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 involved 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

The Many Missteps of Dynamistress

RedemptionIn Reckoning, geneticist Dinah Geof-Craigs found a way to manipulate her DNA and acquire superpowers. But now in the second book of her expansive memoir, she was suffering from super self-esteem issues.

“I’m going through a bit of a crisis of confidence,” she admitted. “I’m questioning myself. All my past decisions. All my future plans. Everything.”

Dinah’s past was littered with heartbreak, familial drama, and countless missteps. Gaining superpowers was cool. But being a superhero made her mopey and neurotic. “I know it’s not wise to dwell on past mistakes,” she said. “But I just can’t help it.”

The only way to reconcile the past was to step fearlessly into the future. Everybody from Fred Flintstone to Steve Jobs knew that. And if Fred and Steve were still alive, they would undoubtedly counsel Dinah to do the same. You have to trust in something – whether it’s destiny, life, karma, Fruity Pebbles or whatever.

Dynamistress was still feeling the fallout from “the Nevada Incident,” a Fringe-like crisis detailed in the first volume of her autobiography. During this mission, officially classified as Project Echo, Dinah came face-to-face with her proxy from an alternative universe and caught a super virulent strain of cryptococcal meningitis. Worst of all, she killed an adversary in combat. And you know what they say: You never forget your first kill.

These ongoing issues dominate this somewhat disappointing sequel. Despite her therapist’s recommendation to focus on her good qualities and forgive her mistakes, Dinah was an obsessive navel-gazer who couldn’t let anything go. Her disposition was so relentlessly tiresome that her hairdresser finally barked at her: “Just man up, bitch!” Truly, it was time for Dynamistress to stop whining and take control of her life.

Unfortunately, Dinah’s path to inner peace isn’t a smooth ride. Her adventures are presented in an episodic and static manner. And, as a result, the details never quite coalesce into a satisfying reading experience. This could be a format problem. Or it could be an execution problem. Honestly, we don’t know.

The novel features some terrific stand-alone moments, however. The best one comes at the very end when Dinah diffuses a tense hostage situation. So, in a way, the author is ultimately able to pull a rabbit out of his hat. Good on him. But there remain nagging problems throughout the book that undermine Dinah’s journey of self-discovery. Maybe everything will get sorted out in the third and final volume in the series (Renaissance, coming soon). We’ve got our fingers crossed.

[Redemption / By Dinah Geof-Craigs and Vincent M. Wales / First Printing: April 2015 / ISBN: 9780974133768]

Posted in Published in 2015 | Tagged ,

Live! In the Link Age 11.04.15

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!

Eoin Colfer, best known for his Artemis Fowl series, has agreed to pen an upcoming Iron Man novel. Along with Colfer’s book (available in the fall of 2016), expect to see another Black Widow novel from Margaret Stohl. And don’t forget about the Captain Marvel and Squirrel Girl novels from Shannon and Dean Hale.

A new short story compilation called The Side of Good/The Side of Evil (Edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Greg Schauer / First Printing: December 2015 / ISBN: 9781942990031) boasts an impressive gaggle of authors like Peter David, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Gail Z. Martin, and Robert Greenberger. Acknowledging the complicated relationship between all superheroes and supervillains, the anthology will be printed in a flipbook (tête-bêche) format. Says Amazon: “This collection is guaranteed to be super…no matter which side you pledge your allegiance to.”

In the sixth episode of “Throwing the Gun,” authors Drew Hayes, Cheyenne Young, Jim Zoetewey, and Christopher Wright talk about the daily grind of being a full-time writer. And later they discuss the worst writerly advice they’ve ever received. Added bonus: an interview with Ronin Games author Marion G. Harmon. We don’t normally rate these monthly podcasts, but this episode is easily the best of the bunch so far. Young, in particular, is surprisingly candid about how she segued into a full-time writing situation. Check out her series Powered (here and here).

Author Stephen Henning has produced numerous video trailers to promote his ongoing Class Heroes series. His latest clip gives fans a behind-the-scenes peek at how he makes his films, particularly one tricky special effect. Check it out here: Class Heroes: Special FX Feature. Admits Henning: “This is purely for those of you who are keen on filmmaking, the problems of a film shoot, and fixing issues in postproduction.”

