Live! In the Link Age 01.16.18

MangaJLAOver the years, Japanese publishers have tried unsuccessfully to introduce U.S. superheroes to their manga readers. Jiro Kuwata’s Batman series was terrific but it didn’t last long. Ryoichi Ikegami’s version of Spider-Man was good too, but it had a similar fate. Everything else (including manga versions of the Hulk, X-men, Witchblade, and Spawn) was pretty bad. Now we have Batman and the Justice League (By Shiori Teshirogi / First Printing: January 2018 / ISBN: 9781401282455). The special preview edition from Loot Anime gives us a peek at the first two chapters of the ongoing manga series. Teshirogi, a perfunctory mangaka best known for her reboot of Saint Seiya, is attempting to produce a hybrid comic that will appeal to both Japanese and U.S. readers. In the first chapter we’re introduced to Rui Aramiya, a teenager from Japan who’s come to Gotham City looking for his parents. Unbeknownst to Aramiya, he’s stumbled into a turf war between Batman and the Joker. The setup is underwhelming to say the least. But perhaps things will pick up shortly. After all, the artist’s character guide teases upcoming appearances by Wonder Woman, Superman, Green Lantern, Cyborg, Aquaman, and Harley Quinn.

Mackenzi Lee (author of The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue) will be writing a three-book series focusing on popular anti-heroes from Marvel Comics. Her first novel about Loki is expected to be in bookstores in Spring 2019.

Extension World is a two-volume superhero novel co-written by authors from China and Japan. It’s an attempt to build a shared universe that features “the in-depth depiction of human psychology typical of Japanese thrillers and the fast-paced plotting often seen in modern Chinese novels.” If you read Japanese, you can buy the first book (here) and the second book (here).

John J. Vinacci describes his first novel as an epic meditation on the use and abuse of power (Alpha vs. Omega / First Printing: January 2018). “The book was originally meant to satirize the superhero genre,” says Vinacci in a recent email, “but I found myself wanting to take it somewhat seriously.” Added bonus: The ebook contains interactive links to thematic music meant to enhance the reading experience.

Superpowered fictioneer Nicholas Ahlhelm takes a look back at his favorite books of 2017 (here). It’s an interesting list that skews heavily toward pulp fiction. There’s nothing wrong with that. Also: Tim Hanley (author of The Many Lives of Catwoman) lists his top 10 favorite comic book titles from last year (here). Two comments: Otto Schmidt (Green Arrow) is a terrific artist, and the Mister Miracle series knocked our socks off. As always, Hanley’s got great taste in comics.

Did we ever tell you the story of the author who got a negative review from us and retaliated by using social media to wage a one-man war against SuperheroNovels.com? He said a lot of crazy stuff, but his main point was that we were relentlessly negative. First off, hissy fits on Facebook are infantile. And secondly, we strongly disagree with his claim. In fact, most of the reviews on this site are upbeat and positive. Not only do we like superhero fiction, but we are generally easy to please. If we’re being totally honest, being “easy to please” is probably our biggest sin. That’s what Slate.com says. The Reviewer’s Fallacy, When Critics Aren’t Critical Enough (here).

Big Barda: A Woman of Valor by Michael Chabon.

Interviews: Jo Whittemore, author of Supergirl: Age of Atlantis (here). C.B. Lee, author of Not Your Villain (here). Jason Reynolds, author of Miles Morales: Spider-Man (here). Claude Lalumière, author of Venera Dreams (here). Mariko Tamaki, author of Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power! (here). Sorabh Pant, author of Pawan: The Flying Accountant (here). Charles Forsman, creator of The End of the Fucking World (here).

Reviews: Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu (here). Runaways: An Original Novel by Christopher Golden (here). Don’t Cosplay With My Heart by Cecil Castellucci (here and here). Supergirl: Age of Atlantis by Jo Whittemore (here). All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner (here). Renegades by Marissa Meyer (here, here, and here). Siege of Shadows by Sarah Raughley (here). Not Your Villain by C.B. Lee (here). The Black Stiletto: Black & White by Raymond Benson (here). Serpent’s Sacrifice by Trish Heinrich (here).

