Live! In the Link Age 02.05.16

LegendCityCheyanne Young’s three-book superhero series City of Legends (not to be confused in any way with Legend City) was recently published by Alloy Entertainment. Congratulations to the author for striking a deal with a primo company. Because of its affiliation with Warner Bros., Alloy has become a high-profile media imprint responsible for best-selling novels and entertaining television shows (such as The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, and (our favorite) Pretty Little Liars). Who knows, maybe we’ll see Young’s series (here, here, and here), on the CW someday. For more information, check out an interview with the author (here).

Charles F. Millhouse recently announced that he would be writing a new superhero series called Identities. The storytelling will mimic the bronze age of comics, he says. That sounds good to us. Here’s more info from Millhouse: “The world is growing stranger and more dangerous. Madmen look to wreck havoc and destruction on a global scale. Grown out of desperation (or destiny) humans have come forward with amazing abilities. Some use them for good, and some use them for evil. Others walk a fine line between both.” Watch out world, your new champions have arrived: The British Lion, Lady Powerhouse, Slipstream, Ink, Neo Frost, Bob, and Defender.

The fourth (and latest) Cosmic Girl novel is now available (Cosmic Girl: Unmasked / By RSJ Gregory / First Printing: January 2016). The series is about a wheelchair-enabled teenager who suddenly finds herself imbued with superpowers. Says the description on Amazon: “Britney soon discovers that the life of a superhero is very different from the comic books.” Catch up with the series with the handy three-in-one box set (here).

Keep your eyes open for the Super Dudes in 2017. Elise Gravel’s two-book series features Super Bob and Super Sue and their quest to dismantle Captain Evil’s plans to take over the world. When they have a few moments to spare, the super duo also rescues kids who don’t like to eat broccoli.

It isn’t easy growing up in a world where super powers are real, just ask Kya Roberts, a 32-year-old “normal” stuck in a dead-end job (Second Class Supers / By Annie and David Peralty / First Printing: December 2015 / ISBN: 9780994940612). After suffering the day-to-day torments of her super-powered boss and coworkers, Kya starts poking around for a way to get her own super powers. What she finds, however, is the deep dark secret behind all superhumans. It sounds like a promising debut for a long-running series. But that’s not the case, according to coauthor David Peralty. “Second Class Supers is a complete story,” he says via email. “It’s not the first volume of an infinite number of sequels. We took all of our great ideas and put them in one 95,000-word novel.” More information (here).

Daniel Halayko (The Prospects and The Prospects: Nothing Poorer Than Gods) has published a new collection of stories (The Prospects: Above the Stars / First Printing: January 2016). The series is about a group of characters who are learning what it means to be heroes and villains “in a world where superpowers can save the day but doom the future.”

Super Born: Seduction of Being by Keith Kornell came out in 2010 and was one of the first reviews we published on this site (here). Now we see that a sequel is on the horizon. Super Born 2: World on Fire will be available 04.22.16. (Hopefully by then, Amazon will fix all the incorrect solicitation information.)

Question: When is Max Allan Collins going to write an Agent Carter novel?

Interviews: Peter Clines, author of Ex-Isle (here). Tom King, author of A Once Crowded Sky (here). Matthew Phillion, author of The Entropy of Everything (at the 11:15 mark here). Ian Thomas Healy, author of Blood on the Ice (here).

Reviews: Othergirl by Nicole Burstein (here). Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson (here). DC Comics: Secret Hero Society #1: Study Hall of Justice by Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen (here). Searching for Super by Marion Jensen (here). How to be a Superhero by Mark Edlitz (here).

For your reading pleasure: The Invincibles by Michael McNichols. Sleepernet by Mike McCool. Freaks Anon by Matt Darst. The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics by Famzi Fawaz. Batman’s Arsenal: An Encyclopedic Chronicle by Matt MacNabb.

Posted in Live! In the Link Age

Minor League

TheLeagueExposition is not a dirty word. Nor is it something writers need to avoid. For a screenwriter who has only 90 minutes to tell a story, exposition is a convenient way to keep audiences up-to-speed while moving the action forward.

Narrative exposition is particularly useful in superhero fiction. A villain’s end-of-novel soliloquy, for example, is a great way to wrap up a story with a tidy bow. And over the years it’s become a warm and fuzzy trope we’ve all come to expect and enjoy. Let exposition be your friend, that’s what we say.

