I haven't been doing that great when it comes to reading this year. I set a goal of reading 20 books on GoodReads and my magic number thus far is 2. Meanwhile, Matthew and Heather read (and listen to) books like they take baths, so their totals are constantly rising. I've spent the first few months of 2016 podcasting and even that has slowed to a crawl. But I do have the 2015 Men of the Year issue of GQ that I've been reading but that can't be measured on a social media book site.
What I'm getting at was the first book I finished was last year's edition of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, Old School (don't judge, they're hilarious, as is James Patterson's Middle School series). I was trying to read Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance but I hit a roadblock as I was in the backseat of our car headed home after a nice visit with my dad in Capon Bridge. That roadblock being that I had no service to download Aziz's book to my phone. So I closed my Google Books app, went to my Kindle app, and lo and behold, there sat Mark Bousquet's superhero book Used To Be: The Kid Rapscallion Story. I either purchased it on sale or got it for free a few months ago and after reading Derrick's sterling review (and being a fan of Mark's work anyway), I knew reading this book wouldn't be a bad alternative to Aziz.
That last sentence was an understatement. Because Mark took the traditional superhero story and flipped it, threw it, piledrived it, and then gave it several chair shots to the face. Only after that, did he have the dignity to set it on fire, and shove it in the direction of a lake full of gasoline. This ain't a story by Stan or Jack folks. This isn't a rip off of Frank Miller. This is great writing.
Used To Be: The Kid Rapscallion Story is not your typical superhero fare. I'm still not sure if I even like the novel’s protagonist Jason Kitmore. And this is another kudos to Mark; he made a downright almost irredeemable character the hub of his book. And it works to perfection. Jason is the ex-sidekick of San Francisco’s Rapscallion and he’s been signed by Las Vegas to be their resident superhero (I was really intrigued my the whole financial idea of superheroes and it’s something I’d like to see Mark expand on the next time he visits this universe. Knowing Mark like I do, he most definitely will).
From there, we get a broken narrative of Kid’s life, as we start in the present and then go as far back as the 90’s to learn his origins and how he arrived at the moment we meet him in. Another thing you might notice is how the narrative goes back and forth from first person to third person and back to first person. While both of these may seem like a turn off, I can assure you that they both work towards enhancing the book. In the present day, you are Jason and experience everything he does, while the stories of his past are told in third person, so that you can see these things happening to Jason. It reminds me of Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill with how things are broken up but I think that Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill wouldn’t be the same if they started at their actual beginnings and followed a straight path to their endings. Used To Be would suffer the same with a regular narrative.
Another thing I love about this book is the world that Mark rapidly creates within the first few chapters. He doesn’t go out of his way to show that this universe has Supermans, Batmans, Wonder Womans, Hulks, and Daredevils (although I guess a Captain America type plays a prominent role). All of his characters can be seen in a comic book somewhere but I never felt like he was squeezing a character in just to show they existed in his superhero world. While you immediately get a Dick Grayson vibe from Kid Rapscallion, I assure you, he is nothing remotely like Batman’s sidekick. Jason is his own man in every way and you’ll either hate him for it (like me) or you’ll love him for it.
Be advised though; this book is not for the faint of heart. Used To Be doesn’t pull any punches with language. Used To Be doesn’t pull any punches with violence. Used To Be doesn’t pull any punches with drug use/abuse. Used To Be restrains itself from being too sexually descriptive… but I used restrain in as light of a context as possible. None of this detracted from the story for me; I appreciated the fact that Mark was so real with his characters and the situations he put them in. In fact, after a recent viewing of Wolf Of Wall Street, I can’t say this book is any worse than what you saw in that film. So if you’re into Scorsese, you’ll be into this book. But really, I never felt like all of that parental advisory material felt forced. It was just another way of personalizing the characters.
One of my favorite parts of this book is how Mark incorporates the awful events of September 11th into his world and uses it as a major catalyst of change in the superhero community. As someone who remembers 9/11 like it was yesterday (and how many of us don’t), the usage of the attacks really grounded the book in “reality” for me. I see whatever story I’m reading in my head as I go along and Mark already does an excellent job being a visual storyteller. Adding in the attacks really put a stamp of time and place on the events that were going on with Jason and the other superheroes.
Used To Be: The Kid Rapscallion is an underrated gem among the sea of original fiction in the superhero genre today. If you’re into superheroes and the action/sci-fi genre, this is a yes. If you like great characters (whether you like them or not) put into fantastic situations with real world dialogue, this is a yes. If you can’t read your Aziz Ansari book (which I’m struggling with, sorry Aziz) and you need an alternative, this is a yes. And it has Mark Bousquet’s name on it. A name that I trust and if you’ve trusted me to read this far, you can trust me that Mark is a writer that can deliver the goods every time he puts words on a page. Now make sure you find some pull quote in this paragraph to use on future editions Mark. My bank account and routing number is in your email. I really did love this book from start to finish and I couldn’t put it down, even at work.
I think we really need a Duplication Girl story though Mark. If you’re keeping track of fan demand for that, put me down for a yes.