Live! In the Link Age 01.16.15

OldGhostsThe last time we saw Alice Gailsone she was lying in a hospital bed recuperating from injuries sustained from an atomic bomb (The Red Rook). In her first post-nuclear adventure (“Old Ghosts” / By Casey Glanders / First Printing: August 2014), Gailsone finds herself in a sentimental mood. But (no surprise!) her sentimental journey to Houston leads directly to an ambush by a gang of murderous mercenaries led by Benny Callahan. Big Ben was a crime boss who’s been chewing up the scenery for a long time (he helped Hernán Cortés colonize/destroy the Aztec Empire back in the 16th century). Now he and his pals are snooping around an abandoned Purge facility looking for trouble. All Alice wants to do is retrieve a cherished memento and get the hell out of Texas as fast as possible. She’s not going to let an immortal, a vampire, a magician, or any old ghosts get in her way.

“Superhero literary fiction is thriving,” says KirkusReviews.com, and who are we to argue? “Although they lack the visual storytelling medium shared by comics, films and television, novels can and do provide stories that are often more detailed and deeper in meaning. There’s more room for these stories to flex their literary muscles.”

We’ve read hundreds of stories about kids getting superpowers when they reach puberty. It totally makes sense that authors would use adolescence as a catalyst for transformation. But puberty isn’t the only time your body changes. Women go through another physical change later in life. Isn’t it time someone wrote a menopausal superhero story? The answer, of course, is yes. “Hot Flash Woman” by Adrianne Ambrose (First Printing: December 2014) is the story of a woman who is unknowingly starting fires. It turns out that her superpowers are linked directly to the hot flashes she’s experiencing during menopause. Later this year, Curiosity Quills Press will be releasing a novel by Samantha Bryant called Going Through the Change. Says the author: “Going through ‘the change’ isn’t easy on any woman. Mood swings, hot flashes, hormonal imbalances, and itchy skin are par for the course. But for Helen, Jessica, Patricia, and Linda, menopause brings changes none of them could ever have anticipated – super-heroic changes.”

Look for Superhero Monster Hunter: The Good Fight (from Emby Press) sometime before the end of spring. Glancing at the table of contents (here), we don’t spot many familiar names. We are, however, heartened to see a short story by Frank Byrns on the list. Hopefully “Slouching Towards Ragnarok” won’t be the only new superhero fiction we’ll see from Byrns this year.

Author Lincoln Michael recently posted a short story from his upcoming book, Doom Mood. To stoke your curiosity, here’s the first paragraph of “The Supervillain Stalled in His Lair”: “There is nothing that occupies the supervillain’s mind more, nothing that is a more constant source of obsession and angst, than his secret lair. Even the superhero, his great nemesis, manifests as an afterthought compared to his lair.”

If you’re like us, you probably created hundreds of superheroes while doodling in the margins of your high school textbooks. In fact, that’s probably where the Savage Dragon made his debut — in Erik Larsen’s chewed-up algebra book. For more details about superheroes and superhero fiction, check out author Katty Bee’s helpful video: “How to Create a Superhero.”

Publishers Weekly has anointed The Strange Birth, Short Life, and Sudden Death of Justice Girl by Julian David Stone as one of the best indie books of 2014. Here’s a snippet of the review: “The author draws upon his career in entertainment to drive this lurid depiction of mass media’s power in shaping our fantasies, values, ideals, and fears. This fast-paced and emotionally vibrant satire is a treat for television buffs, and general readers alike.”

Someone should start a blog that catalogs superhero lyrics in popular music. Maybe call it SuperheroLyrics.com or something like that (the URL is available btw). Whether it’s a song by Anthrax, Pop Will Eat Itself or MF Doom, it doesn’t matter to us — we’re always interested in how superhero culture is absorbed into other media. Recently we’ve had an old Genesis song called “The Carpet Crawlers” rattling around in our head. It’s a great tune made even better by these lyrics: “Mild-mannered Supermen are held in Kryptonite. And the wise and foolish virgins giggle with their bodies glowing bright.”

Two things of (possible) interest: 1) Super-Hot Female Member of Real-Life Superhero Group Captures Japanese Hearts, and 2) Wil Wheaton is Here to Help You Meet Your Perfect Sidekick!

Interviews: Brandon Sanderson, author of Firefight (here). Lynne M. Thomas, author of Chicks Dig Comics: A Celebration of Comic Books by the Women Who Love Them (here).

