Why aren’t there more superhero books around? The fascination with superheroes and superpowers strikes most of us at a very young age, and while its form changes, I would strongly argue that we never truly grow out of it. Witness the wide popularity and crossover appeal of fantasy, for instance. Isn’t most fantasy about having powers, and being chosen for special tasks? You may not call Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley superheroes as such, but they did get to have powers and they did get to (more or less) save the world. What can be more superhero-y than that?

But then, not all superheroes are made equal. SuperZero, if that name wasn’t a giveaway, is a bit of a bumbler at the best of times. This pint-sized super-individual has the ability of molecular manipulation, which is to say, he can animate objects to do his bidding, like make a tank built out of tyres come apart or summon a pair of sunglasses from many kilometres away. SuperZero and his friends — all young superpowered kids — live in an unspecified time and place, where they go to a special superhero school to learn various skills and facts we mere mortals have no use for. From time to time they are also called upon to use their powers for the good of their town, and in this story they must rid the new mall of its ghostly residents.

The Marvello Mall is the newest and most fascinating attraction for miles. Even people from neighbouring towns are pouring in in thousands to take in the glittering new shops, the gaming arcade, the musical escalators, the multiplex theatre and the food court complete with a chocolate fountain. But barely a week passes when things start to go wrong. The top scoops of ice-creams get lopped off, clothes fly away, mannequins dance, the escalators buckle, and the lift goes up and down by itself. Unexplained screams and laughter are heard. The town goes crazy, and the mall owners even crazier. What could be wrong? Is it the witch who was rumoured to have lived on the disputed land on which the mall is built? And could the strange goings-on in the mall have any connection with the disappearing tyres around town? Yes, you heard right, that’s disappearing car tyres.

SuperZero and his band of superheroic friends are summoned to the rescue. SuperZero, with Vamp Iyer, Blank, Slime Joos — and Anna Conda filling up the token girl slot (though another girl, Lizzie Lizard, does join the ranks later on) — realize that the mischief makers are a band of ghosts stranded out of their own time. But sending them back home is a different story altogether. Will our super-little-people rise to the occasion and save the town from an unwanted haunting? To find out, you will have to read the book, of course.

SuperZero and the Grumpy Ghosts is filled with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it action, but ironically drags in places. Humour is Jane De Suza’s strong suit and there are some truly clever moments, though there are bits where the story seems to be trying too hard to be cool and funny. With a bunch of misplaced ghosts and a band of hit-and-miss young superheroes, this should have been a tight, thrill-a-minute story, but is undone by too much cleverness, if there’s such a thing. There are also some convenient plot twists (and it’s unclear why there’s a poster of pi at the end, apart from a rather lame joke opportunity). Some of the characters are trite — the flashy, excitable TV reporter Tara Rumpum; the arch-enemy Masterror; the “cute” Anna Conda; the two-headed school principal; and the villainous Sire Tyre come to mind. SuperZero’s mother is particularly bizarre — some of the endearments she uses, like “potchy-poo” and “hootchie-pootchie”, seem borderline inappropriate!

Jit Chowdhury’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the text, not just depicting the action, but definitely adding flavour. It reminds one of the Samit Basu/Sunaina Coelho collaborations in the Stoob books. Altogether, SuperZero and the Grumpy Ghosts is a decent enough story if one can get past a nine-or-so-year-old saying “easy-peasy-choco-cheesy”.

By Payal Dhar

Author: Jane De Suza
216 pages
Rs 199.00
ISBN: 978-0143333968
Puffin Books, 2015
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction
Age-group: 9+

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