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 a pinch of passion. We were hoping Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson would hook up at some point. But the two superstuds kept their bromance strictly G-rated. Captain America was too busy with Hydra trickery to have an afterhours sweetheart. That’s too bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lois Lane: Fallout Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live! In the Link Age 07.16.15

SunnySunny 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.”

Written by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore (with substantial contributions from artist Andie Tong), The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence came out in January of this year. It’s the story of a group of youngsters who acquire superpowers based on the spirits of ancient Chinese astrology (read our review here). At the time, there was no mention of a sequel or any other media tie-in ventures. But that’s about to change. In September, Papercutz will start publishing an on-going graphic novel series (The Zodiac Legacy #1: Tiger Island / By Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Paris Cullins / ISBN: 9781629912974). And next year, Disney will release a sequel prose novel (The Zodiac Legacy: The Dragon’s Return / By Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong / First Printing: January 2016 / ISBN: 9781484713525). Don’t be surprised if toys and cartoons follow shortly thereafter.

Is Violenzia a brave and reckless heroine fighting monstrous evil? Or is she a deranged angel of death? For answers, check out Violenzia and Other Deadly Amusements (By Richard Sala / First Printing: October 2015 / ISBN: 9781606998854). Says the publisher: “With elements of Golden Age comics and old movies mixed with the artist’s trademark humor and sense of the absurd, Violenzia is a bloody enigma masked as eye candy, a puzzle box riddled with bullet holes.”

In Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Stripmall! (By Tom Angleberger / First Printing: March 2016 / ISBN: 9781484714522) our heroes (?) find themselves stranded on a planet made up of strip malls, maniacal robots bent on customer service, and killer toilets. Sounds like fun to us. Added bonus: the book features artwork by both Rocket and Groot.

Most of the action in the world of superhero prose fiction comes from self-published and indie authors. If we had to guess, we’d say that 2-3 superhero novels pop up on Amazon every week. And that’s a conservative estimate. With so many books to chose from, it’s nice to see a helpful article like this: “Top Three Indie Authors of the Superhero Genre.”

Interested in superhero romance novels? If so, check out “Up, Up, and Away: Superheroes in Love.”

Congratulations to Gene Luen Yang for snagging this year’s Eisner Award for best writer. As regular readers know, we greatly enjoyed The Shadow Hero, his graphic novel from last year. And we’ve got our fingers crossed that he and artist Sonny Liew will someday collaborate on a second volume.

Interviews: Gwenda Bond, author of Lois Lane: Fallout (here). Matt King, author of Godsend (here). Jim Zoetewey, author of The Legion of Nothing (here). A.T. Raydan, author of Chopstix (here). Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble (here).

Reviews: Worm by J.C. McCrae (here). Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond (here). Overpowered by Mark H. Kruger (here). After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn (here). Supervillains Anonymous by Lexi Dunne (here). How to be a Superhero by Mark Edlitz (here). Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson (here).

For your reading pleasure: Eve: True Stories by Daniel Way. Corto Maltese: Beyond the Windy Isles by Hugo Pratt. Second Chance City by L.A. Kelley. The Incredible Herb Trimpe by Dewey Cassell and Aaron Sultan. Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan (available 10.06.15).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Published in 2015 | Tagged , ,

Princess Excellent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Published in 2015 | Tagged , ,


LoisClarkLois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was a TV series from the ’90s that emphasized the flirty relationship between Lois Lane and Clark Kent. During its four-season history, the show was a fun and good-natured romantic comedy.

But judging by this 1996 novel, author C.J. Cherryh never saw a single episode of the show. It’s an extremely serious book with very little comic banter between Lois and Clark. Cherryh doesn’t come anywhere close to capturing the spirit of the TV series.

Even more troubling, Lois & Clark: A Superman Novel is actually two separate books smooshed disharmoniously together. In one novel, Superman is tending to a disaster “somewhere uphill of Chechnya.” In the other novel, Lois is reporting on an disaster in Metropolis. In both, Clark Kent is simply a forgetful dingbat who drifts in and out of the newsroom at the Daily Planet.

Nowhere is there any winsome Nick and Nora-like chemistry between the two lovebirds. There is a smidgen of romance here and there (mostly at the end), but Cherryh seems to be saying that love and career are two separate things for Lois and Clark. “She had her job and he had his,” writes the author. “And they each did what they had to.”

