DC Super Hero Girls: Hits and Misses

hitsandmythsLion-Mane is causing trouble in Metropolis at the beginning of Hits and Myths, the latest graphic novel by Shea Fontana and Yancey Labat. But DC’s Super Hero Girls are on a tight schedule. “We don’t have time for your silly games,” says Batgirl to the rampaging cat man. “Yeah,” agrees Wonder Woman. “We have to get to school.”

And so it is with everyone enrolled at Super Hero High School. Katana, Poison Ivy, Hawkgirl, Supergirl, Harley Quinn and all of their classmates are busy juggling the demands of homework and hero work. Everybody is on their best behavior because they don’t want to get in trouble with principal Amanda Waller and vice principal Gorilla Grodd.

After they dispatch Lion-Mane, the girls discover their poetry teacher (Professor Etrigan, aka the Demon) has been kidnapped by big daddy Trigon from the Under Realm. The rescue mission includes a rock’n’roll subplot with cameos by Cheetah (our favorite), Beast Boy, Flash, Ravager, Silver Banshee, Black Canary, Lobo, and Raven. We especially liked seeing Hawk (of Hawk and Dove) pop up in reoccurring panels throughout the book. He never says a word, but he’s always lurking somewhere in the background.

Nothing tickles us more than the ongoing success of the DC Super Hero Girls franchise. The toys, the cartoons, the comic books, the T-shirts, the Halloween costumes — honestly, we love the whole darn thing. The supplemental novels by Lisa Yee, in particular, are quite good (see our reviews here and here).

But we have to admit the graphic novels are not without problems. The scripts by Shea Fontana are undeniably fun and packed with good-natured spizz energy. But her panel-by-panel storytelling is weak. It’s obvious to us that she’s struggling with the format.

And the artwork by Yancey Labat is troublesome too. His drawings are so perfectly on spec they look like clipart. Gone are the days of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Comic Book by Evan Dorkin and Clerks by Jim Mahfood. Back then, companies gave their creators a little more freedom to do as they wished. The results, in our opinion, added substantially to our enjoyment of the source material.

These days, however, comic book tie-ins must conform to strict licensing and approvals guidelines. Everybody wants to keep things consistent across all platforms. It’s a shame really. To us, it looks like artist Labat is being forced to trace animation cels. We understand that DC has a lot riding on this franchise. The company doesn’t want to mess around with a successful brand recognition/product strategy. But we think the girls of Super Hero High are a strong bunch. Let them fly without the weight of a multimedia-marketing blitz holding them down.

[DC Super Hero Girls: Hits and Myths / By Shea Fontana and Yancey Labat / First Printing: November 2016 / ISBN: 9781401267612]

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

Live! In the Link Age 10.18.16

thecaptainA big baby is destroying a big chunk of Irving, Texas, in Brian W. Foster’s new short story (“Repulsive Origins – The Captain” / First Printing: September 2016). First on the scene is 2nd Lt. Samuel Shields and his 102nd Enhanced Hostile and Hero Assistance Response team. His mission is simply to protect, aid, and evacuate. In other words, all he has permission to do is provide help to civilians while waiting for superheroes to arrive. The situation, however, quickly escalates to Level 10 FUBAR. Like all good soldiers, Shields does what honor requires. With no superheroes in sight, he decides to put big baby in timeout. Or, at least, he tries to. To be continued in the author’s newly minted series (Repulsive, Vol. 1 / First Printing: September 2016 / ISBN: 9781533607638).

Last year VIZ Media made a lot of gamers and manga fans happy by publishing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past by Shotaro Ishinomori. First seen in Nintendo Power magazine a million years ago, A Link to the Past was a great archival reissue. Now, the company has returned with more classic video game inspired manga. Super Mario Adventures by Kentaro Takemura and Charlie Nozawa hasn’t seen the light of day in over 25 years. Not based on any specific Donkey Kong or Mario Bros. iteration, the manga nonetheless takes place in the Mushroom Kingdom and features all the characters you’d expect to see like Princess Toadstool, Bowser (King Koopa), and Yoshi. Super Wario even pops up (spoiler alert!) in a final bonus chapter. The illustrations by Nozawa are suitably frenetic and the wordplay by Takemura (Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga) turns every word balloon into a paroxysm of paronomasia.