But too much expository writing is a bad thing. Readers expect a certain amount of declarative information. And they’ll put up with an occasional data dump if it’s done creatively and/or entertainingly. But when there’s too much explaining and lecturing going on, it can cause readers to become impatient and irritable.

Sadly, this is the case with The League, the first novel in Thurston Bassett’s Post-Humans series. Information between characters is needlessly rehashed over and over again. It’s extremely annoying. In the future, the trick for the author will be to find a way to disclose information without boring the reader to tears. Hopefully he’ll take our advice and he won’t hit the refresh button so frequently in the sequel.

The League follows a superhero named Athan Harper (aka Sleepwalker) who is able to physically transport himself into anyone’s body. In this way he becomes a citizen of the communal subconscious. “I can use people’s minds as a key to unlock a doorway into a metaphysical dimension,” he explains.

These cross-dimensional gateways were filled with a copse of mighty sphincters and fleshy monolithic towers. It was also a place inhabited by brooding creatures with plans to break free of their preternatural prison. In order to smash these monsters, Athan assembles a post-human league of extraordinary superheroes.

If you can forgive the tedious exposition, you might be able to enjoy The League in some small measure. In no way can we recommend this novel, but it does contain a pinch of untapped potential. For instance, Athan spends a big chunk of time traipsing across a Dadaesque landscape. These bizarro scenes could have exploded off the page with Carlton Mellick-like zeal. And later, when Athan tangles with a man who spontaneously begins to mutate and decompose, it would have been cool if the action ventured into crazy manga territory (like Parasyte by Hitoshi Iwaaki or Project ARMS by Kyoichi Nanatsuki).

T.S. Eliot once infamously said “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.” Perhaps what he meant to say was: “A good book can become a great book if an author simply follows the road previously traveled by his literary forebears.” That’s certainly the case here. The League proves that potential is just another word for missed opportunities.

[The League / By Thurston Bassett / First Printing: August 2015]

Posted in Published in 2015 | Tagged ,

It’s Not Easy Being Green

CrimsonCircleJethro Dumont (aka the Green Lama) adopted a number of conflicting identities when he returned to the U.S. from a 10-year sabbatical in Tibet. He was a Buddhist, an Asura demigod, a tulka, a billionaire, a womanizer, a fop, a vigilante, a superhero, and a monster.

Dumont also acquired many aliases and alternative names over the years too — Dr. Charles Pali, Hugh Gilmore, the Buddhist Bastard, the Battlin’ Buddhist, the Destroyer, the Verdant Vigilante, Green Sleeves, and (most rudely) the Green fucking Lama.

Out of necessity (and with the help of a little theatrical greasepaint), Dumont had taken on more than 86 different identities during his 16-year career as a crimefighter. But what’s in a name? To paraphrase Juliet Capulet: “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

“Let’s call me what I really am,” says Dumont in an end-of-novel pique. “An angry god.”

In this, the latest novel from Adam Lance Garcia, Dumont is still struggling to find the balance in his life (check out our reviews of Garcia’s previous books here and here). The Green Lama was a Buddhist. But to be completely honest, he wasn’t a very good one.

If Dumont were a true lama (green or otherwise), he would never raise his hand against another. And he would never be so preoccupied with morality of “good versus evil.” If he wanted to fight crime as a Buddhist, he would teach and help others find enlightenment. He wouldn’t spend his life in the shadows, using violence and torture against those whom he deemed criminal.

Over the years, he had broken nearly every tenet of his faith to help rid the world of darkness. And yet he still considered himself a Bodhisattva. “Through my actions,” he says defiantly, “I can act as a shepherd, helping others reach enlightenment while delaying my own. I stray so that others may find the path.”

Still feeling the afterburn from his recent tangle with Cthulhu, the big daddy of all cosmic monsters, the Green Lama and his associates find themselves being targeted by a serial killer named Omega (“I’m just a career man doing my job,” he says flippantly). To complicate matters further, New York City is being overrun by a plague of mindless cannibals. The twin crisis of Omega and the zombie horde (along with a big squirt of lingering Lovecraft juice) help the Battlin’ Buddhist manifest into a grumpy demigod.

Once he has the Power Cosmic at his fingertips, Dumont starts to lose his grip on humanity. How could he not? “There are no words in the English language to describe what it feels like to wield the power of the gods,” he says. “With a flick of my wrist I could destroy a city. It is nothing to stare down the barrel of a gun when you have the fire of 10,000 suns burning through your veins.”

