Live! In the Link Age 07.19.16

BlackVoidBlackVoid is a superhero whose powers come from an ancient divine curse (The Chronicles of BlackVoid, Book 1: Fate / By James A. Eugene / First Printing: June 2016 / ISBN: 9781534732551). He can create black holes and wield the power of an “imitation star,” but BlackVoid’s genetic code is inextricably linked to a civil war between angels in Heaven. As a result, he must answer to a higher calling than your average Green Lantern Corps recruit. The burden he carries is a burden that predates original sin. Quickie comment: If you can forgive the author’s reoccurring style and grammar gaffes, you might enjoy BlackVoid’s journey from hard luck kid to cosmic avenger. To be continued in Book 2: The Competition, Book 3: Finding Self, and Book 4: Transformation.

A recent article on Tor’s homepage talks about the peculiarities of writing “fictional comics.” Says writer Tobias Carroll: “Over the years, just about every form of media has been translated into prose. Some accurately and deftly channel the artistic discipline at their heart; others come up short, resorting to clichés or revealing a fundamental flaw in the author’s understanding of how the medium in question works. Novels that incorporate comic books into their plotlines are no different.” Read the entire article (here).

Episode 10 of “Throwing the Gun” is available for your listening pleasure. The semi-regular podcast from the Pen and Cape Society is always worth checking out as panelists Drew Hayes, Cheyenne Young, C.B. Wright, and Jim Zoetewey gather to discuss the craft of superhero fiction. This time, the gang talks about superhero violence and writing fight scenes.

Sarah Kuhn talks about her love of superhero fashion on the site GeekDad.com. Says the author: “When I was writing Heroine Complex, which chronicles the adventures of two Asian American superheroines as they fight demons, work through friendships, and fall in love, I was very aware of the characters’ fashion choices because I felt it gave a lot of insight into them as people.” Kuhn’s shopping list includes Supergirl’s cape (“The drama of a cape simply can’t be underestimated,” she says), Marvel Girl’s dress, and Jessica Jones’ jacket. Read more (here).

Author Stephen T. Brophy (The Villain’s Sidekick) ruminates on the current adventures of Spider-Woman (here). At one point, Brophy explains why he enjoys superhero fiction so much. “What I love about superhero books these days,” he says, “is the way they engages with a preposterous reality from a fresh perspective, sneaking humor, humanity and even heart into the dialogue and character interactions.” In our opinion, Spider-Woman may be the best book Marvel is publishing these days. And we agree wholeheartedly with Brophy, it’s a terrific example of superhero fiction.

A couple of years ago, we said a lot of good things about Victoria Schwab’s novel Vicious (read our review here). Now singer/songwriter Arianna Mae has written a song called “When I’m Gone” that’s inspired by the relationship between the two villains in Schwab’s “superhero” novel. Take a peek (here).

Interviews: Bob Proehl, author of A Hundred Thousand Worlds (here and here). Brian Michael Bendis talks about how Jessica Jones and Powers made the transition to television (here). Warren Ellis, author of Normal (here). Kelly Sue DeConnick (Bitch Planet) and Matt Fraction (Sex Criminals) talk about their latest joint ventures (here). Glenn Herdling, author of Piper Houdini: Nightmare on Esopus Island (here).

Reviews: Lois Lane: Double Down by Gwenda Bond (here). Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn (here and here). Supergirl at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee (here). Vigilante by Shelley Harris (here). Tales from the Flip-Side: The Adventures of Big Daddy Cool & The Bombshell Kittens by John Pyka (here). The novels of Lavie Tidhar, including The Violent Century (here). Vicious by V.E. Schwab (here). Peter Arno: The Mad, Mad World of The New Yorker’s Greatest Cartoonist by Michael Maslin (here).

For your reading pleasure: Red Is the Darkest Color: A Pussy Katnip Novel by Brett A. Brooks. Pulp Literature Summer 2016: Issue 11 edited by Melanie Anastasious, Jennifer Landels, and Susan Pieters. Iron Manimal by H. Seitz. M.I.N.D. by Elissa Harris. Greysuits by Nathan Lee Green. Dreadnought by April Daniels. I, Viridian: Supervillain by Derek Parker. “The Wrong Day for a Kill” by Annalisa Conti.

