Live! In the Link Age 04.25.17

FlashFiction OnlineAs her name implied, Invulnerabella was nigh invulnerable. (“The Terrible” / By John Wiswell / Available free in the April 2017 issue of Flash Fiction Online). Like Power Girl and Thundra, she was so strong she could take down a rampaging Kraken single-handedly if she wanted to. But as a superhero that wasn’t her main priority. Instead of throwing supervillains in the pokey and throwing away the key, Invulnerabella was more interested in rehabilitating the wayward. She helped Dr. Ogren find a second career as a chemistry teacher. And Male Gaze now ran a YouTube fashion channel. Some villains, however, stubbornly resisted her efforts – like Mercer The Terrible. Inspired by Bill Finger and Rube Goldberg, Mercer tirelessly built elaborate death machines specifically to kill his archenemy. But nothing worked. “I thought you’d be the first to get better,” said Invulnerabella with a sigh. “Not the last.” Maybe it was time the two longtime adversaries sat down for a little tea and empathy. Constructive Psychotherapy might be the answer for both of them.

Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang is about a “retriever” whose quantum math skills turn her into a superhero. Publishers Weekly calls it “The Matrix, but in our world.” Initially self-published, Haung’s novel will be rereleased by Tor later this year (09.18.17).

Two new Power Rangers novels are coming in July. Tournament of Terror by Neo Edmund features Kimberly Hart (the pink one) in a solo adventure. The Venomous Eclipse by Adrianne Ambrose is about Zack Taylor (the black one). In October, two more books will be available: an untitled Red Ranger novel by Alexander Irvine, and an untitled Blue Ranger novel by Stefan Petrucha. Collect them all.

Fritter the Super-Powered HushPuppy (available 09.12.17) boasts a super-powered pedigree. Authors Desirée Proctor and Erica Harrell have both worked on TV shows such as Entourage and Happy Endings, and artist Justin Ridge was the supervising director on Star Wars Rebels. Added bonus: the book’s editor is kind of a cool guy too (here).

Like a lot of people, we’re looking forward to Forces of Destiny, a new “storytelling series” that will focus on the female heroes of Star Wars. Debuting in July, the series will include webisodes and TV specials, and will be supplemented with books, dolls, and tons of consumer products. The whole thing reminds us of the successful DC Super Hero Girls launch in 2015. But with a difference. “Lucasfilm didn’t want to create an artificial environment for these stories, rounding up the characters into, say, a galactic high school,” writes a reporter for Entertainment Weekly. “No part should feel like ‘That’s the fake Star Wars over there,’” adds Carrie Beck of Lucasfilm.

Author Shea Fontana will begin writing Wonder Woman comics this summer. We’ll be curious to see what she does with our favorite Amazon princess. “Having worked on DC Super Hero Girls for the last few years, I have a great sense of Wonder Woman in a high school setting,” says Fontana in the official press release. “And now it’s an honor and an adrenaline rush to be writing her ‘all grown up.'”

Fans of comic books know a thing or two about fandom. But the culture of “super” fandom” has exploded in recent years according to authors Zoe Fraade-Blanar and Aaron M. Glazer (Superfandom: How Our Obsessions Are Changing What We Buy and Who We Are / First Printing: March 2017 / ISBN: 9780393249958). We are now living in a fandom-based economy – a convergence of brand owner and brand consumer. Fandom has historically been viewed as a consumptive activity, said Glazer in a recent NBC News interview, but we all know that’s not 100 percent correct. “For superfans,” he said, “fandom is performative, active, and social.”

Interviews: V.E. Schwab, author of Vicious (here). A.P. Fuchs, author of the Axiom-Man series (here).

Reviews: A Little More Human by Fiona Maazel (here). Sputnik’s Children by Terri Favro (here). Man-Thing #1 by R.L. Stine and German Peralta (here). Stephen T. Brophy (author of The Villain’s Sidekick) has some thoughts about the TV series Legion (here).

