Marvel’s Agents of Z.O.D.I.A.C.

ZodiacConvergenceThe Zodiac Legacy: Convergence is a pretty straightforward origin story. It’s about a small group of youngsters who acquire ancient Chinese super powers via an astrological convergence. Each of the kids gets preternatural abilities appropriate to their birth date: Tiger, Ram, Rooster, Pig, and Rabbit.

What’s not straightforward, however, is the name they chose to call themselves. The kids spend the entire novel trying to think of a jazzy team acronym. Like, for instance, A.I.R.L.O.C.K.S. (Astrological Investigation Remote Locator Operative Central Knowledge Systems) or Z.A.P.P.E.R.S. (Zodiac Action Preparation & Protection Emergency Response Squad). At some point G.A.P.P.Z. (General Action Peril Posse Zodiac) is rejected because “it sounds like an FX for flatulence.”

These days it’s hard to think of an acronymic name that’s clever and unique. After all, WildC.A.T.S., T.H.U.N.D.E.R., S.H.I.E.L.D., and N.W.A. have already been taken. Eventually the kids run out of options and briefly (but not seriously) consider calling themselves the Private International Zodiac Zero Assembly (P.I.Z.Z.A.).

Beyond the ongoing branding dilemma, the Z-kids (led by Steven Lee, the Tiger) are busy defending themselves from a scary guy named Maxwell. Like all good villains, Maxwell (no last name needed, apparently) thinks he’s a good guy. But in reality, he’s a vicious war contractor, and a villain-for-hire with no principles. ”He has all the advantages, all the toys, and all the money.” If he captures the power of all 12 zodiac signs he’ll be unstoppable.

There’s no question that Maxwell is a major nutcase. “I am the whirlpool,” he says while in a supervillain trance. “I am fire and I am chaos. I forge the future. I accept the burden and loneliness of power.” He has a dash of Dragon juice within him and that makes him a formidable foe.

Despite being the most powerful of all zodiac creatures, the Dragon is confounded by the wily nature of its young adversaries. Working as a team, the Agents of Z.O.D.I.A.C. find a way to clobber Maxwell and his Vanguard paramilitary troops. It’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with a Stan Lee twist. Added bonus: the novel also features 71 pages of illustrations by Andie Tong.

“You think you’ve won,” says Maxwell to his vanquishers “But you’ll eventually destroy yourselves. And then you’ll destroy the world.” Get ready for more zodiac vs. zodiac action in the upcoming sequel. World War Z has just begun.

[The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence / By Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong / First Printing: January 2015 / ISBN: 9781423180852]

Posted in Published in 2015 | Tagged , , , ,

Live! In the Link Age 02.13.15

Titan 2ndEditionLast year we posted a favorable review of Titan, Eric Bruce’s hefty 499-page superhero novel. “Big chunks of Titan are funny, violent, obscene, gross, horny, sweet, romantic, and emo,” we wrote at the time. Now we’ve learned that Bruce has released a spiffy new edition of his novel. We contacted him via email for an update.

SuperheroNovels:  Looking at Titan‘s new solicitation on Amazon (here), it appears that you’ve cut nearly 200 pages from the first edition. That’s a substantial haircut. How is the book different now? Tell us a little bit about your decision to revisit your manuscript and what type of editorial decisions you’ve made.

Eric Bruce: I view it as a second edition. I “trimmed” Titan by reassessing the spacing, font size, and overall layout. No magic or tricks. I’ve had a lot of great feedback on the story and the characters, etc., but some “logistical” feedback I received was simply that it was a bulky book. Which is accurate. I had some new promotional art commissioned to brand the Titan title for some conventions that I attended and so I thought it was a good opportunity to update the cover and reassess the page count through reformatting. Also, I publish through Amazon and it now offers a “matte” cover option, which is tremendous quality.

I added a copyright page and title page to make the book more professional as well. But in terms of changed or new content, I only added an afterword. Nothing in the story has been changed. I didn’t want to do a “George Lucas” special edition on the book; the story is the story and I didn’t want to go down that rabbit hole. I’ll post the new afterword to my blog soon so that people who bought the book already can just read it there if they choose. I didn’t want to force anyone who already bought the book to buy it again for cosmetic improvements and some new pages of my musings.

