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Those Who Walk in Darkness
John Ridley
Warner Aspect, 310 pages

Those Who Walk in Darkness
John Ridley
John Ridley is a multi-faceted talent in film, television, and publishing. The author of three highly regarded novels and a former producer on NBC's Third Watch, he wrote and produced the film Undercover Brother, conceived the story for Three Kings, and wrote and directed Cold Around the Heart. His critically acclaimed novel Stray Dogs was made into the movie U-Turn, directed by Oliver Stone. In addition, he is also a regular commentator for National Public Radio.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

Years ago, a man showed up on the scene, foiling robberies with his mutant powers. More mutants came forward. Some could fly, some could throw fire. And with super heroes came the inevitable... super villains. It was OK, the heroes always stopped them in time until a tragedy destroyed most of San Francisco and caused to President of the United States to declare that the mutants no longer had any rights. They had to leave the United States or die. The mutants who stayed behind would find themselves facing specially trained MTac units.

Ever since San Francisco, Soledad O'Roark has trained herself to be the best MTac alive. She took classes, she developed a weapon loaded with bullets designed to take down specific mutants. On her first mission they go up against a pyro, and in a moment of desperation she uses this experimental weapon. Instead of being praised, she's soon the target of a major investigation. She later kills her second mutant, a woman who John Ridley illustrates in a couple of places as being an angelic miracle worker. By killing the woman, Soledad enrages her telepathic husband, who begins to plot revenge, saying, "Ironic. The one of us who would've forgiven them is the one they killed." Soledad definitely walks in darkness... a darkness of her own making.

Comparisons with Alan Moore's The Watchmen and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight are inevitable. For example, Ridley explores the theme so well captured in Moore's work, "Who watches the watchmen?" In placing the decision of what happens to the mutants they encounter in the hands of the MTacs, one wonders if the mutants they encounter are all really evil, or just desperate, certain that if they don't fight, they'll be killed on the spot? Ridley mentions only in passing that mutants who are caught can be deported, a generous stipend granted them. Thus he is showing us, in a way, by the quick, offhanded manner he introduces the topic that this actually happening is about as likely as winning a lottery without a ticket. Like Batman in Miller's work, Soledad sees only black and white, living a harsh executioner's morality that leaves her little room for anything else. When she meets Ian, she begins to soften, and it looks like perhaps she may still be saved from utter darkness. But a relationship with a volatile woman is not something that you can always depend on lasting. Ridley shows us the darker side of the world of the superheroes, taking the possibilities of what could happen when superior good fails in the face of superior evil, and the very people they are supposed to protect feel completely betrayed.

Soledad is a character of wonderful depth and complexity. In between several of the chapters, she tells us parts of her story first hand, from her admiration for the super heroine Nubian Princess, and how seeing a black female encouraged her to see the power in herself, to her hatred of the freaks. It is a hatred that shows in so much of what she does, from the rage that comes over her when someone calls her Bullet, a nickname her new weapon earned her, to her attitude towards anyone who's "soft on freaks". Her absolute determination has honed her into the ultimate weapon. Her college degree, her physical training were all geared toward it. Yet, she has moments when you truly like her. Her awkward relationship with Ian shows us a better side, and as she opens up to him, she opens up to us. There's something endearing about a woman who's so tough her first semi-date takes place at an repair garage. It shows us that she has a hard time accepting any emotional forays. She also has a directness that is really appealing. She's never less than honest, even when she's baring down on the truth with every ounce of her strength.

Despite my comparison to comic books you don't have to be familiar or even like them to feel the impact of Those Who Walk in Darkness. The ideas he puts to us are fascinating, and the fact that he uses a black female policewoman (who better to understand the pains and cruelties of prejudice?) and makes her into this ferocious hunter creates an irony that makes the story even more powerful and real.

Copyright © 2003 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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