According to his short bio on Amazon, The Mighty Jewmanberg is a stand-up comedian from New York who still lives with his mother. He’s also an author who recently self-published two of his novels in one handy edition (Super Syndicate: When Heroes Divorce and Sundown: Don’t Die Again / First Printing: October 2015). The first novel is about a couple of bickering superhero teams from Los Angeles. The second book is about a crooked policeman from New York who dies and is given a second chance to live.

Otto Von Trapezoid and the Empress of Thieves (By Jesse Baruffi / First Printing: October 2015 / ISBN: 9781620078570) is the story of two criminal masterminds who fall in love and attempt to conquer the world. Things get sticky when they realize there can only be one absolute ruler of Earth. Says one reviewer: “Sometimes the book is a parody, sometimes it’s earnest superhero stuff, sometimes it’s self-conscious meta-fiction, sometimes it’s postmodern and ironic, and sometimes it’s just silly.” Check out Baruffi’s website (here) for more details.

If you’re into origami and superheroes (and who isn’t?), then you’ll get a kick out of the following activity books: Batman Origami, Superman Origami, Wonder Woman Origami, and Justice League Origami. The kits are designed by internationally renowned origami master Jon Montroll and feature artwork by Min Sung Ku. Says the publisher: “Experience the power of folding your favorite superheroes!” The promotional video (here) is amazing.

Interviews: C.T. Phipps, author of The Rules of Supervillainy (here). Gene Luen Yang, author of The Shadow Hero (here). R.A. Jones, author of The Twilight War (here).

Reviews: Ronin Games by Marion G. Harmon (here). Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti (here). School for Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough (here). The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (here). Lady Superior by Alex Ziebart (here). Vicious by V.E. Schwab (here). The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew (here). The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris (here). iBoy by Kevin Brooks (here).

For your reading pleasure: Caped: An Anthology of Superhero Tales edited by Ian Thomas Healy. The Superhero Memoirs by Kenneth Kim. Hunting Heroes by Derek Pozel. Rumblings by A.P. Fuchs. Horror Heroes 2 edited by Nicholas Ahlhelm. Unexpected Power by Brigitte M. Marshall (available 01.02.16). Superman Is Jewish? by Harry Brod (available 01.12.15). Supervised by Princess Jones (available 01.27.16). The Interminables by Paige Orwin (available 07.05.16). The Osamu Tezuka Story – A Life in Manga and Anime by Toshio Ban and translated by Frederik L. Schodt (available 07.12.16).

Posted in Live! In the Link Age | Tagged ,

The Incred-Ables

AblesA long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away they were called Jedi Knights. In Roman and Greek mythology they were worshipped as gods. In comic books they were known as superheroes. But in real life, they were simply called custodians.

When Phillip Sallinger found out that he had superpowers, he jumped up and raised his arms in victory. “I’m a superhero!” he shouts. “Or a custodian. Or whatever. Same difference. Either way, I have the Force!”

Yes, Phillip had a superpower (he was telekinetic). But he was also blind. And that meant he could only move objects that he was intimately familiar with (like a mobile phone or a bar of soap).

But his blindness didn’t stop him from assembling an awesome custodial crew. Joining him in his superhero club was Henry, a wheelchair enabled mind reader, Bentley, a genius with ataxic cerebral palsy, Penelope, a girl who could control the weather but had an aversion to sunlight, James, a blind teleporter, Fred, a guy with Henry Pym-like growing abilities and chronic asthma, Delilah, a deaf girl with super hearing, and Donnie, a 25-year-old adult with Down syndrome and mysterious powers. Never mind that Phillip and his friends each had a physical handicap that landed them in a high school special education class. It didn’t matter. All together they were the Incred-Ables.

Without question, author Jeremy Scott has written a supremely high-concept novel. He could probably walk into any Hollywood pitch meeting and utter the words “superheroes with disabilities” and be rewarded with a straight-to-series TV deal. Good for him.