SN: What else is new in your Titan universe? Are you working on a sequel, for example?

EB: I am working on a Titan sequel! It’s called Titan: The Dark Path. It’s interesting that you ask the question in that way, “What’s new in your Titan universe?” The first book was an origin story, firmly focused on the main character, whereas the new book goes deeper into the history of Titan’s power and expands the world in which he lives. I have a first draft, which I’m currently revising into a second. My goal is to have the new book out by May.

Pro Se Productions has launched an author-based imprint called Single Shot Signatures. The first of these “digital singles” features a short story by Adam Lance Garcia called “Testament.” Says Garcia: “It’s based on the single most terrifying nightmare I ever had.” Future Single Shot publications will feature stories of all genres by both up-and-coming and notable authors.

Scott Westerfeld (and friends) is jumping on the superhero fiction bandwagon. Zeroes (available 09.29.15) is the first book in a new YA series about a group of super teens that share an auspicious birthday. The follow-up books in the trilogy will be published in fall 2016 and fall 2017.

George 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.”

SnapperHero, a scripted superhero series from Snapchat, features 12 episodes rolled out over a four-week period. Check out Variety for more information.

Steve Janson isn’t the hero we want. He’s not even the one we need. He’s just the one we have. Author Doug Cudmore says his novel Super Steve (First Printing: January 2015 / ISBN: 9780993993503) is a cross between Captain America, Horrible Bosses, This is 40, and The Wire. “At first,” says Cudmore, “saving school buses and pulling kittens from tress suits Steve perfectly. But as crime grips the city, the demands grow unbearable. Steve’s wife grows suspicious, his boss threatens to fire him, and his finances spin out of control after a gadget-buying spree.” Ultimately, Super Steve has to make a decision. Does he sacrifice his life to become a superhero? Or does he sacrifice the city in order to live with himself?

According to a review in Daily Mail, Vigilante by Shelley Harris is a novel that “touches on everything from the sexualization of schoolgirls to the misogyny of comics.” Adds Harris: “All the time in our culture we’re told stories about men who want to be heroes. It’s a real commonplace, and we’re sold the line that this is something women don’t want, but I believe that’s wrong. We want to be mighty and we want to be magnificent. We want to be heroes.”

Alyc Helms shares a brief synopsis of her upcoming novel, The Dragons of Heaven (First Printing: June 2015 / ISBN: 9780857664327). Says Helms from her webpage: “It’s a superhero novel, a pulp fantasy novel, with lashings of kung fu, immense kick-ass dragons and an unfailingly sympathetic heroine.” We can’t wait to read it.

Reviews: The Astounding Antagonists by Rafael Chandler (here). Adonis Morgan: Nobody Special by Frank Byrns (here). Meta by Tom Reynolds (here). Steelheart (here) and Fireflight (here) by Brandon Sanderson. Just Watch Me by David Jacobs (here). Hero by Perry Moore (here).

For your reading pleasure: Violet Star by J. Oliver Madison. Get in Trouble by Kelly Link. Mega Woman: An Erotic Superhero Adventure by Raymond C. Matthews. “Fly Girl: The Ice Queen” by Russ Anderson, Jr. PIX: One Weirdest Weekend by Gregg Schigiel. Alpha Male by Joshua Corey Mays. Just Watch Me by David Jacobs. Super by Princess Jones. Ares: Bringer of War by George O’Connor. Power Surge by E.J. Whitmer (available 03.17.15). Redemption by Vincent M. Wales (available 04.01.15). Going Through the Change by Samantha Bryant (available 04.23.15). Mimic by Kyle Richardson (coming soon).

Posted in Live! In the Link Age

Candy Corps

FirefightIt’s been 13 years since Calamity begat a new breed of supervillains. These Epics (with comic book-inspired names like Steelheart, Mitosis, and Obliteration) were cruel and immune to comeuppance. They were like lions among gazelles.

But their reign of terror had recently been challenged by a small group of rebels called the Reckoners. When these insurgents killed Steelheart, the ruthless leader of Newcago (see our review of the series’ first book here), they made a bold statement. “The day of Epic tyrants is over,” said Jonathan Phaedrus at the time. “No Epic, no matter how powerful, is safe from us.” The Reckoners had declared all-out war on Calamity’s progeny. There was no turning back.