Chase the Tiger (By Steve Statham / First Printing: October 2016) is the latest book featuring a bio-engineered hero-for-hire named Connor Rix. We enjoyed the first novel in the series (read our review here) and we’re happy to see the series continuing. This time Rix is hired by a couple of Animal Kids (young women who have been modified to look like jungle cats) to recover stolen black-market biotech.

Captain America has his shield, Thor has his hammer, and Katana has her Soultaker. According to author Stephen T. Brophy (The Villain’s Sidekick), every superhero has an iconic sigil that represents their mythic power. But what’s Luke Cage’s symbol of Justice? Is it his yellow shirt with the plunging neckline? Or perhaps his penchant for wearing awesome chains? Brophy has some ideas (here).

Episode 11 of “Throwing the Gun” is now available for your listening pleasure. The semi-regular podcast from the Pen and Cape Society features Drew Hayes (@DrewHayesNovels), Cheyanne Young (@NormalChey), Jim Zoetewey (@zoetewey), and C.B. Wright (@ubersoft) discussing the craft of superhero fiction. This time the gang talks about the benefits of writing an ongoing series. As always, highly recommended.

Without a doubt, Ahsoka Tano is our favorite “new” character in the Star Wars franchise. Star Wars Ahsoka (By E.K. Johnston / First Printing: October 2016 / ISBN: 9781484705667) takes place after the Clone Wars TV series and before Star Wars Rebels.

Behind the Mask (Edited by Tricia Reeks and Kyle Richardson / First Printing: May 2017 / ISBN: 9780996626262) is an upcoming anthology featuring a pretty good selection of authors (such as Lavie Tidhar, Cat Rambo, and Carrie Vaughn). Says Amazon: “Behind the Mask is an exciting collection of short stories about the everyday lives of superheroes — ranging from laugh-out-loud funny to deliciously dark.”

Interviews: Jill Thompson, creator of Wonder Woman: The True Amazon (here). Gene Luen Yang, author of New Super-Man (here).

Reviews: Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee (here). Dynama by Ruth Diaz (here). Jerusalem by Alan Moore (here). The Bug Boys by Stewart Hoffman (here). Electrigirl and the Deadly Swarm by Jo Cotterill and Cathy Brett (here). Wonder Woman at Super Hero High and Supergirl at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee (here).

For your reading pleasure: Super Hero High School Yearbook by Shea Fontana. The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and LeUyen Pham. The Zodiac Legacy: Balance of Power by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong. Against the Odds by Amy Ignatow. Gotham: Dawn of Darkness by Jason Starr. The Last Pokémon Master by Carol Christo. Bullet Gal by Andrez Bergen. Peter Powers and His Not-So-Super Powers! By Kent Clark, Brandon T. Snider and Dave Bardin. Geekerella by Ashley Poston. The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superheroes by Hope Nicholson. The Vengeful Corpse by Russ Anderson, Jr. How to Be a Supervillain by Michael Fry. Time Leap by Preston Flint. The Stone of Azuria by Los Bros Howe. Believers by Michael Moran. Superhero University: Freshman Year by Brook Simon. Real Life Superheroes by Nadia Fezzani.

Posted in Live! In the Link Age

The League of Incredible Nerds with Nearly Useless Powers

mightyoddsMost people would be thrilled to discover they had superpowers. Who wouldn’t want to be Barry Allen or Sue Richards? Being able to run fast and turn invisible would be extraordinary.

But not all superpowers were created equal. Just ask the kids in Amy Ignatow’s latest novel, The Mighty Odds. A boy named Nick discovered he could teleport. But he could only do it four inches to the left. Similarly, Farshad had super strength – but only in his thumbs. And poor Martina, all she could do was change the color of her eyeballs.

Of the bunch, Daniesha “Cookie” Parker had developed arguably the best superpower of all. She could read minds. Unfortunately she could only do it when people were thinking about how to get from one place to another.

It was all very disappointing. No one could breathe under water or shoot lightning bolts from their fingertips. Their superpowers had simply complicated their lives needlessly. “This isn’t extraordinary,” snapped Cookie. “This is a nightmare.”