For your reading pleasure: Avengers: The Serpent Society by Pat Shand. Has the World Ended Yet? by Peter Darbyshire. Gray Widow’s Web by Dan Jolley. Saucy Robot Stories edited by Nicholas Ahlhelm. Power Rangers: The Official Movie Novel by Alexander Irvine. Wonder Woman Psychology: Lassoing the Truth edited by Travis Langley and Mara Wood. Latinx Superheroes in Mainstream Comics by Frederick Luis Aldama.

Posted in Live! In the Link Age

Arrow: A Generation of Vipers: A Conversation with Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith

Clay Susan GriffithFrom the moment Captain America punched Adolf Hitler in the kisser, comic book readers have enjoyed crossovers. Who doesn’t like to see the Justice League mix it up with the Avengers, or Darkseid go toe-to-toe with Galactus? Jean-Luc Picard meeting Professor X was pretty cool too.

When the Green Arrow and the Flash made the transition to TV a few years ago, fans didn’t have to wait long before the two shows took a tip from the comics and started to intermingle storylines. The ensuing crossover episodes hooked viewers and created an inclusive and compelling FlarrowVerse.

Now the same thing has been done in prose format. Authors Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith have written a pair of novels that engage the casts of The Flash and Arrow in a big, complicated storyline. Read our reviews of The Flash: The Haunting of Barry Allen (here) and Arrow: A Generation of Vipers (here).

What follows is our conversation with the authors about tie-in novels, serial fiction, superhero prose fiction, and their particular and unique writing process.

SuperheroNovels: We’re sure you made a lot of fans happy with your recent two-novel Flash/Arrow crossover series. But what was your main priority when you started the project? What did you ultimately hope to accomplish?

Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith: Our first goal, obviously, was to write a book that was fun and exciting to read, and highlights the character, keeping them as true as possible. You always keep an eye toward writing a tie-in novel so that it can be accessible to a general reader even if they’ve never watched The Flash or Arrow.

But the main goal with tie-in work is to write a solid book that will expand the experience of the fans. Give them the elements from the show that they love, and then give them more. Any TV show is somewhat limited by time and budget. Sometimes it just hints at a nice character moment, but then it has to keep moving, leaving the viewer wanting to spend more time with Barry West and Oliver Queen or Joe and Iris West.

We don’t have that constraint in a book. We can do more character introspection; let the reader feel what Barry feels. We can play with character team-ups and combinations. We did a fun scene between Caitlin Snow and Iris and a father moment between Joe and John Diggle. Plus the action and fights can be as big as we want. There’s no producer telling us that we don’t have the FX budget for more than one giant multi-character battle scene.

So ultimately the goal was to write the book as if it was the coolest, biggest, most emotional episode of the show ever.

SN: In both of your books, characters jump off the page in delightful ways – Felicity Smoak in particular. In our opinion, she’s more funny and likeable in your Arrow novel than she is currently in the TV show. How satisfied are you with your interpretations of these familiar characters?

CG/SG: We’re fans of the shows, both The Flash and Arrow. We love these characters. So our intention was to make the characters as close to what the shows present as we could.

Of course, with serialized shows, characters are always in flux. Felicity Smoak is a prime example. Her arc is dramatic, going from an introverted computer geek to superhero Overwatch, and all the ups and downs in between. Felicity is different in season five than she was in two or three.

Since we were writing the books while the seasons were advancing, and the characters changing, we had to do our best to capture her essence without necessarily pinning her to a specific moment in her developmental arc. We chose to focus on what we loved best about the character, her resourcefulness and wit. That approach went for all the characters. We really tried to make them as close to the show as possible and then give them each an opportunity to shine.

We’ve been really happy with the feedback we’ve gotten from Flash and Arrow fans; they value what we’ve done with the characters that are beloved to all of us. This makes us believe we got pretty close to the mark we were shooting for.

SN: We live in a hyper-connected world these days where movies, TV, comic books, and video games all share the same content. Do you think we’re in a golden age of tie-in novels?