In a word: Yikes! The world didn’t need another unstable superhero with godlike powers — especially one with ongoing identity issues like the Green Lama. Something had to be done. And it had to be done quickly. Otherwise, we were all in danger of experiencing samsara, the circle of life.

Jethro Dumont’s god-like supernova is ultimately dimmed. But his fall from heaven leaves a lot of questions. The Green Lama had saved the world countless times in the past, but the war on evil still continued. Who would don his green robes and continue his legacy? “Whatever happens now,” says one member of gang green, “I’m sure it’ll be interesting.” We agree. Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of the Viridescent Vigilante (or whatever name he chooses to call himself).

[The Green Lama: Crimson Circle / By Adam Lance Garcia / First Printing: October 2015 / ISBN: 9781936814954]

Posted in New/Old Pulp, Published in 2015 | Tagged , ,

Live! In the Link Age: Short Reviews of 2015 (Revisited)

OldGhostsThe last time we saw Alice Gailsone she was lying in a hospital bed recuperating from injuries sustained from an atomic bomb (The Red Rook). In her first post-nuclear adventure (“Old Ghosts” / By Casey Glanders / First Printing: August 2014), Gailsone finds herself in a sentimental mood. But (no surprise!) her sentimental journey to Houston leads directly to an ambush by a gang of murderous mercenaries led by Benny Callahan. Big Ben was a crime boss who’s been chewing up the scenery for a long time (he helped Hernán Cortés colonize/destroy the Aztec Empire back in the 16th century). Now he and his pals are snooping around an abandoned Purge facility looking for trouble. All Alice wants to do is retrieve a cherished memento and get the hell out of Texas as fast as possible. She’s not going to let an immortal, a vampire, a magician, or any old ghosts get in her way. [Review first published 01.16.15.]

ZeusGeorge O’Connor’s six-volume graphic novel series featuring Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Aphrodite was collected in a snazzy box-set last year (Olympians / First Printing: October 2014 / ISBN: 9781626720596). Although the text sometimes veers closely to Classics Illustrated territory, we nonetheless recommend O’Connor’s retelling of these “original superhero stories.” In the first volume’s afterword, the creator explains how he became obsessed with ancient mythology at an early age. “I was sick from school one day in sixth grade,” writes O’Connor, “and my parents brought me a copy of The Mighty Thor, published by Marvel comics. The art was weird and wonderful, and I remember staring at it, trying to comprehend whether I loved it or hated it. The story was full of all those enormous, bigger-than-life beasts I remembered from my copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. I had always loved comics, but that copy of Thor, with its gods and monsters and lightning and drama, changed what comics could be for me.” [Review first published 02.13.15.]

JacoFans of Akira Toriyama’s seminal manga series Dragon Ball can generally be divided into two distinct groups: people who enjoy the over-the-top battles of Son Goku in Dragon Ball Z, and people who prefer the gentle humor of the earlier adventures. Like millions of people around the world we love Toriyama, but we quickly lost interest in his epic once it gained the Z appendage. The early volumes were amazing and funny; the latter volumes were tedious and blunt. Jaco the Galactic Patrolman (By Akira Toriyama / First U.S. Printing: January 2015 / ISBN: 9781421566306) finds the mangaka exploring a world just prior to Dragon Ball mania. Jaco is from outer space, but he’s no ordinary spaceman. He’s a super elite galactic patrolman (and goofball) who is stranded on Earth. “I got distracted watching a video and I bumped into the moon,” he admits sheepishly. In a way, Jaco’s sort of like an inept member of the Green Lantern Corps. He’s on an important mission to save Earth, but he needs to save himself too. As the story progresses, Jaco serendipitously reinvents himself as a superhero named “Mask Man.” He hates the name but enjoys the notoriety – he especially likes striking iconic superhero poses whenever he’s in public. Toriyama’s distinctive cartooning, which effortlessly blends action and humor, is a treat. And the ending, if you haven’t heard by now, brings Jaco, Goku, and Toriyama full circle. It’s a nice way to revisit the pleasures of Dragon Ball (without the Z). [Review first published 03.06.15.]

