Corrupts Absolutely is an unexpectedly satisfying collection of stories linked thematically by the idea that gaining superpowers is no guarantee of a future in superheroics. Nor is it always an obvious path to clearcut villainy. The truth is, we all mostly live in the gray, hovering on a border between acts we might construe as heroic but could just as easily be perceived a much darker way by those on the receiving end; and sometimes we teeter until we tip over into the black. That’s what happens to most of these characters, some of whom embrace evil, others who stumble blindly into it, and still more who can’t even conceive of themselves in such simple mortal terms.
It starts with a dark-hearted kick; Tim Marquitz “Retribution” is a queasy tale of a man who lost his family in 9/11, only to volunteer to become a human weapon who’s method of revenge is arguably no less horrific than the incident that shaped him.
“Bedtime Story” from Ex-Heroes author Peter Clines tells a tale of a man as powerful as Superman who uses his incredible abilities to keep the world in line, and any transgressors are dealt with in no uncertain terms.
Edward M. Erdelac’s “Conviction” is a barn-burner of a tale told from the POV of a young kid from a tough neighborhood who starts out using his newfound powers to take down some local gangbangers, but as his omnipotence grows, he doesn’t quite have a handle on where or how to stop cleaning up the world.
In my contender for favorite in the collection, the noirish “Crooked,” from Lee Mather, a “gifted” small-time hoodlum long on the lam from the boss he ripped off makes the mistake of returning to his old stomping grounds to rekindle an old flame. But the reunion doesn’t go quite as anyone’s expecting.
And the last story, Andrew Bourelle’s “Max and Rose” is a romantic tragedy that neatly and brutally underscores the likely outcome of a tried-and-true asshole lucking into powers he neither deserves or respects.
With a number of other tales to suit just about any dark taste, editor Lincoln Crisler has curated a highly worthy compendium of the best of what this superpowered subgenre has to offer.