CG/SG: We may not be living in a golden age of tie-in novels, but we’re certainly living in a golden age of multi-media or trans-media. As you say, we can consume so many of our favorite properties in one or in many medias, all with slightly different spins on the material. It can be totally immersive. And typically they’re all pretty well done. Producers finally realize that if you give genre material the respect it deserves, fans will flock to it.

In terms of tie-in novels, we’ve consumed tie-ins and novelizations for a long time. We go back to the 1960s and James Blish’s novelizations of the original Star Trek series published by Bantam Books. And Whitman Books used to do great novels aimed at younger readers based on shows like Combat or Man From U.N.C.L.E. The greatest novelization/tie-in of all time was Star Wars. We both read the paperback novel before the movie even came out. And the 1980s and 1990s were the era of fantastic and influential Star Wars, Star Trek, and D&D book series, to name just a few properties.

SN: Superheroes are all over the place now. Characters like Deadpool and Luke Cage have been wildly successful on the big screen and the small screen. Despite strong efforts from authors like Eoin Colfer, Carrie Vaughn, and Brandon Sanderson, readers have been somewhat lukewarm to superhero prose fiction. Do you think superhero novels will ever catch fire in the same way as other media?

CG/SG: That’s a really good question, and we’ve talked about it before because we’d love to write original superhero prose fiction. Obviously there’s a built-in market for prose fiction using established characters like Superman or Batman or Spider-Man (or Flash and Green Arrow!). But in terms of superhero prose not associated with established comic book/TV characters, then it certainly hasn’t been a giant success. There are excellent examples, and you list a few. You could also mention George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards series that has existed for decades. So there certainly is some superhero prose out there.

We’ve had editors tell us that they’re not looking for superhero fiction because it doesn’t sell. Of course we heard the same thing about steampunk, and it still does okay.

We would argue that there is actually more superhero prose out there than you think. A lot of fantasy and urban fantasy novels have strong superhero influence. The characters just don’t follow the expected comic tropes of costumes and capes and crimefighting.

Our own historical urban fantasy series Crown & Key has a superhero vibe to it. We used to pitch it as “Charlotte Bronte’s Avengers.” The characters are magical, but they still have superhuman abilities and fight evil as part of a team.

However most “superhero” prose these days is an extension of action-fantasy or military sci-fi. The characters use magical or genetic “powers” in paramilitary groups to fight other “super-powered” terrorists or enemy combatants. The reason original comic book superheroes in the 1930s immediately fought crime was because crime was an overwhelming social concern. Now it’s terrorism and political instability. So that’s what the new breed of prose superheroes fight. And they’re more likely to wear combat fatigues than spandex.

But in terms of superheroes as we think of them in comic books, that has struggled to find a strong home in prose, considering how popular they are in movies and TV. We actually think that if a breakthrough is going to come, it will happen in two places. The first is the romance genre, blending romance and fantasy/action with superhero elements. The second is in the world of self-publishing. It’s actually already happening there. Fans who want superhero prose, and we believe there are a lot of them out there, are looking to a growing library of self-published material to fill that need.

SN: Let’s talk about your process a little bit. Not only are you writing partners, but you’re married too. We have to ask, how does the work get done? And how do you resolve writerly conflicts when they pop up?

CG/SG: We’ve been writing together now for nearly 20 years so a lot of our collaboration style is second nature to us. For a large project like a novel, we start with the plot. We have to plot in detail because there are two of us writing and we have to know what the other is working on at all times. You can’t have one author killing a character in chapter six while the other author is using that same character in chapter 10. So we work out the plot together via lots and lots and lots of conversation and notes passed back and forth. Eventually we have character bios and a chapter-by-chapter outline. Obviously elements can change with the writing, but at least we know where we intended to be, and that gives us a touchstone for changes.

Once we have the plot, we divide up the material and start writing. We try not to get too far ahead of each other. We don’t want one author to come up with a brilliant idea to change the story in chapter five and the other author is already finishing chapter 22. That would require a lot of rewriting.

