Live! In the Link Age 03.25.15

PIXEmaline Laurel Pixley is the teenage daughter of the king of the fairies. But instead of hanging out with Tinker Bell, Thumbelina, or the Tooth Fairy, she wants to be a superhero (PIX: One Weirdest Weekend / By Gregg Schigiel / First Printing: February 2015 / ISBN: 9780990521808). Being a superhero, however, means that poor Emaline can’t spend her weekends sleeping late, binge-watching Mercury Beach, and hanging out with her pals Sherilee, Regina, and Shaggy. There are more important things to do. She’s got to squelch a fire-breathing dragon, battle a Magic 8-Ball-starfish-scorpion thingie, and rebuff the advances of a dreamy frog prince. Plus she needs to solve an unexpected rabbit problem. Artist Gregg Schigiel is a veteran cartoonist who’s published work at Marvel, DC, and Disney. And if you have kids, you’ve probably also noticed his name in a few issues of Spongebob Comics. It’s nice to see a pro like him tackle a kid-friendly superhero comic with a strong female protagonist. The words and pictures are sweet-tempered and will appeal to young readers who have yet to discover the super-serious punch-y action of DC comics. Most of all, we love how much heart young Emaline “Pix” Pixley has. “Yes, I have superpowers,” she says during an interview on TV, “So, like, why not use them to help people?” Right on. We’re already hoping for a Second Weirdest Weekend.

In The Prospects (by Daniel Halayko / First Printing: November 2014) a team of super-powered losers overcame their weaknesses and learned how to be heroes. Now in the sequel (The Prospects: Nothing Poorer Than Gods / First Printing: March 2015), a new team of trainees is introduced. Says the author: “In a world where heroes mask their intentions more than their faces and villains aren’t always bad guys, an honest but oblivious government agent, a former model who is above-average at everything, a failed actor with the ability to make light, a mutant as durable and almost as slow as a rock, and a somewhat-reformed villainess must find clues from the past to save the future.”

Back in 2010 we gave The Green Lama: Unbound a positive review. “The Green Lama comes from a totally different place than most superheroes,” we wrote. “He’s been MIA for too long, and it’s good to have him back.” Now author Adam Lance Garcia has returned to his original manuscript to produce a brand new edition. “The new edition is completely revised and expanded,” says Garcia. It also sports a new cover and a stamp of approval from the estate of original creator Kendell Foster Crossen. In conclusion says Garcia, “If you’re a fan of Indiana Jones-style adventure, of superheroes, of horror, or simply a fun read, this book has it all.”

“It’s an exciting time to be writing in the superhero genre,” says author Samantha Bryant in a recent post. “In Going Through the Change and the rest of my Menopausal Superhero series, I’m writing about women with careers, families, and partners. I wanted heroes that I could connect with; and the older I get, the harder it is to connect with angst-y underdressed teenagers. My characters are adults, with adult problems and situations in their lives. Of course, they can also throw fire or pianos, transform and fly. That’s the fun part.”

Jerusalem, Alan Moore’s second prose novel, is tentatively scheduled for publication in the U.S. sometime in the fall of 2016, according to a recent article in The New York Times. Taking place in Northampton, England (Moore’s hometown), Jerusalem combines historical fiction, fantasy, and the time-space continuum. By all accounts, the author has been working on this book for over a decade. It is expected to be between 600,000 and one million words in length. FYI: we won’t be reading it.

Gifted is the first book in Mylan Allen’s Guardians Saga (First Printing: September 2014 / ISBN: 9781500632113). The series is about a group of teenagers who decide to become superheroes. Arion is the son of two of the greatest superheroes on the planet, Lucian is a kid who’s absorbed the powers of ancient gods, and Jasmine is a girl with magical powers and an attitude problem. Together they are the Guardians. Says the author, “Watch them get bombarded by supervillains, gods, and sometimes each other, in an unforgettable, fun superheroic adventure!” Expect to see eight more volumes in Allen’s ongoing saga. The next one (Uncharted) will be released sometime in 2016.

Interviews: Lexie Dunne, author of Superheroes Anonymous. S.G. Browne, author of Less Than Hero.

