Almost three years ago I had the privilege to be introduced to a new writer named Michael J. Martinez through his book, The Daedalus Crisis. It was the start of a fun adventure series that took place in the near future of our timeline and another timeline set during the Age of Sail where alchemy worked and ships flew through a Solar System teaming with life. So when given the chance to read and review Martinez’s MJ-12: Inception I, of course, accepted. Will this series live up to my high expectations?
MJ-12: Inception is set right after the end of World War II. Two white glowing orbs appear (one in Berlin and the other in Hiroshima) and send out waves of energy that give various people different powers (such as the ability to manipulate emotions, heal wounds or gain the knowledge of someone right before they die). With the Cold War beginning, the US government decides that they can use these “Variants” as assets in their shadow war with the Soviet Union. Attached to the new CIA, “Majestic 12” are trained at Area 51 to be intelligence operatives, pushing their new powers to the limit. The Soviets, however, have their own enhanced agents and they may be even more dangerous then anything the Americans can field.
A good way to describe MJ-12 is what if the X-Men met James Bond, but there is so much more to the story than that. If you haven’t noticed by now, the book uses a lot of terms from UFO conspiracy theories. In fact, one character even suggests to President Truman that they use the story of a government cover up of a crashed alien spaceship to distract people from what is really going on at Groom Lake. I thought it was a clever use of the UFO mythology…but we still don’t know whether the white orbs are natural or artificial. Although without giving too much away regarding the ending, we can probably assume that they were made by someone, so we shouldn’t rule out aliens just yet.
On the whole I thought MJ-12: Inception was an enjoyable secret history. I liked how Martinez made a point to recognize the sacrifices made by those in the intelligence community to protect their nation. Although there are certainly heroic characters from stories about espionage, members of the spy agencies can just as easily be the bad guys or, at the very least, hinder the hero from doing the right thing. Plus, superheroes are usually meant for flashy, epic roles such as fighting giant monsters or stopping alien invasions. You don’t usually see them in the more subtle role of espionage, although the show Young Justice comes to mind.
Additionally, the characters were all well-developed, their powers were imaginative, the twists weren’t obvious and Martinez did a good job capturing the setting (plus I got to see Harry Truman again in fiction, which is always a good thing). There were some grammar and spelling errors, but since I was reading from an uncorrected proof, I can’t comment on what you will find in the final copy coming out next week.
If I had one complaint, I thought Martinez could have done a better job expressing the casual racism of post-WWII America. MJ-12 did have obviously racist characters and examples of segregation, but too many characters were surprisingly comfortable with people of other races. I remember being surprised when reading from Studs Terkel’s “The Good War” how various African-Americans who served in the armed forces during WWII told of how they experienced worse racism from northerners than southerners. Although not to diminish the damage done by the Jim Crow South, too many white northerners like to forget that they weren’t always as tolerant as they like to believe.
Nevertheless, MJ-12: Inception was an enjoyable twist on the superhero genre and I look forward to seeing what happens next. How will America’s superheroes serve in the Korean War, the Suez Crisis or the Hungarian Revolution of 1956? I hope those questions are answered when I read the next MJ-12 book.