Management Interviews Historical
Tilting at Windmills: Cervantes and the Modern Satirical NovelE.F. Watley, Editor
September 15, 2009
There are few things we like more than a success story, except watching the failure of the succeeder - followed, of course, by a stirring and quintessentially American story of redemption and rebirth. It seems only logical, then, that if real-life celebrities are beset by problems of maintaining their spots in the public eye and personal issues ranging from the romantic to the narcotic, superheros - if they existed - would experience similar challenges, only on a superheroic scale. The memoir of Captain Freedom meets these expectations, and then some.
"Captain Freedom: A Superhero's Quest for Truth, Justice and the Celebrity He so Richly Deserves" is a sharp and fast-paced entry from first-time novelist G. Xavier Robillard, who has been steadily building a reputation as a witty and sophisticated satirist both online and off. (He took first place in this year's HumorFeed online satire competition.) His frequent jabs at politics and popular culture lend a distinctly political edge to the book, in which the hero ends up finding true happiness only after (spoiler alert!) he assumes political office and - most importantly - finds an arch-nemesis against whom to pit himself.
"It all goes back, more or less, to when Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California," said Robillard. "I wrote a piece for McSweeney's exploring the imaginary inaugural speeches of various action heroes. But then when I was later working on the same theme for a public radio show, I wanted to address this 'hero as politician' figure, but decided to move backward and see what motivated that person to hang up his cape and try something else."
Captain Freedom lives in a world not far removed from reality, where heroes contend for international recognition (the superheroic version of the Nobel Prize) and watch the marketability of their brand identity as closely as they do evildoers. Although there are few genres so prone to self-consciousness and parody as that of the comic book, Freedom's memoir (undertaken, ostensibly, as part of psychotherapy) still manages to bring a fresh, amusing, and frequently biting perspective to the mix.
"I think (and several reviewers agree) that the superhero angle is incredibly difficult to satirize," said Robillard. "This is partly because we are used to them in a specific 'good guy with chiseled abs saving humanity' framework, which is easy to poke fun at. What I think people miss, though, is that satire is not always humorous; the Watchmen was an incredibly subversive satire of the superhero, but it's not labeled that way because it isn't necessarily a comedy."
The political angles of Captain Freedom's career, along with his eventual role in Homeland Security, are rife with serious undertones just below the hero's marvelously shallow and self-involved metrosexual threshhold of self-awareness.
"I always knew that our hero would end up in politics," said Robillard. "If you write about politicians, and just report what they do you often don't even need a satire angle."
The success of "Captain Freedom" notwithstanding - both stage and film adaptations are in discussion - Robillard says his next book will not be a sequel, nor necessarily deal with any related themes.
"I have no specific agenda," said Robillard. "My specific method is load the satire shotgun with pun pellets and fire away."
E.F. Watley is the current administrator of HumorFeed. His own site is The Watley Review.