Sunday, April 1, 2007

Confessions of a Super Mom and Super Mom Saves the World

Confessions of Super Mom
Super Mom Saves the World
Written by Melanie Lynne Hauser
NAL Trade
Reviewed by Melissa

Imagine that you're a single mom of two teenagers, you have a jerk for an ex-husband, and you work at the local supermarket as a cashier and bagger. You're pretty happy with your life. And then, one morning, in the act of trying to get out a particularly difficult stain, you combine many different cleaning fluids, have a Horrible Swiffer Accident. And your life is Never The Same.

Meet Birdie Lee, aka Super Mom. Mild mannered cashier by day; champion of children in trouble (all kinds) anytime.

I am not a comic book geek. I enjoy the movies that come out, but I have absolutely no background in reading comic books. All that aside, I really enjoyed Confessions of a Super Mom. For me, the best part was the origin story, and Birdie trying to figure out the whole superhero thing.

Through my study of the average superhero, helpfully chronicled in a series of comic books (mostly reproductions dating from the 1930s to the present, I have learned the following....That I was a superhero. Me. Little ol' Birdie Lee from Astro Park, Kansas.

"Well, hell." I put the last comic book down, drained the rest of my wine, and sat there a moment, letting the full realization of what happened during that Horrible Swiffer Accident wash over me like ice water. I shivered wondering if I'd ever find a warm, safe place again. Then I ran to the windows and pulled the curtains shut, afraid that evil henchmen with reptilian names were already taking aim at me.

"Well, hell," I repeated. "So, now what?'" I picked up a Wonder Woman comic, studied it for a minute, then ran to my full-length mirror. I took a big breath, planted my fists on my hips and spread my legs apart. I sucked in my stomach. I pushed out my breasts.

"Shazam," I said. "To infinity and beyond!"

Then I let my breath out and everything (hips, legs, stomach, and breasts) returned to its normal, doughy, distinctly nonsuperhero state.

"Spandex," I told my reflection, which nodded thoughtfully in return.

There was a great balance between humor and discovery in the book. Birdie lets her son in on the secret first (he's the comic book geek; he even designs her costume just like June Cleaver's because "she's probably the most famous mom in the world and since your powers are exactly like hers, only about ten million times more powerful, I thought that would be a good idea."). Then she tells her best friend, and her almost-boyfriend. But she keeps her daughter out of the loop, mostly because she is afraid her daughter would tell Dr. Dan, the annoying jerk of an ex. All which provides entertainment (she "leaks" fluid during sex) and conflict (her daughter's a bit miffed when she does find out), respectively.

Other good bits: the Justice League of America -- you can join if you qualify to be a superhero, and it comes with a week at Club DC , the premier club for superheroes. And the Avengers -- "The Marvel comics group -- Captain America, Iron Man, those guys. Definitely low rent. Not good enough for the likes of Super Mom, in my opinion." And then there's the mechanics of being a superhero: quick changing in a bathroom stall, trying to fight crime in heels ("You cannot fight crime in heels."), coming up with a catchphrase.

Then I left, running across the school parking lot, where I got one of my heels caught in a manhole cover and said a very un-Super Mom-like bad word. "Son of a ---"

"Hey, look at that!"

"Who is it? What is it?"

"I'm Super Mom," I informed the gathering crowd.

"It's a Peeping Tom!"

"No, I'm not," I started to hobble away.

"It's a drunk!"

"No, I'm Super Mom. Defender of -- of children everywhere, embodiment of all mothers, with the power and authority.... oh, never mind. I really need to work on that part." I wobbled across the street, ducking behind cars until the crowd finally went away.

However, aside from the superhero discovery, the story itself was a bit weak.

The arch-nemisis is Lex, horrible baker turned self-made millionaire by selling overly sweet, but locally made (at New Cosmos), junk-food. The names are great: Patriot Pops, Liberty Lemonade ice pops, Democracy Drops, Betsy Ross-a-Roni in a cup (loved that one!). And the video game tie-in is called American Justice with Abe Lincolnators and George Washington Carve 'Em Up. And the comments by parents are so true: "It's patriotic", "It's educational", "It's locally made". Birdie realizes that it's all a plot... to... do something Evil. I have to say, I missed this entire section. There was something to do with increasing the amount of sugar so kids would be diagnosed with insulin dependent diabetes so that a pharmaceutical company could reveal that it has a type of insulin that could be taken orally but it was all being bankrolled by some offshore somebody, and I can't even begin to remember how Lex the arch-nemesis fits into it all.
Got that? Neither did I. But it's all forgiven, for the laughs along the way.

