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]

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

Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron

AftershockHere we are on the seventh volume of author Mark Walden’s ongoing superspy/supervillain series. And for the most part, despite some nitpicking, we’ve enjoyed each outing so far. The kids at the Higher Institute of Villainous Education are a scrappy and likeable bunch. And when they graduate, we have no doubt they will rule the world like a velvet glove cast in iron.

It’s ironic, however, that our favorite characters in this H.I.V.E. series are the grownups. Don’t get us wrong. We like Otto Malpense, the human computer, Franz Argentblum, the newly christened “ninja assassin,” and all the rest of the teenage gang. But the adults provide the conflict that propels the series forward. And, more importantly, they provide the backstory that gives everything context. The kids are awesome, but at this point they’re only reacting to the evil machinations of the Global League of Villainous Enterprises.

Our three favorite characters include: Diabolus Darkdoom, the infamous criminal mastermind who rules the seas in his stealth submarine, the Megalodon; Dr. Maximilian Nero, the headmaster of H.I.V.E. who recently ascended to the top of the G.L.O.V.E. food chain, and; Natalya (codename: Raven) who is widely regarded as the world’s deadliest assassin.

Of the three, it is Raven who has emerged as the rock star of the series. In the first two books (The Higher Institute of Villainous Education and The Overlord Protocol), she was relegated to babysitting and mentoring duties. But over time, the author has given her more to do. And in this book, he’s (finally!) given us a meaningful glimpse into her origin story.

Like the students at H.I.V.E., Natalya was groomed for a future of villainy. She spent her formative years in the Glasshouse, “the most sophisticated operative training facility on Earth.” It was during her time at the Glasshouse when she picked up her nickname Raven. And it was during this time when she was honed as a human weapon. “She’s going to be dangerous,” noted one of her teachers. “No,” said another. “She is going to be magnificent.”

Raven’s past is filled with brutality and sadness. And it adds up to a big novel-ending twist. It’s pretty terrific. The rest of the novel is a little bit of a letdown, however. During the first half of the book, Otto and his friends concoct a complicated Rube Goldberg-like scheme to hack into their school’s computer system (their goal is to grab a copy of an upcoming exam, btw). And in the second half of the book they are enlisted to participate in a Battle Royale-like game of survival. Both endeavors turn out to be a total bust. Thankfully, Raven comes to the rescue. Not only does she save the H.I.V.E. kids when their plans go awry. But she also gives us a reason to read the next volume in the series (H.I.V.E.: Deadlock, available 02.24.5).

[H.I.V.E.: Aftershock / By Mark Walden / First Printing: April 2014 / ISBN: 9781442494671]

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

Girl on Fire

BurningMan“I don’t have superpowers,” says Olivia Dunham scoffing at the notion that she was some kind of superhero. But we beg to differ.

During the five years Fringe was on TV, and here in the second of three supplemental Fringe novels, Olivia shows a tendency to trigger electrical disturbances and fires when emotionally agitated. And her predilection for Cortexiphan-induced pyrokinetic tumult gives her the ability to cause troublesome neuroquake havoc. And, on top of everything else, she also holds the key to an alternative universe. She most definitely has superpowers. And it wouldn’t be a stretch to call her a superhero either.

The Burning Man begins in 1982 when a young Olivia Dunham unwittingly participates in Dr. Walter Bishop’s misguided experiments with a crazy drug called Cortexiphan. The novel attempts to fill in the 26-year-gap between her early years in Florida and her early years as an FBI Special Agent in Boston.

As a teenager, Olivia describes herself as a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. And that’s true. She was a kid from the ghetto with a dispirited mother and an abusive stepfather. Once her pyrokinetic superpowers emerged, however, she was whisked away to an exclusive prep school in Massachusetts—tuition paid by a mysterious tech conglomerate called Massive Dynamic.

Unfortunately, Olivia’s life doesn’t calm down once she reaches Deerborn Academy. In successive order, she is harassed by her stepfather, hunted by a serial killer, and marked for “special treatment” by a doctor who wants to beget a new race of superhuman progeny. And don’t forget about the Observers. They’re on the sidelines silently watching Olivia the whole time.

Honestly, there’s not much we liked about this book. The entire thing is a hot mess. And that’s too bad. We had minor quibbles with Christa Faust’s first Fringe novel (The Zodiac Paradox). But overall we enjoyed reading about Walter Bishop, William Bell, and Nina Sharp as a trio of bumbling hippies. This time, however, Faust never finds her groove. The novel features three separate supervillains (in three separate storylines) each with their own separate scheme to destroy Olivia. To call it disjointed would be an understatement.