But at least they had (somewhat) manageable aberrations. A substitute teacher at their middle school was recently cursed with the gift of spontaneous combustion. The poor guy couldn’t help himself. He was unintentionally blowing up cars and setting houses on fire. In the world of comic books and superhero prose fiction, fate had turned him into a reluctant supervillain.

And wherever there were supervillains, there were always going to be superheroes. Even if those superheroes possessed nearly useless powers. Said the author: “If there ever was a nerdy club that no one wanted to be a part of, it was this one.”

That’s because Nick, Farshad, Martina, and Cookie were “mighty odd” long before they became the Mighty Odds. Farshad came from Iran and his classmates thought he was a terrorist. Nick was “dumpy” and unpopular. And Cookie was the only black kid in town. Martina was so odd that her sister called her “Martian.” Without a doubt, she was the weirdest kid in Muellersville, Pa.

But so what? There’s nothing wrong with being weird or different. That’s the author’s point. The challenge was to stay positive and keep your head held high. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” To be continued in Against the Odds (available in May of 2017).

[The Mighty Odds / By Amy Ignatow / First Printing: September 2016 / ISBN: 9781419712715]

Posted in Published in 2016 | Tagged ,

The Dirty Half-Dozen

SuicideSquadCan we talk about the Suicide Squad movie for a moment? Critical reception was pretty harsh back in August when it debuted in theaters. But was it really so terrible?

Didn’t we all enjoy seeing Harley Quinn on the big screen? You have to admit that actress Margot Robbie was fully committed to her character. Will Smith and Viola Davis also turned in good performances as Deadshot and Amanda Waller. And the Joker and El Diablo? They were cool too. Even beyond the main cast, short drop-ins by the Flash and Common made us smile. Despite all the haters (you know who you are), there was a lot of good stuff in Suicide Squad.

Certainly there were problems with the movie. But most of these problems existed because of a muddled narrative and poor editing decisions. That’s too bad. In the end, a fine cast was undermined by poor technical execution.

People who were disappointed by the movie might want to check out the novelization written by Marv Wolfman. The veteran scribe knows a thing or two about telling a story and he does his best to fix the film’s underlying problems. Mainly he pushes the action forward and keeps flashbacks to a minimum. After reading this book you’ll wonder why the moviemakers decided to go with a non-linear storytelling format.

Wolfman also provides helpful context and badly needed transitions, two things fumbled by the film’s editing crew. As a result, readers are blessed with more Rick Flag and June Moone, more Navy Seals, and more Joker and Harley Quinn.

There’s a substantial amount of added information in the novel, so it’s curious to note the details Wolfman decided to leave out. Katana’s backstory, for example, is only mentioned in passing. In fact, her inclusion in this novel is even more gratuitous than her role in the movie. We’ve always liked Katana and her journey from Outsiders to Birds of Prey to Justice League of America. We think she has the potential to be an A-list character if handled properly.

One omission that stuck out like a sore thumb happens early in the book. Floyd Lawton (Deadshot) agrees to take part in Amanda Waller’s suicide mission. But there’s one catch, he wants a kickback for his daughter.

“I want you to cover my daughter’s education,” he says. “Full ride. The best private schools, and get her in a good college. Like Harvard or Yale. And if she gets bad grades, you’re gonna ‘down low that crap’ and make sure she graduates.”

If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Lawton doesn’t say “you’re gonna down low that crap.” He actually says, “I want you to white people that shit.” There are many reasons why Wolfman might not have used the original movie dialogue. Perhaps he was only privy to an early draft of the script. Or perhaps the actor simply improvised the dialogue on set. We’ll never know.

But that line is important. Deadshot is a white guy in the comic books and it would have been disingenuous to cast a black man in the role without acknowledging it in some small way. In fact, one of the best things about Suicide Squad (the movie) is its unbothered mix of gender, ethnicity, nationality, and genus. Black, Latino, Asian, Oceania, and crocodile, the filmmakers tossed them all together in one big jumble. When Deadshot says, “I want you to white people that shit,” he was commenting, as bluntly as possible, on race and social inequality. That’s something good ol’ Floyd Lawton would never have said in the comics.

[Suicide Squad: The Official Movie Novelization / By Marv Wolfman / First Printing: August 2016 / ISBN: 9781785651670]

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

Miles Taylor vs. the U.S. Army

RobotArmyAt school, Miles Taylor was the boy whom everyone would vote most likely not to be voted for anything. But last year during seventh grade he won the equivalent of the galactic lottery. That’s when he became a superhero.

