DinahMite

ReckoningPeople become superheroes for all sorts of reasons. Often they are motivated by an overwhelming sense of civic duty or they are possessed by superior moral standards. Some are inspired entirely by revenge.

For Dinah Geof-Craigs, however, she just wanted to be famous. Metahumans were more popular than movie stars and musicians and she dreamed of one day being on the cover of celebrity magazines like Teen Hero and SuperPeople.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t born with any kind of X-traordinary super power. It was her brother, and not her, who had struck the mutant gene jackpot. He possessed both telekinesis and telepathy abilities. Dinah was just a superhero wannabe and a jealous little sister.

But jealousy can sometimes be a great motivator. It inspired Dinah to bend fate in her direction. “My goal in life was to become a brilliant geneticist,” she said, “to study human-to-metahuman evolution, and to find a way to induce meta-mutation in myself.”

Dinah does, in fact, turn herself into a superhero. And this book is her autobiography (co-written by Vincent M. Wales). It is a personal memoir that chronicles her rollercoaster-like ride from grumpy teenager to selfless superhero. Interestingly, it is the first of three volumes.

At the start, Dinah comes off like a self-centered brat. “I wield sarcasm like a bludgeon instead of a rapier,” she admitted. “I considered the eye roll sublimely eloquent.” She was a moody cuss who harbored an unreasonable jealousy of her doting older brother. And like all teenagers, she had an ongoing combative relationship with her parents.

Eventually Dinah moves to San Francisco to make her superhero debut. Calling herself Dynamistress (Ooh! Steamy!), she eventually enlists in the Bay Scouts, a superhero team affiliated with the U.S. Coast Guard. One thing leads to another and she quickly gets entangled in a Fringe-like parallel universe caper.

As a memoir, Reckoning has an overriding reflective and pensive nature. We were happy to see that this navel gazing ultimately culminates in a nice little denouement by the last chapter.

Early in the book, Dinah reflects upon a happy moment from elementary school. In a second grade talent show she stepped on stage to sing the song “Car Wash” by Rose Royce. By all accounts she killed it. “There was no denying my enthusiasm,” she said. “The audience was enjoying my performance. They could see that I was talented and pretty.”

Upon further reflection, Dinah finally acknowledges that six of her classmates were on stage too. The audience wasn’t just responding to her singing alone. They were actually enjoying the entire ensemble. It is this memory that helps Dinah morph into a fully mature, magnanimous adult. No matter who we are (daughter, sister, friend, lover, superhero), we are always a better person with the love and encouragement of other people.

[Reckoning / By Dinah Geof-Craigs and Vincent M. Wales / First Printing: October 2013 / ISBN: 9780974133751]

Posted in Original Characters, Published in 2013 | Tagged ,

Live! In the Link Age 09.06.14

falloutMatthew Phillion, author of The Indestructibles, writes about gender neutrality in a recent post (here). “We need more variety in female characters,” he says. “I want my friend’s daughter to grow up reading about characters that run the gamut of abilities and personalities (including—but not limited to—butt-kicking strong heroines). I want my nephew to grow up seeing female characters who are side by side with male characters, both good and bad, heroic and cowardly, silly and stoic, ordinary and extraordinary.”

We agree with Phillion, of course. Authors of superhero fiction have generally done a lousy job of presenting well-rounded female characters over the years. The landscape was bleak in the early days of comics. There were a few exceptions, of course (Miss Fury, perhaps), but for the most part women in superhero comics were invisible (Sue Storm), subservient to their husband (Medusa), or maddingly stuck in neutral (Wonder Woman). That all changed in 1972 when the fourth issue of Mister Miracle was released. Suddenly the world had her champion: Big Barda.

Much has been written about Barda over the years, but our favorite comments about her came from author Michael Chabon back in 2004. “Everything she did partook of the bigness that was the essence of her character,” he wrote in Allure magazine. “She spoke in exclamations and displayed Rabelaisian appetites for food and drink. She was brusque, sardonic, hot-tempered, and did not endure patiently the doubts and tergiversations or anyone less intelligent or quick to seize the moment than herself. And to my knowledge, she was the first superheroine in the history of comic books whose personal courage, moral integrity, and astute intelligence, though they pervaded all her actions, were most joyfully expressed through her willingness, when necessary, to kick ass.”

Lois Lane, perhaps the most iconic of all female characters in comics, is famous for being a tough investigative reporter. But things weren’t so rosy for her during the Golden Age. Back then, her editors and coworkers marginalized her. And furthermore, she was dismissed and belittled by Superman (and Clark Kent). Most of the time poor Lois was stuck behind a desk writing advice columns for the lovelorn.

