Girl Wonder

SidekickWe would bet a billion bitcoins that author Auralee Wallace couldn’t name a single member of the Suicide Squad or the Forever People. In all likelihood she doesn’t know the difference between the Green Goblin, the Hobgoblin, and the Demogoblin. And she probably doesn’t realize that when Billy Batson shouts “Shazam!” he’s actually marshalling the powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury.

And yet, despite her lack of fanboy cred, Wallace has written a pretty good superhero novel. Eschewing the familiar grandiose wordplay and imagery found in Marvel and DC comic books, she has instead fashioned a funny and lighthearted novel about modern womenhood. Much like Rogue Touch by Christine Woodward or The She-Hulk Diaries by Marta Acosta, Sidekick is superhero chick lit. And believe us, if Greg Rucka or Brian Azzarello or even Gail Simone had written this novel, it would have turned out completely different.

Before she became a superhero sidekick, Brianna St. James was a spoiled rich girl living atop a cushy pillow of luxury. She spent her days lounging by an Olympic-sized swimming pool drinking margaritas. And she spent her nights pretending to be a pretty Disney princess.

But all that came to an end when she discovered that her family fortune had a dark side. Not willing to abide by her father’s bad conduct, Brianna (known as Bremy to her friends) turned her back on her privileged lifestyle. Where once she was a Kardashian-like faux celebrity, she now “scuttled around puddles of urine in inappropriate footwear, trying to find a job to pay the rent.”

As luck would have it, Bremy accidentally bumps into the city’s premier superhero during an outrageous supervillain stunt. Everybody knew who Dark Ryder was, of course. The hero had been diligently keeping the city safe for nearly three decades. But seeing her in person was a revelation for Bremy. She was “six feet of pure female awesomeness.” When she showed up at the crime scene on her motorcycle, she looked like a jaguar riding on the back of a slick, black panther.

Meeting Dark Ryder would change Bremy’s life forever. She now wanted to be a superhero too. And why not? It sure beat cleaning bathrooms at a strip club or making lemonade at Hot Dog on a Stick. True, she didn’t have any super powers. But whatever. She had gumption and that was all that mattered.

After a series of funny misadventures, Dark Ryder reluctantly agrees to accept the former socialite as her apprentice. The journey from self-indulgent princess to self-sacrificing hero is a bumpy one for Bremy. It’s fraught with guilt, insecurities, dark family secrets, larger-than-life supervillains, tiny apartments, and bad hair dye jobs. But it also features plenty of charm, snarky humor, romance, eccentric characters, and the promise of countless sequels.

[Sidekick / By Auralee Wallace / First Printing: June 2014]

Posted in Original Characters, Published in 2014, Romance | Tagged ,

Enter the Turtle

ShadowHeroThere was nothing particularly memorable about the Green Turtle back in 1944 when he made his debut in the pages of Blazing Comics #1. Like hundreds of other comic book characters of the time, he wore a colorful mask and a cape, and he fought tirelessly against the Axis alliance. Except for the Chinese/Japanese dynamic, the story was a generic Golden Age WWII superhero adventure.

But author Gene Luen Yang and artist Sonny Liew saw the character’s untapped potential. To them, the Green Turtle was (perhaps) the first Chinese superhero and represented a totally fresh agenda and point of view.

Thus inspired, the pair has fashioned a proper origin story for the long-forgotten superhero—one that touches upon Chinese identity issues, the immigrant experience, cultural stereotypes, and the struggles of assimilation. In his afterword, Yang notes that a yearning of acceptance pervades the original Green Turtle stories. And with that in mind, he and Liew have done a good job imbuing their comic with a desire to unite East with West.

Anyone who is familiar with Yang’s previous work (most notable American Born Chinese, a National Book Award finalist in 2006) knows that he is keenly articulate when writing about racial stereotypes, identity issues, and the power of transformation. And not surprisingly (to us), these themes mesh pretty well with the tradition of American superhero comics.

The chronicles of the Green Turtle begin way back in 1911 when China’s Ch’ing Dynasty falls apart, ending two millennia of Imperial rule. Amid the chaos, a council of spirits assembles. Together they quickly decide the fate of their cherished homeland. “China’s future can only be safeguarded by the fists of the common people,” says the phoenix. And everyone, including the dragon, the tiger, and the turtle, seems to agree.

The story then follows the path of two families as they immigrate to San Incendio, a San Francisco-like coastal city in the U.S. It’s here that Yang and Liew express themselves the best. The story of Hank Chu (our hero), his parents, and the surrounding Chinatown community is told with generous humor, insight, and great cartooning. Even when the plot shifts into superhero gear, Yang and Liew keep their focus tight on the themes they profess.