So communication is key. We are always talking and discussing ideas for any slight change to the plot in order to understand how that change will cascade throughout the entire book, for good or bad.

As chapters are written, we pass them back and forth for editing and rewriting many times. The goal is to create an authorial voice that is unique. Some collaborators highlight the differences in the collaborators’ voices, but that’s not our style. We don’t want readers to know who wrote what. We want a single consistent voice that represents “Clay and Susan Griffith.”

Conflicts do come up while writing. Depending on the project, they can come up a lot, or a little. Actually, our Flash and Arrow novels probably had fewer conflicts than any other set of books we’ve ever written. That had to do with the fact that we weren’t creating and defining new characters, we were just interpreting existing characters for our own purposes. But when conflicts arise, the only way to solve them is to talk. And talk more. And talk even more. Sometimes we even talk with raised voices because we’re both very passionate about what we do. The moment one of us says, “I don’t care. Do what you want,” that’s the end of creative collaboration.

Theoretically, with every project, one of us is the lead. Usually it’s whoever made the contact that got the job or whoever came up with the original concept for the story. If there ever comes a disagreement we simply can’t settle, we could invoke the “nuclear option” and the lead will lay down the law. End of argument. That has never occurred and hopefully will never occur. Once you invoke the nuclear option, there’s no going back. It’s no longer a true collaboration; it’s a boss and employee. And we don’t want to work that way.

SN: What’s next for you, superhero, vampire, steampunk, together, or separately? If the opportunity presented itself, would you be interested in penning more Flash and Arrow novels? How about books based on other CW shows like Supergirl, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, iZombie, or Black Lightning?

CG/SG: We are thinking about several projects for the near future, but we don’t have contracts for anything specific yet. Likely it will be in the historical fantasy realm, which is the genre we worked in with Vampire Empire and Crown & Key. We would like to write some more traditional epic fantasy or sword & sorcery too at some point; we’re big fans of those genres.

Naturally, we would love to write more Flash or Arrow (or other DC properties) in the future. We had a blast on the two we just did. Tie-in work is fun on the right property. It’s great to have the chance to contribute in a small way to the mythology of these characters that you’ve enjoyed on TV and in the comics before that. But also, there are so many hours in the day and we don’t want to neglect our own ideas and characters.

Posted in Interviews, Marvel/DC, Movies/TV, Published in 2017 | Tagged , , , , ,

Caught In a Bad Arrowmance

ArrowVipersA Generation of Vipers is a novel that reminds us of all the things we miss about the Arrow TV show, including substantive involvement from Thea Queen (the Red Arrow), Felicity Smoak (Overwatch), Malcolm Merlyn (the Dark Archer), Lyla Michaels (spymaster and director of A.R.G.U.S.), and John Diggle (ex-Army Ranger).

At some point the show stumbled and never recovered its momentum. We may be in the minority, but we’re not interested in Bratva mobsters or the new Green Arrow crew (including Wild Dog, Ragman, and Mister Terrific). In our opinion, the series worked best with the Queen/Smoak/Diggle trinity at the center of every episode.

More than anything we miss the old Felicity Smoak, the quip-y white hat who allowed Oliver Queen to share her bed. Thankfully (for us), authors Clay and Susan Griffith have set their novel in a timeline when Oliver and Felicity are still romantically involved.

There’s a moment in Chapter Six in particular that made us crush hard for the old days. During a quiet postcoital moment, Felicity uses early morning sunlight to explore her lover’s naked body.

“Her fingers trailed across his skin and her smile faltered for just a moment. She didn’t say anything but Oliver knew what was going through her mind. So many scars, crisscrossed over his flesh. Knives. Guns. Acid. Whips. Arrows. Shark bite even.

“She leaned over and kissed the newest one, still aching but healing. Her lips barely touched it but his muscles reacted even so. He drew in a sharp breath, though it was hardly from pain.”

The authors don’t escalate the scene into Fifty Shades of Grey territory. They don’t need to. Going back in time and getting a peek at the intimacy once shared by these two characters makes it clear what’s currently wrong with the TV show. It’s suffering from a broken heart.