Reviews: The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar (here). The Never Hero by T. Ellery Hodges (here). Tigerman by Nick Harkaway (here). Searching for Super by Marion Jensen (here). Powerless by Tera Lynn Childs and Tracy Deebs (here). Superheroes Anonymous by Lexie Dunne (here). Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson (here), and a full recap of Sanderson’s Reckoner series (here).

For your reading pleasure: Day of the Destroyers edited by Gary Phillips. G.I. Joe Adventure Team: Mystery of the Sunken Tomb by Jim Beard. H.E.R.O. – Lashback by Kevin Rau. Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 2: War and Peace by Charles Soule and Tony S. Daniel. SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki. “Emma Shepard, Space Sentinel!” by Paul Leone. “Lady Texas: Rowdy Rustler” by Don Ship. Jews Versus Zombies edited by Lavie Tidhar and Rebecca Levene. Airboy #1 by James Robinson and Greg Hinkle (available 06.03.15). Wild Cards V: Down and Dirty edited by George R.R. Martin (available 10.27.15).

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Fringe Noir

FringeSinsSins of the Father, the third Fringe novel from Christa Faust, is somewhat similar to her Hard Case Crime hardboiled adventures. It features a con man, a high-stakes sting, and lots of gunplay. Let’s call it Fringe noir: things start badly and quickly get worse.

The year is 2008 and Peter Bishop (our anti-hero) is in Bangkok to squeeze some money from a group of trigger-happy Koreans and Chechens. Bishop wasn’t particularly a brave guy. But he needed a quick influx of cash to settle a lingering debt. Being reckless was part of the game plan.

Scams like this weren’t new for a grifter like Bishop. He’d been on the road constantly since he was a teenager – picking up odd jobs, engineering a variety of shady rackets, and then moving on. Over the years he had become a master manipulator. “That was his secret power,” writes the author. “The ability to think on his feet, and talk his way in and out of any situation.” In addition, Bishop was unburdened by quaint, old-fashioned concepts of morality. He just made sure his sliding moral scale always tipped in his favor.

But this sticky Korean/Chechen deal wasn’t going very smoothly. Bishop found himself in the middle of a complicated caper that would ultimately lead back to his father, Dr. Walter Bishop, his father’s best friend, William Bell (R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy), and a secret war between parallel universes. Interestingly, the novel ends in an Iraqi hotel lobby. If you’re a long-time Fringe fan, you’ll remember this location as the place Bishop bumps into Olivia Dunham during the first episode of the TV series.

With this book, Faust has now written three prequels to the Fringe macrocosm (the other two books include The Zodiac Paradox and The Burning Man). Despite some road bumps along the way, we’ve enjoyed revisiting the series in prose format. If additional tie-in novels are in the pipeline, however, we’re hoping to see more characters involved, most notably lab assistant Astrid Farnsworth, FBI agent Phillip Broyles, meddling futurian September, and Olivia Dunham’s alt-universe proxy.

While on TV, Fringe created a complex and rich mythology. Of the three main characters, Peter Bishop probably got the least amount of screen time. And yet the entire show exists due to him. Walter Bishop was the brains, the heart, and the soul of Fringe. Olivia Dunham was the show’s conscience. But Peter was the catalyst, and, ultimately, the glue that kept Fringe Division humming. Hopefully this isn’t the last Fringe novel we’ll read.

[Fringe: Sins of the Father / By Christa Faust / First Printing: August 2014 / ISBN: 9781781163139]

Posted in Movies/TV, Published in 2014 | Tagged , ,

Marvel’s Agents of Z.O.D.I.A.C.

ZodiacConvergenceThe Zodiac Legacy: Convergence is a pretty straightforward origin story. It’s about a small group of youngsters who acquire ancient Chinese super powers via an astrological convergence. Each of the kids gets preternatural abilities appropriate to their birth date: Tiger, Ram, Rooster, Pig, and Rabbit.

What’s not straightforward, however, is the name they chose to call themselves. The kids spend the entire novel trying to think of a jazzy team acronym. Like, for instance, A.I.R.L.O.C.K.S. (Astrological Investigation Remote Locator Operative Central Knowledge Systems) or Z.A.P.P.E.R.S. (Zodiac Action Preparation & Protection Emergency Response Squad). At some point G.A.P.P.Z. (General Action Peril Posse Zodiac) is rejected because “it sounds like an FX for flatulence.”

