I write this chapbook review listening to Babymetal’s second album, Metal Resistance. That’s appropriate because A) I know Kneel Downe, the author of The Copper Cascade, likes a bit of Babymetal, and B) The Copper Cascade, like Babymetal, is a violent clash of extreme and opposing elements that in theory should be interesting, but not work. Yet they do.
There’s not many, if any, horror fiction about superheroes. I’m not talking about fiction that’s a mash-up of the two genres. There’s plenty of horror/superhero fiction out there; just look at Batman, Spawn, Hellboy and Ghostrider to name a few. Besides, this usually favours the superhero side of the combination anyway.
But The Copper Cascade is resolute horror fiction that features superheros. The premise of the situation is solidly intriguing. And that’s what this book is. It’s not a story made up of smaller stories. It’s a situation made up of smaller stories. The situation itself is that superheroes have all been incarcerated in the super prison for the insane, the titular Copper Cascade. Taking cues from Alan Moore’s Watchmen, among other deconstructionist superhero works, Downe posits that superheros, while upholding justice, must also be insane to do what they do. Taking it one step further, Downe’s fiction has the heroes now in a state where they are no longer a combination of civilian and superhero identities. They are now fully fused with their more extreme costumed personalities, one even having his mask grafted to his face and his suit becoming one with his skin. The reason for their incarceration? One day they teamed up and murdered all the villains.
This chapbook is made up of extracts from other, more singular works, and takes pains to tell you that. It makes you aware at the beginning of each chapter that it was published elsewhere first. It’s good that you’re forced to keep this in mind, as the world would be fairly impenetrable otherwise and you’d criticise it for not giving you enough information on its concepts. Still, there’s just enough information in here for you to understand things. It’s a book that knows that if you’re reading it, then you’re likely savvy with weird fiction, and so familiar with ideas like splicing. It doesn’t feel the need to include extracts that explain to you what a splice is, and in doing so the world feels more complete and established.
The characters are vividly drawn, each having their own internal and external voices and never slipping into ‘general talk’. The characters are equally extreme, and thrusting them together with leave you genre-giddy. The highlight being a part wolf detective playing verbal chess with a demonic superhero who seems to be omniscient The stories as well take various formats throughout the book, keeping you stimulated about not just what’s going to happen next, but how it’s going to be conveyed to you. The Copper Cascade is a savage little page flipper that will crudely drag you into wanting more.