Looking for their next big kill, a trio of Reckoners travel to Babylon Restored (aka Manhattan). The city, now mostly submerged under water, was ruled by a crafty hydromancer named Regalia. Like Kamandi, the last boy on Earth, Phaedrus and his gang paddle into Regalia’s watery domain not sure of what fate had in store for them.

In tow with Phaedrus was David Charleston, the 19-year-old kid who took down Steelheart. In less than a year with the Reckoners, Charleston had killed almost a dozen Epics. Now known as Steelslayer, Charleston was a Reckoner rock star. Like it or not, he had become a champion and a hero for millions of people.

Once in Babylon Restored, however, Charleston turns his back on his pals in support of a cute Epic named Megan. The two had a flirty romance back in Newcago. And now hormonal sparks are causing drama again. No surprise: the power of love is everlastingly epic.

Author Sanderson is writing this series in a brisk, propulsive manner. Much like Dan Brown, James Patterson, and Naoki Urasawa, he knows how to keep a reader’s attention. Short chapters, endless cliffhangers, chipper dialogue, and a penchant for plot twists make Firefight fly by like a speeding bullet.

More than anything else, however, Sanderson keeps things light. It’s true that Epics are a vile and self-absorbed bunch (they have a tendency to quote doomsday Biblical scripture when obliterating entire cities). But Sanderson takes the time to temper moments of intense drama with spikes of quirky levity.

And, as it turns out, David Charleston is a pretty good conveyance for the author’s wacky humor. He may be an OMAC-like killing machine, but Charleston can’t escape his own goofball nature. “I felt like a cupcake on a steak platter,” he says at one point. And later, when trying to articulate his newfound ambivalence toward Epics (especially pretty ones like Megan), he tells a colleague: “I’m like a donut, and somebody has sucked all the jelly out of me.” Charleston’s (and Sanderson’s) penchant for confectionary similes make Firefight a treat for anyone with a superhero sweet tooth.

[Firefight / By Brandon Sanderson / First Printing: January 2015 / ISBN: 9780385743587]

Posted in Published in 2015 | Tagged , ,

The New Indestructibles

BreakoutIn the first Indestructibles novel readers were introduced to a team of young eclectic heroes — Solar, Straylight, Entropy Emily, Fury, and Dancer. Along with their mentor Doctor Silence, they were the new kids on the superhero block.

Now, in the follow-up novel, author Matthew Phillion has shaken things up a little bit. Most of the original charter members have been relegated to the sidelines and replaced by Alley Hawk, Coldwall, Bedlam, and Valkyrie. Forget the old Indestructibles. A new team of inextinguishable superheroes has assembled.

But that’s okay with us. After all, it’s been one year since the first book ended. Time inevitably marches forward. Doc Silence is lost in a Sandman-like alternative universe called the Dreamless Lands. Titus Talbot (the angst-y teen wolf) is on a personal quest to uncover his family history. And Solar, Straylight, and Entropy Emily are cooling their jets in a high-security prison made just for superhumans. The Indestructibles are still indestructible, but like everybody else they need a little help from their friends.

In Breakout, the team faces two seemingly unrelated crises. The first one involves a teenager who is maliciously spreading a lung infection that is more virulent than the bubonic plague. The second crisis comes from Agent Prevention and her Department of What minions.

Ms. Prevention’s mission is to clamp down on our young heroes. “We can’t have a bunch of hyper teenagers running around without some sort of checks and balances,” she says. “My job is to prevent problems and losses, to lock things down, to keep variables to a minimum, to stop things from getting disorganized — to prevent chaos.” She sees the Indestructibles as a bunch of yappy puppies that need to be housebroken.

As the novel tumbles toward its conclusion, the teenage plague bomb, the persnickety government agent, and the “new” Indestructibles find themselves inextricably entwined in events that reach beyond their control. But that’s the way it goes. The world we live in is indifferent to mortal concerns. All you can do is keep your chin up, says Alley Hawk. “Even if everything I do turns to dust,” he says, “I make this horrible place better for a little bit. It’s all that I’m capable of.”