For your reading pleasure: The Super Ladies by Susan Petrone. Ship It by Britta Lundin. Land of the Free by Michael W. Huard. Collateral Damage: A Superhero Anthology and Ha!Ha!Ha! A Supervillain Anthology both edited by Steve Beaulieu. Rise of the Super Strike and The Super Strike Zone both by Maxwell Blake. Proton by Robert Aldrich. Girl Divided by Willow Rose. Bark by Daniel Peyton. Strong Female Protagonist: Book Two by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag. Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover adapted and illustrated by Trina Robbins.

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Posted in Live! In the Link Age

One Woman Army Corps

Sienna McKnightSienna McKnight was born in the harsh desert of Central Asia. She was, says author R.K. Syrus, “An orphan girl born in blood with the birthright of pain and scars.” Nothing in life would be easy for her.

Now a full bird Colonel in the U.S. Army, McKnight’s personal mission was to return to the wasteland of Khorasan and punish her mother’s murderer and find out what happened to her father. The circumstances surrounding her birth and the ensuing years spent on a military base in North Carolina were improbable. But what came before seemed inescapable. No one could stop Col. McKnight from returning to the badlands of Asia. She was looking for a slice of justice with a big scoop of no mercy.

Along for the ride were a scruffy battle-tested ops team known as the Dogs. These howling commandos were basically grown-up versions of the kids in high school who dressed in black and barked at the moon. Now as sanctioned military personnel, they carried licenses to kill.

The Dogs were a tough bunch all right, but just in case they needed a little backup, McKnight “borrowed” a piece of top-secret Army tech known as RAPTEK. The self-contained weapons system was infused with a mysterious alien power source, and McKnight knew it would transform her into a Kirby-esque O.W.A.C.

What she didn’t know, however, was that the “Railgun: Ansible Powered Test Kit” could trigger ancient powers hidden deep inside of her. Combined with the alien technology, McKnight’s inner wraith roiled with a surge of unprecedented havoc.

The story of Sienna McKnight’s existential journey first appeared in a comic book back in 2012. For one reason or another, creator Syrus decided to cancel the comic and continue the story in prose format. After reading this novel (the first in a planned 10-volume series), we think he made the right choice.

Syrus ably captures McKnight’s situation by mixing military science fiction and superhero prose fiction – a genre mash-up that we haven’t seen very often. He’s pretty good at military techno-babble, and he’s especially good with fight sequences. For example, his hero escapes from a Khorasan cellblock by overcoming her captives in a highly unusual way, and she later destroys the surrounding village (along with a surface-to-air missile launcher) by throwing stones (!) and creating shockwaves.

And lastly, for those of you who continually dismiss superhero prose fiction as inferior to comic books, we ask: What’s more visual than your imagination? Why let an illustrator define your optics? In our opinion, very few comic book creators could have captured McKnight’s surreal pre-birth experience in Chapter 22 any better than Syrus did here. There’s no reason a New Praetorians adventure can’t be as explosive and colorful in prose format than any other format.

[Sienna McKnight: New Praetorians 1 / By R.K. Syrus / First Printing: July 2017 / ISBN: 9781910890066]

Posted in Published in 2017 | Tagged , ,

Be Your Own Bloom

CosplayEveryone is a nerd about something, says author Cecil Castellucci in her latest novel. And we can attest to that. At various times over the years we’ve been inordinately preoccupied with a sundry of things. Rat Fink, Ricky Nelson, Angela Mao, RC Cola – the list goes on and on. Comic books, especially, have been a life-long obsession.

Castellucci’s novel will undoubtedly appeal to everyone ensconced in a Comic-Con-like bubble. The author mentions “free comic book day” in the first sentence of the book, and goes on to joyously name check a string of nerd icons such as B’Elanna Torres (Star Trek: Voyager), Izabel (Saga), and Shade, the Changing Girl.

These days, being a nerd is mainstream with hard-core edges. As proof, Castellucci casts her writerly gaze toward a highly enthusiastic sub-nerd niche. Don’t Cosplay with My Heart is the story of a high school girl named Edan who copes with a significant family crisis by dressing up like Gargantua, her favorite comic book character (“I need to be more like her and less like me,” she says at one point). Cosplay also gives Edan the wherewithal to navigate tricky social situations and even trickier romantic entanglements.