Despite our various criticisms, there is one thing Arrow still does very well. It anchors a TV universe that includes Supergirl, Firestorm, Atom, Captain Cold, Heat Wave, Vixen, Citizen Steel, and all the various nutters in Central City. Even Barry Allen agrees: “There wouldn’t be a Flash without the Green Arrow coming first.” And for this we are thankful.

Arrow: A Generation of Vipers brings to a close the storyline from The Flash: The Haunting of Barry Allen. In an attempt to keep the “Fastest Man Alive” alive, Teams Arrow and Flash travel to Castlevania to purchase a wormhole generator (price tag: $1.5 billion). It’s like a crazy gothic superhero mashup. Ken Russell meets Castle of Cagliostro meets LEGO Batman. Or something equally redonkulous.

Over all, it’s a fun book. Even though Barry Allen is in danger of being consumed by the Speed Force, he and his friends are in high spirits. Cisco Ramon, especially, is resplendent as nerd royalty. Green Arrow (as always) is kind of a downer. But Felicity’s humor and indomitable spirit makes her an unstoppable force of nature. At one time, she and Oliver Queen were a dynamite pair. Hopefully Olicity will return to the TV show someday.

[Arrow: A Generation of Vipers / By Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith / First Printing: March 2017 / ISBN: 9781783294855]

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Library Wars

Disreputable PersonsMaxwell, Daniel, Kyel, Ramsay, and Grace weren’t exactly the Suicide Squad. Nor were they the Dirty Dozen, the Expendables, or the A-Team. But they were a little bit disreputable. Ramsay, for one, was a scofflaw who willfully ignored his growing pile of unpaid parking tickets.

Mostly, they were just a gang of unlucky ex-cons who couldn’t control their wiggy superpowers. Of the bunch, Grace had a slightly different backstory. She was a former low-level crimefighter named Sky Skater. But her rep was tarnished forever when she willfully tangled with the Quantum Man, the big daddy of all Signal City superheroes.

With nothing better to do, the fractured five hung out at Ramsay’s fix-it shop every day to watch TV, play video games, and feel sorry for themselves. They could turn invisible, knock down skyscrapers, hack alien technology, and skate across the sky on a hover board, but they were pariahs and rejects in a world filled with superheroes and supervillains.

Out of the blue, Maxwell (known as the Restless Spirit in his bad boy days) was approached by a mysterious organization called the Library. They were a small, private group interested in gathering secret information. To them, Maxwell’s ability to turn invisible was a valuable asset for undercover surveillance work.

Unfortunately, Maxwell’s involvement with the Library soon caused all sorts of problems. Almost immediately he stumbled upon an illegal arms deal involving the Supreme Saboteur, an elusive terrorist with a yen for blowing up bridges.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. He and his friends soon became inextricably involved in a crazy plot to turn Signal City completely upside down. Everybody, it seemed, wanted a piece of Maxwell. Even the city’s vaunted superhero team was on his tail. “The Library’s after me. The police are after me. And now the whole goddamn Signal Corps is after me,” he cried.

It was time for the Disreputable Persons to suit up. The Restless Spirit (Maxwell), Wiseguy (Daniel), Tantrum (Kyel), Sky Skater (Grace), and the Love Machine (Ramsay) had to figure out a way to stop the escalating madness. They were on a mission to save their city and rehabilitate their reputations too.

Author Blake Michael Nelson has given us a bunch of likeable goofballs. Grace, in particular, scores high in super goofball spunk. They started as “disreputable” and finished as “anti-disreputable” (if that makes any sense). We think there’s potential for numerous sequels with this group. And hopefully a follow-up adventure is right around the corner.

Overall, we have only one small complaint. Eschewing the cyclical nature of the hero’s journey, the author resolves Maxwell’s conflict with the Library before the explosive endgame. Readers may appreciate the MCU-like pyrotechnics, but for us the ending is just a hollow superhero blowout.

