Book Review -- How to Kill A Superhero: A Gay Bondage Manual (Pablo Greene)

 

 

 As I sit here taunted by a blank screen in front of me, I'm discovering that it is nearly as difficult to review a piece of erotic fiction as it is to write one yourself. Is it fair to hold it to a different standard from other works of fiction? Should I soften my critical filter just because of the sexuality that fills the pages -- or is it unfair to apply the ever elusive and impalpable rules of "literature" to something that does not set out to follow said rules to begin with? Is it fair to judge a cat for not behaving like a dog?

       While struggling with these questions, I heard the voice of Stephen King in my head (something that happens more often than it probably should, but that's a separate topic). The only question that matters about a work of fiction is: did you enjoy reading it?

       With How To Kill A Superhero: A Gay Bondage Manual, Pablo Greene's first entry in a planned series of erotic novels, the answer is a surprising "yes". It is definitely not a novel that everyone will enjoy, but those that are interested in the subject matter will probably find themselves needing to hold the book over their laps at various times to avoid embarrassment.

       How to Kill A Superhero tells the story of Roland, a nurse in Kansas City. After recovering from a brutal attack that nearly kills him, he meets a man that calls himself "Rick" and is introduced to the fetish world. The story itself that frames Roland's experiences takes elements from several genres, notably mystery/suspense/thrillers in terms of pacing, and a fun Lovecraftian-inspired focus on a fictional book (The Golden Man by Salvatore Argento, which I would totally own if it was real). The meat of the novel, though, is in Roland's journey of sexual discovery. Roland's path takes him through many areas of the fetish world -- there is BDSM, spandex, lycra, masks, master/slave dichotomy, cruising, drugs, a bit of CBT, and, of course, superheroes. The book serves as a great introduction to these fetishes for the uninitiated (using Roland as a clueless lens to bring us into this world is a smart literary technique, as it allows Greene to be informative without being pedantic) and, despite the expected graphic descriptions of all of these things, there was never any moment where I (a surprisingly squeamish person about certain things) needed to cringe or put the book aside.

       There are two kinds of writers: the kind that can describe, in detail, a man's erection and what can be done about it with a straight face, and those that can't. Unfortunately, I fall into the latter category -- it's painfully difficult for me to write a sex scene without either turning it into a joke or a scene of carnage (luckily since I write comedic horror novels, this hasn't held me back much). Greene has an understanding of the male form and an interest in the male body that I find enviable, and he describes these scenes with an earnestness that I admire. Though Roland himself is a self conscious character, the prose that brings him to life is refreshingly direct and unapologetic about what it sets out to do, and for this reason it is effective.

      For me, as a fairly vanilla person (my idea of putting on fetish gear is forgetting to take my socks off), the most interesting and best written parts of the novel were where Greene describes Roland's master/slave relationship with Rick. These scenes had some psychological substance and helped give me a better understanding of a world that was always alien to me. I particularly liked the allegorical awakening of Roland who, through gaining understanding and eventually complete acceptance of his need to surrender control, is able to grow up, become more comfortable in his skin, and examine the question of what it means to be a "man".

      Roland's journey is clearly fictitious -- he puts himself into increasingly dangerous and irresponsible situations. Yet despite his growing powers and poor choices, of these decisions work as a logical progression of Roland's growing realization of self and becoming the person he has always wanted to be. In the context of the erotica genre, it makes sense, and the sex serves a purpose other than gratuitous fun. In this sense, the lie of fiction does help to illustrate a much deeper truth about human sexuality that may be lost on someone reading a straight up how-to bondage manual.

      My own over-intellectualizing of the subject matter aside, How to Kill A Superhero will appeal to anyone that has ever felt guilty about sexualizing superheroes or has any interest in learning about some of the grittier parts of the fetish world from a safe distance. The comic world that is referenced is fictional, but I'm sure there were lots of superhero references that I missed with my extremely peripheral knowledge of the genre. Although I personally hated all of the men that Roland encounters in his attempts at exploring the limits of his sexual desires, those that are into the role play aspect of things will find it particularly enjoyable. I especially recommend this book to members of NYC's Skintight community. It's the ultimate nerd-fantasy wet dream, and I am looking forward to the next volume.

 

@robrussin

How to Kill A Superhero: A Gay Bondage Manual is now available at Amazon.com:  http://www.amazon.com/How-Kill-Superhero-Bondage-Apocalypse/dp/0615896820/ref=la_B00FP4TGO2_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1382042101&sr=1-1

PS: Speaking of Stephen King, as an amusing aside, I spent most of the novel thinking of Roland as the protagonist from the Dark Tower series

 

on October 17, 2013