Reviews: The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore (here). The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore (here and here). Crimson Son by Russ Linton (here). Steelheart (here and here). and Firefight (here, here and here) by Brandon Sanderson. Vicious by V.E. Schwab (here). The She-Hulk Diaries by Marta Acosta (here). Tigerman by Nick Harkaway (here).

For your reading pleasure: “Flesh and Blood” by Michael Carroll. “Gifted: An Indestructibles Christmas Story” by Matthew Phillion (short review: pretty good). The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong. The Greater Good by Henry Brown. Hero Status by Kristen Brand. Memoirs of a Crimefighter by Seth Andrew Jacob. Hungry Gods by J.D. Brink. Marcellus: The Mantle by Alex James. Metahumans vs Robots edited by J.L. MacDonald. H.E.R.O. – Cyberhunt by Kevin Rau. The Last Superhero by Astrid Artistikem Cruz. The Unrevealed by Jason Porter Collinsworth and Lara Marie Collinsworth. A Very Merry Superhero Wedding by Kitty Bucholtz. The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs (available 05.12.15). Deadpool: Paws by Stefan Petrucha (available 08.05.15).

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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]

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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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The Invincible Mega Girl

SFPIn 1991, the earth witnessed an unprecedented meteorological event. For five and a half weeks, over 90 percent of the planet’s surface suffered mass flooding, soil erosion, and large-scale climate and terrain changes. Years later, it was discovered that this cosmic event created the first generation of “biodynamic” individuals. In other words: Superheroes.

Of all these superheroes, Alison Green was the most powerful. Taking the name Mega Girl (“It was literally the first name I thought of,” she says), Alison was invincible and stronger than any human alive. As a teenager, she became famous for her dedication to crimefighting. A wrecking ball (her weapon of choice) became her iconic calling card.

But being a superhero isn’t as self-fulfilling as you might think. “I love fighting,” she confesses at one point. “I love the blood. I love the heat. I love breaking shit. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been good at. And the fact that it never makes anything better just fucking kills me.”

Because of this ongoing angst, Alison quits her superhero gig and tries to reinvent herself as a normal college freshman. This is where Strong Female Protagonist (Book One) starts.

It’s hard to turn your back on superhero infamy, however. Even though she hung up her cape and domino mask when she was 19, everyone still knows Alison’s “secret” identity. This can be messy, particularly when scary supervillains hunt her down for a little payback. Plus: her old pals, the Guardians (a young Teen Titans-like aggregate), are constantly asking for backup.

Despite the simple declarative book title, Strong Female Protagonist contains plenty of complexity and nuance. There’s nothing “simple” about Alison’s mega existential crisis. She enjoys crushing rocks with her bare hands. But later she wonders, “Am I still me?” For answers, she is encouraged to read All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. (We’re not joking.)

The book stumbles occasionally when the characters (especially Alison) start monologuing. But overall, the creators have produced a reflective comic narrative that offers a new (and welcome) perspective on the superhero genre.

Since this is a comic book, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the contributions of Molly Ostertag. Her artwork is deceptively simply but her skills are sturdy enough to provide the emotional weight of Alison and her biodynamic buddies (especially Feral, whose situation is heartbreakingly tragic). Can you imagine if Jim Lee drew this graphic novel? Naw-yeah, it would be a mess. The ongoing Mega Girl story definitely puts Ostertag squarely in genre-busting territory.

Ostertag is also good at producing a string of memorable images throughout the book. Early on, for example, her full-page illustration of Alison leaping across a crowded New York Intersection is terrific. And later, Mega Girl is shown stuffing (and firing!) a gun into her mouth. It’s a highly disturbing drawing and reminds us of an old Black Flag album cover. Raymond Pettibon’s got nothing on Mighty Molly Ostertag.

[Strong Female Protagonist: Book One / By Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag / First Printing: November 2014 / ISBN: 9780692246184]

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Sodality of Malefactors

AntagonistsSuperhero teams come together in a handful of ways. For example, the collective members might be the same age (Tiny Titans) or they might be related to each other (Hawk & Dove). They might even share a similar life experience (Inhumans). Or, in the case of the Justice League of America, they could simply be thrown together haphazardly.