Sadly, nerd culture isn’t all Hello Kitty hugs and all-night LARPing parties. Sexism, bullying, and boorish behavior continue to plague the community like a “Dutch Oven” (look it up). To her credit, Castellucci doesn’t turn a blind eye to these lingering issues.

In particular, there’s a geek chorus of boys who continually harass and disrespect Edan throughout the book. They question her nerd cred and dismiss her opinions every chance they get. “You’re the girl who pretends to be all cool, but you really aren’t,” says their leader in a novel-ending harangue. “Girls like you … you pretend to be into stuff, learn to talk the talk, hooking up with boys, invading our spaces.” It’s a brutal verbal attack, but we’re betting it mirrors similar #MeToo conversations all women have had at some point in their lives.

Never mind that these nerd bullies aren’t fully formed characters. Castellucci doesn’t seem to care. She’s using broad strokes to make her point. Whether you’re an editor at DC Comics or a member of your high school cosplay club, you need to be respectful and inclusive. Let the girls have their fan fun without being belittled, insulted, ogled, or groped. “Here’s the truth about being a nerd,” says Edan. “You don’t have to be an expert in something, you just have to be passionate. There is no test and no application. If you say you’re a geek, then you’re a geek.”

[Don’t Cosplay with My Heart / By Cecil Castellucci / First Printing; January 2018 / ISBN: 9781338125498]

Posted in Published in 2018 | Tagged ,

Live! In the Link Age: Short Reviews and Interviews of 2017 (Revisited)

krampusAccording to singer Andy Williams, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. But if your name is on the naughty list you’d better watch out. Krampus the Christmas devil might come down your chimney instead of Santa Claus. That’s the premise behind Matthew Phillion’s latest Indestructibles short story (“Krampus in the City: An Indestructibles Holiday Story” / First Printing: December 2016). Krampus has come to town and he’s on the prowl for wicked children to abduct. Now it’s up to Entropy Emily and her ninja ballerina best friend Kate Miller to pull the plug on Krampusnacht. “I don’t think you understand, dude,” says Emily when she comes face to face with the hoary killjoy. “You don’t own Christmas anymore.” She’s right. If Krampus wants to ruin the holiday season, he needs to get in line behind Ebenezer Scrooge, the Grinch, Jack Frost, Oogie Boogie, Mr. Potter, and that unpleasant nutball from Miracle on 34th Street. [Review first published 01.11.17.]

LunaStation29With his telekinetic powers and dashing good looks, Captain Alpha was a popular and awesome superhero. But as boyfriend material, he was a total bust (“How Lady Nightmare Stole Captain Alpha’s Girlfriend” / By Kristen Brand / Available free in the March 2017 issue of Luna Station Quarterly). Poor Sara, she went on one lousy date with the mighty Captain and now she couldn’t get rid of him. How does someone break up with a superhero anyhow? Do you give him a one-way ticket to Apokolips or do you send him packing to Gorilla City? Your options were limited. As luck would have it, Sara was given the opportunity to jettison her “boyfriend” during a home invasion hostage situation. In her opinion, teaming up with a supervillain was preferable to dating a jerky superhero. Says the author: “Sara didn’t know if that said more about her own weird turn-ons or Captain Alpha’s complete and utter failure as a decent human being.” [Review first published 03.28.17.]

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. [Review first published 04.25.17.]

HochelagaAs a prisoner of war during WWII, Benoit Kurtz was a lab rat for mad German scientists (“Hochelaga and Sons” / By Claude Lalumière / First Printing: February 2013). When the war ended, he was released, debriefed, and shipped back home to Montreal. That’s when he found out he had every superpower imaginable – superstrength, superspeed, invisibility, telepathy, telekinesis. You name it; he had it. By combining science, torture, and occultism, Nazi scientists had somehow created the first Overman. Instead of being a radical agent for fascism, however, Kurtz was simply a mild-mannered gentleman with a strong commitment to his community. “What he liked to do most was find lost pets,” said the author. “Or get drunk drivers off the road.” Unfortunately, Kurtz wasn’t the only Beyond-Man forged by Nazi weird science. The Hegemony of Hate was still out there causing trouble. And so were Baron Zemo and the Red Skull. Like it or not, the threat of a Übermensch clash was always imminent. When the time came, would the reluctant hero and his two sons be ready? As Jews, would they wield their Nazi-given superpowers or not? The answer, we think, was obvious. To paraphrase the MC5: “Pikuach Nefesh motherfuckers!” [Review first published 09.05.17.]

