Live! In the Link Age 09.01.15

AcademiaMy Hero Academia ( Vol. 1 / By Kohei Horikoshi / First Printing: August 2015 / ISBN: 9781421582696) takes place in a world where 80 percent of the world’s population consisted of superhumans. Unfortunately, 14-year-old Izuku Midoriya was not one of them. His parents had low-level powers (his mom could move small objects toward her and his dad could breath fire), but he never manifested “quirks” of his own. Like all Shonen Jump protagonists, however, Izuku had big dreams. Despite being a wimpy scaredy-cat, he was determined to attend the U.A. Hero Academy and get his degree in superhero awesomeness. As luck would have it, Izuku serendipitously bumps into mighty All Might one day. The popular hero helps Izuku fulfill his super potential, and Izuku helps All Might reconcile his super angst (“If I hadn’t heard your story,” says the hero, “I’d have been nothing but fake muscles and insincerity”). Early on, Izuku wonders if he needs superpowers to become a superhero. The answer is obvious. But even with All Might’s tutelage, he’s got a lot to learn.

2016 is shaping up to be a big year for ace reporter, Lois Lane. She’ll be in the eagerly awaited Batman/Superman movie (Dawn of Justice). And later, her second prose novel will be released (Lois Lane: Double Down by Gwenda Bond). For further context into the character, we recommend picking up a copy of Investigating Lois Lane by Tim Hanley (First Printing: March 2016 / ISBN: 9781613733325). Says the publisher: “Lois Lane has been fighting for truth and justice for over 75 years. But her history is one of constant tension. From her earliest days, Lois yearned to see her byline on the front page of the Daily Planet, but was held back by her damsel-in-distress role.” Through the years her romance with Superman always dominated her storylines and relegated her career to the backburner. But somehow, Lois remained a fearless and ambitious character, and today she is a beloved icon and an inspiration to many. “Though her history is often troubling, Lois’s journey showcases her ability to always escape the gendered limitation of each era and of the superhero genre as a whole.”

There are four books in Stephen Henning’s Class Heroes series (A Class Apart, What Happened in Witches Wood, Where’s Lolly, and London Belongs to the Alchemist). Along with the novels, Henning’s been producing short supplemental films. Check out the first film (here). It’s a slick movie-trailer style introduction to the characters and their milieu.

After gaining amazing superpowers, Gary Karkofsky decides to embark on a career as a supervillain (The Rules of Supervillainy / By C.T. Phipps / First Printing: June 2015 / ISBN: 9781514269398]. But is he evil enough to be a villain in Falconcrest City, America’s most crime-ridden metropolis? Supported by his long-suffering wife, his ex-girlfriend turned henchwoman, and a has-been evil mastermind, Gary (aka Merciless, the Supervillain Without Mercy) may end up being not the hero they want but the villain they all need.

The fourth episode of “Throwing the Gun” is now available for your listening pleasure. Van Allen Plexico (Sentinels) joins Drew Hayes, Cheyenne Young, Jim Zoetewey, and Christopher Wright for a lively discussion about superhero and (new) pulp fiction.

Interviews: Jeremy Scott, author of The Ables (here). Tasha Black, author of Reconstructed (here). Nicholas Ahlhelm, author of Lightweight (here and here).

Reviews: Alpha Male by Joshua Corey Mays (here). Lady Action: The Sands of Forever by Ron Fortier (here). Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman (review here, comments here). School for Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough (here). Superhero School: Curse of the Evil Custard by Alan McDonald and Nigel Baines (here). The Incredible Herb Trimpe by Dewey Cassell and Andrew Sultan (here). My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi (here).

For your reading pleasure: Judgment by C.J. Henderson, John French, and Joe Gentile. The League by Thurston Bassett. The Misshapes: Annihilation Day by Alex Flynn. The Jackalope Saves the World by Sean O’Brien. The Superhero App by Dale Tallo. Snake: Nest of Vipers by Michael Vance. Superhero by Samson Soledad. Her Superhero Lover by Lionel Law. Glassman by J.L. Blenkinsop. Particle Man by Deric McNish. Nameless – Meteor Storm by S.J. Lee. Cobalt City: Ties that Bind by Nathan Crowder. The Black Bat Returns by Ron Fortier and crew (available 11.15). The Walking Dead: The Pop-Up Book by Stephani Danelle Perry, Becca Zerkin, David Hawcock, and Sally Elizabeth Jackson (available 11.10.15). Patience by Daniel Clowes (available 03.18.16).