Like the first novel, Breakout is smart and funny and delivers a satisfying emotional moment at the end. It is also packed with all sorts of surprising pop culture cookies. For example, we don’t know how old the author is (probably somewhere close to 100), but his musical taste seems to range from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley to Bobby Fuller and to Robert Smith. And yet, despite being a centenarian, he’s still able to breathe life into a gaggle of sassy teens. That’s impressive for an old geezer.

We also have a feeling that Phillion is a big movie buff. One of our favorite scenes in the novel is the showdown between Alley Hawk and the Vermin King. It reminded us of the fight between Mr. Fox and his cider-drinking rat nemesis down in Mr. Bean’s cellar. In each case, the fantastic Mr. Fox and the fantastic Indestructibles are doing the exact same thing. They’re trying to kill a couple of rats and make the world a better place to live.

[The Indestructibles: Breakout / By Matthew Phillion / First Printing: October 2014 / ISBN: 9780991427550]

Posted in Published in 2014 | Tagged , ,

Live! In the Link Age: Short Reviews of 2014 (Revisited)

9SuperGirlsThe 9 Super Girls (by Tigerlily Emi Kawasaki / First Printing: December 2013) is a self-published, one-of-a-kind portfolio of drawings featuring super-powered girls who punch, fly, swim, make music, wield swords, and control the weather. There’s even one character whose powers come directly from the spirit of Christmas. Without a doubt, our favorite is Punch Girl—she’s the toughest of the bunch. But we also have a fondness for Cat Girl (the most iconic) and Ghost Girl (the friendliest ghost since Casper). We can’t wait for the sequel. Coming soon, hopefully. [Review first published 02.24.14.]

BloodRust“Blood & Rust” (By Casey Glanders / First Printing: January 2014) is a short story prequel to the author’s first Gailsone novel, Big in Japan. In this adventure, young Allison is only 16 years old and still on the payroll at Purge, an organization that profits from villainy and tumult. She’s deployed to Indiana (!) to negotiate a business relationship with an upstart gang leader who’s building a drug and weapons cartel. Naturally, there’s lots of gunplay and wiseassery involved. In the end, Allison survives her mission (with the help of her benefactor, Alice “Dyspell” Gailsone). And she even finds time for a little romance too. We admit it’s nice to see Allison in action as a supervillain. But, really, not much has changed in her basic nature over the years. Even though she now hangs out with superheroes, she still comes on like a wrecking ball. [Review first published 03.22.14.]

PrimevalAnointed with preternatural powers by a council of Pakistani spirits, Ahad Bhai is slowly learning more about his newfound responsibilities as Sergeant Pakistan (“Primeval” / By Syed Hamdani / First Printing: April 2014). First on his to-do list is to squash a reprobate named Ba’al Hadad who recently escaped from an antimatter prison in Antarctica. Young Bhai still has a lot to learn about being a superhero, but he needs to get to the South Pole right away before things get messy. Call this one Sergeant Pakistan: The Winter Soldier. [Review first published 04.19.14.]

OperaMost people go to the opera for a night of music and spectacle. Dinner afterward might be nice too. But Alice Gailsone has other plans (“A Night at the Opera” / By Casey Glanders / First Printing: January 2014). She’s not interested in La Cenerentola or anything else by Gioachino Rossini. She’s come to the Sydney Opera House with hopes of bagging a foppish billionaire and squeezing a little bit of ransom money out of him. It was, she figured, an easy way to boost her employer’s bank account. Unfortunately, the night doesn’t end the way she thought it would. Secret identities, secret agendas, covert operations, drunken shenanigans, and a scary techno-shifting monster conspire against her. One good thing happens, however. Gailsone is left with a one-of-a-kind memento from her night in Australia—a selfie of her hostage with his face buried deep in her cleavage. Good times! [Review first published 04.19.14.]

Lightweight1When author Nicholas Ahlhelm announced (via Kickstarter) his intention to tackle a monthly publishing schedule for his latest project, we applauded him before a single word was written. Comic books have conquered episodic storytelling and it’s time superhero prose fiction did the same. “Dreams” (First Printing: December 2013) is the first chapter of Ahlhelm’s ongoing Lightweight serial and it introduces readers to a high school senior named Kevin Mathis with burgeoning telekinetic powers. In concert with his best friend Andy Case, and his wannabe girlfriend Millicent Bryant, Kevin butts heads with a school bully and a giant killer robot. “This is the end. My life just changed forever,” says Kevin after embracing his metahuman legacy. What he actually means, however, is that this is just the beginning. [Review first published 04.19.14.]