Out of this Chinese immigration experience comes The Shadow Hero. With a little help from an ancient Chinese turtle spirit (and his pushy mother), Hank Chu learns the currency of heroism and heritage. Yang and Liew have successfully turned a generic Golden Age hero into a golden man of bravery. Says Chu’s turtle benefactor: “The future belongs to something new. And that’s what he is… something new.”

[The Shadow Hero / By Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew / First Printing: July 2014 / ISBN: 9781596436978]

Posted in Comics, Everybody Else's Characters, Published in 2014 | Tagged , ,

Live! In the Link Age 08.09.14

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.

Over the years there have been numerous insightful books written about Wonder Woman. In fact, we recently reviewed a pretty good one a couple of weeks ago (Wonder Woman Unbound by Tim Hanley). Without a doubt, Wonder Woman is the most controversial and misunderstood character in the superhero pantheon. And yet, even after 70 years, she remains a beloved icon to many people. Another historical and cultural analysis of the character will be available in bookstores this October (The Secret History of Wonder Woman / By Jill Lepore / ISBN: 9780385354042). This particular book has the potential to be the definitive dissertation on our favorite Amazon princess. Not only is the author a Harvard history professor, but she’s also been nominated for a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Great Hera! That’s an impressive resume.

We were pleasantly surprised by The Indestructibles, Matthew Phillion’s superhero debut novel earlier this year. And now we’re doubly surprised to discover that the author has already written a sequel. Available in November, The Indestructibles: Breakout further chronicles the adventures of our favorite teen titans. Here’s a tease from the publisher: “With Doc Silence and Fury missing, and Dancer slipping away into her own silent brand of vigilanteism, will Solar be able to hold her team together? The Indestructibles have become a national sensation—but will they survive the fame?”

Superhero fiction isn’t just for comic books anymore, says Nathan Kiehn. “Though characters like Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, and Iron Man will always be popular in graphic novels and films, superheroics aren’t limited to just those mediums. In recent years, superhero novels have been making their mark on the world of fiction.”

Love makes the world go around. But so do superheroes. That’s why we’re always on the prowl for a good superhero romance novel to read. These two lists (here and here) are very helpful. Confession: we also like supervillain romance novels too.

The publisher of Superhero Tales (see our review here) is seeking submissions for an upcoming second volume. “This series of anthologies was created with the idea in mind that girls do not have enough female superhero stories to read and female superhero characters to look up to.” Submission deadline is 09.30.14. More information here.

Interviews: Gene Luen Yang, author of The Shadow Hero. Nick Harkaway, author of Tigerman. Matthew Phillion, author of The Indestructibles. Peter Clines, author of Ex-Purgatory.

Reviews: Tigerman by Nick Harkaway (here, here, here, here, and here). Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones (here). The Indestructibles by Matthew Phillion (here). Scorched by Erica Hayes (here). Dark Star by Bethany Frenette (here and here). Vicious by V.E. Schwab (here). Turbulence by Samit Basu (here and here). The Vril Agenda by Derrick Ferguson and Joshua Reynolds (here).

For your reading pleasure: Killing Gods by Tony Cooper. “Gailsone: Old Ghosts: Rare Gems: Book 1″ by Casey Glanders. The Herald: The George Hale Mystery by Felix Velcro. Class Heroes: London Belongs to the Alchemist by Stephen Henning. Anthem’s Fall by S.L. Dunn. H.E.R.O. – Bio-Organism by Kevin Rau. Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn by Hugo Pratt (available 12.16.14). Firefight by Brandon Sanderson (available 01.06.15). Wild Cards IV: Aces Abroad by George R.R. Martin and crew (available 01.13.15). H.I.V.E.: Deadlock by Mark Walden (available 02.24.15). Less than Hero by S.G. Browne (available 03.17.15).

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

Post-human

ResistanceWhat is the first thing you’d do if you fortuitously acquired superpowers? Would you promote biodiversity? Curb deforestation? Stop fracking? Maybe you’d rob a bank? There are a lot of things you could possibly do.

There’s a moment in Resistance, Samit Basu’s eagerly awaited sequel to Turbulence, when everyone in the world is granted temporary superhero-like abilities. No one, however, cures cancer or ends terrorism. “The first thing everyone did after getting powers,” reports Uzma Abidi, “was post on the Internet.”