These days it’s hard to think of an acronymic name that’s clever and unique. After all, WildC.A.T.S., T.H.U.N.D.E.R., S.H.I.E.L.D., and N.W.A. have already been taken. Eventually the kids run out of options and briefly (but not seriously) consider calling themselves the Private International Zodiac Zero Assembly (P.I.Z.Z.A.).

Beyond the ongoing branding dilemma, the Z-kids (led by Steven Lee, the Tiger) are busy defending themselves from a scary guy named Maxwell. Like all good villains, Maxwell (no last name needed, apparently) thinks he’s a good guy. But in reality, he’s a vicious war contractor, and a villain-for-hire with no principles. ”He has all the advantages, all the toys, and all the money.” If he captures the power of all 12 zodiac signs he’ll be unstoppable.

There’s no question that Maxwell is a major nutcase. “I am the whirlpool,” he says while in a supervillain trance. “I am fire and I am chaos. I forge the future. I accept the burden and loneliness of power.” He has a dash of Dragon juice within him and that makes him a formidable foe.

Despite being the most powerful of all zodiac creatures, the Dragon is confounded by the wily nature of its young adversaries. Working as a team, the Agents of Z.O.D.I.A.C. find a way to clobber Maxwell and his Vanguard paramilitary troops. It’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with a Stan Lee twist. Added bonus: the novel also features 71 pages of illustrations by Andie Tong.

“You think you’ve won,” says Maxwell to his vanquishers “But you’ll eventually destroy yourselves. And then you’ll destroy the world.” Get ready for more zodiac vs. zodiac action in the upcoming sequel. World War Z has just begun.

[The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence / By Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong / First Printing: January 2015 / ISBN: 9781423180852]

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Candy Corps

FirefightIt’s been 13 years since Calamity begat a new breed of supervillains. These Epics (with comic book-inspired names like Steelheart, Mitosis, and Obliteration) were cruel and immune to comeuppance. They were like lions among gazelles.

But their reign of terror had recently been challenged by a small group of rebels called the Reckoners. When these insurgents killed Steelheart, the ruthless leader of Newcago (see our review of the series’ first book here), they made a bold statement. “The day of Epic tyrants is over,” said Jonathan Phaedrus at the time. “No Epic, no matter how powerful, is safe from us.” The Reckoners had declared all-out war on Calamity’s progeny. There was no turning back.

Looking for their next big kill, a trio of Reckoners travel to Babylon Restored (aka Manhattan). The city, now mostly submerged under water, was ruled by a crafty hydromancer named Regalia. Like Kamandi, the last boy on Earth, Phaedrus and his gang paddle into Regalia’s watery domain not sure of what fate had in store for them.

In tow with Phaedrus was David Charleston, the 19-year-old kid who took down Steelheart. In less than a year with the Reckoners, Charleston had killed almost a dozen Epics. Now known as Steelslayer, Charleston was a Reckoner rock star. Like it or not, he had become a champion and a hero for millions of people.

Once in Babylon Restored, however, Charleston turns his back on his pals in support of a cute Epic named Megan. The two had a flirty romance back in Newcago. And now hormonal sparks are causing drama again. No surprise: the power of love is everlastingly epic.

Author Sanderson is writing this series in a brisk, propulsive manner. Much like Dan Brown, James Patterson, and Naoki Urasawa, he knows how to keep a reader’s attention. Short chapters, endless cliffhangers, chipper dialogue, and a penchant for plot twists make Firefight fly by like a speeding bullet.

More than anything else, however, Sanderson keeps things light. It’s true that Epics are a vile and self-absorbed bunch (they have a tendency to quote doomsday Biblical scripture when obliterating entire cities). But Sanderson takes the time to temper moments of intense drama with spikes of quirky levity.

And, as it turns out, David Charleston is a pretty good conveyance for the author’s wacky humor. He may be an OMAC-like killing machine, but Charleston can’t escape his own goofball nature. “I felt like a cupcake on a steak platter,” he says at one point. And later, when trying to articulate his newfound ambivalence toward Epics (especially pretty ones like Megan), he tells a colleague: “I’m like a donut, and somebody has sucked all the jelly out of me.” Charleston’s (and Sanderson’s) penchant for confectionary similes make Firefight a treat for anyone with a superhero sweet tooth.