Posted in Live! In the Link Age | Tagged , , ,

Herb Trimpe: The Man Behind the Monster

HerbTrimpeArtist Herb Trimpe joined the Marvel bullpen back in 1967. He was hired as an in-house production guy and did all the thankless grunt work Stan Lee asked him to do. But on April 1, 1968, Trimpe took an assignment that would change his life forever. On that day he started drawing a comic book called The Incredible Hulk (issue #106). And that was the day he lost his anonymity.

“He was the premier artist on The Incredible Hulk for nearly eight years,” say the authors of this career retrospective. “He literally defined the iconic character for a generation, helping to make the green goliath a household name.”

Before Trimpe came along, Marvel didn’t quite know what to do with the Hulk. The character’s first series (1962) only lasted six issues. Jack Kirby drew the Hulk as an enraged monster with a hair-trigger temper. Steve Ditko, on the other hand, saw him as a sinister and angry master-planner. Neither interpretation connected with readers at the time.

Says Tom DeFalco: “Trimpe somehow conveyed the power of Kirby with the stylization of Ditko, but added a humanity that was all his own.” Trimpe’s Hulk was desperate and haunted – a monster who had been misused and abused, yet struggled to control his explosive tantrums.

His struggle, explains Trimpe, is “I’m in it, but I’d rather not be. So don’t mess with me in the meantime.” These days there’s not much humanity in the Hulk. He’s always enraged – crazy enraged. “In the early days he wasn’t like that,” says the artist. “The Incredible Hulk can go very deep in terms of the human condition. I liked the stories we did that were filled with pathos, remorse, and all the other things that make life sad sometimes.”

We agree with Trimpe. He definitely understood the Hulk better than most creators. But we have a confession: As a kid, we never read Trimpe’s comics because we didn’t like the way he drew. Certainly he was doing his best to channel a Marvel house style. Which, at the time, was a mish-mash of Jack Kirby, Marie Severin, John Romita, Sr., and John Buscema. But Trimpe’s drawing never captured the nuance or effortlessness of those artists. To us, his artwork seemed awkward and facile.

Trimpe even acknowledges this at one point. “In the beginning,” he says, “I was trying to follow Marie Severin’s version of the Hulk.” Later he often caught himself oscillating between mimicking both Severin and Jack Kirby. “I was flip-flopping back and forth,” he confesses.

Over the years we’ve come to reevaluate Trimpe’s oeuvre. We now appreciate his unique talent and his solid storytelling skills. Looking back, he was perfectly in sync with Stan Lee’s comic book philosophy and he did more than most to lay a foundation at Marvel that still resonates with readers today. “I certainly fit in at a critical time in comic book history,” he says in retrospect.

“Herb was a storyteller, a born storyteller, and there was never a dull moment in anything he did,” says John Romita, Sr., who worked with Trimpe in the bullpen for many years. “His artwork was dynamic and it always advanced the storyline and the characters’ development. His comics always included a great theatrical sense and an active sense. There are plenty of good artists in the comics industry, but there are not many good storytellers. Herb’s one of the guys that could bring a character to life.”

Trimpe collaborated with writer Doug Moench on a number of projects, most notably Godzilla, King of the Monsters and Shogun Warriors. Says Moench in conclusion: I never did get to work with Jack Kirby, but to me, Herb was the same kind of storyteller. He was very solid, but not flashy, not gimmicky. It was conventional storytelling. It was sort of like John Ford or Howard Hawks as opposed to Orson Welles. Very solid storytelling without calling attention to itself. You always knew exactly what was going on, but you were unaware of any storytelling, per se. Herb was a great guy. Not just a great artist, a great guy.”

[The Incredible Herb Trimpe / First Printing: July 2015 / By Dewey Cassell and Aaron Sultan / ISBN: 9781605490625]

Posted in Published in 2015 | Tagged , , , ,

The Invisible Girl

OvertakenSue Storm made her comic book debut in 1961. But it wasn’t such a great way to start a superhero career. She was seen on the cover of Fantastic Four #1 as a helpless, vanishing girl in the grip of a horrible monster.