Unfortunately for readers, The Ables takes a long time to gain momentum. After a cute first scene, the novel struggles to find a balance between exposition, action, and stage setting. Not until the villain is introduced in Chapter 13 (page 144) does anything interesting happen. “It’s time to be proactive,” says one of the Ables. Thank goodness!

Once the kids bump into Mr. Finch at the city library, the novel quickly captures lightning in a bottle. We confess that we almost gave up reading this book a couple of times. But we’re glad we stuck with it. Despite our impatience, The Ables eventually delivers its high-concept promise along with the author’s message. Which is: Everybody in this world has a unique combination of ability and disability. Says Bentley, the group’s super genius: “Make no mistake, we are hindered only by our determination and bound only by our imagination.”

[The Ables / By Jeremy Scott / First Printing: May 2015 / ISBN: 9781940262659]

Posted in Published in 2015 | Tagged ,

Golden Powers

AlienHordeSuperheroes like Ms. Marvel and Static are famous. But unlike musicians, actors, and athletes, they generally followed a strict code of conduct that prevented them from exploiting their notoriety. “Where’s the fun in that?” asks Miles Taylor.

Miles was a 12-year-old kid with newly acquired superpowers. By wearing a golden cape blessed with alien technology, he could fly and do all the things comic book heroes could do.

The cloak transformed him into Gilded – colloquially known as the Halcyon Hero, the Golden Great, and/or the 24-Karat Champion. But to his dismay he couldn’t use his abilities for any sort of personal gain. He couldn’t fly to New York City on a whim and buy a yummy slice of pizza. Instead he was stuck in his school’s cafeteria eating a stale cheesy breadstick. “Revenge, greed, and putting yourself above others wasn’t the right thing to do,” he eventually learns.

He wasn’t the smartest kid in the world, but Miles was smart enough to know what he didn’t know. And he definitely didn’t know how to be a superhero. Even with the help of the golden cape, he wasn’t sure he was the right guy for the job. He was just a scrawny kid in middle school. What did he know about being a hero? Heck, he hadn’t even made it through the first year of Cub Scouts.

“You need to study more,” says his best friend, Henry. “I’ll give you more comics to read.” And sure enough, with the help of his friend’s comic book collection, Miles slowly learns about the superhero code of honor. More than anything, Gilded was an ideal — an umbrella in a rainstorm, a blanket on a winter night, and a Neapolitan ice cream sandwich during the summer. He made people feel safe and secure.

Unbeknownst to Miles and his best friend, the world was about to be blitzed by an army of lizard-like space aliens. And this, thank goodness, is where the novel takes a welcome turn from overly earnest to wildly amusing. The Unnd (led by their riotously funny commander, Oogalus Berbert Calamity) come to Earth with one mission: to kill everything! “I want Earth blown to pieces,” says Commander Calamity. “I will not allow its beauty to taint the universe!”

Naturally, Miles and his golden cape play an important part in thwarting the alien invasion (reading all those comic books really came in handy, apparently). It’s funny, however. It was Miles who saved the world, but in a final ironic twist, it was the evil Unnd horde that saved this novel.

[Miles Taylor and the Golden Cape: Attack of the Alien Horde / By Robert Venditti and Dusty Higgins / First Printing: June 2015 / ISBN: 9781481405423]

Posted in Published in 2015 | Tagged , , ,

Hot for Teacher

BuriedSecretsCertainly there were happy people living in Smallville. Lionel Luthor, for example. He owned most of the town. Why wouldn’t he be happy? And Jonathan and Martha Kent. They were modest people who derived pleasure from working on their small farm.

But there were unhappy people in Smallville too. Lana Lang’s parents were killed in a meteorite shower. Lex Luthor had ongoing daddy issues. And Clark Kent was a lovesick puppy that pined for a girl who would never totally reciprocate his affection. To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy: “All happy people in Smallville were alike; all unhappy people in Smallville were unhappy in their own way.”

Take the Sanchez family for example. They gave up cushy jobs in Spain to become corn farmers in Kansas. But their idyllic dreams were dashed on the day Smallville was rocked by a meteorite shower that brought baby Kal-El to Earth. Their nine-year-old daughter Lilia suffered the worst. She had to live the rest of her life with space junk embedded in her skull.