HolmesLama BookCoverWe’re big fans of Adam Lance Garcia’s previous Green Lama books (Unbound, Scions, and Crimson Circle). Now he’s back with an unlikely team-up novel featuring the verdant vigilante and Sherlock Holmes called The Heir Apparent (First Printing: October 2017 / ISBN: 9781944017101). We contacted Garcia recently for more information about this odd pairing.

“I wasn’t initially sold on the idea when the concept was first pitched by my publisher, Moonstone. Holmes is a character solidly in the Victorian era, and the Lama is distinctly 1930s and ’40s.

“I didn’t want to tell a story with the characters solving a single crime in two different eras. Nor did I want to tell a story featuring time travel (or what-have-you) to bring the characters together. I wanted to tell a story that brought them together in way that felt true to both canons. More importantly I wasn’t sure there was anything I could say with the story.

“These days, crossovers are a dime a dozen, whether they be in pre-established shared universes (i.e. the MCU), or cross-company (i.e. Batman/The Shadow), or with public domain characters (basically any new pulp story). The best crossovers, the ones I love reading/watching, are the ones that leave me learning something fundamental about the characters involved.

“There is, of course, a place for crossover tales that simply boil down to ‘who wins in a fight.’ Those are great. I’ve even written a few. But with Sherlock and the Lama, I needed their meeting to mean something. At first blush … I didn’t see how I could do it.

“Of course, I didn’t tell my publisher that. I simply said: ‘A Sherlock/G.L. story could work, but I think it would have to be a very special story.’ It wasn’t until maybe two months later that I figured out how to do it.

“While struggling to fall asleep one night, I suddenly remembered that the majority of Holmes tales were told by Watson via ‘in-universe’ stories. In other words, they were adventures Watson experienced first-hand and later published.

“In the Green Lama universe, his pulp adventures were established to have been adaptations of Dumont’s monographs by his friend ‘Richard Foster,’ of which only 14 were published.

“The question then sprang in my mind: What if Jethro Dumont met an old Sherlock Holmes while on his way back to America, and recorded that adventure in a monograph?

“It not only gave me a viable way to tell a story that fit into the world of the Green Lama, it also gave me a way to mimic the style of the Holmes tales without being beholden to perfectly matching Doyle’s voice.

“More than that, I knew that I had something I could say with the story. I would get to show two heroes interacting at the beginning and end of their respective careers, giving insight into the men they were and will be. Plus, I would get to do something no one had else had ever done before … tell a Green Lama tale wholly from the Green Lama’s point of view.” (Find out more about the author at his website (here) and follow him on Twitter @AdamLanceGarcia.) [Post first published 09.26.17.]

Serpents SacrificeTrish Heinrich’s debut novel (Serpent’s Sacrifice / First Printing: September 2017 / ISBN: 9780999066911) is about a young woman who reinvents herself as a superheroine to avenge the death of her aunt. The book has garnered a bevy of enthusiastic reviews on Amazon (plus here and here). We asked Heinrich for a little insight into her newly released novel and her ongoing series.

“I get asked a lot what the inspiration for Serpent’s Sacrifice was because I’m not a big comic book reader, but I’m very much a superhero geek. So, the inspiration came from a song by the geek rock band Kirby Krackle called “Needing a Miracle.” It’s this great song about a superhero that’s in love with a regular person and about how some day, when he’s done being a hero, they can be together, but if she ever needs him all she has to do is look up and he’ll be there. Very romantic and simple. So, originally, Alice was going to be a Lois Lane type of character. Then, while I was making dinner one night, I asked one of the most important questions a writer can ask: ‘What if?’

“What if Alice was a hero too, but without powers? And the rest of the story flowed from there. Though, I will admit, the story looks very different now than it did in the first draft, which was a complete mess!

“One major difference between the original concept and the book now is that in the original outline Marco (aka Shadow Master and one of Alice’s best friends) became the villain. As I wrote it, however, I realized that it didn’t work; maybe because I’d fallen a little in love with Marco.