At that time, Sue was truly an “invisible girl.” She was a supplemental character, living in the shadow of her genius boyfriend. The burden of responsibility was on her male teammates as they battled the Mole Man, the Super-Skrull, Doctor Doom, and the Frightful Four. She was literally and figuratively invisible.

In many ways, Nica Ashley was the same way. As a high school transfer student, she just wanted to blend in to her new surroundings (see our review of Overpowered for more details). For her, having the ability to turn invisible was a convenient superpower.

Over time, however, Nica gained more confidence in herself. Instead of blending in, she discovered that it was more important to stand out. And by doing so, she became the leader of an awesome superhuman gang in her new hometown of Barrington, Colo.

But wherever there are superheroes, there are always going to be supervillains. That’s a fact, Blackjack. And in this case, the villain was a classmate named Dana Fox. Like all pretty and popular high school cheerleaders, Dana made a great villain. With her sneaky Jedi mind tricks, she could steal your boyfriend and dupe the Department of Defense before lunchtime.

Dana created a lot of drama at Barrington High School, but it’s pretty clear from the start that she wasn’t a boss villain. She was just an annoying buttinsky who stuck her nose into everyone’s business. She was James Wesley not Wilson Fisk – just a tool for higher-level powerbrokers.

With Overpowered, the author wrote a fun book that mixed superheroes with Rosemary’s Baby-like paranoia and added a bit of Stepford Wives satirical edge. And for kicks, there was a little bit of Footloose thrown into the mix too. These elements remain in Overtaken. But this time, the author has added a Carrie-like denouement. Teenagers take note: don’t bring a date with telekinetic powers to a school dance. It never ends well.

As we all know, Sue Storm eventually established herself as the doyenne of the Fantastic Four. She’s come a long way from her inauspicious debut. Her career as a superhero sends a clear message to Nica Ashley (and all the other invisible girls in the world): Invisibility is an amazing power. Just be careful — you don’t want to disappear completely.

[Overtaken / By Mark H. Kruger / First Printing: May 2015 / ISBN: 9781442431317]

Posted in Published in 2015 | Tagged , ,

Absolute Girlfriend

ReconstructedAuthor Tasha Black agrees with us: Superhero stories would be 100x better with a little romance.

Take Captain America: The Winter Soldier, for example. Overall, it was a pretty good movie. But it would have been a lot better with some kind of love connection. We were hoping Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson would hook up at some point. But the two superstuds kept their bromance strictly G-rated. Captain America was too busy with Hydra trickery to have an afterhours sweetheart. That’s too bad.

In Black’s latest novel, the superhero definitely finds time for a little hanky panky. And best of all, he ultimately finds true love. It’s always clobberin’ time In the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But in life there must be balance. Everybody needs a little sexy time too.

Sexy time with the ladies was exactly what Westley Worthington wanted in the first chapter of Reconstructed, the debut novel in Black’s new Building a Hero series. He had invited a troupe of ballerinas to his penthouse for a little fun (“Fucking a ballet company was on his bucket list,” we are told). He wasn’t a superhero at this point — just a rich super stud. To be blunt, he was a bank account with a cock attached to it.

But like Tony Stark and Oliver Queen, Worthington had a few hidden redeeming qualities. He was, for example, bankrolling a cutting edge biotherapy company that would (hopefully) revolutionize the field of personal prosthetics. Despite losing money on the endeavor, the owner of Worthington Enterprises was determined to create nerve-based biotechnology that could miraculously replace missing limbs and regenerate nerves for paralytics.

To help him navigate his altruistic nature, Worthington had the good sense to promote a clever (but mousey) underling. Cordelia Cross to the rescue. She would become his assistant, his wingman, his brainstorming partner, and even his caregiver. And if things worked out right, she would willingly become his lover too. Fingers crossed.

Since this is a superhero origin story, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Worthington survives a climatic life-altering experience late in the novel. And, yes, the technology generated from his prosthetics company plays a big part in his drama, trauma, and transformation.

In addition, Black dutifully introduces a cast of characters that will surely inspire further adventures. We like them a lot. The list includes a proto-supervillain, a disgruntled former confidant, a “were-canid,” an eccentric techie genius, and a sidekick-in-waiting.

At the top of the list was Cordelia Cross. Without her, Westley Worthington wouldn’t be worth much. More than anything else (including all the medical pyrotechnics and enhanced musculature), Cordelia was Westley’s secret weapon. She was his muse and the catalyst for his moral rehabilitation. Like Felicity Smoak (from Arrow), she gave her superhero a reason to live. Let love rule.

