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]

Posted in Movies/TV | Tagged ,

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 yen 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]

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

Live! In the Link Age 03.01.17.

goodfight3The Pen and Cape Society is an association of authors united in their love of superhero prose fiction. Over the years, the group’s website has become a good resource for readers and authors alike. In particular, we enjoy listening to Throwing the Gun, a semi-regular podcast featuring a roundtable of Society members discussing genre and craft. Just out, the Pen and Cape crew has published its third anthology: The Good Fight 3: Sidekicks featuring stories by Stephen Brophy, Nicholas Ahlhelm, Michael Ivan Lowell, and Samantha Bryant (among others). And don’t forget to check out the first two books in the series: The Good Fight and The Good Fight: Villains.

When Lumberjanes debuted back in 2014, it was widely celebrated for its “lady-created and lady-driven” stories, its diverse cast, and its winning all-ages appeal. Now the comic book series is being turned into a prose novel series. Holy Kittens! According to Publishers Weekly, the first volume, written by Mariko Tamaki with illustrations by Brooke Allen, will be in stores October 2017.

Entertainment Weekly is giving readers a two-chapter sneak peek at Leigh Bardugo’s upcoming novel, Wonder Woman: Warbringer. We think the author is on the right track. Says Bardugo: “In William Moulton Marston’s original story, Diana longed to leave the Amazons because she fell in love with a mortal man. I mean, bless Steve Trevor, but that never really resonated with me. I wanted to give Diana her own quest.”

When someone writes the history of superhero fiction, Weird Heroes will undoubtedly be a big part of the narrative. The paperback series (totaling eight volumes all published in the ’70s) helped build a bridge between comic books and prose. At the time, the list of contributors was super impressive. Philip José Farmer, Jim Steranko, Marv Wolfman, Steve Englehart, Ben Bova, Michael Moorcock, and Ron Goulart were just a handful of creators featured throughout the series. Weird Heroes billed itself as “New American Pulp,” and it was a big melting pot of pulp fiction, science fiction, fantasy, sword and sorcery, adventure, comic books, and superhero prose fiction. Check out the recently assembled cover gallery (here) and read our review of the first book in the series (here).

Fans of rowdy space opera and exotic planetary romance will undoubtedly get a kick out of Star Hawks, Vol. 1 (By Ron Goulart and Gil Kane / First Printing: April 2017 / ISBN: 9781631403972). First published nearly 40 years ago, the daily comic strip was a self-conscious nod to golden age serials such as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Despite its pedigree and swashbuckling fun, Star Hawks never found a dedicated audience and faded away after a few years. But now, thanks to the good folks at IDW, the entire thing will be available in a handy three-volume reprint package. Coda: After the strip ended, Goulart was inspired to write two additional Star Hawks novels. They’re a lot of fun too. Read our reviews (here and here).

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker (First Printing: January 2017 / ISBN: 9780812989281) is the story about two women who pursue a career in animation. The novel, says Whitaker’s agent, constitutes an important addition to the literature of artistic collaboration. “We’ve see this so often from male writers, about male characters,” she says. “Looking for truth in art is not something we see a lot in novels about young women.” Read the Publishers Weekly review (here).

Regular readers have undoubtedly noticed that we’ve never enabled the “comments” option on SuperheroNovels. Despite the ongoing oversight, a steady stream of informed chitchat comes our way via email. You’ll be happy to know that a robust superhero fiction conversation is ongoing, albeit underground. Feel free to chime in whenever you have something to say. Added bonus: we abandon the annoying first-person plural pronoun in our correspondence. On email, it’s strictly first person all the way.

Reviews: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). The Power by Naomi Alderman (here, here, and here). Batgirl at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee (here). Dreadnought by April Daniels (here). Power Game by Christine Feehan (here). Jerusalem by Alan Moore (here). Vicious by V.E. Schwab (here).

