Thursday, 30 September 2021

Outlaw: Relentless - A Marvel Heroines Novel by Tristan Palmgren - Book Review


'Super-powered mercenary Outlaw is always ready for a fight, but when her own mind is being stolen from her, she’ll have to find a new way to defeat the bad guys, in this fast-paced Marvel Heroines adventure.

'Inez Temple, aka Outlaw, is a key member of Domino’s mercenary team, the Posse, but when a job goes sideways Outlaw finds herself on the outside, and in an alarming state. A merc in her line of work needs to be sharp, but Inez’s mind is slipping away from her. Mutant-hating telepath Johnny Dee is robbing her of the only things she’s ever counted on: her wits and her courage, and worse – her very identity. Inez’s bloody revenge will take her on a chase through the Texas desert and a labyrinth of her own worst memories.'

After a brief appearance in Domino Strays: A Marvel Heroines Novel, also written by Tristan Palmgren, released last year, the super powered mercenary Outlaw is getting her first solo novel adventure. 

Set some time after the events of Palmgren's other book, we catch up with Outlaw and the other members of the Posse, Domino, Diamondback, White Fox, Atlas Bear, and Black Widow, as they've been hired by Tony Stark to help to capture a container ship transporting dangerous weapons for the criminal group A.I.M.. Despite things seeming to go well to begin with the mission goes a little off the rails when Outlaw loses control of the ship's bridge, resulting in fight that ends with the ship destroyed. Even though they managed to snag the tech and weapons Stark wanted the mission is deemed a failure, and Outlaw begins to question how she could have made a rookie mistake.

When Outlaw suddenly wakes up in the middle of the street late at night, with no memory of how and when she left her hotel room, she realises that she's been suffering through several moments of lost time, and that the constant tiredness this is bringing was what led to her mistake on the mission. With Domino's help she reaches out to the X-Men for help; who after several tests think that she might be developing a new mutation that will give her psychic abilities. After having a shield set up in her mind to help with the symptoms Outlaw decides to head back to her childhood home in Texas, as she feels like something is drawing her there.

However, when she arrives home she finds a group of armed men waiting for her; with her brother held prisoner. Now Outlaw will have to fight for her life against foes who will stop at nothing to get what they want; a fight that will push her to her limits.

Before reading this book my only experience with the character of Outlaw was in the other Marvel Heroines novel written by Palmgren, where she was a supporting character who wasn't in a large portion of the book. Despite this, I don't feel that I went into this book at a disadvantage, as you very quickly get a sense of who the character is in a broad way, and by the end you feel like you know them really well. Whilst this is an action story, one of survival and overcoming huge adversity and pain, it's much more an exploration of the character.

The Outlaw we meet at the start of the book is a woman who' very far from being her best. She's tired, run down, and ready to snap. We're quickly let in on the fact that this is due to several blackouts and moments of lost time that she's been experiencing, as well as feeling constantly tired and run down. As such, it's not until a good portion into the book that we even begin to get a sense of who she is. After visiting the New Charles Xavier's School for the Gifted Outlaw is given a break from the constant worry and the increasing pain and tiredness, and we begin to get to know her a bit better.

A big part of the journey we go on with her is as she returns to her childhood home, and we get her thoughts on her time growing up as a mutant in a remote, rural community, as well as several flashbacks to her time there. This shows us a lot about her, and how she's ended up as the strong, confident woman that she is; having to grow up watching the community around her turning their back on her family and treating her as less than human having hardened her to the cruelties of the world.

Sadly for Inez, she doesn't just get to return home, catch up with her brother, and figure out what's been drawing her back, as as soon as she's stepped out of her car she's being shot at. From here until the end of the book it's pretty much a brutal fight for survival as Outlaw has to face off against a gang of killers, as well as a spectre from her past, Johnny Dee.

Johnny Dee is a name that might be familiar with some readers who are more well read in terms of Marvel Comics, as he and Outlaw have crossed paths in the past. But don't worry if you've never even picked up a book before, as we're given a succinct catch-up on who Dee is, and what he's done to Inez. We learn that he's also a mutant, though one who hates and despises mutants. Using his unique ability to ingest a persons DNA, he's able to take control of people and force them to do what he wants. Realising that he's the reason that she's been losing time, and that the psychic shield in her mind is the only thing keeping him from taking her over again, leads Outlaw into a fight she has to win as quickly as she can; because as soon as that shield wears off, Dee has control of her.

This was actually one of the best things the book could have done. Even the best of the Marvel prose novels from Aconyte books can feel a bit odd to read at times. This is mainly due to the fact that in comics there is often very little room to spend time with characters outside of important moments or big events, but in the novels we're able to slow down a bit and get to know them. In the past this has sometimes resulted in what feels like lulls in the story, as I'm not used to a slower pace in this kind of genre. Outlaw: Relentless, in contrast, never has a moment like this. Because of the constant ticking clock of Dee being able to take her over again Inez isn't given a moment to rest, she never has the chance to regroup or wait for help. Instead she's forced to keep running from one fight to the next, desperately trying to beat the villain.

The action sequences that are spread across the book really help with this sense of constant battle too, and they're some of the more brutal fights in the Aconyte novel range. Whilst Outlaw has enhanced strength and could easily do the super hero thing of using her fists in a fight most of the combat in the book takes place with guns. Outlaw will often be running from over to cover, dodging bullets, whilst trying to take the enemy out. She gets hurt because of this, a lot. Inez goes through a lot of wear and tear over the course of the book, and it really does feel like she's being pushed to her limits. 

Outlaw: Relentless is a book that intrigued me from the beginning because I knew next to nothing about the character and was looking forward to finding out more. I didn't expect it to end up being an intense action story full of desperate fights, extreme survival, and a ton of character drama that would not only lead to me finishing the book in a single day, but also with Outlaw ending up on my list of favourite characters. This isn't the first time that Palmgren has impressed me with their writing, and they've made me fall in love with characters I knew little about in the past. This is quickly becoming a pattern of their work, so much so that I'm very excited to see what they do next.

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