It may be a cliché, but there’s nothing original and everything has been seen and done before. That becomes a bit of a sticking point for creators when they release work that has similarities to a work already out in the pop culture wilderness. Because of this, there is a point of distinction between being inspired by a work and blatantly copying someone else’s work.
For example, Big Trouble in Little China was inspired by 1980s Hong Kong cinema, the Star Wars original trilogy was inspired by classic westerns and Knives Out was inspired by classic murder mysteries. That’s an inspiration where they’ve taken something and used it as a foundation to create something innovative.
Now, where the murkiness comes in is with more direct copy-and-paste jobs. Want some examples? There are heaps. White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen, Armageddon and Deep Impact, A Bug’s Life & Antz and many more. Is it more than a coincidence that these all came out at the same time as each other? Probably but I’m not here to delve into that.
Now, you’re probably asking yourself what the point of the last three paragraphs has been when I’m supposed to be reviewing the new Matthew Reilly novella. The thing is that inspiration versus copy-paste discussion is something I’ve grappled with while reviewing this novella. Matthew Reilly has been clear that Amazon’s The Boys series was a source of inspiration for this work and this is obvious from the plot synopsis.
Thirty-five years ago, when the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse and right before The Cold War blew over, the United States and Russia tried to ease the ongoing tension by collaborating in a joint space mission to study the atmosphere of Venus. The probe returning to Earth crashes in the Artic and a US scientist, Dr. Christene Cobalt, and Russian special forces operative, Sergeant Nikolai Furin are scrambled to recover the probe.
It isn’t a Matthew Reilly plot if nothing goes wrong so without fail, something goes wrong. A microscopic organism attached to the probe explodes, releasing a strange gas that somehow gives both Cobalt and Furin the standard suite of superpowers – flight, super strength and enhanced senses.
Both new superheroes are evenly matched, with Cobalt taking up the mantle of “Cobalt” being the typical selfless Superman type of hero and Furin donning the moniker “The Fury of Russia” and not trying to hide his evilness. As a result, the Soviet Union is reborn, and The Cold War is off the back burner again. The arms race is no longer nuclear missiles it’s now super-powered humans.
The United States and the New Soviet Union begin various cloning methods to create offspring of their respective weapons. For thirty-five years until the present day the two superpowers had reverted to The Cold War’s mentality of Mutually Assured Destruction. Then Dr. Christine Cobalt died… oh dear.
It doesn’t take long for The Fury of Russia to cross the Atlantic and touch down on US soil. The offspring of Cobalt, aptly named Green, Red, White, Purple, Silver, Gold and Black attempt to stop him with predictably poor results. Most of the offspring are killed fighting the Fury of Russia leaving the final child alone to face her mother’s greatest enemy.
The question now must be asked, is Cobalt Blue a copy of The Boys? I’m inclined to answer that with a resounding ‘no’. The Boys dissects corporate America, superhero media, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the media in general and throughout the series, they delve into some very dark issues. By comparison, Cobalt Blue doesn’t really try to dissect or examine anything. It’s a very surface-level look at superheroes and bringing back The Cold War and framing the conflict as The United States versus The Soviet Union just felt played out. Based on that, I’d take it that The Boys was a jumping-off point for Matthew Reilly.
The thing is though, if it was a jumping-off point then this book must have had ankle weights because this book for me crashes down to Earth with a sickening crack. A lot of this stems from the fact that this novella was originally a script that was then converted into a novella after the fact. As a result, there’s no room for characters to develop or really develop a personality that you can latch onto like you can with The Boys which have three seasons’ worth of episodes.
It's the typical breakneck pace that fans have come to associate with Matthew Reilly but in this case, it seems to work against this novella. The characters are typically one-dimensional with the US being the good guy and the USSR being evil for the sake of it. There’s no depth or other facets for any of these characters and in general, it just feels regressive with the eighties James Bond era mentalities.
Matthew Reilly has also mentioned that the violence and gore in The Boys was too much for him when he was watching so when writing this novella, he toned it down a bit. The gore is sort of there and it’s like earlier Matthew Reilly works however, the shock value and enjoyment that I’ve experienced while reading the likes of Ice Station and Area 7 that I just didn’t get here with Cobalt Blue. To be honest that mainly comes down to just how predictable the novella feels when you read it.
Everything about this novella is predictable, from the characters to the setting to the plot to the ending and its sequel-baiting epilogue. Coming into the novella, I could easily tell what was going to play out without any real major surprises and I understand that sometimes you just want something nice and comfortable to read like you’d rewatch your favourite tv shows on repeat but even then I don’t find myself wanting to come back and read this.
What are your thoughts on Matthew Reilly’s latest superhero novella? Do you think of it as a homage to The Boys or just a copy-paste? Let me know down below.
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