Short Stories 366:365 — “The Prisoner,” by Richard Lee Byers

I’m back to Powered Up! An Earth Prime Anthology today, and this time I’m basically reading what felt more-or-less like Captain America and John Constantine team-up fanfic, and I say that with the utmost respect and joy. Because Richard Lee Byers’s “The Prisoner” combines the “modified soldier” hero of Victor (“the Sentinel”) with an Irish mystical detective, Rhymer (no codename), as they try to solve a series of beheadings, the end result is kind of an odd-couple superhero yarn, and it works because it’s so darn charming. Victor doesn’t trust Rhymer in the slightest, and Rhymer keeps referring to Victor as a gorilla with a ray-gun, so really, they’re not off to a great start. But between old-fashioned investigation and some mystic visions, they realize they’re on a time crunch before something truly bad happens, and start to work together as best they can.

It’s the banter that makes this one shine, but also exploring some of the mystical in the Mutants & Masterminds Prime Earth setting is also nice. More, I think the setting of Emerald City is so complete (thanks to the source books) that there’s a kind of effortless world-building happening: where the writer knows enough about a make-up location and world that everything just feels connected and complete, even when only partially referenced. This is one of my favourite facets of shared world fiction, and this story is a great example of it.

All in all, “The Prisoner” has a fun streak, banter, and solid mystery to it, and by the end I was smiling and happy at how Byers managed to wrap up two apparently contradictory conditions for “win” between the two heroes. I’d love to see these two characters butt heads a second time, and I think that’s just about the highest praise I think I could give to a story, really. (And, as always, these stories really make me want to play the game they’re based on, so extra kudos for the cross-marketing points to all involved.)

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