Live! In the Link Age 09. 27.15

OnePunchMan_GN01_cover_PRINT.inddNobody can survive the powerhouse punch of Saitama. But with great power comes great existential discontent (One-Punch Man, Vol. 1 / By ONE and Yusuke Murata / First Printing: September 2015 / ISBN: 9781421585642). In exchange for superhuman strength, Saitama wonders if he somehow forfeited his humanity. “Overwhelming strength is boring,” he says. “I feel nothing. There are no challenges in my life. My emotions are dulling. I have no fear, no joy.” The story may be sour, but the artwork by Yusuke Murata (Eyeshield 21) is sweet. The punching (especially pages 62-63 and 170-171) is awesome, and the rogue’s gallery is zany. Our favorite villains include Mosquito Girl (va-voom!) and Crablante, the man who turned into a giant crustacean by eating too many crabs. At the very end of the volume, a young boy asks One-Punch Man for some advice. “What should I do in life,” he wonders. “Do whatever you want,” says the cheerless hero. His counsel isn’t deep. But it’s a good way to live your life one punch at a time.

In Secret Hero Society: Study Hall of Justice (By Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen / First Printing February 2016), Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, and Diana Prince team up to solve a mystery at their exclusive prep school for gifted students. Says the publisher: “Hall of Justice presents a twist on the idea of junior sleuths, using comics, journal entries, newspaper articles, and doodles to reimagine Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman as middle-school students.” The series continues in 2017 and 2018 and will include other DC characters such as Arthur Curry (Aquaman) and Victor Stone (Cyborg). Wouldn’t it be cool if Jimmy Kudo showed up too? We’ve got our fingers crossed.

Stephen Henning, author of four Class Heroes books (A Class Apart, What Happened in Witches Wood, Where’s Lolly?, and London Belongs to the Alchemist), has posted five short films about his series on YouTube: The Class Heroes series trailer (here), Who is Samantha Blake? (here), James Blake’s Dilemma (here), The Hunt for Lolly Rosewood (here), and a 17-minute all-inclusive “making of” featurette (here).

Ch05En: Jane (by William Dickstein / First Printing: August 2015) takes place in the near future, where scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics (a real place) have identified a rare DNA molecule that gives people superpowers. Blessed (or cursed?) with the Ch05En gene, Jane was raised in a controlled compound by genetic extremists with an evil agenda. Unable to be brainwashed because of her telepathy powers, she defies the extremists and breaks out of the compound. “Take it from me,” she says, “the cult life isn’t for everybody.” Check out the author’s website for more information about his ongoing Ch05En series (here).

To us, Captain Kirk has always been a superhero. And now our favorite superhero space cowboy has written his memoir (The Autobiography of James T. Kirk / Edited by David A. Goodman / First Printing: September 2015 / ISBN: 9781783297467). According to a Kirkus review, the book is “an accomplished, stirring tribute to a beloved sci-fi series that will captivate fans and newcomers alike.” Added bonus: the foreword is written by Leonard McCoy and the afterword by Spock Sarekson.

Author C.T. Phipps has been a busy bee. The Rules of Supervillainy was published in June and the sequel (The Games of Supervillainy) will be available in October. Phipps continues his saga next year with The Secrets of Supervillainy and The Science of Supervillainy. presents 13 books for casual readers that’ll keep you reading until the last page. On the list is Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman. “It’s sort of like Watchmen in a way,” says the site. “But instead of being kind of depressing, it’s hilarious and fun.” Also mentioned is Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima.

Episode five of “Throwing the Gun” features a discussion about superhero role-playing games, plus an interview with Jeff Dee and Jack Herman, co-creators of the game, Villains and Vigilantes.

Repurposed and refreshed for a new audience: The Turbulent History of Lois Lane.

Interviews: Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti, authors of Zeroes (here). C.T. Phipps, author of The Rules of Supervillainy (here). Stephen T. Brophy, author of The Villain’s Sidekick (here). James Connor, author of The Superyogi Scenario (here and here). Tania Del Rio and Will Staehle, authors of Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye (here).

Reviews: Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld and gang (here and here). One-Punch Man, Vols. 1 – 2 by ONE and Yusuke Murata (here). The Dragons of Heaven by Alyc Helms (here). The Jackalope Saves the World by Sean O’Brien (here). Superheroes Anonymous by Lexie Dunne (here). School for Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough (here and here). Vicious by V.C. Schwab (here). Max the Brave by Ed Vere (here). Hero by Perry Moore (here). A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King (here). Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones (here). The Black Stiletto by Raymond Benson (here).

For your reading pleasure: Augmented by Tasha Black. Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection edited by Hope Nicholson. Heroes Reborn, Book 1: Brave New World by David Bishop. Bending Steel: Modernity and the American Superhero by Aldo J. Regalado.

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Hot for Teacher

BuriedSecretsCertainly there were happy people living in Smallville. Lionel Luthor, for example. He owned most of the town. Why wouldn’t he be happy? And Jonathan and Martha Kent. They were modest people who derived pleasure from working on their small farm.

