastating for both of them.

Soledad’s sense of mission is indiscriminate, honed to the letter of the law. On one memorable day she takes down an angel, a flying being whose other talents involve detecting and averting catastrophes. The angel’s reward for saving people from an earthquake rift is a bullet. The angel had a family of sorts, a lover who was a telepath. Together they had looked after a dim witted boy who was a metal morpher. Her death is the last straw for the hunted telepath,, who applies his powers and that of his ward to seeking revenge on the police, turning even on other metas living is secret when they try to stop him.

Soledad has to figure out a way to stop a man who can play with her mind and make her and her team members kill each other at will. The answer she comes up with is pretty clever, but pretty dangerous.

The irony of Soeldad’s life is that she has a special skill too. It manifests as an inventive cleverness which enables her to come up with weaponry no one else has thought of. By the the middle of the book her mates are calling her Bullet behind her back. By the end of the book she has to accept that, like it or not.

There are other things she can’t accept, and we are left with those hanging, almost like an invitation for a sequel.

Ridley is a very busy fellow, a former comic, t.v. script writer (Fresh Prince through to Third Watch and Undercover Brother), screen play writer (Three Kings) novelist and commentator on PBS. This was his sixth novel, and his first venture into this territory.

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