Before actually reading his debut novel, I had the pleasure of sitting down with TJ Martinson to chat about The Reign of the Kingfisher (2019). Although a life-long fan of comic books, Martinson recognized that current culture is already inundated with superhero stories. Hoping to add something new, Martinson decided to deviate from the predictable dialogues and focus instead on the presumed human conflicts of living in a world with superheroes.
Wanting to steer clear of the typical superhero genre, which often hovers around a hero’s backstory, the Kingfisher story focuses more on civilian interactions. In fact, the Kingfisher is an auxiliary character with sparse known details. The plot centers on three unassuming characters: a retired journalist, Marcus; a disgraced Chicago police officer, Tillman; and a talented, young computer hacker, Wren.
Decades after the questionable end of the reign of the Kingfisher, a masked villain threatens to kill hostages unless the police department declassifies the reports surrounding the vigilante’s death. When the police refuse to release the possibly self-incriminating evidence, Marcus, Tillman, and Wren are pulled in to the narrative by separate parties, each with their own motives for pursuing the truth.
The Reign of the Kingfisher is a fresh addition to culture’s never-ending assortment of poorly reinvented and contrived superheroes. The Kingfisher character doesn’t have any hammers, shields, or special suits to keep track of, nor does he require a specific incantation to spring into action to save the day.
“His skin was the same as mine. It was the same as yours. That man wasn’t bulletproof. He wasn’t like us, but he also wasn’t indestructible.”The Reign of the Kingfisher (2019)
To most characters, he is more of a shadowed myth, than a shining hero, and as the plot thickens, ample evidence is given to support both views. Readers aren’t ever sure if the Kingfisher has any power or if he really is a “good guy.”
Many superhero storylines shallowly flesh out a character’s moral compass for the reader, but Martinson’s writing creates pause for the reader to consider their personal definition of right and wrong. In today’s technology-driven society that demands fast answers, he makes a strong case for the power of meaningful conversations – even with the most unlikely (and seemingly unlovable) characters.
While certain situations and characters may be a bit mature for some young readers, The Reign of the Kingfisher is an exciting ride, literally through Chicago and figuratively through the philosophical dilemma of what justifies the means to an end.
This book might be for you if you also like: “The Dark Knight” Batman trilogy (particularly the one with Heath Ledger as the Joker character), the city of Chicago, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Chabon), superheroes, Frankenstein (Shelley).