superhero, supervillain, superself–a look at NOS4A2

nos4a2 cover

I’m about three-quarters of the way into Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 (Kindle here). I picked it up when I was waiting forever at a doctor’s appointment and realized I had it already on my Kindle. Usually I’m too nervous to focus on anything longer than a tweet at the doctor’s–even just for a regular check up, which this was–but an hour into my wait I was ready to try any distraction. And it worked. I was so absorbed that my nerves and the time melted away.

We are introduced to a frightening man, Charlie Manx, who wakes up from a coma just long enough to talk about children going to Christmasland–a place that should sound fun but instead sounds horrible. Manx does terrible things to children–things I can only guess at–with the help of the Gasman, his sick sidekick.

Children from all over and their parents have been disappearing for years, presumably at the hands of Charlie Manx. But one kid is out of Manx’s reach. Vic, short for Victoria, can travel through reality, but not without a price. And when she dips into Manx’s world, neither ever forget it.

While parts of Vic’s life slowly fall apart, we learn bits and pieces that, together, make up the Gasman and Manx. Like Superman, the Gasman steps away, though not into a phone booth, and reappears as a different version of himself. With his gas mask and the misguided belief he is saving the people he tortures from themselves, he is armed with all he needs to fulfil his mission. In his head he is a superhero, but to the people he hurts, he is a terrifying villain.

I have very little in common with the Gasman and for that I am grateful. But I do use clothes and tools to turn myself into the person I feel I need to be.

I might be ready to work without heels and my glasses, but it would be a lot harder to be a super-editor without dressing the part. When I have a date, it’s an entirely different costume to make me into super-girlfriend. And when it’s just me and #fatcat at home, I am a master at being super-cat-lady.

No matter what alter ego I’m wearing for the day, I have a ring on my right hand that I never take off. It is silver, and the words wisdom, strength, courage, and hope are inscribed on the band. Clothes and talismans–whether it’s a terrifying mask or a superhero’s cape–help arm us for everyday life, and that ring reminds me of what I need to be me.

Like my ring, Maggie, a sort-of friend to Vic, has her scrabble earrings. She loves words, always has. She’s a champion scrabble player and uses the letters “F” and “U” as her everyday jewelry. But her scrabble letters give her more than confidence and a sense of self. She uses them to read people’s inner thoughts, to see into the worlds people create in their minds. Like a more loquacious Ouija board, Maggie’s Scrabble letters answer her questions about who else is out there–on this plane or the next. (She has to be a bit of a sleuth, no proper nouns are allowed.)

The characters in NOS4A2 use their props and costumes as keys into other worlds and as a way to be true to who they are in an ever-changing universe. These props don’t feel gimmicky because they are true to the characters and because we do it, too.

The more I read, the more impressed I feel. Every character feels honest and each plot twist happens naturally, keeping me as excited as a kid on Christmas morning. Even if the story gives me nightmares instead of sugarplum dreams.


  1. Pingback: 27 | Rae's Days
  2. Have you read “Heart-Shaped Box?” I’m about two-thirds of the way through that one. It’s not bad. There are moments where it really shines. I’ve been hearing great things about this one, so I’ll probably give “NOS4A2” a go when I’m through with the other.

    1. rclnudson says:

      I haven’t read Heart-Shaped Box, but I may go back and check out more of his books. I just loved NOS4A2, I’d highly recommend it. I did read some Wraith comics by Hill, and I’d be interested in reading Locke and Key as well.

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