[Reconstructed: Building a Hero (Book 1) / By Tasha Black / First Printing: June 2015]

Posted in Published in 2015, Romance/Erotica | Tagged , ,

Lois Lane: Fallout Girl

Lois Lane: FalloutAs expected, Clark Kent makes an appearance in Gwenda Bond’s perky new Lois Lane novel (he’s called SmallvilleGuy throughout the book). But instead of dominating the story like he normally does, he’s simply cast as a supporting character. In other words, the author has turned Superman into Lois Lane’s sidekick. And we have no problem with that.

Frankly, there’s no one else in Superman’s orbit that can dim his star power. Not Jimmy Olson, not Perry White, not Kara Zor-El. Even Wonder Woman and her pals in the Justice League don’t have enough vinegar and bleach to tarnish the Man of Steel. Generally, when Superman gets involved, everyone else takes a backseat. Except Lois Lane, of course. She always rides shotgun.

In Lois Lane: Fallout, Lois and her family have just moved to the big city. During her first day at Metropolis High School (Go Generals!) she catches the eye of newspaperman, Perry White. He immediately asks her to join the staff of the Daily Planet’s teen edition, the Daily Scoop. “I hired her because I could see right away that she has the instinct,” he says. “The killer instinct.”

And so the template for Lois Lane, newshawk, is established. “I instantly liked the idea of being a reporter,” she says. “Able to ask all the questions I wanted, without anyone scolding me or scribbling in my file. The ability to look into things that were wrong and tell lots of people about them.” Being a reporter was Lois’s chance to find her place in the multiverse.

The problem, however, was that bad luck followed Lois wherever she went. There was always some sort of “fallout” involved. But maybe this time things would be different? Her dad hoped so. “Having a job with a newspaper might keep you out of trouble,” he tells her. Yeah, right.

Immediately, Lois and the Daily Scoop staff (Maddy, James, and Devin) start investigating a group of gaming bullies infamously known as the Warheads. Online they dominated everyone in a popular MMGS called Worlds War Three. And now their bad manners were spilling into the classroom.

Naturally there’s mystery and subterfuge to uncover. As it turns out, Worlds War Three was a game that insidiously changed the player’s neural pathways. “It’s like I’m a computer and they’re writing a piece of code that makes me perform however they want,” says one unlucky classmate. “It’s psychological coercion. They’re stealing my soul.”

That’s something Lois can’t abide. “I want to break the link and set everyone free,” she tells Clark via email one night. Nobody has the right to conscript a group of teenage gamers into a “research project” and then play around with their brains. It’s not right. One way or another, Lois wanted to stop the madness. If she failed, there was a chance she’d become a “brainless hive mind zombie hooked up to some kind of devil robotron in the basement of a secret lab.” That’s a pretty big “fallout” if you ask us.

With a little help from Clark Kent, her pals at the Daily Scoop, and a fire-breathing dragon, Lois eventually kicks the Warheads to the curb. Overall it’s a fine debut for our teenage cub reporter. And if sequels are in the works, we’ll eagerly read them all. Still, we were slightly disappointed with the novel’s ultimate resolution. We were certain that Lois would deploy the delinquents of Unicorn University (her sister’s favorite MMGS) to smash the bullies in Worlds War Three. But what can you do? No one, not even Superman, tells Lois Lane what to do.

[Lois Lane: Fallout / By Gwenda Bond / First Printing: May 2015 / ISBN: 9781630790059]

Posted in Marvel/DC, Published in 2015 | Tagged , , , ,

2.0tto

HIVEDeadlockWhat can you say about today’s villains? Not much, apparently. There’s nobody who can hold a candle to Lady Macbeth, Ebenezer Scrooge, Professor Moriarty, or Dr. Fu Manchu.

According to Nathaniel Nero (aka the Architect), the problem with villains today was their lack of imagination. Nobody wanted to build a lair on the bottom of the ocean or a space station on the moon. “I blame video games,” he said shaking his head dismissively.

These days, everybody was too distracted by double-crosses, betrayal, and squabbling (and video games) to actually get anything done. Who has time to hatch an exquisitely mad scheme when you have the Avengers breathing down your neck? Just cut a hole in the sky and hope for the best.

