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Black and White
Jackie Kessler & Caitlin Kittredge
Spectra, 452 pages

Black and White
Jackie Kessler
Jackie Kessler wanted to grow up to draw comic books. Not Archie comics -- superhero comic books. Around the age of 15, she realized it was a lot of fun putting words in the characters's mouths. She was the fantasy editor for Wild Child Publishing. Now she writes adult novels as well as young adult fiction under the byline Jackie Morse Kessler. She lives in upstate New York, along with her family and about 9,000 comics.

Jackie Kessler Website
ISFDB Bibliography: Jackie Kessler

Caitlin Kittredge
Caitlin Kittredge started writing novels at age 13. Her first was a Star Wars tie-in. She moved on to trying to be a screenwriter, a comic book writer and the author of copious amounts of fan-fiction, then she tried to write a novel again. It never saw the light of day but while struggling with it, she got the idea of writing a story about a werewolf who fought crime. She lives in Olympia, WA.

Caitlin Kittredge Website
ISFDB Bibliography: Caitlin Kittredge

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

'The world turns on poses and public faces, Iridium. The sooner you realise that, the better off you'll be.'
Beginning the Icarus Project series, Black and White introduces us to an alternate take on a future world -- which as usual means mostly North America -- where superheroes are real. It is an unusual offering on several counts, the most instantly noticeable being that it's written by two women. Female comic book writers are rarer than an original idea in this genre, and it's something that Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge aim to put right. The story alternates between two perspectives and two points in time, focusing on Jet and Iridium; two young women -- I'm sure by crazy coincidence -- blessed with opposing powers and attitudes. As the tale begins Iridium is a super villain for political reasons, in command of Wreck City and maintaining loose order by wielding light-based powers, mainly in the form of strobes ranging from tiny lights to burning orbs that can injure or kill. Jet is the Lady of Shadows, sponsored hero of New Chicago, with the ability to call up and manipulate a dark force, which can be bent to many uses. Jet and Iridium first met at superhero school, where those with special powers are rigorously trained, and became best friends. Until life pushed them in opposite and opposing directions.

The main characters, and most of the supporting cast, are interesting enough to keep the ball rolling nicely. Jet, in particular, and her mentor, Night, manage to deliver, not always but most of the time. The idea of Shadow Powers always eventually going mad due to the nature of their abilities, knowing what is in the living dark, etc., is laden with promise, and creepy as blood on velvet. Also in the tick column is the revelation that the world of Black and White is anything but black and white. There are brainwashed superheroes, Everyman -- a popular organisation which regards the super-powered as abominations, plus the insidious specter of sponsorship; quite literally heroes for hire. Less interesting was the feeble display of imagination that produced a shady corporation named Corp-Co, a cadre of superheroes named the Squadron, a superhero training college called the Academy, and out of nowhere, a vigilante called Taser. I was also underwhelmed by the catch-all descriptions of superheroes as extra-humans, and super villains as rabids. To me, extra-human sounded like there was a spare, and rabid is what becomes of people bitten by mad dogs. Much better were the subtle undercurrents of control exerted at the Academy, manipulation of students by various means including overt brainwashing, and the depiction of unrelenting indoctrination whereby all powered individuals are bent to the will of Corp-Co. The book leaps chapter by chapter not only between the perspectives of Jet and Iridium, but also in time. Dramatic tension is often broken by a chapter which takes the reader back to the girls past. Some of these back flash episodes work well, others do not. In particular a scene which felt to me as if it had been levered in to display Political Correctness by featuring two gay superheroes. One of which, disappointingly, was not the character called Hornblower!

Kessler and Kittredge gave me some of what I hoped to be reading when I picked up this book, but also left me slightly frustrated. It is a very readable novel, and more often than not it's fun. My overall impression was that the target audience is mid-teen to early twenties, and, if that is correct, then it does its job. However, there are plenty of comic book fans out there, younger and older, who crave something more sophisticated, darker and deeper. Black and White was a glimpse into a world that has the potential to deliver just that, if the authors so choose. But at this early stage I felt separated from it by a glossy veneer, something closer to the simplistic past of the comic book genre than it was to the complex multiple layers of today.

Copyright © 2010 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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