Well, so much for the potential of post-human evolution. If superheroes are too busy updating their personal websites (like the rest of us), then what’s the point? People with extraordinary abilities should be using their unique gifts to make the world a better place—to take it forward. It’s a responsibility, Stan Lee would argue, that comes with great power. “It’s a burden they should bear.”

According to the novel’s continuity, it’s been 11 years since the First Wave turned hundreds of people into superhumans. In 2012 a Second Wave occurred. And now people were anticipating an inevitable Third Wave. Like it or not, humanity was slowly slipping away. Regular folks were becoming irrelevant in the new post-human world.

A few heroes, however, were working overtime to keep the earth from spinning off its axis. The United Nations Interception Team (the Unit) has been on the job since the First Wave hit back in 2009. Together it has ended the Middle East crisis, ended the America-China proxy war in central Africa, and freed Tibet. The group even pitched in to squash Bug/human mutants in Prague and rampaging kaiju monsters in Tokyo. (btw: we knew we were going to enjoy this book immediately after reading the very first sentence: “A giant lobster rises slowly out of Tokyo Bay.”)

Despite its best intentions, the Unit knows that the real crisis is that humans have become a second-class species and there’s a bloody war on the horizon. “Supers and humans are now enemies,” says Norio Hisatomi, a Japanese billionaire trying his best to wipe out the superhuman scourge. There have always been hostilities between the powerful and the powerless. So it goes. It’s a shame, however; just when you think your life is going to be exactly like a comic book, superheroes have to ruin it for everyone.

[Resistance / By Samit Basu / First Printing: July 2014 / ISBN: 9781781162491]

Posted in Original Characters, Published in 2014 | Tagged , ,

Roarsome!

TigermanThe list of literary superhero novels is a short one. Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman and The Midlife Crisis of Commander Invincible by Neil Connelly would both be on the list. And maybe The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes. But what else?

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon and The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem aren’t superhero novels but we’d include them on our list as examples of how comic books (and by extension, superheroes) can inspire great authors to write great novels.

We would put Tigerman by Nick Harkaway on the list as well. It isn’t technically a superhero novel, but there is a “superhero” character in the book and the author does include a substantial amount of informed comic book chatter. Who knows? Years from now, Harkaway’s novel might very well be seen as a great leap forward in the evolution of superhero prose fiction. We think it’s very good indeed.

The novel takes place on Mancreu, an island precariously located on the lip of the great mid-ocean ridge in the Arabian Sea. The locals were an unbothered ethnic jumble of Arab and African and Asian, with the inevitable admixture of Europeans. In many ways Mancreu was like a tropical island version of Shangri-La.

But it was a lawless place, too—a convenience for killers and torturers and tax evaders and drug bankers, for scum of the earth. It was like Casablanca, a haven for people on the edge of the world. It was also the perfect breeding ground for vigilante justice inspired by comic books.

Harkaway does an excellent job laying the groundwork for his superhero adventure. Lester Ferris, senior officer in the United Kingdom’s Mancreu Command, was a boxing hobbyist, he lived in a large mansion with an extensive armory (how convenient!), he was the graduate of a six-day course in public order and detection from the Metropolitan Police Service, he experienced a profound, dreamlike superhero awakening, and he had his very own boy wonder. And most importantly, he possessed a Batman-like obsession that would ultimately inspire his transformation into Tigerman, the hero of Mancreu. These superhero tropes (and others) coalesce slowly and satisfactorily as the novel moves forward—like the author says, “There must be development-over-time or it is just noise.” Amen to that.

There was a lot going on with Ferris and his ward and the doomed island inhabitants of Mancreu. All of the characters carried the weight of living in an isolated, hopeless Eden. Ferris, especially, was burdened by a life of missed opportunities and he continued to struggle with a personal ennui that superseded the messy situation on the island.

But at some point he had an idea, one that was both foolish and savage. He would lay down the law. Not a law in words, but a law seen in the pages of Batman, Captain America, Superman, and Green Lantern. And even if you didn’t read comic books at all, the right people would know, without any ambiguity, where the law began and ended, and what came if you crossed it. “I am Tigerman,” he growled. “Whoomf!”

[Tigerman / By Nick Harkaway / First Printing: July 2014 / ISBN: 9780385352413]

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The New Defenders

IndestructiblesAt some point in Matthew Phillion’s indefatigably entertaining novel The Indestructibles we began reminiscing about the Defenders, Marvel Comics’ aggregate of superhero square pegs. But instead of Dr. Strange, Hulk, or the Silver Surfer, the author has given us Dr. Silence, Fury, and Straylight.