“The villain was actually one of the hardest characters to nail down. I was having trouble getting a handle on my villain when, one night, I was watching Agent Carter and it hit me who the villain was. I don’t want to ruin it by revealing too much, so I’ll just say that once I knew the sense of injustice the character felt, the rest of the villain really came together.

“When I started writing this book, I couldn’t write a fight scene to save my life. So, the original draft had summaries of fight scenes instead of the actual scenes. While re-writing the original draft, I researched fighting styles that would be appropriate for a shorter woman like Alice, and decided on Brazilian jiu-jitsu. This lead me to Ronda Rousey and women’s mixed martial arts. I have to admit that my research soon turned into a guilty pleasure as I watched hours of footage of MMA fights to better understand BJJ and other styles of fighting. I also bought a book that is meant for BJJ fighters and breaks down each move into simple parts. I studied fight scenes in movies and TV shows and I read some books on the mechanics of writing these scenes. The fight scenes in the book have gotten some praise for being easy to follow but also descriptive enough that you feel the bones and blood. I take that as a huge compliment because I learned how to write those scenes from the ground up.

“What started as a standalone story has now developed into a series, with planned spinoffs. The sequel, Serpent’s Rise, will be available in November in Kindle format, with a novella to follow in January. I’m very excited to delve into this world of superheroes and tell these stories. I hope you’ll join me!” (Find out more about the author at her website (here) and follow her on Twitter @trishheinrich.) [Post first published 10.24.17.]

WhiteRibbonThe White Ribbon Runs the Red Lights (First Printing: November 2017 / ISBN: 9781978398689) is the latest novel by Blake Michael Nelson, and the fifth installment in his ongoing superhero series set in Signal City (earlier volumes include The Adventures of Jack and Miracle Girl, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, Orchid, and Disreputable Persons). He’s also compiled a handy “visitor’s guide” that allows fans and new readers to dig deeper into his ever-expanding oeuvre (get a free digital copy here). We asked Nelson to give us a peek behind the “Signalverse” curtain.

“I’m kind of a traditionalist when it comes to superhero universes – I like big, crazy worlds, full of magic, ancient gods, aliens, super-science, creatures from folklore, impossibly skilled martial artists, parallel worlds, and all the rest of it. Worlds like this give the writer a great deal of freedom, I feel; in my own Signalverse (so-called because most of the action takes place in the superhero metropolis of Signal City), for example, I can tell stories about globe-trotting mercenaries, crime-fighting billionaires, sorcerers, super-powered humans, or entirely ordinary people, and these stories can be as big or as small (scale-wise) as I want them to be.

The White Ribbon Runs the Red Lights is the fifth book in the Signalverse series, and although the stakes eventually get pretty high, it’s not exactly a huge epic – I wanted to tell a smaller, more intimate story this time around, with a smaller cast. I also wanted to write a story starring teenagers, partly because the series hasn’t had any teen protagonists yet, but also because teenage superhero-stories are so full of dramatic possibilities. Self-doubt, alienation, raging hormones, juggling a school life with a superhero career … these kinds of things can be a lot of fun to play around with.

“This series hasn’t really received a great deal of attention, but the books are so much fun to write that I’ve been working on them almost exclusively for the past four or five years. A lot of the fun comes from the world itself; I got a little carried away creating the Signalverse, and I’ve got so many characters to work with now that I can’t imagine I’ll ever run out of story ideas.” (Find out more about Nelson at his website (here) and follow him on Twitter @limitblake.) [Post first published 11.21.17.]

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Superhero Novels: The Best of 2017 and a Peek at 2018

IronFistMistyKnight KISSEvery year we look forward to compiling our Top 5 list of superhero novels. It’s a great way to revisit all the books we’ve read during the past 12 months, and it helps put everything in perspective. Seeing how the genre changes year by year is endlessly fascinating. Better writers are coming to the genre, and readers are becoming more discriminating too. The future’s so bright we’ve got to wear Captain Cold-like shades when we sit down to read. Below is our list of the five best superhero prose novels of 2017.

1) A Little More Human by Fiona Maazel. The hero of Fiona Maazel’s quirky novel is a low level telepath. But just because he has the ability to read minds doesn’t mean he has any kind of mental acuity. Maazel takes her super inadequate hero on a journey that ends with a shit storm of bad luck and bad choices. Tragic and funny, A Little More Human is our favorite book of 2017.