But the author’s biggest stumble is her inability, despite endless stabs at character-defining exposition, to bring young Olivia Dunham to life. On the TV show, Olivia was an important part of the Fringe triumvirate. But solo, she’s barely recognizable. Admittedly, she’s a high school kid for most of the book (how many of us are fully formed by the age of 16, after all?). But Faust never truly captures Olivia’s core identity. Instead, she is called “a lonely badass.” Readers have to fill in the rest. Let’s hope this novel doesn’t become official Fringe canon. Olivia Dunham, superhero, deserves better.

[Fringe: The Burning Man / By Christa Faust / First Printing: August 2013 / ISBN: 9781781163115]

Posted in Film/TV, Published in 2013 | Tagged , ,

Live! In the Link Age 11.01.14

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…

Moonstone has just released the latest Green Lama book (Horror in Clay / By Adam Lance Garcia / First Printing: October 2014 / ISBN: 9781936814862]. In this 1938 adventure, the verdant vigilante investigates an attack on the German Consulate in New York City. “The Green Lama discovers a crime far greater than any ever committed by man,” says the author, “and he learns a secret that will define the course of his destiny.” Also new from Moonstone: Domino Lady: Money Shot by Bobby Nash.

Trey Dowell, author of The Protectors, lists his favorite literary superheroes. “It’s not just comic books that provide us with legendary characters,” he says. “Literature provides a superhero fix in many different forms.” Read an interview with Dowell (here) and read a review of his novel (here).

Illusive, a dystopian superhero novel by Emily Lloyd-Jones, made the short list on Booklist’s Top 10 First Novels for Youth in 2014. “Impressive and multifaceted,” says the site, “this thriller sidesteps easy categorization.” We liked it too (read our review here). And we’re looking forward to next year’s sequel, Deceptive.

Rafael Chandler has worked as a story designer and/or scriptwriter for a handful of major videogame companies. To quote Ira Gershwin: “Nice work if you can get it.” More recently, Chandler has been busy writing his first superhero novel (The Astounding Antagonists / First Printing: October 2014 / ISBN: 9781502894540). “Technically,” says the author, “it’s not a superhero novel—it’s a supervillain novel.” We stand corrected. Here’s the blurb: “A cryogenic drug lord, a hell-bound jewel thief, a metallokinetic communist, a church-burning psychopath, and a megalomaniacal inventor: they are the Antagonists, the most dangerous supervillains alive. Pursued by violent superheroes and high-tech billionaire vigilantes, these villains have assembled in order to pull off the perfect crime. There’s just one catch: if they succeed, they might just save the world.”

Back in 2012, Jim Zoetewey published a novel called The Legion of Nothing: Rebirth. At the time it received good reviews and sold well. Now Zoeteway wants to continue publishing his superhero series (in ebook and print format) and is looking for a little Kickstarter help. Visit the author’s website (here) for more information about The Legion of Nothing.

Author Michael Bailey (Action Figures) talks about his love of superhero fiction and shines a spotlight on a few likeminded indie writers. “Superhero fiction as a genre needs some attention,” he says. “Fantasy, horror, sci-fi, they all have very significant presences on Amazon, and you can find websites aplenty dedicated to genre fiction, but there’s not much out there promoting superhero fiction—which, as a genre, is fairly small and for that reason underrepresented.”

Anybody who’s contacted this site about getting his or her book reviewed knows that it takes a long time for us to cycle through our reading list. Just ask Vincent M. Wales and Nick C. Piers. It took us over a year to post reviews of their novels (Reckoning and The City of Smoke and Mirrors). And that’s not all—we’re endlessly embarrassed by all the unread books loaded on our Kindle. Our reading list is long and ever growing. As we see things, the solution to our problem is obvious. We need a minion or a sidekick or an assistant. The Thunderbird Project by Rebecca Harwell is another example of a book we’ve overlooked. It was released last August and the publisher dutifully sent us a copy. And yet after 16 months it still sits on our shelf unread. We apologize to the author for our slow reading habits. Hopefully we’ll pick up her book soon (fingers crossed). In the meantime, check out this positive review of Ms. Harwell’s novel here.

Question: Are superheroes science fiction or fantasy? Answer: It depends.