For your reading pleasure: Black Power: The Superhero Anthology edited by Balogun Ojetade. Sovereign by April Daniels. Wonder Woman: The Deluxe Junior Novel by Steve Korte. The LEGO Batman Movie Junior Novel by Jeanette Lane. Bug Girl by Benjamin Harper and Sarah Hines Stephens. Gloom: Sic Semper Tyrannis by Stephen Semones (great title!). Shadow Legion: Nightmare City by Thomas Deja. Brothers (The Young Neos Book 1) by Lucas Flint. The Unbeatables: The Autobiography of Strongman by L. Dustin Twede. Misadventures with a Super Hero by Angel Payne. The Ultimate Agent by Derek Borne. Fierce by Rob Rosen. Black Panther: Who Is the Black Panther? by Jesse Holland. Spider-Man: Homecoming (author unannounced). Hulk: Planet Hulk (author unannounced). Stan Lee: The Man Behind Marvel by Bob Batchelor.

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

Revolutionary Girl

dreadnoughtAuthor April Daniels begins her novel with a high school kid applying toenail polish in a dark corner of a shopping mall parking garage. “Painting my toes is the one way I can take control of my life,” says 15-year-old Danny Tozer. “The one way I can give voice to this idea inside me that gets heavier every year: I’m not supposed to be a boy.”

Daniels dedicates Dreadnought to all the girls still in hiding, and young Danny is definitely a girl in hiding. “There’s been a horrible mistake,” Tozer says. “I’m trapped on the wrong side. I’m not a boy. I won’t ever be a man. I’m a girl!”

Danny’s life is turned inside out when she inherits the “mantle” from Earth’s mightiest superhero. With Dreadnought’s blazing power at her command, she now possesses the energy of a trillion suns. That’s pretty cool. But more relevant to her personal situation, the mantle somehow gives Danny a body that matches her gender identity. “I’m free,” she cries. “I’m finally free.”

Her gender crisis isn’t easily resolved, however. Not by a long shot. What, for example, is she going to say to her parents when she gets home? “Well, Mom and Dad, this is what happened. The greatest hero in the world fell out of the sky and gave me his superpowers. Somehow this turned me into a girl. Anyhow, I’m off to buy some bras and panties. Ta-ta!”

Danny’s body swap takes place in the novel’s first chapter. And as you’d expect, the rest of the story chronicles her super learning curve. Not only must she navigate a complicated network of crimefighting vigilantes, but she must also carve out an identity as a transgender lesbian. Guess which one gives her the most grief?

To say her parents are unsupportive is a huge understatement. Her father (aka “Mount Screamer”) immediately contacts an endocrinologist to begin gender identity disorder treatment. And members of the Legion Pacifica (New Port City’s superhero squad, otherwise known as the “fraternity of extraordinarily empowered social rejects”) are even more vocal in their disdain. “You reify the holocaust of gender,” spits Graywytch when she meets Danny for the first time. “You invade my sex, and you poison my sisters by your simple presence.”

Even worse, Danny feels the scorn of the world around her. When she zips across the sky, the wind grasps at her and begs her to stop. When she dives into the ocean, the water squeezes tighter and tighter hoping to crush her like a can of soda. “The world is terrified of me,” she says. “Terrified of someone who would reject manhood. Terrified of a girl who knows who she is and what she’s capable of.”

Throughout, Dreadnought keeps its focus razor sharp. You might even say it’s as sharp as Utena Tenjou’s Sword of Dios. Even though there’s supervillainy afoot, the author never abandons Danny’s personal plight in favor of genre distractions. Admittedly, some of the characters are a bit thinly drawn, but we’re betting sequels will add depth to the supporting cast eventually. Fingers crossed.

Dreadnought gave Danny the greatest gift imaginable. She was now mightier than a battleship and faster than a jet. But more importantly, the dying superhero gave her the power to revolutionize the world. “I’m a girl,” says Danny at the end of the novel, “and I’m not ashamed of it.”

[Dreadnought / By April Daniels / First Printing: January 2017 / ISBN: 9781682300688]

Posted in Published in 2017 | Tagged ,

Batgirl at Super Hero High: A Conversation with Lisa Yee

lisayeeAs a gnarled man-thing, we’re not exactly the prime target audience for DC’s Super Hero Girls prose imprint. But that hasn’t stopped us from enjoying Lisa Yee’s adorkable novels featuring teenage versions of Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Batgirl.