[Disreputable Persons / By Blake Michael Nelson / First Printing: February 2017 / ISBN: 9781543086263]

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Witchy Woman

witchbladeWitchblade was certainly a big part of the “bad girl” movement in comic books during the ’90s. And author John DeChancie didn’t back away from the sexy witch’s infamous peek-a-boo transformation in his prose adaptation from 2002.

She was, he wrote, a paradox of dress and undress. “Her metamorphosis produced a filigree of delicate metal work of swirls and arabesques crawling up her body and covering her full breasts and neither portions but leaving little else unexposed. She was nude and yet somehow completely covered.”

Even without the Witchblade gauntlet, Sara “Pez” Pezzini was an eyeful. She dressed like a tomboy, said the author, but she always looked good. “Her jeans were tight and the T-shirt under her jacket was inevitably undersized, allowing her feminine lineaments to come through nicely. She was tall, thin, well proportioned, and had a face that could launch several navies. Legs up to the neck. Oh, those legs! And there were other parts of her body that shaped up just as well.”

Comic books have always been slightly disreputable, and Witchblade along with similar titles such as Vampirella and Lady Death unquestionably took advantage of the media’s lowbrow reputation. This is not a criticism from us. Over the years, the character has become iconic and (dare we say it) beloved around the world. She appeared on television in 2001 and even made the transition to anime in 2006.

Witchblade: Talons is a tie-in novel specifically for the TV series, but DeChancie didn’t let himself get derailed by continuity minutia. Detective Pezzini wears her Witchblade gauntlet, she seems comfortable with it, and characters (old and new) coexist without a hitch. There’s no origin story to speak of, but the supernatural tenor of the comic book series is preserved.

Pezzini finds herself in a sticky situation involving a magical supercomputer, a werewolf, a “mahjong dragon,” a supernatural assassin, a Romanian crime boss, and a bunch of religious zealots from an alternative dimension. Vlad Tepys (the Impaler himself) even shows up for some decapitating fun.

The whole thing is silly and beyond criticism. True believers will be happy to discover that Witchblade retains her bad girl charm in prose format (Pezzini even briefly considers launching a personal website with nude pictures of herself). The details of her ongoing story, however, are rendered inconsequential. But that’s okay. Nobody ever bought a Witchblade comic for the story.

[Witchblade: Talons / By John DeChancie / First Printing: January 2002 / ISBN: 9780743435017]

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Friendly Neighborhood Squirrel Girl

squirrelmeets-worldSquirrels were awesome. They were smart, fast, super strong, and had “mad leapin’ skillz.” They had great eyesight and hearing, they could live in any environment hot or cold, and they exhibited rare altruistic camaraderie. Some of them, like Rocket J. Squirrel, could even fly. After reading this funny and big-hearted book you’ll wonder why squirrels didn’t inherit the earth.

Nobody had to tell Doreen Green how awesome squirrels were. She was born with a bushy tail, a taste for nuts, and a pair of enviable incisors. As a 14-year-old girl she had the proportional strength, speed, and agility of a squirrel. Using standardized metahuman power rankings, she possessed 2.5 Rogers strength and 0.22 Maximoff speed.

At the beginning of the novel, however, Doreen had yet to embrace her Squirrel Girl super identity. Squirrels were cool, but she was just a junior high school kid with a supersized badonk. Saving the world was the responsibility of people like Thor and She-Hulk. “I have some skills,” admitted Doreen. “But it’s not like I’m Spider-Man.”

But there was trouble in her suburban neighborhood. No one followed the rules and no one did what they were told. Shady Oaks was a nightmare of unpredictability and inconvenience. Someone had to do something.

And that someone was Doreen. Along with her new pal Tippy-Toe and a devoted team of Squirrel Scouts (comprised of reformed hooligans, snobby classmates, and enthusiastic LARPers), she was able to successfully squash the evil plans of a wannabe Hydra agent.

