‘Once Crowded Sky’ masterful tale

A ONCE CROWDED SKY. By Tom King. Touchstone. 323 pages $26.

What is a superhero without his powers? Tom King shows us in a world in which leagues of superheroes and super villains have been stripped of what makes them super.

King tells the tale of the heroes of Arcadia City, all but one of whom sacrificed their powers to save the world from an entity known as The Blue. In sacrificing their powers, they also sacrificed a hero named Ultimate, whom they revered above all others.

The story is told in a combined novel-comic book format, with the prose broken down into numbered “issues” interspersed with illustrations by Tom Fowler. Despite its potential to be distracting, King’s story fits this format beautifully and could not be told in any other way. The tale moves quickly and fluidly, making “A Once Crowded Sky” an incredible page-turner.

It is King’s careful character development that drives the story. He chronicles each character’s struggle with the aftermath of The Blue, making them seem even more human.

They suffer from post-traumatic stress and find it difficult to reintegrate into society as powerless heroes. One might even draw a parallel between King’s superheroes and soldiers returning home from war. Both must readjust to a vastly different way of life. Some do not transition well.

King presents us with a story that subtly questions our ideas of humanity and heroism. The influence of Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” is evident, but King’s story is much more relevant to today’s readers. But “A Once Crowded Sky” isn’t just for comic book aficionados. Its message is universal and guaranteed to be appreciated by most readers.

Reviewer Brindy McNair, a Web editor for The Post and Courier