PIXEmaline Laurel Pixley is the teenage daughter of the king of the fairies. But instead of hanging out with Tinker Bell, Thumbelina, or the Tooth Fairy, she wants to be a superhero (PIX: One Weirdest Weekend / By Gregg Schigiel / First Printing: February 2015 / ISBN: 9780990521808). Being a superhero, however, means that poor Emaline can’t spend her weekends sleeping late, binge-watching Mercury Beach, and hanging out with her pals Sherilee, Regina, and Shaggy. There are more important things to do. She’s got to squelch a fire-breathing dragon, battle a Magic 8-Ball-starfish-scorpion thingie, and rebuff the advances of a dreamy frog prince. Plus she needs to solve an unexpected rabbit problem. Artist Gregg Schigiel is a veteran cartoonist who’s published work at Marvel, DC, and Disney. And if you have kids, you’ve probably also noticed his name in a few issues of Spongebob Comics. It’s nice to see a pro like him tackle a kid-friendly superhero comic with a strong female protagonist. The words and pictures are sweet-tempered and will appeal to young readers who have yet to discover the super-serious punch-y action of DC comics. Most of all, we love how much heart young Emaline “Pix” Pixley has. “Yes, I have superpowers,” she says during an interview on TV, “So, like, why not use them to help people?” Right on. We’re already hoping for a Second Weirdest Weekend. [Review first published 03.25.15.]

RareGemsIn the latest Gailsone adventure (“Rare Gems” / By Casey Glanders / First Printing: February 2015), the spotlight shines on Aika Fukijima and Allison Gailsone, two former killing machines who are struggling to reinvent themselves as superheroes. As we know, Allison lost her sister Meredith in a botched Purge assignment (see our review of Gailsone: Red Rook). Now we discover the sad details surrounding Aika and her sister Nanami. Known professionally as Lotus, Aika was once regarded as the deadliest assassin in the world. Her skills were legendary, and her martial techniques were forbidden and deadly. She was a woman who prided herself on perfection in everything she did. Sadly, however, she made one terrible mistake in her life and that mistake continues to hang over her head like a dark cloud. How Allison and Aika work to resolve their familial tragedies is a big part of this ongoing Gailsone series. We’ve got our fingers crossed that everything works out for the best. Shine on you crazy diamonds. [Review first published 04.17.15.]

SoloistSuperheroes are famous for being perfectionists. Bruce Wayne, Natasha Romanoff, Matt Murdock – they all trained diligently to reach their utmost physical and mental potential. And so it is with Kate Miller too (“The Soloist” / By Matthew Phillion / First Printing: April 2015). In two excellent novels (reviewed here and here) Miller fought evildoers as a member of a superhero team called the Indestructibles. But she was the only member of her crew who wasn’t bit by a spider, hit by lightning, or cursed by Galactus. She had to work hard to be a badass. They called her Dancer because she moved like a ballerina and hit like a mixed martial artists fighter. Now, in a prequel to the first Indestructibles novel, we get an insight into Miller’s motivation. As it turns out, being a ballerina is excellent training for being a crimefighting vigilante. You never know when a perfectly executed grande jeté will come in handy. Coda: the author recommends listening to Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” while reading this story. [Review first published 05.06.15.]

SHMonsterHunter TheGoodFightUnlike Bruce Banner, who was always angry, Lars Petersen had learned to control his transformative temper. Or so he thought. In “Slouching Towards Ragnarok” by Frank Byrns (Superhero Monster Hunter: The Good Fight / Edited by Miles Boothe / First Printing: June 2015), Petersen was doing his best to live life as a normal person. But the government (or a complicit secret organization) wanted to provoke the beast within him. In his puny human form, Petersen was useless – small and weak. But as the rampaging Ragnarok, he became a weapon and/or invaluable test subject. The Agents of S.M.A.S.H. found a way to harness the incredible power of the Hulk. Convincing Ragnarok to get with the program, however, might be a little bit tricky. After all, what do you do with a monster with a broken heart? [Review first published 05.21.15.]

Dreamers SyndromeWhat would it be like if the world was transformed overnight by the fantasies of a group of 10-year-old children? That’s the premise behind “The Mistress and the Servant,” Frank Byrns’ contribution to a new short story collection called Dreamer’s Syndrome: New World Navigation (Edited by Mark Bousquet / First Printing: May 2015 / ISBN: 9781512274134). At recess, Mike, Stevie, Chris, Valerie, and Perry were known as the League of Superdorks because of their superhero role-playing antics. But when the Reorganization turned reality into make believe, the Superdorks became super cool. No one knew exactly how it happened. Some people thought it was God’s Will. Other people theorized that it was the result of Millennial entitlement. But whatever it was, suddenly the laws of physics were limited only by the imaginations of a bunch of comic book-loving kids. It was debatable, however, whether life after the Reorganization was better or worse. Who knows? For answers, Byrns quotes Victor Hugo (“…imagination is the mistress and memory is the servant.”), but we prefer to quote Facebook: “It’s complicated.” [Review first published 06.08.15.]