[Firefight / By Brandon Sanderson / First Printing: January 2015 / ISBN: 9780385743587]

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The New Indestructibles

BreakoutIn the first Indestructibles novel readers were introduced to a team of young eclectic heroes — Solar, Straylight, Entropy Emily, Fury, and Dancer. Along with their mentor Doctor Silence, they were the new kids on the superhero block.

Now, in the follow-up novel, author Matthew Phillion has shaken things up a little bit. Most of the original charter members have been relegated to the sidelines and replaced by Alley Hawk, Coldwall, Bedlam, and Valkyrie. Forget the old Indestructibles. A new team of inextinguishable superheroes has assembled.

But that’s okay with us. After all, it’s been one year since the first book ended. Time inevitably marches forward. Doc Silence is lost in a Sandman-like alternative universe called the Dreamless Lands. Titus Talbot (the angst-y teen wolf) is on a personal quest to uncover his family history. And Solar, Straylight, and Entropy Emily are cooling their jets in a high-security prison made just for superhumans. The Indestructibles are still indestructible, but like everybody else they need a little help from their friends.

In Breakout, the team faces two seemingly unrelated crises. The first one involves a teenager who is maliciously spreading a lung infection that is more virulent than the bubonic plague. The second crisis comes from Agent Prevention and her Department of What minions.

Ms. Prevention’s mission is to clamp down on our young heroes. “We can’t have a bunch of hyper teenagers running around without some sort of checks and balances,” she says. “My job is to prevent problems and losses, to lock things down, to keep variables to a minimum, to stop things from getting disorganized — to prevent chaos.” She sees the Indestructibles as a bunch of yappy puppies that need to be housebroken.

As the novel tumbles toward its conclusion, the teenage plague bomb, the persnickety government agent, and the “new” Indestructibles find themselves inextricably entwined in events that reach beyond their control. But that’s the way it goes. The world we live in is indifferent to mortal concerns. All you can do is keep your chin up, says Alley Hawk. “Even if everything I do turns to dust,” he says, “I make this horrible place better for a little bit. It’s all that I’m capable of.”

Like the first novel, Breakout is smart and funny and delivers a satisfying emotional moment at the end. It is also packed with all sorts of surprising pop culture cookies. For example, we don’t know how old the author is (probably somewhere close to 100), but his musical taste seems to range from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley to Bobby Fuller and to Robert Smith. And yet, despite being a centenarian, he’s still able to breathe life into a gaggle of sassy teens. That’s impressive for an old geezer.

We also have a feeling that Phillion is a big movie buff. One of our favorite scenes in the novel is the showdown between Alley Hawk and the Vermin King. It reminded us of the fight between Mr. Fox and his cider-drinking rat nemesis down in Mr. Bean’s cellar. In each case, the fantastic Mr. Fox and the fantastic Indestructibles are doing the exact same thing. They’re trying to kill a couple of rats and make the world a better place to live.

[The Indestructibles: Breakout / By Matthew Phillion / First Printing: October 2014 / ISBN: 9780991427550]

Posted in Published in 2014 | Tagged , ,

Live! In the Link Age: Short Reviews of 2014 (Revisited)

9SuperGirlsThe 9 Super Girls (by Tigerlily Emi Kawasaki / First Printing: December 2013) is a self-published, one-of-a-kind portfolio of drawings featuring super-powered girls who punch, fly, swim, make music, wield swords, and control the weather. There’s even one character whose powers come directly from the spirit of Christmas. Without a doubt, our favorite is Punch Girl—she’s the toughest of the bunch. But we also have a fondness for Cat Girl (the most iconic) and Ghost Girl (the friendliest ghost since Casper). We can’t wait for the sequel. Coming soon, hopefully. [Review first published 02.24.14.]