DateNightYears before she became a superhero sidekick, Allison Gailsone was a high-ranking officer and ruthless assassin in a premier global terrorist organization called Purge. By the time she was 16 years old she had killed more than 30 people. But even teenage killing machines need a little RnR. The latest Gailsone adventure (“Date Night” / By Casey Glanders / First Printing: February 2014) finds young Allison prepping for a romantic evening with her “boyfriend” Douglas. Because this is the pair’s first official date, Allison is a little nervous about her upcoming tryst and seeks advice from her aunt Alice: “Tonight, you’re a normal civilian,” says her guardian and mentor. “No projectile weapons or always-sharp knives. No explosives, no pellets, no nothing. Just go and have fun like a normal, non-psychotic teenager.” Think of it as a mission, the older Gailsone adds, “a sexy mission.” As expected, the date explodes in a burst of random violence. Which, as it turns out, is appropriate foreplay for a couple of young terrorists in love. [Review first published 05.17.14.]

CatgirlThere’s no question that “Catgirl: Heat of the Night” (By J.K. Waylon / First Printing: April 2013) is aimed directly at Catwoman fetishists and superhero horn dogs. That’s no surprise—people get turned on by all sorts of things, after all. But what surprises us is how well superhero tropes mesh with erotic fiction. It’s like William Moulton Marston and Fredric Wertham were right all along. There’s something tantalizingly illicit about superheroes, sidekicks, secret identities, and catsuits (especially catsuits). Yes, superheroes are for kids. But they’re also for adults who understand metaphor and subtext. In this case, former Olympic gymnast, Morgan Miles (aka Catgirl) is learning how to be a superhero from her mentor, Midnight Avenger. But like all sidekicks, she yearns to patrol the city by herself. Problems arise one night when she stumbles upon a burglary with no backup. Morgan’s strong like an Amazon princess, but the criminals soon have her subdued and begging for sexual release. That’s the way things go in Synne City. Give ‘em an inch and “they’ll bang your butt all night long.” [Review first published 05.17.14.]

BlackbirdUp until this point, Alice Gailsone and her adoptive niece Allison have been the main focus of author Casey Glanders’ lively superhero serial. The Gailsones are former high-level terrorists who are struggling to reinvent themselves as clean living superheroes. There are a handful of other interesting characters in the cast, however. One such character is Victoria Green, aka Blackbird. She is the super efficient law enforcement operative who’s been butting heads with the Gailsone pair from the very beginning. “Blackbird’s Song” (First Printing: April 2014) lets readers see how Green overcame adversity at an early age to become a special agent for the FBI and eventually rise to superhero status in the Collective Good. Like the song says, all her life she was only waiting for her moment to arise. [Review first published 06.14.14.]

fire_rama1Alice Gailsone finds herself in a sticky situation in her latest Purge mission (“The Impossible Door” / By Casey Glanders / First Printing: April 2014). Her employer wants access to a magical gateway linking multiple realties. This “door” is the Holy Grail of magic—more powerful than the Staff of Black, and more incredible than the Eyes of Perseus. Unfortunately, Gailsone also takes orders from a spiritual magistrate who has other plans for this mythical passageway. Enlisting the help of a famous superhero named Miss Major, Gailsone is able to complete her assignment and satisfy both constituencies. For her troubles she gets a dollop of soft-serve ice cream and a bottle of orange soda (and a pay raise). Plus: she makes an unexpected friend. As it turns out, nothing is impossible. [Review first published 06.14.14.]

ConundrumA monster made of sentient garbage is destroying Lower Manhattan. In Cairo, the Sphinx is rampaging across the landscape. In Arizona, an army of Apache ghost warriors has descended upon Sedona. Someone in Mexico is trying to raise Quetzalcoatl by sacrificing virginal eco-tourists. And a lava-demon is terrorizing the island of Maui. All this carnage is the result of a supernut who calls himself the Prehistorian (“The Eternity Conundrum” / By Stephen T. Brophy / First Printing: July 2014). He’s bringing back all the ancient immortal gods from beyond time to rewrite reality. Henchman Duke LaRue (aka HandCannon, last seen in the author’s debut novel, The Villain’s Sidekick) has signed on to help the Prehistorian achieve his nihilistic wish, but he doesn’t seem to be concerned that the world may be on the verge of collapsing. As he says, “As long as the money spends and civilization ends, count me in.” LaRue changes his tune, however, when he gets an unexpected phone call from his wife. Suddenly he has a reason to change sides and team up with the good guys. But don’t let it get around. Saving the world could totally ruin his reputation. [Review first published 09.08.14.]

