Self-Published, 2011, 212 pages
Sundancer is a militant radical who channels the heat and light of the sun, capable of melting steel and vaporizing anyone who stands in her way. Pit Geek is seemingly immortal, able to survive any injury, but haunted by fragmented memories. Together, these supervillains launch a crime spree bold enough to threaten the world's economy.
To stop them, the government authorizes a new band of superheroes known as the Covenant to hunt down the menaces. Sundancer and Pit must learn to rely on one another as never before if they're to escape the heroes that hound them. When they finally run out of places to hide, can mankind survive the conflagration when Sundancer unleashes the full force of her solar powers?
One of those rare self-published novels that beats the trend by actually being good and demonstrating how self-publishing can work for an author. However, in fairness, this is because James Maxey has been professionally published already — his first superhero book, Nobody Gets the Girl, was trade-published but apparently the publisher went under and sales weren't good enough to interest other publishers, so Maxey self-published the sequel.
Burn Baby Burn is a "sequel" to Nobody Gets the Girl, but it's really a stand-alone novel in the same universe. You will recognize some of the characters if you read the first book, but they can be read in either order.
What this book is, is a very good supervillain novel. Because the "protagonists" — Sundancer (formerly known as Burn Baby) and Pit Geek — are villains. They have engaged in wanton acts of theft, terrorism, and mass murder, up to and including blowing up school buses full of children.
And yet, they are sympathetic. Despite the horrible things they've done, neither of them is "evil" (depending on your definition). Sundancer — her real name is Sunday Jiminez — was recruited by her villainous father when she was a confused, bitter teenager. He corrupted her, convinced her of the inherent evil and instability of the current world order, and taught her that the only way to fix it was to burn it all down. Pit Geek, on the other hand, has no memories. He can regenerate from anything, up to and including decapitation, but years of catastrophic brain damage have left him as a mostly amoral wandering monster with the power to devour literally anything down the wormhole in his mouth.
The two of them mature and decide they're sick of the villainous life, and they want to retire somewhere where the world won't hunt them down. You can almost feel sorry for them, especially when they both show signs of true remorse, and the casting off of their previous sociopathic mindsets.
The world isn't about to forgive them so easily, though. They are hunted by a trio of superheroes known as The Covenant. The Covenant are as powerful as Sundancer and Pit Geek, so when they battle, they're capable of literally flattening cities.
Like the villains, the heroes are complicated and not exactly squeaky clean. Ap, who can "download" superpowers coded for him by his army of fans, spent time on the streets as a teenage prostitute. His teammate, Servant, who has Superman-level strength and invulnerability, is a born-again drug lord, making his disapproval of Ap's lifestyle doubly ironic. Their leader, Raildancer, one of the daughters of Dr. Knowbokov, who appeared in the previous book, is the fast-flying tactician of the group.
Maxey does a very good job of capturing the magnitude of four-colored superhero powers on the page while making it read like an (almost) plausible science fiction novel. And he mixes four-colored comic book tropes into the story as well, like a race of super-intelligent chimpanzees who have formed their own island nation built atop the Pacific Gyre, and visiting aliens, and supergeniuses capable of literally altering reality.
The climax is truly comic book-epic, and the resolution for Pit Geek and Sundancer is bitter and fitting, yet touching.
Verdict: Burn Baby Burn is a stand-alone sequel that's better than the first book, and highly recommended for all superhero fans. While the writing remains a bit flat at times, and characterization is sometimes narrated rather than displayed, James Maxey has mastered the superhero genre, and is able to deliver a book that has all the best aspects of both novel and comic book. Aliens, robots, monkeys, and apocalyptic showdowns, and somehow it doesn't fall over into silliness. 8/10.
Also by James Maxey: My review of Nobody Gets the Girl.
My complete list of book reviews.