Call it the Defenders template, if you wish. To wit: bring together a group of “fruitcakes and small gods” and appoint a sorcerer supreme to guide them into battle. It worked back in 1971 when Dr. Strange first assembled his classic Defenders line-up. And it still works today.

In this instance, however, there was a slight wrinkle. The Indestructibles weren’t a fraternity of well-known (but notorious) heroes. As a matter of fact, all the old heroes were gone. They had retired, or gotten themselves killed, or flown off to another galaxy to solve some other world’s problems. Some even found refuge one hundred years in the future. There were no “well-known” heroes to assemble.

It was up to Doc Silence, arguably the world’s greatest magic practitioner, to draft a squadron of youngsters with burgeoning superpowers. And thus the Indestructibles were born. First to join was a young woman with Supergirl-like strength and abilities. Other members included a kid with an alien super symbiote living in his brain, a girl who could control gravity, and a teenage werewolf. Also on the team was Kate Miller, who wasn’t really a superhero at all. “Technically, I was simply assaulting people without the sanction of law enforcement,” she admits. In other words, the superteam was filled with a disparate mix of monsters and freaks. Or, we suppose, they could simply be called Dr. Strange and the Furious Five.

Naturally (as is often the case in these sorts of novels) there’s someone trying to take over the world. This time it’s a Lovecraftian end-of-the-world cult known as the Children of the Elder Star. These nut jobs were doing their best to manipulate governments, political leaders, wars, and finances to their advantage. It was all about the money and power. “The world was a big chess board to them,” explains Dr. Silence.

And, like the Indestructibles, the Children of the Elder Star had its own sorceress supreme on the payroll. Lady Natasha Gray exuded an air of power, something predatory and infinitely dark—like Maleficent on a bad hair day. She and Doc Silence shared a long and complicated history, and their relationship definitely makes the situation more acute.

At the beginning of the novel, the Indestructibles weren’t very indestructible. During their first official mission, for example, they looked like a bunch of toddlers in a bouncy castle. But over time, and through experience and good-fellowship, they figured out how to become superheroes. “Every so often humanity gets lucky and a hero is born,” says Dr. Silence. “And these heroes shine in the sun.” Three cheers for Solar, Dancer, Fury, Straylight, and Entropy: the five brightest stars in the sky.

[The Indestructibles / By Matthew Phillion / First Printing: April 2014 / ISBN: 9780991427529]

Posted in Original Characters, Published in 2014 | Tagged , ,

Twilight of the Gods

MirandaDanya Petrovich Galkin was born with a twist to his genetic code. He could hear the electrical world and could exert some control over it. If he wanted, he could change the channels on his TV without using a remote. In other words, he was an “uberhuman” with minor superpowers.

But Dan was haunted by his family’s despicable legacy. His grandfather was the Mad Russian, an international psychopath with enough atrocities linked to his name to rank him side-by-side with some of the worst supervillains of the 20th century like Dr. Doom and 2 Live Crew. Whether he liked it or not, Dan was the next generation of Galkin supervillain and the prodigal grandson. It was time to pass the torch.

As a youngster, Dan made his villainous debut as a member of the Small Gods, an assembled team of super delinquents. Needless to say, it didn’t go very well. Since that time he’s been in an oppressive government rehabilitation program. “I was a teenage supervillain for two weeks,” he said five years later. “And no one was going to let me forget it.”

Now, the Mad Russian wants Dan to quit his job at Birdie’s Chicken and Pizza (“The shame he brings me!”) and embrace his ignoble birthright. The aging supervillain may be insane, but he’s not stupid. He knows that his influence is fading and he needs to find a successor soon. “We must all die,” he tells his grandson. “Even the old gods themselves must one day make way for the new gods.”

But rites of succession are often bumpy—especially for mighty titans. Just ask Darkseid. His son Orion has been a giant thorn in his side for years. There’s always going to be tension between old gods and new gods. It’s inevitable.

More than anything, The Miranda Contract is a novel about Mount Olympus-sized family expectations. But it’s also about love and respect and profound human connections. While his grandfather is blowing up “like a human lightning storm,” Dan is doing his best to navigate a world filled with obstinate bureaucrats, an unhinged mother, an American teen idol, and a Turkish adventurer named Suleyman. He’s also grappling with his past misadventures as a member of the Small Gods. In fact, his prickly relationship with his former cohort Sohail Pirzada (code name: Halo) is arguably the best thing about the novel. Unquestionably, this is Dan Galkin’s story. But in an unexpected twist, it is Halo who turns out to be the real hero.

[The Miranda Contract / By Ben Langdon / First Printing: March 2014 / ISBN: 9780987530844]

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