Coda: 75 Years, 75 Wonder Women.

Posted in Live! In the Link Age

Lois Lane: Double Trouble

LLDoubleDownThere’s always something crazy going on in Lois Lane’s life. A few weeks after successfully smashing an online mind control racket (see our review of Lois Lane: Fallout), she finds herself embroiled in a politically charged clone conspiracy. As it turns out, the DNA from her best friend’s 14-year-old sister was used as a serum to create a doppelganger of the Mayor of Metropolis.

Wait. What? Someone took the DNA from a teenage girl and cloned an elected official? A middle-aged man? Why in the world would someone do that? And does that even make any sense?

If your name is Lois Lane it does. Clones, high school girls, deposed politicos, crime bosses, mysterious flying men, and top-secret government agencies – it’s just another day in the life of ace cub reporter Lois Lane. When something weird is going on, her Spidey sense starts tingling. “Finding things out is what I do,” she says.

Here’s the scoop: Two years ago the mayor of Metropolis ran afoul of the city’s crime boss. Instead of using the usual coercion tactics favored by most Mafiosi, Moxie Mannheim cooked up an improbable plot to create a “doppelmayor.” But creating a clone was only the first step in his mad plan. He also needed a way to control his Frankenstein monster. And that’s when Melody Simpson was recruited.

Melody was a twin. And everybody knew that twins had a special preternatural bond with each other. By sampling Melody’s DNA, Mannheim was able to fashion a quantum connection with his clone. And that provided a way for him to exert undo influence in the Mayor’s office in Metropolis.

But Mannheim made one fatal mistake. He messed around with the sister of Lois Lane’s best friend. And nobody gets away with that. Lois was determined to derail Mannheim’s nefarious schemes. “I want to knock him out,” she admits.

Double Down is a terrific sequel to Lois Lane’s debut novel from last year. In our opinion, author Gwenda Bond is totally in sync with her iconic heroine. Lois lives life in the fast lane and doesn’t slow down to accommodate anyone else (even lonely space aliens from Krypton). Only briefly does the doppelmayor deign to compete with her for the reader’s attention. But that’s okay. The clone’s existential ennui is a fine counterpoint to Lois’s unquenchable lust for life. “You’re pretty amazing, Lois Lane,” says her best friend at the end of the novel. How could we disagree?

[Lois Lane: Double Down / By Gwenda Bond / First Printing: May 2016 / ISBN: 9781630790387]

Posted in Marvel/DC, Published in 2016 | Tagged , , ,

Hot Stuff

HexedHexed: The Sisters of Witchdown contains everything you’d expect to find in a horror novel. There’s a haunted house, a spellbook bound in human flesh, numerous pocket universes, black magic, one sexy witch, several ugly witches, demonic possession, a couple of exorcisms, grave digging, and reanimation. There’s even a character named Lucifer.

And yet, none of it is spooky in any way. Michael Alan Nelson’s novel is more in line with sunnier fare such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Wynonna Earp, and iZombie. The adventures of Luci Jenifer Inacio Das Neves (Lucifer for short) began in the funny pages and her prose debut exists as a happy hybrid of comic book and urban fantasy high jinks.

Things like this really hit our hexerei hot spot. Nelson’s comic book series debuted in 2008 and introduced the world to a bunch of eccentric and willful ladies, including Lucifer (our hero), art dealer Val Brisendine, Raina (the intern), CEO of Graeae Industries Madame Cymbaline, and the Harlot (otherwise known as the Keeper of Secrets). Over the years their intertwining lives have become too big and complicated to be contained in a mere comic book. A prose novel was inevitable.

At the center of it all is young Lucifer. No matter what people think, she’s not a devil, a sorceress, a witch, or a paranormal PI. She’s not even a normal teenage girl. She’s a thief from the slums of Brazil who traffics in magical trinkets and totems. “I keep bad things out of the hands of bad people,” she says. And that basically sums up her job description for the past eight years.

