Special Powers and Abilities is a futuristic, stunningly imaginative poetic exploration of superheroes, religion, and myth.
Inspired by The Legion of Super-Heroes, a comic series about a group of teenage superheroes in the future, McDaniel’s poems morph superheroes into religious and mythological narratives. Using a range traditional forms—versets, kennings, and sonnets, his poems consider the history of how we look at the future and takes on an almost Talmudic complexity.
“In Special Powers and Abilities, Raymond McDaniel takes as his subject the perpetual allure of adolescence, where, like Ben-Day dots, emotions are simple, modular, primary-colored. The cast of characters is Adventure Comics’ Legion of Super Heroes, a clique of teenaged “lads” and “lasses” with super powers ranging from the fabulous (transmutation) to the ludicrous (“super digestion”). Despite the intergalactic locales, the typologies are familiar from any high school – golden, irreproachable Supergirl, class clown Bouncing Boy, goth queen Shadow Lass, and our occasional narrator Brainiac 5, brilliant but struggling against embitterment. Out of these lurid tints and all-caps dialogue – the crude exuberance of youth – McDaniel constructs a subtle and haunting meditation on nostalgia, “stitched of silk & almost oblivion” and “the world to which you cannot return” is a universe in which unitards are donned for everyday wear and “foil” can be used as a verb.To be “alien” here is not to hail from an exotic planet, but instead to be stricken by adult self-consciousness: a –“mind, worn smooth by friction.”—Monica Youn
“There’s nothing like this stellar—and also interstellar—collection; there are other books of poems about superheroes, but those books are nothing like this one. Only the Legion of Super-Heroes, and only in Ray McDaniel’s vision and supervision, can generate these series of plots within plots, these frames for pathos within grand adventure, these super-teams that ally old and new forms. Here are Matter-Eater Lad and Dream Girl and their teammates in pithy summaries derived from Anglo-Saxon lines; here are the Fatal Five and the other adversaries, their minds briefly read. Here is the essence of adolescence, in the far future as it is now, “when the most important thing that will ever happen to you begins.” Here are love and romance (“Wildfire Loves Dawnstar”), and a series of in-jokes that cover up outward loss; here is Brainiac Five, the green teen genius who presides, in his melancholy way, over the whole of the Legion’s history and over McDaniel’s consciousness, wondering whether knowledge can equal power. McDaniel knows his comics history, but he also knows the history of poetry, and he makes them talk not just to each other but to our common 21st-century lot. If you know the Legionnaires already you will take these poems to heart, and if you don’t know them at all, but you know contemporary poetry, its hearts and terms, its lacunae and its discontents, you will find in McDaniel a lot to learn. These poems are like their comic book sources in many ways, all of them smart and most of them touching, but in one way most of all: pick it up and you won’t want to put it down.”—Stephen Burt
“McDaniel doesn’t so much capture the voice of superheroes as he employs his special ability to render them—emotionally, psychologically—which is a super power in itself. These poems are at once sublime and imaginative, earthy and other worldly, philosophical and sensible. As soon as we think we have gotten to the bottom of a figure—Braniac, Lightning Lad, Chameleon Boy—we find that “Someone is always pulling off a mask and saying surprise,” and that hand lifting the cowl belongs to the poet, Raymond McDaniel. The future of myth and fable lies between these pages, a future we once believed “could be good, because/ once we believed a future could be.” Read these poems and believe again.”—A. Van Jordan
“Witty language fun for comic book fans and non-believers alike can be found in McDaniel’s poetic homage to one of the greatest superhero teams in comics.”—Shelf Awareness
“[McDaniel] should be offered the job of writing a Legion Comic for DC ASAP!”—Robot6
“[T]hese poems, by turns affectionate and furious, animate the loves and inner lives of the perpetual superteens who make up the Legion . . . Don’t worry if you’re not a Legion reader, though. McDaniel takes pains to open up the universe to those unfamiliar with it and many poems manage to function quite successfully as both exposition and poetry-no mean feat. . . . The poems careen between clever rhetorical acrobatics . . . and moments where language grows elastic, gorgeous, uncanny.”—I09
“Special Powers and Abilities takes its inspiration from a long (and still!) running comic series about super-powered teenagers in a distant future. Through the intricate use of assorted poetic structures or devices, McDaniels investigates everything from teenage love triangles and last stands to mythological parallels and the limits of poetry and comics. . . . I found the arrangement of poems both magnanimous and exciting.”—BOMBlog