Eventually, José and Carmencita Sanchez sold their farm and moved back to Madrid. But their daughter stuck around long enough to earn a college degree and get a job teaching (Spanish, of course) at Smallville High School.

Lilia’s personal life was splintered and she suffered ongoing seizures because of her childhood head injury. But she grew up to be a stunningly beautiful woman. At 23 she looked like “Penelope Cruz and Jennifer Lopez morphed together.” That ain’t too bad.

Naturally, the arrival of Profesora Sanchez on campus caught the attention of Clark “Horndog” Kent. When he thought about her, he felt like a thousand tiny birds were in his belly all beating their wings at the same time. Clearly, he was hot for teacher. “If you told me you didn’t like her,” said a friend, “I’d say you weren’t human.”

But Clark had concerns. His Spanish teacher had a preternatural ability that could jeopardize his deepest secret. Those chunks of Kryptonite in her skull gave Lilia mindreading super powers. And that wasn’t good news for a young space alien in love. “What if she knew about my powers?” cried Clark. “She can’t find out. She can’t tell anyone. She can’t know my secret!”

Thankfully, not everyone infected with Kryptonite turns out to be a supervillain (or a snitch). Lilia figures out Clark’s secret pretty quickly but she remains discreet. In the final chapter she gives her favorite student a bit of advice. “Don’t keep what’s in your heart a buried secret,” she told him with a wink.

You can’t write a Smallville novel without addressing Clark Kent’s adolescent angst or Lex Luthor’s emerging villainy. Nor can you ignore the super-charged estrus of Lana Lang. Author Suzan Colón is smart enough to know this. But her sole contribution to the show’s mythology (Lilia, the sexy dama mind reader) pales in comparison to the well-known legacy characters. Without a doubt, Lilia had her own unique story to tell. But here in this tie-in novel, she was just an actor in the wrong TV show.

[Smallville: Buried Secrets / By Suzan Colón / First Printing: June 2003 / ISBN: 9780316168489]

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

Future Tense

EntropyIt’s the end of the world in Matthew Phillion’s latest novel. Mankind is just moments away from being wiped off the face of the planet. “Let the cats inherit the Earth,” says one remorseful minion. “The apes have done a lousy job as caretakers.”

Naturally, the Indestructibles are on the case. A terminal event is happening in an alternative timeline and they’ve been recruited by a chronomancer to save the world. “An entire future is dying due to us,” says Doctor Silence cryptically.

Everybody knows that time travel is risky business. But responsibility always comes with a terrible risk. “The only thing to do,” says Kate Miller, the Indestructibles’ brawling ballet warrior princess, “is ride the razor edge with skill and care.” In a vote of solidarity, the superkids agree to jump into the future and do their best to save the upcoming apocalypse.

Once they make the jump, the Indestructibles spend a few awkward moments adjusting to their future selves. In the ensuing 20 years, Titus grew up to become Conan the Barbarian Werewolf King. Jane became a creature of pure solar energy (sort of). Kate was now blind and dispirited. And for some reason Billy’s alien Luminae power transferred to a girl.

But the biggest shocker of all involved poor Emily. Her entropy powers became an infinite engine of global destruction. She was trapped inside a megastructure that was designed to capture a star’s exploding power. In other words, Entropy Emily had turned into a huge and unstable nuclear reactor. Her broken heart was tearing the world apart.

This is the third Indestructibles novel from author Phillion and it might be his best effort yet. As with the two previous books (read our reviews here and here), the main characters tackle weighty emotional issues with a balance of disquiet and grace. And there’s lots of humor and good writing to boot.

If anything, we can only fault the book for our own selfish reasons. We thought the author was on track to make a subtle point about the imperfection of life. In Japan they call it wabi-sabi. It’s a term that encourages a way of living that accepts the natural cycle of growth and decay. It’s mostly an untranslatable term in English, but Matthew Phillion came very close to writing the first wabi-sabi superhero novel. With a title like The Entropy of Everything, that’s what we were expecting.

[The Entropy of Everything: The Indestructibles Book 3 / By Matthew Phillion / First Printing: August 2015 / ISBN: 9780990889861]

Posted in Published in 2015 | Tagged , ,