Beginning as a curiosity and hobby for social outcasts, cosplay is now a global phenomenon that’s been fueled by an explosion in geek fandom. Written by Brian Ashcraft and Luke Plunkett, Cosplay World (First Printing: October 2014 / ISBN: 9783791349251) is an in-depth look at the heroes and history of “costume play.”

Jill Lepore talks to Terry Gross (NPR’s Fresh Air) about her new book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman. More interviews: Frank Byrns, author of Adonis Morgan: Nobody Special. Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

Reviews: Tigerman by Nick Harkaway (here and here). Sad Wings of Destiny by Thom Brannan (here). Shield and Crocus by Michael R. Underwood (here). Vicious by V.E. Schwab (here). Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson (here). Fringe: Sins of the Father by Christa Faust (here). Burn Bright by Bethany Frenette (here). The Brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney (here). The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore (here). Voltron: From Days of Long Ago by Brian Smith (here).

For your reading pleasure: “Gailsone: Paint the Town Red” by Casey Glanders. Small Town Heroes by Marion G. Harmon. Artificial Intelligence by Vala Kaye. H.E.R.O. – Anarchy by Kevin Rau. Aphrodite’s Delight by Julie Kenner. The Purple Scar edited by Ron Fortier. The Deli Counter of Justice edited by Arlo J. Wiley.

Posted in Live! In the Link Age | Tagged ,

Rise of Heroes

FallofHeroesIn the first Cloak Society novel, the relationship between Alex Knight and his mother was so bad we didn’t see how the two could ever patch up their differences. And now here we are in the third book. And guess what? The two are still raging a war against each other.

Using a little bit of mind control and some intimidation tactics, Shade and her Cloak crew have successfully taken over Sterling City. But the villainess isn’t totally satisfied. She’s got her eyes on a bigger prize. “I won’t stop fighting until this entire world is bowing before me,” she says.

Alex, to his credit, doesn’t want to have anything to do with his mother’s megalomaniacal schemes. He’s put together a disparate team of young guns and their goal is to blast the Cloak Society to smithereens. Naturally, the ensuing novel-ending clash is fueled by unresolved familial drama.

Alex had spent his entire life trying to guess what his parents wanted from him. And now he’d gone and done the exact opposite. He became one of the good guys. “I was supposed to be your biggest victory,” he tells his mother during an early showdown. “But look at me now. I got away from you. I didn’t turn into your weapon.”

It’s funny. Even though Shade was furious with Alex for mucking up her plans, she was actually quite proud of him. Once he left the Cloak Society, Alex was able to form his own group of superheroes. She admired his pluck and concedes that he’s become a first-rate leader. She also acknowledges that her son’s telekinetic powers now rivaled her own. Because Shade is a villain first and a mother second, she respects Alex more as an adversary than as a son. Truly, it is a crazy fucked up world we live in.

Alex and his parents aren’t the sole focus in this book of course. There are other cast members grappling with personal issues of their own. One sub-plot involves Lone Star, the most popular superhero in Sterling City. At the end of the second novel (Villain’s Rising) he was banished to a Phantom Zone-like prison. When Alex and his gang finally arrive to help him escape, Lone Star discovers that he has lost all of his superhuman powers. The author’s decision to feature an adult’s identity crisis in a kid’s book was a (somewhat) surprising twist that we didn’t expect.

In the series’ first novel, Alex and a girl named Kirbie shared a sweet moment during a secret midnight rendezvous. Alex’s resolve to abandon the Cloak Society (and betray his parents) can be traced back to that particular moment. Unquestionably it was our favorite part of the first novel. We were happy to see Alex and Kirbie have a similar moment in this book too.

“Congratulations,” says Kirbie to her new friend and teammate. “You’re a superhero now.” She may possess Beast Boy-like morphing abilities, but it turns out that her sense of intuition was actually her greatest super power. “I was right about you all along,” she says with a big grin.

[The Cloak Society: Fall of Heroes / By Jeramey Kraatz / First Printing: September 2014 / ISBN: 9780062095534]

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

Use Your Illusion, Part I

IllusiveDystopian novels are often set in the near future and feature an oppressive alternate universe that extrapolates upon the worst tendencies of contemporary society. If you read Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, or The Giver in school, you undoubtedly have a pretty good idea of what dystopian fiction is all about.

These days the genre has been overrun by a stampede of perky YA authors. Never mind dusty tomes like A Clockwork Orange or The Handmaid’s Tale, kids today are reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Legend by Marie Lu, and Delirium by Lauren Oliver. And if they’re hip kids, they’re probably also reading Battle Royale by Koushun Takami.

Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones is a novel that aligns comfortably with this new wave of dystopian fiction. The story’s protagonist is a teenage girl named Ciere Giba, and like Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior, she’s fighting against a brave and horrible new world. This time, however, there’s a twist: superheroes are involved.

Problems arise in 2017 when a new disease called Meningococcas Krinotas shows up in Africa. Within six months the MK plague reaches every corner of the globe and the human race is on its way to extinction. In a word: Yikes!

To the rescue comes a vaccine called Praevenir. It isn’t exactly a cure, but it does provide immunity against MK. Unfortunately (?) there are some side effects. Approximately 0.003 percent of those vaccinated experience superhuman-like powers such as telepathy, perfect recall, increased intuition, levitation, body manipulation, and hypnosis. Our hero, for example, becomes an illusionist—a human chameleon.

So what’s the problem? The MK plague is defeated and a small number of people are now enrolling in Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. That sounds pretty awesome to us.

The problem, however, is this: The vaccine’s side effects could have changed the world for the better. It could have ushered in a new world order—a glorious age of heroes dedicated to solving all of humanity’s problems. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. “Human physiology was altered,” writes the author. “But human nature wasn’t.”

It’s now 2034 and the United States is forcibly “recruiting” an army of overmen. “We stand on the brink of war with several countries,” explains a shadowy government agent. “America’s only advantage over its many enemies is the number of super soldiers it can control.”

From his perspective, the growing number of superhumans creates currency with the government. And to him, that’s good news. But others don’t see it that way. “We’re not people to them,” counters Kit Copperfield, the leader of a small band of super mercenaries. “We’re nothing but tools. Interchangeable human weapons.”

Humanity has always defined itself by its weapons. The Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Atomic Age—we track our progress by how easily we can take another person’s life. Now ask yourself this question: How will historians see this newly emerging generation? The answer according to author Lloyd-Jones is simple. The moment Praevenir was introduced to the population, humanity itself became the weapon. In 20 years we’ll all be living in the Superhuman Age.

[Illusive / By Emily Lloyd-Jones / First Printing: July 2014 / ISBN: 9780316254564]

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

The Hunter and the Hunted

1P_HUNTER_JKT.inddAfter spending a lifetime reading superhero fiction, there’s one thing we’ve learned: The most important thing about being a superhuman is the “human” part. The “super” part is nothing but sound and fury and utility belts.

That’s something Lancelot Mckendrick doesn’t fully understand at the beginning of Michael Carroll’s latest New Heroes/Quantum Prophecy novel. He’s only 14 years old and he’s still trying to figure out his place in the world. “I don’t know whether I want to be a superhero or a con man,” he says.

To clear his head, Lance rejects his superhero friends (Roz, Abby, James, and Gethin) and hooks up with the Circus Fantabulosa. Now calling himself Hunter Washington, he lives in anonymity amid the carnival’s manufactured revelry. As the years go by, Lance (correction: Hunter) blossoms into a mature adult. Life as a carny is grueling, transitory, and often unforgiving. But the circus teaches him valuable lessons in humility and selflessness (he also picks up a sundry of useful sideshow tricks like how to eat light bulbs and train kittens). As he grows older, he no longer wants to be a superhero or a con man.

During his time under the big tent, Hunter continues to harbor a secret personal agenda. As the carnival travels from city to city, he is obsessed with finding the woman who murdered his family five years ago (see The Ascension for more details). In this way, Hunter’s basic nature is conflicted. Is he, like his new name implies, on the prowl for revenge? Or is he subconsciously hiding from his former superhero colleagues? In other words, is he the hunter or the hunted?

As it turns out, the answer to that question is both. He needs to find Slaughter (the crazy lady who killed his mother, father, and brother) so he can find peace of mind and bury the past. But he also needs to stay disconnected from the superhero community because he doesn’t want to become a pawn in the megalomaniacal clash between Max Dalton and Casey Duval. How he reconciles this dilemma is at the core of the novel.

Plans have a way of not working out, especially when superheroes are involved. But Hunter is smart (and lucky) enough to avoid any debilitating distractions. Before the book ends, he has sober one-on-one moments with both Slaughter and Max Dalton. These moments help steer the story to a bittersweet (and very human) conclusion.

[Hunter / By Michael Carroll / First Printing May 2014 / ISBN: 9780399163678]

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