GhostRiderGN01We’ve been reading (and enjoying) the “All New” adventures of Ghost Rider (Engines of Vengeance / First Printing: October 2014 / ISBN: 9780785154556). Author Felipe Smith is a unique talent who might be the most interesting creator currently working in mainstream comics. As an auteur he emerged from the dreadful OEL (Original English Language) manga movement. But he quickly redeemed himself when he moved to Tokyo to work for Kodansha as an honest-to-goodness mangaka. Unlike David Mazzucchelli, Paul Pope, and Takeshi Miyazawa (three artists we like very much as well), Smith was actually published during his time in Japan. Gold star emoji for him.

Smith is an incredible artist so it’s slightly disappointing that he’s “only” writing the new Ghost Rider comic book. But we have a feeling he’s providing detailed page layouts and thumbnails because artist Tradd Moore is doing a pretty good Felipe Smith imitation. The end result is totally weird in a good way. Smith’s comics always feature a jumble of influences and they inevitably spring fully formed from his hyperactive id. Ghost Rider, we’re happy to see, contains a small spark of his eccentric genius. For a better idea of Smith’s full talent, however, we recommend his manga series, Peepo Choo. It’s already been translated and released in the U.S., so it’s easy to track down. [Review first published 10.04.14.]

URWe first discovered artist Eric Haven back in the early ’90s. His three-issue series Angryman was an amazing absurdist scramble of Jack Kirby and Werner Herzog (if you can imagine such a thing). Since that time we’ve kept a casual eye on Haven’s erratic output. UR, his latest book (First Printing: October 2014 / ISBN: 9781935233305), is a compilation of previously published work including his “Race Murdock” strips from The Believer. It’s nice to see Haven is still channeling Kirby (along with Steve Ditko, Charles Burns, Chester Brown, and Chris Ware). And it’s also nice to see that he hasn’t lost his zing after all these years. In one strip, Race Murdock replaces his head with a “shiny new robot head.” Now infinitely smarter, he makes his fortune in the stock market, drives fast cars, and enjoys the company of beautiful women. “Race Murdock,” says Haven, “had finally found happiness.” Too bad penis cancer would get him in the end… [Review first published 11.01.14.]

Posted in Live! In the Link Age, Published in 2014 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Superhero Novels: The Best of 2014 and a Peek at 2015

REEDSUEKISS GOOD2014 was definitely the year of the tiger as far as we’re concerned. Nick Harkaway’s latest novel featured a substantial superhero storyline and we are happy to embrace it as our favorite novel of the year. But really, when we think about it, all the novels on our yearend best-of list are roarsome. There’s nothing “inferior” about these five books (sorry about the silly pun). Here in recap are the best superhero novels of 2014.

1) Tigerman by Nick Harkaway. Could Harkaway’s novel be the future of superhero fiction? We hope so. It’s the story of a lonely man living at the end of the world who transforms himself into a crimefighting vigilante. He is Tigerman. Hear him roar!

2) Minion by John David Anderson. It doesn’t matter if you’re a superhero sidekick or a supervillain minion. Growing up is hard. And making the right decisions along the way is even harder. Anderson’s got an easy-going (and slightly poetic) flair for telling these sorts of stories. An excellent follow-up to last year’s Sidekicked.

3) The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew. The creators have taken a long-forgotten Golden Age superhero and given him a backstory that touches upon the immigrant experience, still-relevant Chinese cultural stereotypes, and the struggles of assimilation. Long live the Green Turtle!

4) The Indestructibles by Matthew Phillion. When assembling a superhero team it’s best to appoint a sorcerer supreme to lead them into battle. It worked for the Defenders back in 1971. And it worked for the Indestructibles in 2014. Highly recommended by the hoary hosts of Hoggoth.