BloodRust“Blood & Rust” (By Casey Glanders / First Printing: January 2014) is a short story prequel to the author’s first Gailsone novel, Big in Japan. In this adventure, young Allison is only 16 years old and still on the payroll at Purge, an organization that profits from villainy and tumult. She’s deployed to Indiana (!) to negotiate a business relationship with an upstart gang leader who’s building a drug and weapons cartel. Naturally, there’s lots of gunplay and wiseassery involved. In the end, Allison survives her mission (with the help of her benefactor, Alice “Dyspell” Gailsone). And she even finds time for a little romance too. We admit it’s nice to see Allison in action as a supervillain. But, really, not much has changed in her basic nature over the years. Even though she now hangs out with superheroes, she still comes on like a wrecking ball. [Review first published 03.22.14.]

PrimevalAnointed with preternatural powers by a council of Pakistani spirits, Ahad Bhai is slowly learning more about his newfound responsibilities as Sergeant Pakistan (“Primeval” / By Syed Hamdani / First Printing: April 2014). First on his to-do list is to squash a reprobate named Ba’al Hadad who recently escaped from an antimatter prison in Antarctica. Young Bhai still has a lot to learn about being a superhero, but he needs to get to the South Pole right away before things get messy. Call this one Sergeant Pakistan: The Winter Soldier. [Review first published 04.19.14.]

OperaMost people go to the opera for a night of music and spectacle. Dinner afterward might be nice too. But Alice Gailsone has other plans (“A Night at the Opera” / By Casey Glanders / First Printing: January 2014). She’s not interested in La Cenerentola or anything else by Gioachino Rossini. She’s come to the Sydney Opera House with hopes of bagging a foppish billionaire and squeezing a little bit of ransom money out of him. It was, she figured, an easy way to boost her employer’s bank account. Unfortunately, the night doesn’t end the way she thought it would. Secret identities, secret agendas, covert operations, drunken shenanigans, and a scary techno-shifting monster conspire against her. One good thing happens, however. Gailsone is left with a one-of-a-kind memento from her night in Australia—a selfie of her hostage with his face buried deep in her cleavage. Good times! [Review first published 04.19.14.]

Lightweight1When author Nicholas Ahlhelm announced (via Kickstarter) his intention to tackle a monthly publishing schedule for his latest project, we applauded him before a single word was written. Comic books have conquered episodic storytelling and it’s time superhero prose fiction did the same. “Dreams” (First Printing: December 2013) is the first chapter of Ahlhelm’s ongoing Lightweight serial and it introduces readers to a high school senior named Kevin Mathis with burgeoning telekinetic powers. In concert with his best friend Andy Case, and his wannabe girlfriend Millicent Bryant, Kevin butts heads with a school bully and a giant killer robot. “This is the end. My life just changed forever,” says Kevin after embracing his metahuman legacy. What he actually means, however, is that this is just the beginning. [Review first published 04.19.14.]

DateNightYears before she became a superhero sidekick, Allison Gailsone was a high-ranking officer and ruthless assassin in a premier global terrorist organization called Purge. By the time she was 16 years old she had killed more than 30 people. But even teenage killing machines need a little RnR. The latest Gailsone adventure (“Date Night” / By Casey Glanders / First Printing: February 2014) finds young Allison prepping for a romantic evening with her “boyfriend” Douglas. Because this is the pair’s first official date, Allison is a little nervous about her upcoming tryst and seeks advice from her aunt Alice: “Tonight, you’re a normal civilian,” says her guardian and mentor. “No projectile weapons or always-sharp knives. No explosives, no pellets, no nothing. Just go and have fun like a normal, non-psychotic teenager.” Think of it as a mission, the older Gailsone adds, “a sexy mission.” As expected, the date explodes in a burst of random violence. Which, as it turns out, is appropriate foreplay for a couple of young terrorists in love. [Review first published 05.17.14.]