Despite the Architect’s supercilious attitude, the members of G.L.O.V.E. were doing their best to keep things interesting. The Global League of Villainous Enterprises actually built a prep school inside an active volcano. That’s pretty cool. And by doing so, they were paving the way for the next generation of supervillains (see our review of H.I.V.E.: The Higher Institute of Villainous Education for more information). Video games, we’re guessing, were not part of the curriculum.

But if you’re a bad guy, double-crosses, betrayals, and squabbling were a big part of the job description. It was unavoidable, especially when the underworld was overflowing with fierce and long-standing rivalries.

Like G.L.O.V.E., Anastasia Furan and her Disciples had their own academy for nascent villains. The Glasshouse had a reputation for producing a string of young and efficient assassins over the years. The school’s most infamous alumna was Raven, a young woman who could list “world’s most deadly assassin” on her resume. For new readers, Raven’s history was strikingly similar to the Black Widow, Marvel Comics’ sleek superspy.

Naturally, graduates of the Glasshouse and H.I.V.E. were going to tangle. Just like Ohio State and Michigan, the animosity between the two schools was epic. The Glasshouse, however, had recently discovered an individual who could help defeat its nemesis once and for all. His name was Zero.

Zero was a carbon copy of Otto Malpense, the star pupil at H.I.V.E. The only difference was that he was “faster, stronger, cleverer, and more superior in every way.” Like Otto, he was tainted by the influence of a crazy, megalomaniacal supercomputer named Overlord. But unlike Otto, there were no redeeming qualities about him. “Like father like son,” he hissed.

Zero may not have been as sharp as his petaflop progenitor. But he definitely threw a monkey wrench into the ongoing Glasshouse/H.I.V.E. rivalry. “I am the next step in human evolution,” he said during his prerequisite end-of-novel soliloquy. “There will come a time when the whole world will kneel before me.” We’ll give you one guess how things turn out when the two teenage supercomputers eventually interface. As his name implies, Otto 2.0 was a big fat zero. Time to reboot.

[H.I.V.E.: Deadlock / By Mark Walden / First Printing: February 2015 / ISBN: 9781442494701]

Posted in Published in 2015 | Tagged , ,

Princess Excellent

PrincessXCherie Priest’s latest novel is about the two most important things in life: friendship and superheroes.

Libby Deaton and May Harper met in fifth grade and together they created Princess X, a superhero who fought monsters, ghosts, and other unsavory invaders. Princess X was a badass, but instead of dressing in black leather like Catwoman or Emma Peel, she wore a frilly princess dress and red high-top sneakers. Her weapon of choice was the katana (“Basically the best sword ever,” says Libby). After appearing in hundreds of comic strips, the princess quickly became the girls’ alter ego, their avatar, and their third best friend.

The adventures of Princess X came to a screeching halt on the day Libby and her mom drove off a Seattle bridge. No more comics. No more best friend. No more nothing. May fell into a three-year funk of depression and inertia.

But suddenly and without warning, images of Princess X started popping up all over town. In addition, the dormant hero had somehow become a smash hit on the Internet. Instinctively, May knew what it meant: After all these years her friend Libby was still alive. And she was certain that clues of her whereabouts could be found in the webcomic.

Once the wheels of the story start spinning, I Am Princess X doesn’t slow down for a single second. Priest has written a dark cyber mystery that borrows a little bit from Alfred Hitchcock, Cory Doctorow, and V.C. Andrews. The suspense (and the lurking menace) is unyielding.

Credit must also go to artist Kali Ciesemier. Her Princess X comics (which are sprinkled throughout the book) are outstanding. Hybrid novels like this are tricky to pull off. Things can go off the rails quickly. Here, however, Priest and Ciesemier establish an easy synergy. The mystery is being solved concurrently in the webcomic and in real life, and you have to pay close attention to both. Thankfully the writer and the artist make sure their words and pictures are perfectly in sync.

At the end of the novel, May successfully lures the mad villain out of his secret lair. “I am Princess X!” she barks at him. After all, why should the comic strip princess have all the cool adventures? “It’s my turn to be the hero,” she says. The message is clear; it doesn’t matter who writes or draws the comic, we are all Princess X.

[I Am Princess X / By Cherie Priest and Kali Ciesemier / First Printing: May 2015/ ISBN: 9780545620857]

Posted in Published in 2015 | Tagged , ,