The Spectacular Adventures of Bait Girl, the Captive Wonder! A review of After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaugh

So what if Superman and Wonder Woman had a child? (Okay, okay, I know that in one of the gazillion alternate realities of Earth in the DC universe they do have a child but work with me here.) But what if Superman and Wonder Woman had a child who ended up being completely without powers? And furthermore what if EVERYONE knew Clark Kent was Superman and Diana Prince was Wonder Woman and ergo knew that said powerless child was the offspring of these superheroes? This is the story of Celia West. Celia West is the child of Grant and Suzanne West, also known as Captain Olympus and Spark, founders of the superhero conglomerate The Olympiad and saviors of Commerce City. She is also perfectly normal. No ability to fly, no super strength, no nothing. Just a regular boring girl who spent the majority of her teenage years being kidnapped again and again and again to be used as bait for her beyond human parents.

Cut to five or so years later and Celia is a mid-twenty something adult working for the DA’s office. Estranged from her superhero parents, she has attempted to live her life quietly and making a name for herself without the baggage of her lineage. But as prosecution of one of her parents arch nemesis, The Destructor, gets underway, Celia becomes more entangled in her parents lives than she particularly wanted and has to deal with the aftermath of her rocky childhood becoming public.

I have a massive weakness for any sort of story where a secret identity is involved, especially stories that explore the precarious balancing act between one’s secret identity and one’s public one. So when I first read the plot summary of After the Golden Age, all of my bells starting ringing in happy delight. And given the speed at which I devoured this book, I can’t say I was left disappointed.

Celia is a twist on the stereotypical damsel in distress trope. Villains see her as nothing more than a pawn to use as leverage against her much ~more~ dynamic parents. The book, however, makes it clear very early on that Celia is her own person. She is hardworking, intensely independent, sarcastic, and tired of being a piece in her parent’s games. The book does a very good job looking into the psychology of how someone would actually feel if their parents were massive superheroes. How are you supposed to feel when your parents’ first and foremost responsibility is to protecting the city? That your personal accomplishments and goals barely register because what could an accounting degree hold in comparison to invincibility?

In the end, it was these questions about Celia’s relationship with her parents and other superhero members of The Olympiad that I found most compelling. The main plot involving The Destructor and secrets of superhero origins was alright, but watching Celia grow and her relationship with her parents become more developed was the reason I kept reading. The ending is rather cliched, playing out a scene similar to a climatic ending of a saturday morning Batman cartoon. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. For better or worse, this is a book deeply steeped in comic book mythology and tropes. I don’t mind an over-zealous villain monologing his evil plan or a Deus Ex Machina solution. The characters were still compelling and well-developed and fit well in this familiar world. If you’re looking for a quick and fun read about superheros from a different perspective, you can do a lot worse than After the Golden Age.

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