The Reign of the Kingfisher, by T.J. Martinson

We like to think of heroes as all being kind of the same, at their core. They stand up for truth and justice, beat the bad guys, etc. etc. A lot of them are a bit dull, because they’re portrayed as very focused on their goal. It’s up to their allies to provide comic relief or a bit of moral gray area. At least, that’s the way that heroes used to be, from the Greeks, the Norse, and right down to Superman. But, as we see in The Reign of the Kingfisher, by T.J. Martinson, heroes aren’t what they used to be.

Thirty years before the events of The Reign of the Kingfisher, the masked vigilante known as the Kingfisher was found dead. At least, that’s what everyone was told. There were always rumors about whether or not the body was actually Chicago’s hero. The man was reputed to be bulletproof. How could he drown? Until another masked man releases a video, with hostages, demanding that the Chicago PD release the Kingfisher’s medical report, it seems like the Kingfisher will turn into just another weird history story.

Like any good hero story, a group of misfits assemble to find the hostages because the Chicago PD chief has emphatically decided not to negotiate with the hostage-taker. There’s Marcus Waters, the retired journalist who literally wrote the book about the Kingfisher. There’s Wren, a Liber-teen hacktivist with mad skillz. And then there are a couple of detectives who want to be heroes, too, who take the clues they get from Marcus and Wren and do what the chief won’t.

At the end of The Reign of the Kingfisher (and at points here and there in the book), Marcus muses on how the heroes we need have changed. In the 1970s and 1980s, we thought we needed tough heroes who could beat up the bad guys and keep Gotham Chicago safe for the regular citizens. In the 2000s, however, the line between good and bad has been so blurred that our heroes now have a much more complicated task than just beating up the baddies.

The Reign of the Kingfisher is not just a gripping thriller. (And it’s a really fantastic read.) It’s also a subtle look at the way that our relationship with heroes has changed over the years. Readers of comic books already know this, since they’ve grown up with Batman and The Watchmen and all the Marvel characters. If you’re interested in reading this book, don’t worry about needed to know about comic book characters. This book has its own mythology; and it’s a standalone so there’s no outside required reading. I will definitely be recommending this book, especially to the occasional guy who asks at my library for a good read.

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