5) Dreams of the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn. Keeping secrets is an important part of the superhero lifestyle. But therapists and life coaches agree: Lying to your friends and sneaking around in spandex is a lousy way to live life as a mature human being. It is, however, splendid grist for a novel.

The start of a new year always brings the promise of more exciting superhero fiction to come. Now that we’ve bottled 2014, let’s look forward to 2015 (colloquially known as the Age of Ultron). Here’s a highly selective list of books we’ll be reading in the next 12 months.

Ant-Man: Natural Enemy by Jason Starr. Arrow: Vengeance by Oscar Balderrama and Lauren Certo. Avengers: Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Dan Abnett. Battlestorm by Susan Krinard. Citizen Skin by Stephen T. Brophy. Day of the Destroyers edited by Gary Phillips. Deadpool: Paws by Stefan Petrucha. Deceptive by Emily Lloyd-Jones. The Dragons of Heaven by Alyc Helms. Ex-Isle by Peter Clines. Firefight by Brandon Sanderson. Gailsone: Head of the Dragon by Casey Glanders. The Green Lama: Crimson Circle by Adam Lance Garcia. The Halo Effect by Ben Langdon. H.I.V.E.: Deadlock by Mark Walden. The Incredible Space Raiders from Space! by Wesley King. Less than Hero by S.G. Browne. Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond. School for Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough. Secret Wars by Alex Irvine. Wild Cards IV: Aces Abroad by George R.R. Martin and crew. The Worst Thing About Saving the World by Christopher Healy. The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore.

Posted in Best Of, Published in 2014 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

The Invincible Mega Girl

SFPIn 1991, the earth witnessed an unprecedented meteorological event. For five and a half weeks, over 90 percent of the planet’s surface suffered mass flooding, soil erosion, and large-scale climate and terrain changes. Years later, it was discovered that this cosmic event created the first generation of “biodynamic” individuals. In other words: Superheroes.

Of all these superheroes, Alison Green was the most powerful. Taking the name Mega Girl (“It was literally the first name I thought of,” she says), Alison was invincible and stronger than any human alive. As a teenager, she became famous for her dedication to crimefighting. A wrecking ball (her weapon of choice) became her iconic calling card.

But being a superhero isn’t as self-fulfilling as you might think. “I love fighting,” she confesses at one point. “I love the blood. I love the heat. I love breaking shit. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been good at. And the fact that it never makes anything better just fucking kills me.”

Because of this ongoing angst, Alison quits her superhero gig and tries to reinvent herself as a normal college freshman. This is where Strong Female Protagonist (Book One) starts.

It’s hard to turn your back on superhero infamy, however. Even though she hung up her cape and domino mask when she was 19, everyone still knows Alison’s “secret” identity. This can be messy, particularly when scary supervillains hunt her down for a little payback. Plus: her old pals, the Guardians (a young Teen Titans-like aggregate), are constantly asking for backup.

Despite the simple declarative book title, Strong Female Protagonist contains plenty of complexity and nuance. There’s nothing “simple” about Alison’s mega existential crisis. She enjoys crushing rocks with her bare hands. But later she wonders, “Am I still me?” For answers, she is encouraged to read All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. (We’re not joking.)

The book stumbles occasionally when the characters (especially Alison) start monologuing. But overall, the creators have produced a reflective comic narrative that offers a new (and welcome) perspective on the superhero genre.

Since this is a comic book, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the contributions of Molly Ostertag. Her artwork is deceptively simply but her skills are sturdy enough to provide the emotional weight of Alison and her biodynamic buddies (especially Feral, whose situation is heartbreakingly tragic). Can you imagine if Jim Lee drew this graphic novel? Naw-yeah, it would be a mess. The ongoing Mega Girl story definitely puts Ostertag squarely in genre-busting territory.

Ostertag is also good at producing a string of memorable images throughout the book. Early on, for example, her full-page illustration of Alison leaping across a crowded New York Intersection is terrific. And later, Mega Girl is shown stuffing (and firing!) a gun into her mouth. It’s a highly disturbing drawing and reminds us of an old Black Flag album cover. Raymond Pettibon’s got nothing on Mighty Molly Ostertag.

[Strong Female Protagonist: Book One / By Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag / First Printing: November 2014 / ISBN: 9780692246184]

Posted in Comics, Published in 2014 | Tagged , ,