Not a dress-up-for-Halloween and pretend superhero, but an honest-to-goodness living, breathing, pound-bad-guys-into-the-dirt superhero. With the help of a golden cape engineered with alien technology, he was the Golden Great, the Halcyon Hero, and Atlanta’s 24-Karat Champion.

Officially he was known as Gilded, the barrel-chested six-foot-plus exemplar of good. The cape transformed Miles from a nobody into the ultimate somebody. All things considered, he was “in-freaking-vincible.”

One year ago, Miles saved the world from an invading horde of lizard-monster warriors from outer space (see our review of the first novel here). But now as an eighth-grader he faced a more insidious threat: the U.S. Army.

Gen. Mortimer George Breckenridge was in Atlanta during the alien invasion. But it wasn’t the monsters from space that worried him so much. It was Gilded. He considered the superhero nothing less than the greatest threat the United States of America – and the world – had ever known. As such, he vowed to destroy him.

Breckenridge was a high-ranking and trusted figure in the Army, but he had ulterior motives. He was desperate to establish himself as one of the greatest military men of all time. If he could tame Gilded and preserve U.S. security, he was positive that his name would be listed in history books alongside George Washington, Stonewall Jackson, Douglas MacArthur, and Thunderbolt Ross.

To be fair, Breckenridge wasn’t the only one with a swelled head. Miles was suffering from an inflated ego too. You don’t douse forest fires, dissipate tornadoes, and foil alien insurgents without getting a little cocky. And one thing’s for sure: there’s nothing worse than a snooty superhero.

In line with the novel’s title, Miles has to defeat the U.S. Army and its secret army of robots. But more than anything, he needs to adjust his crabby attitude. You can’t sass your father, your best friend, and your girlfriend and still call yourself a superhero. Was Clark Kent an impudent lad? Did Peter Parker disrespect Aunt May? Of course not. Teenage superheroes need to follow the rules.

In the end, Miles smashes Gen. Breckenridge’s dreams of military immortality. And he also gets back on track (“I got too big for my cape,” he says). Yes, he was a superhero, but he was also a 13-year-old kid with a great father, a steadfast best friend, and an awesome girlfriend. In other words, he was the luckiest guy in the world.

[Miles Taylor and the Golden Cape: Rise of the Robot Army / By Robert Venditti and Dusty Higgins / First Printing: June 2016 / ISBN: 9781481405577]

Posted in Published in 2016 | Tagged , , ,

Indestructibles … in … Space!

LikeACometThe last time we looked, the Indestructibles were traveling into the future to save the world from mankind’s bad behavior and hubris (for more details, check out our review of The Entropy of Everything).

Now in the latest novel, our favorite superhero kids were saving the world again. This time the threat was coming from deep space, but man’s rotten nature was still the catalyst of the extinction event. “We are a carrion creature,” explained the encroaching scourge. “We eat the rotten things. We wipe the slate clean. Humanity is the poison in the vein. We can never let you go to the stars, you will bring destruction and death wherever you go.”

It’s true, of course. We were an awful bunch. Ryan Lochte, Jared Fogle, Chris Brown, Harley Quinn – they’re all crackerjack examples of mankind’s bad behavior. Who knows, maybe the universe would be a better place without the stain of humanity.

Naturally, the Indestructibles disagreed. They were a merry band of misfits that included a sorcerer supreme, a 300-pound werewolf, an alien symbiotic, a ballerina with a bad attitude, a solar-powered girl, and a girl who controlled gravitational anomalies. It was their job to keep Earth spinning for one more day. God bless ’em.

But saving the world was a big job. The Indestructibles needed all the help they could get. As a result, author Matthew Phillion spends a big chunk of the novel adding more firepower to the team. Long time readers will be happy to see nearly everyone in the Indestructibles multiverse make a cameo appearance in this adventure. Some of these supporting characters (like Bedlam and Korthos) are clearly ready for prime time.