DeathAugustIf comics have taught us anything, it’s that death is rarely a permanent condition (Fritz the Cat, notwithstanding). And so it is with August Dillon (“The First Death of August” / By Matt King / First Printing: April 2015). He’s a rogue bounty hunter on the run from a highly advanced paramilitary outfit. But he’s also a newly minted superhero. Or, as he says, “I’m the first who’s willing to admit it.” Dillon knows that he’s strong. And he knows that his body heals quickly. But since he skipped his superhero training class, he’s not sure how strong and bulletproof he actually is. In this adventure, Dillon is killed by a clan of hillbilly bullies (“his life ended like a flame snuffed out in a windowless room”), and he’s later feed to a giant anaconda. When things get sorted out, he downplays his unlikely comeback. “I was a little off my game,” he says with a shrug. Find out more about the indestructible Mr. Dillon and The Circle of War series at the author’s website (here). [Review first published 06.24.15.]

Sunny

Sunny Side Up (By Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm / First Printing: August 2015 / ISBN: 9780545741668) is a surprisingly mature effort from the creators of Babymouse and Squish. It’s a semi-autobiographical story about a 10-year-old girl named Sunny Lewin who is caught in the middle of a family crisis. Naturally, she doesn’t understand her brother’s slide into drug and alcohol abuse (she’s just a little girl, after all), but over time she gains a teeny tiny bit of insight into his maddening affliction. Reading comic books help – specifically ones featuring the Incredible Hulk and Swamp Thing. Both characters confuse her at first. Are they bad guys or good guys? But after a while she figures it out. Even though they look like monsters, they’re actually heroes. Like her brother, they didn’t plan for anything bad to happen. “Things just got out of control.” [Review first published 07.16.15.]

TowerfallThere’s a funny bit in the latest Gailsone episode (“Towerfall” / By Casey Glanders / First Printing: June 2015). Allison Gailsone is riding a nuclear missile into outer space (that’s not the funny part, btw). Following the rocket’s blast, her superhero boyfriend is in hot pursuit. After some tense moments, Red Guard successfully intercepts the weapon and saves his girlfriend from being blown to pieces. But to his surprise, Allison has some sharp words for him. Red Guard’s response to his girlfriend’s criticism reminds us of the lyrics to an old Howlin’ Wolf song (and here we paraphrase): “I’m built for space travel, not missile-catching,” he says. “But I’ve got everything all the good girls need.” Don’t worry about the quarrelsome couple, however. They eventually patch things up. The astronautical makeup sex is awesome, apparently. [Review first published 08.09.15.]

Academia

My Hero Academia ( Vol. 1 / By Kohei Horikoshi / First Printing: August 2015 / ISBN: 9781421582696) takes place in a world where 80 percent of the 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. [Review first published 09.01.15.]

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. [Review first published 09.27.15.]

ravenWho’s your favorite member of the Teen Titans? And don’t be a smart aleck and say Aqualad. We’re talking about the roster of Teen Titans Go! the loony series currently on Cartoon Network. Without a doubt, the most popular character in our house is Raven, the cute li’l sarcastic demon girl. In Raven Rocks! (By J.E. Bright / First Printing: October 2015 / ISBN: 9780316377324) she helps avert a Halloween crisis, gets trapped inside her favorite TV show (Pretty Pretty Pegasus), and competes with her teammates to be crowned the new Captain Crazy. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll be pleased to see that the stories are faithful adaptations from each of the TV episodes. Plus, the book is sprinkled with a generous amount of cute Teen Titans Go! imagery. The book’s title doesn’t lie: Raven does indeed rock. Azarath Metrion Zinthos! [Review first published 11.04.15.]

AirboyDeluxe EditionJames Robinson and Greg Hinkle wrapped up their four-issue Airboy series recently with nary a scrotum, a boob, or an inflammatory remark in the final 29 pages. Instead, the creators took a bow after delivering a simple upbeat message. That’s somewhat surprising considering the series began as a loud and messy affair. Robinson even got into a bit of hot water when he used derogatory lingo in issue #2 (read his apology here). No apologies were necessary, of course. When you write a story with bad people doing bad things, sometimes bad language creeps into the dialogue. It’s all about context. Get the upcoming trade paperback (Airboy Deluxe Edition / First Printing: January 2016 / ISBN: 9781632155436). [Review first published 12.01.15.]