Super Mom Saves the World wasn't nearly as fun. I don't know if it was because I read them right in a row; sometimes that effects my judgement. I really enjoyed the first one; the second didn't live up to my expectations. Or maybe because it really isn't as much fun. But, it just seemed to me that Saves the World tried too hard. Took itself too seriously.

Six months have passed since Birdie Lee, aka Super Mom, put New Cosmos out of business, laying off half the town. People are grumpy with her (Super Mom, not Birdie). Her relationship with her kids isn't that great; her best friend is psychiatrist for the Justice League of America and so is always trying to psychoanalyze Birdie; her relationship with her boyfriend went from almost to fiance, which totally freaks her out. Then, on top of all that, her ex starts hitting on her again (mostly because he's getting a divorce from his second wife). It's not pretty.

Interestingly, the good-versus-evil plot was actually weightier and made more sense. Mayor Linseed is all gung-ho to build the Astro Park-O-Dome Field for the local Little League team. He wants revenue for the town, especially now that Super Mom has put out half the town out of work (closing the New Cosmos plant and all). He will spare no expense, apparently, for the dome or for the team because everyone -- parents, town, mayor -- wants a championship team. So, the mayor fires the local beloved coach, and hires Coach Bluto to coach the team.

I couldn't help it; I laughed. "Coach Bluto? Are you serious?"

"What's so funny?"

"You know, Popeye. That big hairy guy -- who I have to admit, this person does resemble -- was called Bluto. You know, the mean guy who was always chasing Olive Oyl?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Linseed said with a sniff.

As it turns out, Super Mom (with some help from an ace 7th grade reporter named... wait for it... Lois Blane) finds out that the Dome is built over old salt mines, which collects natural gas which will spell Certain Doom for the town and the team if Super Mom doesn't save the day.

There were lots of charming little asides in this one, too. Just not as many as in Confessions. My absolute favorite was when, after being hit with some super-intense Swiffer fluid, Birdie not only gains a super sense of smell (she helps out on prom night in place of a Breathalyzer), but gets to meet Mr. Clean and the scientists at the super secret New Improved University.

"It's an institute devoted entirely to the betterment of society through the development of new and improved household cleansers and tools. Martha Stewart is our main donor, as you might imagine." Dr. Septavius chuckled, his bald head bobbing like a flesh-colored balloon.

"Really? Is she here? Can I meet her? I've been dying to be a guest on her show."

"No, I'm afraid she's not. Actually. . ." Dr. Septavius lookd at his little band of fellow scientists; they ducked their heads and made little snorting noises. "She's at the Betty."

"The Betty? Ohhh...."I nodded. "You mean the Betty Ford Clinic?"

"No, the Betty Crocker Clinic. For those with an addiction to household cleaners."

But, it seemed to me that there was more turmoil than humor. Birdie was on the defensive for most of the book: people didn't appreciate all she'd done for the town; people kept thinking she was on the rag whenever she got upset; she had marriage jitters, and they were trying to figure out just how to blend her family with his; her ex-husband kept hitting on her, and involving the kids, getting their hopes up that they'd get back together; her best friend didn't, or wouldn't, believe Birdie's story about Mr. Clean being real; not to mention that her son wouldn't talk to her and her daughter was hanging out with questionable people; and so on... It's not that it was bad, or even uninteresting. It just wasn't the light, fun Super Mom that I was expecting from the first book.

On top of all that, the product placement drove me nuts. Off the top of my head, there was: Swiffer (of course), Wet Ones, L'eggs, Starbucks, Mr. Clean, Scrubbing Bubbles, Ajax, McDonald's, Gatorade, Tums, Febreze... Mr. Clean and Scrubbing Bubbles didn't bug me so much, since they actually played a role in the plot. But most of the product placement seemed like it was just that: products worked into the story. Highly unnecessary. And, then there was the Pop Culture references: the whole American Idol crew, George Clooney, Kelly Clarkson, and a slew of women's magazines. All this is fine and good, but it tends to date the book. Twenty years from now, are we even going to care who Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell were?

In the end, though, these are stories primarily for mothers. I don't have teenagers yet, but I could appreciate the whole mother feel of the books. Mothers being under appreciated. Mothers trying to deal with kids and jobs and personal life. The need for mothers to protect those they love from both big and little dangers. It's all there. I'm sure someone who hasn't had kids would enjoy the stories; but I know that a mother would appreciate them more. It's about time someone wrote a book where a mom's the hero. And a super hero at that.

Cleanup on Aisle Four!

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