Review – Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
I saw this recommendation online in a couple of places and it sounded intriguing. No let’s be honest, it filled gap The Boys had made. I eagerly purchased the ebook and it naturally bumped itself to the top of the list.
I’m not going to say too much as the Hench cover says it all succinctly without giving away all of the good bits.
To sum up, I loved it and I want to read the sequel right now.
The following ramble is how it made me think, feel and ponder, given my growing self awareness around this topic.
I don’t know if it was age or apathy before I started to question the superhero universe/trope.
Until that time I had accepted the portrayal as gospel, at face value. It was like a fairy tale allegory for good and evil. Occasionally illuminating, but a tall tale. I forgot that fairy tales are rooted in history and fact.
In real life you understand on an almost subconscious level that people are a balance of this. No one is strictly virtuous and conversely others inherently bad. There are contributing circumstances, situations that occur, events that happened and feelings. Once feelings are in the mix, then it’s all ambivalent grey.
In the world of superhero there is no ambiguity. There is a right way and a wrong way. Heroes are held to a higher standard – they set the standard at their unachievable limits and those who fall short are not heroic – merely human. Those diametrically opposed are villains.
So what do humans do
Humans are those who can not fend for themselves. Similar to domesticated animals who need to be tended to and managed. In this context humans have autonomy but at a cost. Human’s action or inaction merits the intervention of a hero to makes things right (avert disaster, right a wrong, solve a problem)
While going about their managing, heroes are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, which on a frequent basis makes people disposable casualties on the scale of a force of nature.
Humans on occasion can be a supporting contributing member to the heroic hierarchy but they are definitely low tier. Is there a level below intern?
Villains are those who are the opposite of heroes. They want on a personal level, whereas heroes are working on behalf of people, nations, often the world or universe. Villains are portrayed as grasping, greedy out for their personal enrichment or advancement. Villains do not care for the human population, humans are seen as stepping stones to achievement of an objective, quite frequently are cannon fodder or an unlimited labour force.
I’m referencing The Boys because that’s where I’m recently coming from, yet I’m sure there are many other graphic novels that have covered this angle Let me continue with The Boys because it’s an easy reference for me. The Boys took the loveable, majestic heroic hero and set that in a world very similar to our present. And gave us more than the one dimensional, idealised view of these heroes.
What makes a superhero
We are all aware of heroes secret identities but they always seemed insipid. Clark Kent’s glasses – rolls eyes . In their downtime they were still on mission to look after people who didn’t know how to look out for themselves. Or solve a global problem that the Earth best individuals or teams didn’t have the capability to do.
Sure we had more realistic heroic characters like Batman who were gritty, had more depth and was relatable for his imperfections. We could see ourselves being Batman, because that was about money, training, a bad childhood and a thirst for vengeance and retribution. Everyone here for that.
Literally no one can be Superman. His abilities are from another world. We can aspire to but can not achieve anything close unless by a fluke. He is clearly out of our league. And I do mean the Human League.
Hench, like The Boys, set heroes in a world where they are three dimensional, showing their wants, desires and motivations.
We see what they get up to in their downtime. Who their colleagues, friends and loved ones are. What they do in-between saving the world from various crises and crucially when the media isn’t watching. When they not on their public – best – behaviour we find out that heroes and villains are imperfect.
Essentially as Hench shows, heroes and villains are just like standard humans. They are not strictly ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Those labels are not always accurate and even when they are, do not full describe or detail nuance.
It makes us think of how we would rethink a situation if we knew that someone had a personal motivation to conduct an act of heroism or villainy. How would our perspective change if that someone was a hero or villain?
Do the ends justify the means?
Is it okay to cripple or kill a bad guy if it means saving a kidnapped child?
Is it okay to cripple or kill a bystander while saving a kidnapped child.
Where is the right and wrong in both scenarios?
Is it a no win situation and there is no right answer?
Do we and by that I mean us, humans, allow oversight, governance by superheroes because we believe it’s the right thing to do, because it’s easier to let someone else handle the details, or we don’t want the responsibility. Managing the Earth is a big responsibility after all.
When it has irrecoverably harmed an individual, a group. a nation. Or when it harms us personally on an individual level?
Control and manipulate the narrative through social media.
Hench makes being a hero or villain a job and concentrates on those who are not in the super hero league. You’re a person with powers who takes the job with better benefits and job satisfaction. There is no real moral dilemma over which side they should be on in the fight for good verses evil.
However when things don’t work out on the job, there’s collateral damage and decimation.
How do you quantify that? Enter Anna, notionally a villain who has been used by both sides and is left frustrated, angry and needing to do something rather than wallow in her misfortune.
Using data science, social media, Anna opens up public’s perception on heroes, and villains to greater scrutiny. By using objective facts, data and manipulating heroes to reveal their full characters, we are informed about who they really are
This is a fast paced action read that you will fly through and wish you could read again immediately. Recommended.
4 Stars - Really Liked It