2) Sputnik’s Children by Terri Favro. According to Albert Einstein, events that happen in the universe can be interpreted in many different ways. Little did he know that his theory of relativity would someday inspire Terri Favro to write a wild and crazy superhero novel. Like the ballad of Norin Radd and Shalla-Bal, Sputnik’s Children is a sad and cosmic love story that spans the space-time continuum.

3) The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente and Annie Wu. Valente takes aim at a regrettable genre trope that’s dogged superhero fiction for years. Her pointed attack, however, results in one of the best (and funniest) books of the year. The Refrigerator Monologues is a love letter to superhero comic books written with a poison ivy pen.

4) Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds. It’s doubtful that award-winning and best-selling author Jason Reynolds will ever pen another superhero novel. That’s too bad. We’d like to see him tackle a Virgil Hawkins (Static Shock) novel, or something involving sisters Anissa and Jennifer Pierce (Thunder and Lightning). He’s a guy who writes intelligently and poetically about adolescence, and he brings his literary gifts to this amazing Spider-Man book.

5) Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo. As alternative origin stories go, Bardugo’s retcon of Wonder Woman is pretty darn good. She fiddles around with the details of Diana’s backstory, but she nails her enduring charm in a highly compelling way. As we all know, 2017 was a big year for Wonder Woman. The movie was terrific and so is this novel. Congratulations to Bardugo for riding the wave.

Over all, 2017 was a great year for superhero prose fiction. Now let’s take a look at some of the novels forthcoming in 2018. Below is a partial list of books that have already been added to our “to read” list.

Arrow: Fatal Legacies by Marc Guggenheim and James R. Tuck. Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu. Black Panther: The Young Prince by Ronald L. Smith. Bug Girl: Fury on the Dance Floor by Benjamin Harper and Sarah Hines Stephens. Bumblebee at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee. Captain Superlative by J.S. Puller. Catwoman: Soulstealer by Sarah J. Maas. Don’t Cosplay with My Heart by Cecil Castellucci. The Flash: Climate Changeling by Richard Knaak. The Flash: Johnny Quick by Barry Lyga. Gotham: City of Monsters by Jason Starr. Harley Quinn at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee. Heroine’s Journey by Sarah Kuhn. Kid Normal by Greg James, Chris Smith, and Erica Salcedo. Low Chicago: A Wild Cards Novel edited by George R.R. Martin. My So-Called Superpowers by Heather Nuhfer and Simini Blocker. Nexus by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti. Not Your Backup by C.B. Lee. The Oracle Year by Charles Soule. The Point by John Dixon. The Super Ladies by Susan Petrone. Runaways: An Original Novel by Christopher Golden. Serpent in the Heather by Kay Kenyon. Shetani Zeru Bryan: New Praetorians 2 by R.K. Syrus. Supergirl: Curse of the Ancients by Jo Whittemore. The Supervillain and Me by Danielle Banas. Texas Hold ‘Em: A Wild Cards Novel edited by George R.R. Martin. They Promised Me the Gun Wasn’t Loaded by James Alan Gardner. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: 2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. Vengeful by V.E. Schwab.

Posted in Best Of, Published in 2017 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Super Girl

Supergirl AtlantisA recent singularity event in National City creates a batch of new superhumans in author Jo Whittemore’s delightfully wacky Supergirl novel. Among others, there’s a meteorologist who can now control weather, a bodybuilder who can levitate objects (get it?), and a film student who can animate any object she touches.

Most people are happy about the unexpected turn of events, especially James Olsen. After being an ineffectual wingman to both Superman and Supergirl for so long, he’s thrilled to acquire metahuman powers of his own. Not only can the photographer see in the dark, but he can also see through objects, and he can even see behind his head. All things considered, having super eyeball vision is a dream come true for Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen.

But not everybody is happy about the explosion of new superheroes in National City. Supergirl for one. The “supercitizens” didn’t know what they were doing. And most of them were overwhelmed by their powers. “They have no clue,” says Supergirl in a hastily recorded public announcement. “They’re as much a danger to themselves as they are to everyone around them.”