Most teams, however, unite because of a common goal. The Howling Commandos were drafted to fight the Axis Alliance during WWII. And 20 years later, the Avengers assembled for the first time to defeat a pest named Loki.

And that’s how the Astounding Antagonists were formed. Like the Sinister Six, the Frightful Four, and the Legion of Super-Villains, they joined forces for one simple reason: to smash superheroes.

“Our enemies call themselves the American Division,” says Coltan, the newest member of the Antagonists. “They’re misguided. They use their power to maintain the status quo. They ignore problems that they don’t feel like addressing.”

Coltan is right. The superheroes in Rafael Chandler’s super novel are all self-centered blowhards who have been tainted by years of privilege and celebrity (a few of these alpha turds arrogantly call themselves the Black Belt Billionaires when they’re out clubbing). They manipulate world events to suit their own agenda and they’re always looking for ways to bolster their private bank accounts. It’s the supervillain’s job to stir things up.

“The world’s a complicated place,” says Baelphegor, the strongest and scariest of the funky bunch, “and it’s not like you have a chance in Hell of solving any real problems. No one does. So you pick some people to screw with — people you hold responsible for contributing to the misery.”

Not unsurprisingly, the superheroes are actually trying to do something sneaky. And their nefarious plan gives the Protagonists a whiff of righteous vigor. It all culminates in a brutal street brawl with lots of accusations, recriminations, and payback. It’s like a giant crossover event scribbled on a napkin by James Robinson and Marv Wolfman.

The protagonists are ultimately smashed (mission accomplished!). But even in the glow of victory, the Antagonists continue to live as outlaws in their own moral gray zone. But that’s okay, says Dr. Agon, the leader of the pack: “It wasn’t the having, it was the taking, like stealing moments of joy when life wasn’t looking: the glitter of a diamond plucked from a rich girl’s finger, the sweetness of someone else’s cake, the sunshine of a world stolen from heroes.”

[The Astounding Antagonists / By Rafael Chandler / First Printing: October 2014 / ISBN: 9781502894540]

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Gakuen Alice

RedRookRed Rook is only the second full-length novel in the Gailsone series. But author Casey Glanders has already done a great job of building an expansive universe surrounding his lead character, Alice “Dyspell” Gailsone.

For 10 years Gailsone was a criminal mastermind and the most dangerous woman in the world. During her time with the Purge (a global organization of super efficient terrorists) she was known as the woman of a thousand woes, the Mistress of Dark Magic, and the Queen of Pain. But recently she switched teams and signed the “Open Hand Act,” a law that granted amnesty to any supervillain who agreed to renounce their ways and reintegrate into society. For more details, check out the first book, Big in Japan.

Now working for the Collective Good (a S.H.I.E.L.D.-like superhero organization) Dyspell is experiencing a bumpy learning curve. She’s discovered that you can’t simply renounce villainy one day and embrace heroism the next. Things don’t work that way. Just ask Emma Frost or Natasha Romanova or any of the former members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Being a reformed supervillain ain’t easy.

Because of her sudden change of allegiance, Gailsone’s life has become super complicated. Not only does she have unfinished Purge business to take care of, but she also has to play nice with a bunch of grumpy superheroes. There’s good news, however. In this latest adventure, she saves the world from economic collapse and absorbs a radiation blast from a nuclear bomb. That should earn some brownie points with her new colleagues.

Not only does Red Rook expand upon the author’s superhero universe, but it also fills the universe with a riot of great female characters. There’s Alice Gailsone, of course. But she’s not the only Gailsone in this series. There’s Allison, Holly, and her mother, Dorothy too. They’re all pips.

Beyond the Gailsone clan, the cast also includes a deadly assassin named Aika Fukijima (code name: Lotus), an executive superhero named Victoria Green, (code name: Blackbird), and Eedee, the hardworking Multi-Environmentally Enhanced Electronic Detonation Device. And to stir up trouble, there’s a mysterious villainess named Anna May (“no real code name,” she says).

All of these women are unique and fun and say inappropriate things at inappropriate times. They’ve all traveled interesting paths in life and their personalities reflect the scars (both physical and mental) they’ve earned along the way. But most of all, Alice Gailsone and her team follow their own flexible moral code with great gusto. And it doesn’t matter if they have to burn down Tokyo or detonate a nuclear bomb — they get the job done.

[Gailsone: Red Rook / By Casey Glanders / First Printing: July 2014 / ISBN: 9781500438036]

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