Posted in Live! In the Link Age, Pre-existing, Published in 2015 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Superhero Novels: The Best of 2015 and a Peek at 2016

DaredevilBlackWidowLike Batman and Catwoman, our two favorite novels of 2015 are like the flip side of the same coin. One book puts superheroes squarely in the real world. Conversely, a big chunk of action in the second book takes place in virtual reality. But no matter what reality you prefer, both novels do a terrific job of showing how flexible (and inclusive) our tiny genre can be. Case in point: the remaining books in our annual Top Five list include a Russian superspy, professional druggies, and the countdown to the end of the world. Congratulations to all the authors who made 2015 a great year for superhero prose fiction.

1) The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar. Mid-Twentieth century was a crazy time in history. Thank goodness we had superheroes to clean up the mess created during WWII. Neither a secret history, nor an alternative history, Tidhar’s book represents a parallel history that includes rockets, atomic bombs, death camps, and beyond-men. Easily the best superhero novel of the year.

2) I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest and Kali Ciesemier. Integrating text with sequential art, Priest and Ciesemier have produced a compelling hybrid novel that takes the world of webcomics and pairs it with Hitchcockian suspense and Flowers In the Attic-like wickedness. More than anything, however, the creators have given us a story about the two most important things in life: friendship and superheroes. In a word: X-cellent.

3) Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl. As a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers, Natasha Romanoff has a reputation as the world’s most lethal weapon. But she’s got a soft side too. Stohl successfully gives the Black Widow vulnerability, compassion, and a sense of humor. Without question, this is the best prose novel based on a Marvel character. We can’t wait for the sequel.

4) Less Than Hero by S.G. Browne. All the slacker superheroes in Browne’s novel are professional druggies — they developed their metahuman abilities by being consensual guinea pigs for the pharmaceutical industry. Funny and relentlessly critical of Big Pharma, Less Than Hero is social commentary with a superhero twist.

5) The Entropy of Everything: The Indestructibles Book 3 by Matthew Phillion. We feared this would be the last Indestructibles novel from Phillion. Entropy, after all, is sort of the antithesis of Indestructible. But we were wrong. In this third book in the series, the indefatigable Indestructibles travel to the future and Voltron with themselves to save the world. As it turns out, The Entropy of Everything gave us double the fun and double the pleasure.

Looking ahead, we can already tell that 2016 is going to be a busy year for us. Here’s a partial list of novels that we’ll be reading during the next twelve months. Preorder them now.

A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl. Almost Infamous by Matt Carter. Arrow: Vengeance by Oscar Balderrama and Lauren Certo. Bartman: The Superhero’s Handbook by Matt Groening. Battlestorm by Susan Krinard. Black Widow: Red Vengeance by Margaret Stohl. Calamity by Brandon Sanderson. Captain America: Dark Design by Stefan Petrucha. The Conclave of Shadow by Alyc Helms. Ex-Isle by Peter Clines. Ghosts of Karnak by George Mann. The Interminables by Paige Orwin. Investigating Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet’s Ace Reporter by Tim Hanley. Jerusalem by Alan Moore. Lois Lane: Double Down by Gwenda Bond. The Mighty Odds by Amy Ignatow. Miles Taylor and the Golden Cape: Rise of the Robot Army by Robert Venditti and Dusty Higgins. The Oddfits by Tiffany Tsao. Powers: The Secret History of Deena Pilgrim by Brian Michael Bendis and Neil Kleid. Renaissance by Dinah Geof-Craigs and Vincent M. Wales. Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Stripmall! By Tom Angleberger. Scarred by Erica Hayes. Secret Hero Society: Study Hall of Justice by Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen. Sidekick Returns by Auralee Wallace. Superhero Universe: Tesseracts Nineteen edited by Claude Lalumière and Mark Shainblum. Superheroes Don’t Eat Veggie Burgers by Gretchen Kelley. Valkyrie by Kate O’Hearn. Waking Gifts by Susan Jane Bigelow. The Zodiac Legacy: The Dragon’s Return by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong.