Unbeknownst to Supergirl and the rest of her colleagues at the Department of Extra-Normal Operations, the influx of supercitizens is directly linked to a mysterious visitor from the depths of the Mediterranean Sea. It takes a while for the CW crew (including Olsen, J’onn J’onzz, Alex Danvers, Winn Schott, and Mon-El) to figure things out. But when they do, the ensuing “superbattle” is like an 80-Page Giant edition featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes.

And just like the TV show, Supergirl wins the day with a combination of superpowers and super charm. That’s why we love her so much. “You are more than just your powers, Kara,” says her boyfriend Mon-El. “You have a kind heart and a determined spirit and a clever mind. Even if you were human, you would still be a super girl.”

Over all, Whittemore does a great job of putting our favorite super girl in a non-ending string of funny and awkward moments. Many of them include unexpected nods to the DC extended universe.

For example, when a handful of lions and tigers escape the National City Zoo, Supergirl figures out a humane way to solve the crisis (“Punching a cat seems wrong,” she says with a shrug). Later, when Winn starts calling her Catwoman as a goof, she doesn’t seem to mind (maybe because Kara Zor-El and Selina Kyle were buddies at Super Hero High School).

Whittemore saves her biggest surprise for the end (no spoilers from us!), but our favorite cameo happens about midway through the book. On page 150, Kara visits the newsroom of the National City Tribune and interrupts Vicki Vale’s going-away party. “Oh, right!” she says in her best ditzy Melissa Benoist impersonation. “You’re leaving us for that other newspaper. We’ll miss you.”

“Between you and me,” says Vale in a conspiratorial whisper, “I have to get out of here. National City is driving me batty.” The two reporters chat amiably for a few moments before Kara gives her coworker a big super squeeze. “Have fun in your new job at the Gotham Gazette,” she says with a cheery cluelessness, “and stay out of trouble.”

[Supergirl: Age of Atlantis / By Jo Whittemore / First Printing: November 2017 / ISBN: 9781419728143]

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

All You Need Is Love

RenegadesThere were 400 superheroes affiliated with the Renegades, Gatlon City’s premier justice league. Led by a five-member council, the Renegades were former vigilantes who took control of their city and established a sensible legislative purview.

Like most superheroes, the Renegades were an earnest bunch who were arguably doing the best they could. They dutifully passed laws to protect their constituencies and provided infrastructure support whenever possible.

But just because they could turn invisible or control water didn’t mean they had any governing skills. Nine years ago, the Renegades saved Gatlon City from the scourge of villainy. But the government they installed was inadequate. It’s hard to represent your citizenry when you’re lounging comfortably at the top of an 82-story skyscraper. Talk about being disconnected from reality.

The whole thing was a failed social experiment, according to Nova Artino, a spy for the resistance and a notorious supervillain named Nightmare. “The city was ruled by dictators who had no idea what they were doing.”

Artino’s solution was anarchy. She was all about personal freedom, personal responsibility; about taking care of yourself and your own concerns, rather than expecting anyone to take care of you. She wanted to do away with oppression and regulations that only served a small group of (super) people.

And that, more or less, was the big messy conflict at the center of Marissa Meyer’s latest novel. What was better, she mused, freedom of choice or freedom from choice? Nova and her friends embraced the upside of anarchy, and the Renegades stubbornly upheld their brand of authoritative social control.

But who was right? It’s the sort of argument freshman philosophy students have been debating for years. And certainly it’s been a pressing question in every YA dystopian novel published in the past decade. Meyers, to her credit, allows her superheroes to hash it out properly on the page.

Sixteen-year-old Nova was raised by Ace Anarchy (né Alec Artino), her rabblerousing uncle. Predictably she’s loyal to him throughout the book and uses her sleep-inducing abilities for maximum mischief. But things get complicated for her when she meets a cute Renegade scout named Adrian Everhart with powers like Harold and his purple crayon.

No matter what their personal allegiances may be, the two teenagers can’t resist the thrall of their prickly hormones. As you’d expect, their budding Romeo and Juliet-like romance threatens to crack Gatlon City wide open like a raw egg. Freedom of choice? Freedom from choice? The question is moot. Love trumps politics and philosophical dissonance every time.

[Renegades / By Marissa Meyer / First Printing: November 2017 / ISBN: 9781250044662]

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