CatgirlThere’s no question that “Catgirl: Heat of the Night” (By J.K. Waylon / First Printing: April 2013) is aimed directly at Catwoman fetishists and superhero horn dogs. That’s no surprise—people get turned on by all sorts of things, after all. But what surprises us is how well superhero tropes mesh with erotic fiction. It’s like William Moulton Marston and Fredric Wertham were right all along. There’s something tantalizingly illicit about superheroes, sidekicks, secret identities, and catsuits (especially catsuits). Yes, superheroes are for kids. But they’re also for adults who understand metaphor and subtext. In this case, former Olympic gymnast, Morgan Miles (aka Catgirl) is learning how to be a superhero from her mentor, Midnight Avenger. But like all sidekicks, she yearns to patrol the city by herself. Problems arise one night when she stumbles upon a burglary with no backup. Morgan’s strong like an Amazon princess, but the criminals soon have her subdued and begging for sexual release. That’s the way things go in Synne City. Give ‘em an inch and “they’ll bang your butt all night long.” [Review first published 05.17.14.]

BlackbirdUp until this point, Alice Gailsone and her adoptive niece Allison have been the main focus of author Casey Glanders’ lively superhero serial. The Gailsones are former high-level terrorists who are struggling to reinvent themselves as clean living superheroes. There are a handful of other interesting characters in the cast, however. One such character is Victoria Green, aka Blackbird. She is the super efficient law enforcement operative who’s been butting heads with the Gailsone pair from the very beginning. “Blackbird’s Song” (First Printing: April 2014) lets readers see how Green overcame adversity at an early age to become a special agent for the FBI and eventually rise to superhero status in the Collective Good. Like the song says, all her life she was only waiting for her moment to arise. [Review first published 06.14.14.]

fire_rama1Alice Gailsone finds herself in a sticky situation in her latest Purge mission (“The Impossible Door” / By Casey Glanders / First Printing: April 2014). Her employer wants access to a magical gateway linking multiple realties. This “door” is the Holy Grail of magic—more powerful than the Staff of Black, and more incredible than the Eyes of Perseus. Unfortunately, Gailsone also takes orders from a spiritual magistrate who has other plans for this mythical passageway. Enlisting the help of a famous superhero named Miss Major, Gailsone is able to complete her assignment and satisfy both constituencies. For her troubles she gets a dollop of soft-serve ice cream and a bottle of orange soda (and a pay raise). Plus: she makes an unexpected friend. As it turns out, nothing is impossible. [Review first published 06.14.14.]

ConundrumA monster made of sentient garbage is destroying Lower Manhattan. In Cairo, the Sphinx is rampaging across the landscape. In Arizona, an army of Apache ghost warriors has descended upon Sedona. Someone in Mexico is trying to raise Quetzalcoatl by sacrificing virginal eco-tourists. And a lava-demon is terrorizing the island of Maui. All this carnage is the result of a supernut who calls himself the Prehistorian (“The Eternity Conundrum” / By Stephen T. Brophy / First Printing: July 2014). He’s bringing back all the ancient immortal gods from beyond time to rewrite reality. Henchman Duke LaRue (aka HandCannon, last seen in the author’s debut novel, The Villain’s Sidekick) has signed on to help the Prehistorian achieve his nihilistic wish, but he doesn’t seem to be concerned that the world may be on the verge of collapsing. As he says, “As long as the money spends and civilization ends, count me in.” LaRue changes his tune, however, when he gets an unexpected phone call from his wife. Suddenly he has a reason to change sides and team up with the good guys. But don’t let it get around. Saving the world could totally ruin his reputation. [Review first published 09.08.14.]

GhostRiderGN01We’ve been reading (and enjoying) the “All New” adventures of Ghost Rider (Engines of Vengeance / First Printing: October 2014 / ISBN: 9780785154556). Author Felipe Smith is a unique talent who might be the most interesting creator currently working in mainstream comics. As an auteur he emerged from the dreadful OEL (Original English Language) manga movement. But he quickly redeemed himself when he moved to Tokyo to work for Kodansha as an honest-to-goodness mangaka. Unlike David Mazzucchelli, Paul Pope, and Takeshi Miyazawa (three artists we like very much as well), Smith was actually published during his time in Japan. Gold star emoji for him.

Smith is an incredible artist so it’s slightly disappointing that he’s “only” writing the new Ghost Rider comic book. But we have a feeling he’s providing detailed page layouts and thumbnails because artist Tradd Moore is doing a pretty good Felipe Smith imitation. The end result is totally weird in a good way. Smith’s comics always feature a jumble of influences and they inevitably spring fully formed from his hyperactive id. Ghost Rider, we’re happy to see, contains a small spark of his eccentric genius. For a better idea of Smith’s full talent, however, we recommend his manga series, Peepo Choo. It’s already been translated and released in the U.S., so it’s easy to track down. [Review first published 10.04.14.]

