Imagine if your parents were world-famous superheroes... and you were an accountant with no special abilities whatsoever.
Yeah, the issues resulting from that would be legion. And "After The Golden Age" devotes itself to one such situation -- Carrie Vaughn carefully explores what it would be like to be the powerless child of superheroes, and manages to avoid anything too cartoonish. The characters are well-fleshed out, the writing is strong, and the story is original.
Commerce City is constantly guarded by the Olympiad, headed by Captain Olympus and the beautiful Spark, who protect it from the Destructor and various other supervillains. And since she was born without powers, Celia West (daughter of Spark and Olympus) has spent her whole life being kidnapped, wooed by the enemy, and feuding with her parents. She just tries to be normal.
Now the Destructor is about to be convicted for tax fraud, and Celia is involved in the case -- which is putting some tension between her and her dad. But after Celia's past with the Destructor is revealed, she ends up in a bizarre quest to discover what his true plan is -- and ends up uncovering a retired superhero, the origin of the superhuman powers, and her own "ordinary" abilities.
The plot of "After the Golden Age" is one of those stories that could have gone either way: a bad author would have turned it into a sad cartoonish mess, and a good author could make it an engaging fantasy about what it is to be "ordinary." Fortunately, Carrie Vaughn has definitely achieved the latter -- and I'd love to see it as a graphic novel.
Vaughn experimented with flashback-filled narratives in "Discord's Apple," and she continues to do that here, exploring some of the past history of Celia and the Olympiad in flashbacks. The plot goes rather slowly at times, but Vaughn's prose is strong and polished, with some intriguing ideas of what it would be like to live in a world with superheroes.
And Celia is a great underdog heroine for this kind of story -- she's an "ordinary" person permanently tied to the superhuman world, and has a checkered past of abduction, teen rebellion, and even a brief stint as the Destructor's sidekick. All of her feelings and experiences seem incredibly... well, "realistic" isn't quite the right word, but "plausible" works very nicely.
Carrie Vaughn seems like just the right author to give a new spin on superhero life, and "After the Golden Age" is a solid addition to her increasingly impressive bibliography. It's not the best of her standalone books thus far, but it's a very solid one.