As someone who frequently writes ongoing series, I can tell you that creating a follow-up adventure is not always easy. Trust me — a lot of people think that all you have to do is recycle the same ideas and you’re good to know. Sequels, they say, are the very definition of laziness.
Sure, if you’re just looking to cash in, that’s probably true. But if you genuinely want to continue the story and do so in an entertaining manner, there are all sorts of pitfalls that you have to look out for: is the storyline too similar? Is it too dissimilar? Am I just doing “what comes next” or truly progressing the characters? What if everybody hates it and then people forget why they liked the original?
And so on.
So when I picked up the second Captain Action novel (Hearts of the Rising Sun), I was curious to see where the author would take it. I had greatly enjoyed Riddle of the Glowing Men and, knowing all of the above, I wondered if this one would be just as good. If you’re curious, you can search through the archives to see my review of book one.
Good. Before we start analyzing this volume, let’s see how the publisher describes it:
ACTION IN JAPAN! While on assignment in Japan, Captain Action is haunted by the woman he loved and lost years ago in the underground kingdom beneath Siberia. When she mysteriously begins reappearing during his clandestine mission to witness a newly discovered power source, agent Miles Drake begins to question his own sanity. Forces are at work to steal two naturally formed energy stones whose limitless power in the wrong hands could destroy the world. When he begins to suspect his alien nemesis, Dr. Evil, is behind these attacks, Drake has to utilize his most daring disguises ever to learn the truth and ally himself with an old vigilante hero from the past. Now the one and only Captain Action must walk a delicate tightrope between old and new allies while attempting to discover the source of the threat to the Hearts of the Rising Sun. If he fails, mankind is doomed!
As with book one, I question some of the cover decisions. Riddle of the Glowing Men had a major character twist that I felt was spoiled by the front image… and this one does something similar. Right there in the publisher’s blurb it teases that a classic vigilante hero is going to return — I wonder who it could be? Oh, wait, he’s on the front cover.
I understand the tough decision between trying to entice fans of that character of the book to pick this up and also maintain mystery… but pick a direction, I’d say. If you’re going to put the character on the front of the book, then don’t tease him as a mystery on the back. Just outright say who he is. You can’t have it both ways.
Anyway, this one is set in Japan and I admit that I didn’t immediately warm to the location or the plot. The first quarter of the book felt like it was definitely suffering from sequel-itis. In other words, this didn’t feel like a second adventure of Captain Action… it felt like it was almost wholly dependent upon the events and characters of the first book. I’m not a fan of sequels that feel like “oh, and this is what happened the next day” as it almost belittles the first one. I would have preferred to have seen an entirely new adventure here and then have elements of the first book return for a third one, for instance.
We do get some cute Action Boy jokes and there’s a wonderful sequence where Captain Action dresses up as our ‘mystery hero’ in an obvious homage to the way that the toy would put on costumes of other heroes. We also see the debut of CA’s arch-nemesis here and, despite the cheesy name and appearance, Jim does a fine job of handling him. I also like the way Jim writes the older version of The Black Bat (I don’t consider this a spoiler as he’s on the cover!) and there are some fun twists at the end involving body-swapping.
The way that Cap is treated by the Japanese government also made me smile.
If you enjoyed the first book, I think it’s safe to say that you’ll like this one, too. Despite the slow starting nature, it picked up steam in the middle and barreled along to a satisfying conclusion. I’ve read better from Jim Beard but that’s not to say that this one isn’t a hell of a fun book. It is. I think it says oodles about his talent and the potential for the character that I can still heartily recommend it, even when I think it’s a slight decline in quality from the first tale.
I do hope we get a third book (and beyond). I’d like to see some really over-the-top stuff as the series progresses. Maybe see CA travel to a base on the dark side of the moon or end up at the earth’s core, battling a group of still-surviving Nazis. Or talking gorillas! That’s always a winner.
On the rating scale, I give this one a sold 3.5 out of 5. It’s fun, has sharply drawn characters and features well-written action.