A superhero book.

Publication year: 2009
Format: print
Page count: 451
Publisher: Piatkus

Iridium and Jet were best friends when they were in the Corp-Co’s Academy for teenaged extrahumans, training to be superheroes. But five years later, they are sworn enemies. Jet, who has Shadow powers, is New Chicago’s most celebrated heroine, the Lady of the Night, and Iridium, who has light powers, is a supervillain and running the city’s underworld.

Jet has to participate in a media event with the mayor but she’s just looking for an excuse to blow it off. And she gets it, when a call comes in that Iridium has been spotted. Unfortunately, Jet loses the fight and later, she botches up her appearance on a talk show. Then her mentor, Night, tells her that the mayor and the city’s media are mad at her. To get herself back to their good graces, Jet starts to investigate the disappearance of an investigative journalist, Lynda Kidder. Kidder had written a series of articles criticizing the extrahuman heroes and their supporter, the Corp company. Jet also has to deal with her new assistant who is very handsome and charming and flirting like mad.

Meanwhile, Iridium is trying to sabotage Corp and their extrahuman activities. Her father, who is a supervillain and in prison, has found a way to contact someone who could get Iridium inside info. Also, a new vigilante has come to Iridium’s turf. Iridium confronts him only to find out that the vigilante, Taser, hates Corp, too, and would like to help Iridium. Taser has electrical powers and flirts with Iridium every chance he has.

Black and white has a great superhero feel. It’s not too gritty, like Watchmen and the Batman movies, but it’s also not a parody or a comedy. It incorporates the current media and commercial cultures with superheroes. All heroes in New Chicago (and possibly in America) go through training in Corp-Co’s Academy and the company seems to be some sort of parental unit to the extrahumans. There’s a mention that for the under aged students, they can’t refuse medical treatment which the Corp as assigned to them. All of the heroes have to get a rich company to sponsor them, otherwise they are stuck on monitor duty. This means that the heroes will have to do commercials and media events and also live by rules set by the Corp and presumably the sponsor. Corp’s marketing department designs their costumes and decides their code names. They don’t have secret identities.

The book switches between the story of “now” when Jet and Iridium are enemies, and “then” when Jet and Iridium are at the Academy. The “then” parts cover their five years in the academy in short chapters. In the academy parts, Jet and Iridium become fast friends despite their differences: Iridium has a devil-may-care attitude and she’s quick to take offense and fight, when necessary. Jet is shy and introverted. She’s also afraid of her powers because she has seen her own father become crazy and kill her mother right before her eyes when she was a little girl. Also, she hears whispering voices from the shadows, urging her to kill and maim, and that terrifies her. It’s common knowledge that all Shadow powered people go mad eventually. Jet and Iridium have also things in common: they are both ostracized by most of the other students: Iridium because her father is a villain and Jet because of her “dirty” Shadow powers. Thus proving that no matter how much the youngsters are training to become heroes, most of them are typical teenagers. The Academy is also aggressively homophobic.

The personality of Jet in the early Academy years is quite different from the adult Jet. She has gained confidence and life experience during her Academy and hero years. She’s also made doing her heroic duty the primary and only goal in her life. Iridium is still much the same, except that the adult Iri has a burning hatred towards the Corps and wants to bring it down, while the adolescent Iridium has only suspicions and seems to be contrary because life has treated her like shit, and not because of anything specific the Corps has done to her.

Most of the humans seems to adore their heroes but some hate them: the Everyman Society. The Society thinks that extrahumans want to rule all others and want to get rid of them. They don’t consider extrahumans to be humans, but freaks. The police loath the heroes, too.

The story is supposedly set in the year 2112 but it doesn’t feel futuristic to me, but rather an alternate now. The characters watch reality shows on 3D-TV and fly in hover cars but otherwise, the technology doesn’t seem hugely different and Night says that during his active years, 20 years ago? 10 years ago?, they didn’t even have earpieces with the direct link to the operations center. This doesn’t feel like a world which has had iPhones for a hundred years.

I found it a bit curious that Iridium would trust the vigilante so quickly. She doesn’t know anything about him and yet she brings him to her hideaway and tells him about her big plans against the Corp. Similarly, Jet’s new assistant gained her trust a bit too easily.

I would have also liked more descriptions. Most of the places are described only briefly and the characters hardly at all; I think the writers are relying on the reader being familiar with the genre and supplying the descriptions from familiar comic books. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the setting memorable and I think it could have been. For example, a couple of times there’s a mention of a pollution layer above New Chicago and I’d love to hear more about it. I would have also loved to have more desciptions of the powers and their use. Now, that’s kept to a minimum.

This is first in a planned series but only the second book has come out so far. It doesn’t end in a cliffhanger but the world has changed and is ripe for new adventures.

I really enjoyed Black and White, and I can’t believe it’s been in my TBR for over a year!