But there were unhappy people in Smallville too. Lana Lang’s parents were killed in a meteorite shower. Lex Luthor had ongoing daddy issues. And Clark Kent was a lovesick puppy that pined for a girl who would never totally reciprocate his affection. To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy: “All happy people in Smallville were alike; all unhappy people in Smallville were unhappy in their own way.”

Take the Sanchez family for example. They gave up cushy jobs in Spain to become corn farmers in Kansas. But their idyllic dreams were dashed on the day Smallville was rocked by a meteorite shower that brought baby Kal-El to Earth. Their nine-year-old daughter Lilia suffered the worst. She had to live the rest of her life with space junk embedded in her skull.

Eventually, José and Carmencita Sanchez sold their farm and moved back to Madrid. But their daughter stuck around long enough to earn a college degree and get a job teaching (Spanish, of course) at Smallville High School.

Lilia’s personal life was splintered and she suffered ongoing seizures because of her childhood head injury. But she grew up to be a stunningly beautiful woman. At 23 she looked like “Penelope Cruz and Jennifer Lopez morphed together.” That ain’t too bad.

Naturally, the arrival of Profesora Sanchez on campus caught the attention of Clark “Horndog” Kent. When he thought about her, he felt like a thousand tiny birds were in his belly all beating their wings at the same time. Clearly, he was hot for teacher. “If you told me you didn’t like her,” said a friend, “I’d say you weren’t human.”

But Clark had concerns. His Spanish teacher had a preternatural ability that could jeopardize his deepest secret. Those chunks of Kryptonite in her skull gave Lilia mindreading super powers. And that wasn’t good news for a young space alien in love. “What if she knew about my powers?” cried Clark. “She can’t find out. She can’t tell anyone. She can’t know my secret!”

Thankfully, not everyone infected with Kryptonite turns out to be a supervillain (or a snitch). Lilia figures out Clark’s secret pretty quickly but she remains discreet. In the final chapter she gives her favorite student a bit of advice. “Don’t keep what’s in your heart a buried secret,” she told him with a wink.

You can’t write a Smallville novel without addressing Clark Kent’s adolescent angst or Lex Luthor’s emerging villainy. Nor can you ignore the super-charged estrus of Lana Lang. Author Suzan Colón is smart enough to know this. But her sole contribution to the show’s mythology (Lilia, the sexy dama mind reader) pales in comparison to the well-known legacy characters. Without a doubt, Lilia had her own unique story to tell. But here in this tie-in novel, she was just an actor in the wrong TV show.

[Smallville: Buried Secrets / By Suzan Colón / First Printing: June 2003 / ISBN: 9780316168489]

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Future Tense

EntropyIt’s the end of the world in Matthew Phillion’s latest novel. Mankind is just moments away from being wiped off the face of the planet. “Let the cats inherit the Earth,” says one remorseful minion. “The apes have done a lousy job as caretakers.”

Naturally, the Indestructibles are on the case. A terminal event is happening in an alternative timeline and they’ve been recruited by a chronomancer to save the world. “An entire future is dying due to us,” says Doctor Silence cryptically.

Everybody knows that time travel is risky business. But responsibility always comes with a terrible risk. “The only thing to do,” says Kate Miller, the Indestructibles’ brawling ballet warrior princess, “is ride the razor edge with skill and care.” In a vote of solidarity, the superkids agree to jump into the future and do their best to save the upcoming apocalypse.

Once they make the jump, the Indestructibles spend a few awkward moments adjusting to their future selves. In the ensuing 20 years, Titus grew up to become Conan the Barbarian Werewolf King. Jane became a creature of pure solar energy (sort of). Kate was now blind and dispirited. And for some reason Billy’s alien Luminae power transferred to a girl.

But the biggest shocker of all involved poor Emily. Her entropy powers became an infinite engine of global destruction. She was trapped inside a megastructure that was designed to capture a star’s exploding power. In other words, Entropy Emily had turned into a huge and unstable nuclear reactor. Her broken heart was tearing the world apart.

This is the third Indestructibles novel from author Phillion and it might be his best effort yet. As with the two previous books (read our reviews here and here), the main characters tackle weighty emotional issues with a balance of disquiet and grace. And there’s lots of humor and good writing to boot.

If anything, we can only fault the book for our own selfish reasons. We thought the author was on track to make a subtle point about the imperfection of life. In Japan they call it wabi-sabi. It’s a term that encourages a way of living that accepts the natural cycle of growth and decay. It’s mostly an untranslatable term in English, but Matthew Phillion came very close to writing the first wabi-sabi superhero novel. With a title like The Entropy of Everything, that’s what we were expecting.

[The Entropy of Everything: The Indestructibles Book 3 / By Matthew Phillion / First Printing: August 2015 / ISBN: 9780990889861]

Posted in Published in 2015 | 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.

Along the way, 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 , , , ,