Nelson’s novel revisits the early days of his scrappy heroine. Sort of. We get introduced to Lucifer and all of her friends and foes. But the story has been tousled to provide a fresh remix. This time Lucifer is hired to rescue a high school girl being held captive in a pocket universe of death and witchery. There’s even a whiff of romance in the air. That’s substantially different than how the comic book series started. Lucifer doesn’t even meet her benefactor Val Brisendine until late in the game.

But no matter. Lucifer survives the retcon because she’s a remarkable hero and an indefatigable firecracker. She’s like Buffy Summers and Sydney Bristow (from Alias) with the fighting spirit of an Amazon warrior princess. Because of one early misadventure, she bears the mark of the Keeper of Secrets on her right shoulder (for continuity wonks, the mark appears on her left shoulder in the comics). As a result, her life has become “one giant carnival of magic-covered suck.” That’s bad news for her, but good news for the rest of us.

[Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown / By Michael Alan Nelson / First Printing: May 2015 / ISBN: 9781633880566]

Posted in Published in 2015 | Tagged , ,

Comic Books Will Break Your Heart

100000 WorldsThere’s a blurb on the back cover of A Hundred Thousand Worlds that sums up Bob Proehl’s novel perfectly. “This is a bighearted, inventive, exuberant debut – a Kavalier & Clay for the Comic-Con age.”

We couldn’t have said it any better. Like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, this is a novel where fantasy brushes up against reality. And just as Michael Chabon did in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Proehl freely uses nerd code to tell his story.

A Hundred Thousand Worlds is about a mother and her nine-year-old son who travel from one comic book convention to another as they make their way from New York to Los Angeles. “Traveling,” says young Alex, “is the strongest magic word I know.”

These conventions, featuring a familiar riot of fans, cosplayers, celebrities, and comic book creators, help the pair establish their place in the universe (a hundred thousand worlds, if you will).

More importantly, this is the story of parents and children and the complicated paths they follow in life. If you looked backward, says the author, you’d see one clear path behind you. That’s the path you’ve been walking the whole time. But if you could hover in the sky for a few moments, you’d undoubtedly see billions and billions of paths not traveled. Life is like that. It’s about all the choices we make, some good and some bad.

Six years ago, Valerie Torrey made a bad choice. After a nasty divorce, she kidnapped her son Alex and moved to New York. By refusing to follow her court-ordered custody agreement she became an outlaw. She assumed a bad husband would be a bad father.

For his part, Alex was vaguely curious about his absent father, an actor on a racy TV show. To him, going to L.A. was an exciting journey to the edge of the world. To his mother, the trip was a “Conflux Across Timespace” (nerd code: Crisis on Infinite Earths).

Like all great stories, A Hundred Thousand Worlds is about beginnings and endings. Neither Valerie nor Alex knows how things will turn out when they leave New York. But they realize their lives will be changed forever when they get to California. The journey home is arguably the most powerful and enduring story any writer can tell.

During their travels westward, mother and son hook up with a motley crew of comic book creators, actors, and screenwriters who are similarly struggling to make sense of their situations. Some of these characters are thinly veiled analogues of real people. Three of the most memorable are Alan Moore, Chris Carter, and Jack Kirby. Moore comes off as a vainglorious windbag, Carter is a mercurial “idea man,” and Kirby reflects on his bittersweet career in the comic book industry. “I’m tired and I don’t believe in superheroes anymore,” he says. “Comics will break your heart.”

On the lighter side, the cosplay girls are the funniest of all the supporting characters. Together, they represent a collective voice (like a Themyscira Greek Chorus) that comments on the circus happening around them. They know their skimpy outfits are meant to escalate fanboy fervor. But they’re a wise bunch. After reading this novel, you’ll never be able to look at cosplayers the same way again.

