Keith Kornell’s Super Born

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Stephen Chow’s Forbidden City Cop begins with a confrontation between several famous swordsmen and a police officer. It is a parody of popular story about a famous duel between master swordsmen. The comedy lies in the fact that the officer does not believe the swordsmen are famous heroes because the are so plain looking. One of the swordsmen retorts, “A hero doesn’t necessarily have to be good looking.”

The complete title of Keith Kornell’s book is Super Born: The Seduction of Being. The book was fun to read and the inclusion of “being” in its title gave it some credence as a digestible philosophical text on the same kind of “being” explored by Jean Paul Sartre in his book, Being and Nothingness.

I tried to read Sartre’s book decades ago in college and do not remember even making it past the first chapter, so I am relinquishing myself to Wikipedia and accepting in full faith its summation of Being and Nothingness.

According to Wikipedia, Part One Chapter One of Sartre’s Being and Nothingness is “The Origin of Negation”, that is “expectations which are often not fulfilled.” In the first chapter of Super Born, Kornell introduces us to Allie, a single mom, who tells us how she accidentally discovered her super powers when she crashed through the floor of her upstairs neighbor’s apartment when she jumped up to reach a bowl on the top shelf of her kitchen cabinet. Her story is very much one of “unfulfilledness” in her work, her relationships, and life in general.

But Allie’s is not the only perspective we get in the story. The story is told through a carousel of narrators. You hear from Logan the struggling journalist, Carmine the Italian mob lieutenant, and Jennifer the other super heroine. The numerous narrators help fill in gaps of reason in the story and provide differing (often comical) perspectives on the same situations. For example, in the latter half of the book, there is a funny “back-n-forth” “he-said-she-said” between Allie and Logan describing their “date”. Unfortunately, the two characters who might have had the most interesting perspectives in the story are never given a chance to speak: Dr. Jones and the bartender at O’Malleys.

The next chapter in Sartre’s book is called “Bad Faith (or self deception).” Bad faith in this instance refers to “living a life defined by one’s occupation, social, racial, or economic class.” In a chapter titled, “Who Was I?”, Allie hides inside her life as a working single mom after an attempt on her life comes dangerously close to success. This concealment is challenged when she accidentally bumps into a man armed with several pipe bombs. She must decide then and there whether to stop him and risk the chance of being identified as the heroine all the bad guys want to kill or risk more lives by maintaining her secret identity as Allie, the office worker.

The final part and chapter of Sartre’s book is called “The Look.” It insinuates that the “presence of another person causes one to look at themselves as an object and see their world as it appears to the other.” This is more noticeable in Logan’s side of the story where he has “Ah-ha!” moments of understanding Allie’s motives. Allie also experiences the “look” as she tries to understand public (and sometimes private) reaction to her in her superhero identity.

Overall Superborn is a humorous story of a single working-class mom who hates her superhero name but is trying to do the right thing as an unintentional role model for her daughter and the other women in her town of Scranton, PA. The two main characters, Allie and Logan, share a somewhat self-deprecating sensibility. Imagine a super heroine who hates her name but uses it anyway. She is given the name “Bitch In Black” or more preferably “Bee-Eye-Bee” but definitely not “Bib”. This passive acceptance of a name she does not like is made more interesting when the latter half of the title is the “Seduction of Being.”

What disappointed me about the book was not what Keith Kornell did in telling the story but what he didn’t do. Super Born was an opportunity to introduce a new and unconventional superhero tale or give the old one a refreshing spin. Unfortunately, Keith doesn’t do this. Instead many of the characters he presents are dangerous stereotypes: the Italian mobster, the Irish bartender, the villainous Asian scientist, and so on. Even the BIB herself is the typical eye-catching super heroine. She makes it a point to tell you that her awakened super powers have vanquished her weight and body image issues.

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