Despite the book’s many missteps (and believe us there are many glaring missteps), Cherryh’s writing remains top-notch from the first page to the last chapter. She’s a veteran science fiction and fantasy author who has won a raft of industry awards (including the Hugo for her novels Downbelow Station and Cyteen). In truth, there’s no way a C.J. Cherryh novel is going to be a total bust.

For example, the way she describes Superman in the air is terrific. These reoccurring passages may be the best writing in the book. “He broke through the gloomy gray clouds of Metropolis into the brilliant day that existed above the storm, rising into increasing cold and thinner air. Here he breathed like a swimmer in surf, water streaming off him and then freezing in his wake. Snow might have followed him, however briefly.”

Flying across the Atlantic: “He wasn’t hungry, but he was burning up the energy around him, turning the air colder than surrounding air and creating microweather as he went, an effect that could generate a sparkle of ice as moisture froze in midair.”

And over Asia Minor: “He flew high, high above political boundaries where his radar signature might trip alarms and scramble aircraft. He might have been a falling satellite. A piece of space junk. A cosmic piece of debris above the ancient and disputed land of Anatolia.”

Because of the ongoing crisis in Europe, Superman spends a lot of time in this book going back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean. Cherryh wants her readers to know that flying solo is a big part of being Superman. It’s lonely business being the last son of Krypton. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A man who can fly through a sunset should be able to share that experience with someone he loves.

[Lois & Clark: A Superman Novel / By C.J. Cherryh / First Printing: August 1996 / ISBN: 9780761504825]

Posted in Marvel/DC, Movies/TV | Tagged ,

Enter the Dragons

TheDragonsOfHeavenFor some mysterious but utterly nefarious reason, someone had constructed a giant invisible dome over China. Nobody inside could get out. And nobody outside could get in. It was a “New Wall” for a new generation.

To its credit, China was handling the quarantine with unsettling efficiency. And why not? If the Chinese could survive the upheavals of the 20th century and the madness of the Mao era they could survive anything.

But one way or another, that pesky dome had to come down. After all, what would Americans do without their cheap smartphones and sneakers if China were locked behind a magical wall?

To the rescue comes Mr. Mystic, a superhero with a long and spotty history. During WWII he helped smash the Axis Alliance. But at the same time he supported Japanese internment camps. And later, he was a poster boy for McCarthyism. In his glory days, he came across like a dapper British gentleman. In reality he was a mean fucking bastard.

But Mr. Mystic was old. Really old. If he was kicking Nazi butts back in the ’40s, how old was he now? He had to be older than 80. Some people theorized that he was ageless due to Eastern Kung Fu and meditative practices. Other people thought he was drinking Infinity Formula cocktails with Nick Fury.

Nobody, however, knew the truth. The original Mr. Mystic had disappeared years ago, and his legacy was being kept alive by his granddaughter Melissa “Missy” Masters. Dressed in pulp drag, she kept the streets of San Francisco safe at night. In three years of active duty nobody was the wiser.

Missy (aka Mr. Mystic) was uniquely talented to solve China’s problem. By slipping into the shadows that divided parallel worlds, she could pop in and out of the dome at will. Together with a star-spangled superhero and a member of San Francisco’s Chinese Triad, she arrives in Shanghai like a wrecking ball.

But things are always complicated in China. A council of dragon spirits and huxian hotties were waiting to pounce on Missy. In fact, all these guardians of heaven and folkloric creatures shared an intimate history with the Masters family. And they couldn’t wait to get their claws into her. It became clear pretty quickly that the invisible dome over China was a payback powerplay. “Dragons are assholes,” says Missy at one point.

The Dragons of Heaven is a superhero novel with a pinch of retro pulp fiction. We like that. It’s also a fantasy novel and an epic love story with lots of Kung Fu and dragons. We like that too. Once in Shanghai, the plot bogs down a little bit. But don’t worry, it picks up eventually. The author’s knowledge and enthusiasm for Chinese mythology ultimately wins the day. This will be the most unusual superhero novel you’ll read all year. Guaranteed.

“Wandering girls who wake up in fairy tale environments rarely fare well,” writes the author. “And in Chinese folklore, mortals who dally with spirits usually end up worse off then they started.” Despite the overwhelming odds against her, Mr. Mystic came to China, matched wits with feuding dragons, and prevented WWIII. Says Missy: “A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.”

[The Dragons of Heaven / By Alyc Helms / First Printing: June 2015 / ISBN: 9780857664334]

Posted in Published in 2015 | Tagged ,