Initially, we had concerns that Phillion wouldn’t be able to assimilate such a large group of characters in one book. It’s a tricky thing to do. Many movies, for example, are undone with a large cast vying for screen time (Avengers: Age of Ultron, for example). We understand that serial fiction can be expansive and a little bit messy. But in general we feel that a tight narrative with a manageable cast is the best way to go for most storytellers.

Our concerns were for naught, however. Phillion succeeds (more or less) in his splashy cosmic superhero romp. Outer space is a big place, after all, and there’s a lot of room for subplots and quirky digressions between Earth and Saturn. Even though the cast is large, the author makes sure everybody gets a chance to be a hero. He even finds time to put Entropy Emily in an Evangelion-like war machine. And that’s the coolest thing ever.

The best thing about these Indestructibles novels is watching the tightly knit group of kids grow up. In the first two books (read our reviews here and here), they were a disjointed bunch that didn’t know what to do with their freaky abilities. But after saving the world (twice!), they’ve earned the right to call themselves “Earth’s mightiest heroes.” Sounds like a pretty good tagline, doesn’t it?

[Like a Comet: The Indestructibles Book 4 / By Matthew Phillion / First Printing: May 2016 / ISBN: 9780997024852]

Posted in Published in 2016 | Tagged , ,

Supergirl: The Last Leaf on the Tree

SupergirlSuperman and Supergirl have a couple of things in common. They are the last son and daughter of Krypton. And they both acquired super powers living under a yellow sun.

But their origin stories differ in dramatic ways. Kal-El came to Earth as an infant. As a result, his personality and identity were nurtured by life experience and environment. Growing up in Smallville was his only reality.

Kara Zor-El, on the other hand, was a teenager when her parents launched her toward Earth. Not only did she have specific memories of Krypton, but she witnessed her home planet explode in the rearview mirror of her space pod.

Author Lisa Yee uses this backstory to imbue Supergirl with a substantial amount of super angst. Kara was the strongest teenager in the world (she could hold a brachiosaur aloft with just her pinky finger, for example), but she was a mopey kid who grappled with pangs of self-doubt.

You couldn’t blame her of course. She missed her parents, she missed her friends, and she struggled to acclimate to her new home world. Her cousin Kal-El was the most famous superhero on Earth, but she was just a lonely little space alien.

Enrolling at Super Hero High was probably the best thing Supergirl could have done. Instead of being isolated on the Kent’s farm in Kansas, she now mingled freely with a bunch of classmates who had empathy for her situation.

Like all secondary schools, Super Hero High had a clique of mean girls roaming the hallways (Cheetah, Killer Frost, and Star Sapphire to name three), but it was mostly home to a friendly group of kids like Wonder Woman, Bumblebee, Hawkgirl, and Beast Boy. Barbara Gordon in particular (not yet in full Batgirl bloom) quickly became Supergirl’s best friend and most enthusiastic champion.

But Supergirl had a lot to learn. For one thing, she was now in possession of superpowers so intense, she was afraid to sneeze for fear she would destroy something or someone. She didn’t even know how many powers she had. They were growing at a rate faster than a speeding bullet.

And another thing: She didn’t know what a superhero was supposed to do. (They didn’t have comic books on Krypton, apparently.) Before coming to Earth, she was just a regular teenager. “How can I be a superhero?” she wondered. “I can’t even save my super self from being such a super mess.”

Thankfully, things get sorted out before Granny Goodness and her furious female furies arrive on campus. With a little pep talk from Wonder Woman (“The stronger you are,” she says, “the stronger we are”), and some tutelage from Principal Amanda Waller, Supergirl stops feeling sorry for herself and reaches her superhero potential.

Yee’s previous Wonder Woman novel (see our review here) was perkier than this one. But that makes sense. Immortal Amazon princesses don’t have much teen angst. In this case, the author had to respect Supergirl’s personal journey. A young girl doesn’t lose her parents and travel 21.7 light years through space to another planet without being a little traumatized.

Don’t get us wrong, however. Supergirl at Super Hero High isn’t a downer in any way. Kara is winsome throughout and she eventually overcomes her personal crisis in spectacular fashion. Despite the tragedies in her life, it was her fate to be a superhero. Like her mother always told her back on Krypton: “Always do your best and you’ll be fine. I know you have the heart of a hero.”

[Supergirl at Super Hero High / By Lisa Yee / First Printing: July 2016 / ISBN: 9781101940624]

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