Like so many authors these days (especially well-known writers like Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Junot Diaz, and Ta-Nehisi Coates), Proehl grew up reading comic books. As a result, his love of sequential art and superhero continuity has crystallized his worldview unalterably. A Hundred Thousand Worlds is a fierce love story that comes with a five-day all-access Comic-Con pro badge. Its heart is as big as Hall H.

[A Hundred Thousand Worlds / By Bob Proehl / First Printing: June 2016 / ISBN: 9780399562211]

Posted in Published in 2016 | Tagged ,

Oh, Calamity!

CalamityWithout a doubt, the supervillains in Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series are all evil. They have a penchant for turning entire metropolitan areas into steel and submerging them in water. One particular nasty fellow liked to obliterate cities while quoting wonky Biblical passages. You might even call them mega evil.

But more than anything, they are a screwy bunch. That’s because these Epics all suffered from super intense phobias and anxiety disorders. And as it turns out that was the only way to defeat them. You couldn’t punch them into submission. You had to figure out a way to make them confront their darkest psychoses. Forget about Superman. What the world needed was a super psychotherapist.

It’s a weird twist, we admit. But it gives the author a chance to ruminate on human nature and teleology. If you were given superhuman powers what would you do? Would you apply for membership to the Justice League? Or would you hook up with the League of Assassins? “You see the truth of man manifest in those first moments when they become new Epics,” says Larcener, the calamitous villain in this particular novel. “They murder, they destroy, they show what every man would do if his inhibitions were removed. Give a man some powers and he’ll abuse them.”

Larcener the Accuser is the biggest most cosmic villain in Sanderson’s trilogy (read our reviews of the first two books here and here). But when we first meet him he’s just a lazy guy who talks like he belongs in a high fantasy novel (“Impudent peon!” he likes to say). Only later, after his novel-ending soliloquy, do we see his ulterior motivation. And, yes, the spunky Reckoner crew finds a way to somehow defeat him. “The world’s gone mad,” says Megan. “We need a crazy plan.”

Like the two previous novels in the series, it’s hard to put down Calamity. It’s a brisk and enjoyable read with a generous amount of twists and turns sprinkled about. Plus, the author makes sure to include a hook (or a cliffhanger) at the end of each chapter. Admittedly, some of these hooks are less “hook-y” than others. But Sanderson is clearly baiting his readers to keep reading late into the night. Mission accomplished.

[Calamity / By Brandon Sanderson / First Printing: February 2016 / ISBN: 9780385743600]

Posted in Published in 2016 | Tagged , ,

S.E.C.R.E.T. Agents

Secret ServiceEverybody knows about the Secret Service. It’s an organization charged with protecting the President of the United States along with the critical infrastructure of our country.

But you’ve probably never heard of the S.E.C.R.E.T. Service even though it’s been around for a long time. George Washington himself assembled the super team of paranormal operatives when he needed a little ghostbusting help. In fact, Washington would never have made it across the Delaware River without some assistance from his loyal S.E.C.R.E.T. agents. Denizens of the watery deep would have gobbled him up in a heartbeat.

But why would the U.S. government need a bunch of monster hunters on the payroll? Here’s the explanation from author Will Conway: “Before our colonies were established, monsters had free reign of the New World. But the pilgrims brought organization with them, and a bloodthirsty desire to see the land enslaved before them. The beasts, the demons, the things of nightmares, slowly began to lose their habitats.” Over time these creatures have set their sights on the POTUS. It is in him, says Conway, that their hate is focused. As a result, the Stealth Employment and Covert Response to Elevated Threats team must remain ever vigilant when it comes to the President’s safety.

The novel starts when a gang of hunchbacked zombies appears just outside a presidential political rally. Naturally the S.E.C.R.E.T. Service is on the case. As it turns out, the zombies aren’t zombies at all. They’re actually hybrid creatures with human and non-human DNA squished together. “And not in a friendly fashion,” says Billy, the group’s science nerd.

One thing leads to another and the fantastic five find themselves in the middle of a power struggle between a race of politically motivated shapeshifters and another secret government organization called FATE (btw how many “secret” government organizations are there anyway? Phil Coulson wants to know).