In the process, she cemented her quirky squirrely code. Repeat after us: “I solemnly promise to never judge someone by how they look. I will defend the weak, the frightened, the small, and the fury. I will be brave and silly. I will be honest, even when it’s awkward. I will notice other people’s awesomeness. And my own. And we will be awesome together. And also save the day whenever the day needs saving.”

In the end, Doreen realized that she couldn’t suppress her true nature any longer. She was a superhero with powers of squirrel and powers of girl. Similarly, could Thor not be mighty? Could She-Hulk not be sensational? No, of course not. To Doreen, life was a great big fat nut hanging on a tree. All she had to do was jump up and grab it.

[The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World / By Shannon Hale and Dean Hale / First Printing: February 2017 / ISBN: 9781484781548]

Posted in Marvel/DC, Published in 2017 | Tagged , , ,

Gotham: A Series of Unfortunate Events

gothamdawnGotham (the TV series) is a prequel to Detective Comics #27. It chronicles the teenage years of Bruce Wayne after his parents are killed and before he puts on the batsuit.

Gotham: Dawn of Darkness (the novel) is a prequel to the TV show. It adds further context to the primordial muck that helps create Batman. It’s a fine book, perhaps better than most TV tie-in efforts. But there are scant few secrets to unlock. The circumstances leading to that fateful night when Thomas and Martha Wayne were gunned down in Crime Alley were, and will always be, a series of unfortunate events.

But prequels are fun. And we wouldn’t be surprised if more prequels were in the works. Why not? Let no stone be left unturned. Let’s go all the way back to medieval Europe. Undoubtedly Rowan and Isolde Wayne displayed personality quirks during the Crusades that are still relevant to the ongoing Batman saga.

In the meantime, author Jason Starr has written a novel about Bruce Wayne’s star-crossed parents. It’s a pretty grim tale. Thomas, in particular, was a clueless dumbbell. How did he ever become the richest man in Gotham City? He displayed no business acumen or intellectual intensity at all. At work he was facing heat from the board of directors. And his coworkers dismissed him as irrelevant.

His personal life wasn’t much better. He’d rather spend time in his “man cave” than with his beautiful wife. And during two separate occasions, Alfred Pennyworth had to shoot a couple of hoodlums to keep his employer safe. It’s a good thing the family’s manservant spent time with England’s Corps of Royal Marines and Scotland Yard – he literally possessed a license to kill.

To make matters worse, the Wayne patriarch makes a bad decision every time he turns around. He consorts with Dr. Hugo Strange, he hires a slovenly detective with a gambling problem to handle his private affairs, and inexplicably he encourages his family to walk down an alley late at night in a bad part of town. Truly, the guy was a bad judge of character and had no common sense whatsoever.

On the upside, it’s nice to discover that Detective Harvey Bullock was delightfully boorish even as a younger man. Without a doubt, Bullock is our favorite character from the TV show, and the author does a great job translating his gruff behavior to prose. He’s big and loud and horny and endlessly entertaining. Also great is Amanda Wong, his “ninja sidekick.” She’s a pistol, no doubt about it.

As you’d expect, Gotham: Dawn of Darkness is filled to the brim with a gaggle of crazy screwballs, most notably Fish Mooney, Oswald Cobblepot, and Edward Nygma. You can even see Selina Kyle in the shadows if you squint hard enough. No matter how eccentric they may be, however, these characters take a back seat to the drama at Wayne Manor.

But that’s the way it should be, right? We’d love to read novels about the early years of the Penguin, the Riddler, and Catwoman (DC’s Super Villain High School, perhaps?), but in this particular story they’re just a small piece of the Gotham miasma.

“Things are getting worse in Gotham,” said Martha as a swirl of bad luck clung to her. “We’re living in a dying city.” She’s right of course. Her hometown was a pit. But she didn’t know the half of it. All Gothamites (including her 14-year-old son) were prone to perversity, depravity, and decadence. “Everyone in Gotham is whacked!” said Bullock.

[Gotham: Dawn of Darkness / By Jason Starr / First Printing: January 2017 / ISBN: 9781785651458]

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