URWe first discovered artist Eric Haven back in the early ’90s. His three-issue series Angryman was an amazing absurdist scramble of Jack Kirby and Werner Herzog (if you can imagine such a thing). Since that time we’ve kept a casual eye on Haven’s erratic output. UR, his latest book (First Printing: October 2014 / ISBN: 9781935233305), is a compilation of previously published work including his “Race Murdock” strips from The Believer. It’s nice to see Haven is still channeling Kirby (along with Steve Ditko, Charles Burns, Chester Brown, and Chris Ware). And it’s also nice to see that he hasn’t lost his zing after all these years. In one strip, Race Murdock replaces his head with a “shiny new robot head.” Now infinitely smarter, he makes his fortune in the stock market, drives fast cars, and enjoys the company of beautiful women. “Race Murdock,” says Haven, “had finally found happiness.” Too bad penis cancer would get him in the end… [Review first published 11.01.14.]

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Superhero Novels: The Best of 2014 and a Peek at 2015

REEDSUEKISS GOOD2014 was definitely the year of the tiger as far as we’re concerned. Nick Harkaway’s latest novel featured a substantial superhero storyline and we are happy to embrace it as our favorite novel of the year. But really, when we think about it, all the novels on our yearend best-of list are roarsome. There’s nothing “inferior” about these five books (sorry about the silly pun). Here in recap are the best superhero novels of 2014.

1) Tigerman by Nick Harkaway. Could Harkaway’s novel be the future of superhero fiction? We hope so. It’s the story of a lonely man living at the end of the world who transforms himself into a crimefighting vigilante. He is Tigerman. Hear him roar!

2) Minion by John David Anderson. It doesn’t matter if you’re a superhero sidekick or a supervillain minion. Growing up is hard. And making the right decisions along the way is even harder. Anderson’s got an easy-going (and slightly poetic) flair for telling these sorts of stories. An excellent follow-up to last year’s Sidekicked.

3) The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew. The creators have taken a long-forgotten Golden Age superhero and given him a backstory that touches upon the immigrant experience, still-relevant Chinese cultural stereotypes, and the struggles of assimilation. Long live the Green Turtle!

4) The Indestructibles by Matthew Phillion. When assembling a superhero team it’s best to appoint a sorcerer supreme to lead them into battle. It worked for the Defenders back in 1971. And it worked for the Indestructibles in 2014. Highly recommended by the hoary hosts of Hoggoth.

5) Dreams of the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn. Keeping secrets is an important part of the superhero lifestyle. But therapists and life coaches agree: Lying to your friends and sneaking around in spandex is a lousy way to live life as a mature human being. It is, however, splendid grist for a novel.

The start of a new year always brings the promise of more exciting superhero fiction to come. Now that we’ve bottled 2014, let’s look forward to 2015 (colloquially known as the Age of Ultron). Here’s a highly selective list of books we’ll be reading in the next 12 months.

Ant-Man: Natural Enemy by Jason Starr. Arrow: Vengeance by Oscar Balderrama and Lauren Certo. Avengers: Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Dan Abnett. Battlestorm by Susan Krinard. Citizen Skin by Stephen T. Brophy. Day of the Destroyers edited by Gary Phillips. Deadpool: Paws by Stefan Petrucha. Deceptive by Emily Lloyd-Jones. The Dragons of Heaven by Alyc Helms. Ex-Isle by Peter Clines. Firefight by Brandon Sanderson. Gailsone: Head of the Dragon by Casey Glanders. The Green Lama: Crimson Circle by Adam Lance Garcia. The Halo Effect by Ben Langdon. H.I.V.E.: Deadlock by Mark Walden. The Incredible Space Raiders from Space! by Wesley King. Less than Hero by S.G. Browne. Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond. School for Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough. Secret Wars by Alex Irvine. Wild Cards IV: Aces Abroad by George R.R. Martin and crew. The Worst Thing About Saving the World by Christopher Healy. The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore.

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