In a way, S.E.C.R.E.T. Service (the novel) is like a paranormal police procedural. It will surely appeal to readers who enjoy the mind-numbingly dull process of following dead-end leads, collecting evidence, hacking computers, filing paperwork, and all the unglamorous grunt work that accompanies such activities.

Generally we don’t like that kind of stuff. We’ve never cared for TV shows like Law & Order, CSI, or Homicide. But we love monsters and superheroes. And we love shadowy syndicates bent on world domination. As such, S.E.C.R.E.T. Service is a somewhat enjoyable rewrite of Men in Black, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., X-Files, and Ghostbusters.

Problems persist, however. Along with its dull procedural component, the novel’s pacing is often erratic. And the non-linear storytelling isn’t totally seamless. In addition, the romance between Daniel and Alicia is maddeningly infantile. The pair’s courtship will make anyone over the age of 18 wince with embarrassment.

Thankfully, the novel contains plenty of humor and features a core cast of likeable heroes. And, of course, the “monsters” are cool too (Edward Invisibilus, in particular, is quite an invention). If this is the start of a new series, it’s a pretty good start. We encourage the author and his publisher to sit down and have a conversation about what worked and what didn’t work in this effort. There’s plenty of promise for future volumes. Despite our niggling criticisms, we look forward to seeing more of Edmond, Sarah, Kevin, Billy, and Raul: the agents of S.E.C.R.E.T.

[S.E.C.R.E.T. Service / By Will Conway / First Printing: March 2016 / ISBN: 9781530572090]

Posted in Published in 2016 | Tagged ,

Big Bang

Superhero UniverseWe’re all living in a superhero universe. Just take a quick look around. Computers give us instant access to a large chunk of the world’s knowledge and almost limitless externalized memory. Thanks to personal technology we have telescopic vision, super-hearing, and we’re connected with each other at levels that mimic telepathy.

There are people alive right now who have silicon chips wired directly into their nervous systems and who can control computers with their thoughts. And guess what? The best is yet to come. The future’s so bright; we gotta wear iShades like Plastic Man, Captain Cold, and Geordi La Forge.

Because of this, superheroes have transcended their comic book roots. They’ve become every bit as mainstream as fairytale princesses, cowboys, and spies. You can find them on TV and at the multiplex. You can even find them in prose fiction too.

Superhero Universe, a new anthology edited by Claude Lalumière and Mark Shainblum, doesn’t start too promising, unfortunately. It stumbles out of the gate with a trio of disappointing efforts. But readers shouldn’t reach for the TV Guide too quickly. The collection recovers spectacularly.

Without a doubt, the best story in the book is “The Island Way” by Mary Pletsch and Dylan Blacquiere. It’s about family traditions and a long-standing commitment to duty. But there are other great stories here as well. Some of the best are “The Rise and Fall of Captain Stupendous” by P.E. Bolivar, “In the Name of Free Will” by A.C. Wise, “Nuclear Nikki vs. the Magic Evil” by Jennifer Rahn, “Lost and Found” by Luke Murphy, and “Crusher and Typhoon” by Brent Nichols. As a treat, Bernie Mireault revisits his beloved comic book creation, the Jam, and there’s even a poem by John Bell that contains a pinch of Kirby Krackle. And in our opinion, you can never go wrong with Kirby Krackle.

This is the third compilation we’re seen from coeditor Lalumière (the other two include Masked Mosaic and Super Stories of Heroes and Villains). At this point we pretty much know what to expect from him. He has a weak spot for deconstructed heroes and emotional denouements. He also likes funny superheroes. Because of this, his books (including this one) inevitably strike a satisfying balance between darkness and lightness. We’re happy to report that the superhero universe is in good hands under his stewardship.

[Superhero Universe: Tesseracts Nineteen / Edited by Claude Lalumière and Mark Shainblum / First Printing: May 2016 / ISBN: 9781770530874]

Posted in Published in 2016, Short Story Collections | Tagged , , ,