Posted in Best Of, Pre-existing, Published in 2015 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

The Red and the Black

ForeverRedNowadays everybody knows who Natasha Romanoff is. As the Black Widow she’s an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a charter member of the Avengers Initiative. Seeing her name splashed across magazine covers and movie theater marquees was unavoidable. It was the price she paid for taking up the sacred responsibility of protecting the entire planet.

But she wasn’t always so beloved. There was a time when she was Mother Russia’s deadliest secret weapon. Her pedigree was peerless. As a young girl, she trained in the Red Room, Moscow’s favorite finishing school for spies and sleeper agents. And later, she graduated from the legendary Black Widow program specializing in close-quarters combat, tactical, navigation, military engineering, and artillery. She was a Top Gun superspy. Or as she put it: “I was whatever they told me to be,” she said. “A patriot and a ballet-dancer assassin.”

As the years went by, Natasha slowly turned her back on her beloved homeland. She was forever red, but she was tired of being twisted into knots by skeevy puppet masters. During her career she was shot at, blown up, dropped out of airplanes, attacked with knives, hit by every kind of moving vehicle on the planet, and ultimately betrayed by the country she loved the most. At some point she decided to change teams. And lucky for us, she was now forever red, white, and blue.

Because of her background and experience, Natasha chose to live a Spartan lifestyle. She didn’t want any attachments, emotional or material, that would compromise her mission. To help stay focused, she kept a lone matryoshka doll (a traditional Russian nesting doll) on her kitchen tabletop. The symbolism was clear. The Black Widow was a hollow doll.

But no matter how hard we try to control our environment, fate has a way of spilling our borscht. And that’s what happens here. Natasha discovers a secret from her past that gives her a pinch of humanity and turns her world upside down. And as a result, her latest adventure takes her from Odessa, to the halls of S.H.I.E.L.D., back to Odessa, and finally to the catacombs beneath Istanbul. Forever Red is truly the untold story of Natasha Romanoff, Black Widow.

Author Margaret Stohl has done an excellent job of portraying Natasha as both a flawed human being and a charismatic badass. Yes, she’s tough and inscrutable. But she’s also a little bit vulnerable. And (surprise!) she’s funny too — she can mix it up with Tony Stark when she has to. In addition, Black Widow: Forever Red introduces an important new character that will undoubtedly be part of official Marvel continuity in the future. This isn’t Natasha’s first last stand. To be continued in Black Widow: Red Vengeance.

[Black Widow: Forever Red / By Margaret Stohl / First Printing: October 2015 / ISBN: 9781484726433]

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

Good Enough

ZeroesJust because you’re blessed with superpowers doesn’t mean you have to hang out in dark alleys and bust crime. Unlike all the do-gooders living in Central City and Star City, you could choose to lead a private, uncomplicated life.

The temptation to don a domino mask would always be there, however. Case in point: Nate, Chizara, Thibault, Riley, Ethan (and eventually Kelsie). They were six high school kids with an odd assortment of mutant powers. They called themselves the Zeroes as a joke. “Like heroes,” said Ethan, “but not.” They even tried to act like their favorite comic book characters, with training exercises, code names, a secret lair, and everything else.

But if someone were being kidnapped or assaulted, you would call the police, not a bunch of teenagers with fuzzy superpowers. Even the Zeroes understood that. They had the good sense to keep things on the down low.

Until one day when Ethan got tangled up in a botched bank robbery. His super bullshit powers derailed the heist but caught the attention of the authorities. Suddenly the Zeroes became embroiled in a complicated caper that involved drugs, dirty money, and murder. They had no choice. They had to become heroes.

After a few bumps in the road, the kids eventually discovered that they functioned best as a unit. Individually, each of them had a unique but limited skill set. But together they became the first superhero team fortified with crowdsourcing pep. Call them the Kickstarter Six, if you will. “If we stay connected,” explained Nate, “we can make each other stronger.”

We wonder if the three authors of this novel felt the same way. Like the Zeroes, did Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti possess a unique but limited skill set? Was the finished manuscript better for their collaborative efforts? Are three authors better than one? Who knows? Perhaps the answer to these questions can be found in Chapter 84 (yes, that’s right, there are 84 chapters in this book). “We did the best we could,” said Nate. Reading between the lines, that statement might very well be a thinly veiled admission from one of the writers three. Final verdict: good enough.

[Zeroes / By Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti / First Printing: September 2015 / ISBN: 9781481443364]

Posted in Pre-existing, Published in 2015 | Tagged