Thankfully, Lois Lane’s career has taken an upswing over the years. These days she is much more than merely “Superman’s Girlfriend” (and wife). We were delighted to learn that a novel featuring a teenage Lois Lane will be released next year (Lois Lane: Fallout / By Gwenda Bond / First Printing: May 2015 / ISBN: 9781630790059). Maybe now Lois will get the Golden Age respect she always deserved. We’ve got our fingers crossed. Here’s a brief synopsis: Years before joining the staff of the Daily Star, Lois Lane was an Army brat who moved all over the country with her family. Now living in Metropolis, she’s enrolled in a new high school and she’s making new friends—including a classmate with the decidedly quirky nickname of “SmallvilleGuy.”

Coming in 2016: Poppy Mayberry, The Monday. The debut novel from author Jennie K. Brown is about a small town where people acquire superpowers based on the day of the week they were born.

InfinityEOC shares his superhero novel collection on YouTube. He’s got some interesting books, although he admits that A) he hasn’t read most of them, and B) he probably won’t ever read them. Warning: the video is nearly 16 minutes long. Proceed with caution.

Have you ever wondered whether the origin of the Incredible Hulk is plausible in any way? Stanford biologist Sebastian Alvarado explains the science behind “the green inferno of acrimony.”

The Fifth Annual SuperHero Street Fair is nigh. If you’re planning to attend the festival too, let’s get together and share a cask of ale. Or whatever your grog of choice may be. (Sept. 27. 1-11 pm. 1700 Indiana St., San Francisco, Calif.) Also of interest: The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem is now a stage play.

Interviews: Dan Abnett, author of the upcoming Avengers novel Everybody Wants to Rule the World (available 04.15). Emily Lloyd-Jones, author of Illusive. Matthew Phillion, author of The Indestructibles. Ernie Lindsey, author of Super.

Reviews: Tigerman by Nick Harkaway (here and here). The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew (here). Black Ice by Susan Krinard (here). Jackrabbit by Ian Thomas Healy (here). Scorched by Erica Hayes (here). Imposter by Susanne Winnacker (here). Doc Voodoo: Crossfire by Dale Lucas (here). His Secret Superheroine by Patricia Eimer (here, here, and here). Out of Time by Donna Marie Oldfield (here and here).

For your reading pleasure: Joss Whedon: The Biography by Amy Pascale. The Fly by T.G. Mullen. Heroes including stories by Michael A. Stackpole, Alan Dean Foster, Sheryl Nantus, and others. Vecto: Vengeance by Reid Kemper. “Auxiliary Hero Corps 1″ by Charles Eugene Anderson. Holding Out for a Superhero by Nana Malone, V.J. Chambers, June Gray, and Joni Hahn. Django/Zorro #1 by Quentin Tarantino and Matt Wagner (available 11.12.14). Superheroes Anonymous by Lexie Dunne (available 11.18.14). Secret Wars by ??? (available 01.20.15). His World: The Art and Life of Wallace Wood by Bhob Stewart (available 03.10.15).

Posted in Live! In the Link Age | Tagged ,

Beyond Good and Evil

minion“When I was 12 years old,” says Michael Marion Magdalene Morn-Edson, “my father strapped a bomb to my chest and drove me to the First National Bank and Trust so we could steal $27,500.” Apparently Michael’s father needed the extra cash to A) finish a diabolical gadget, and B) buy some groceries. “We were out of frozen waffles,” he admits.

Don’t be mistaken, however; Michael wasn’t exactly a bad guy. Genghis Khan was a bad guy. And so was Vlad the Impaler. Michael, on the other hand, was just a young kid trying to help out his dad. “I’m not a supervillain,” he says. “Not even close.”

Over the years, Michael had learned one valuable lesson from his father: It was important to believe in something—even if it was wrong. More than anything, he didn’t want to be a bystander—a guy who spent his whole life holding his breath, waiting for something remarkable to happen. As such, by the time he was a teenager, Michael already had a history that put him at the top of the FBI’s most wanted list.

Michael and his father’s lawless lifestyle is threatened one day when a mysterious superhero shows up in their hometown. New Liberty had been a super-less city for a long time. All the supervillains dried up during the Great Migration, and all the superheroes left for greater glory. The arrival of the Cobalt Comet (or whatever he called himself) took everyone by surprise, especially vandals, delinquents, and organized crime kingpins.

No doubt about it, having a superhero in town was a big deal. But for Michael, there was something far more upsetting going on in his life. He met a cute girl at the mall recently and she was driving him nuts. “I blame my father,” Michael says. “He taught me way too much about physics and 19th century literature and absolute jack about talking to girls.”

Michael and Viola eventually develop a sweet friendship that blooms into a tentative love affair (the novel’s final chapter, btw, is very sweet indeed). “Whatever is done for love always occurs beyond good and evil,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche. And that’s the case here. Viola helps Michael come to terms with his true nature beyond villains and heroes. “I’m not evil,” says Michael on the very first page of this novel. “But sometimes it’s hard to know what’s right and what’s best and why there even has to be a difference.” He’s not alone. That’s something we all have to figure out eventually.

[Minion / By John David Anderson / First Printing: June 2014 / ISBN: 9780062133113]

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

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 , ,

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]

Posted in Original Characters, Published in 2014 | Tagged ,