In our opinion, the success of these novels is due directly to Yee’s efforts. She’s a funny lady with a big dollop of nerd cred. Plus, she’s a deceptively keen writer. She’s been able to imbue our favorite superheroines with charm and humanity. And that’s hard to do with an expansive cast that includes sketchy characters such as Harley Quinn, Cheetah, and Poison Ivy.

We talked to Yee recently about the joys and challenges of writing her Super Hero High novels. Judging by her website, she’s busy as Bumblebee during a “Save the Day” drill. We thank her (again) for taking a few minutes to chat with us.

SuperheroNovels: Batgirl at Super Hero High is the third novel you’ve written in the DC Super Hero Girls series. They’ve all been terrific so far. If we could, we’d give a gold star to the person who hired you for this project. How did you snag such an awesome gig?

Lisa Yee: My agent called me up and said, “There’s something big brewing, but I can’t tell you about it.” So I had no idea! I’d previously written a middle-grade novel called Warp Speed, about a Star Trek fan who got beat up by school bullies every day. The book was full of Star Wars and Batman, and, of course, Star Trek. I mean, the kid even carried around a Spock action figure in his backpack to give himself courage.

When I got the gig I was told, “You are just the right amount of geek.” I want that on my tombstone.

SN: We presume that it’s been fun playing around with the DC bullpen of characters. But can you talk about the challenges (if any) you faced re-imagining some of them as teenagers? Or how difficult it was recasting iconic villains as heroes?

LY: When I first started writing I was paralyzed with fear. I mean, c’mon! These were some of the most famous superheroes in history, and I was challenged to write about them as teens? But then, I realized, I wasn’t writing about superheroes who happen to be teenagers. I was actually writing about teenagers who happen to be superheroes.

Once I wrapped my mind around that, I was able to tap into the anxieties and challenges that all teens have … and then ramp them up tenfold.

As for recasting villains as heroes, I reminded myself that no one is born thinking they will be evil. At least I hope not! Usually something happens along the way to inform who a person will be. In this way I’m able to write about the villains “before” they become villains, yet plant some seeds to shine a light on their future selves.

SN: You and Shea Fontana (the author of the DC Super Hero Girls cartoons and graphic novels) have included a wide range of characters in your stories. But Batman has been conspicuously absence so far. We thought he might pop up in your latest Batgirl book, but he didn’t. Is there a reason for this?

LY: While there is a long and rich history of Batman, Batgirl at Super Hero High was her story alone. Therefore, the focus was on Barbara Gordon, er, Batgirl. I didn’t want anything to take away from that.

SN: Your first three novels featured Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Batgirl. Now that you’ve tackled the most iconic female superheroes in the DC catalog, what other characters would you like to write about? Personally, we’d love to read a Big Barda novel. And a Cheetah novel too.

LY: I had a meeting with DC and Warner Bros., and had a particular character in mind that I wanted to write about. In fact, I had a list of reasons why she should have her own book.

“I’d love to write about Katana,” I told them. And I was prepared to argue for her. But they said, “Sure!”  And I said, “Um, don’t you want to hear all my reasons why we should feature her?”

As a result, Katana at Super Hero High will be the fourth book in the series (available 07.04.17). I even went to Japan to indulge in some ninja training so I could get a feel for her weapons!

SN: The whole DC Super Hero Girls venture has been wildly successful. The toys, in particular, seem to be very popular. How are the novels selling? If Random House continues to publish them, are you on board for the foreseeable future? Frankly, we can’t imagine a Super Hero High book without your name on the cover.

LY: It’s so thrilling to see how well the whole DC Super Hero Girls brand is doing. As far as I know the books are selling really well. We’re in 10 countries, and I’ve just signed on to write more! It’s the best job in the world.

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

Smarter Than Your Average Bat

batgirlThroughout Lisa Yee’s latest Super Hero High novel, Barbara Gordon was slowly accumulating all of her iconic bat accoutrements. She had her grappling hook, her batarang, her bat bola, her spring-coiled bat boots, and her batcycle. Naturally, she kept all of her top-secret “Barbara-Assisted Technology” hidden away in a Bat-Bunker.

Her batty behavior sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Bruce Wayne has been doing the exact same thing for years. But hold on a sec. In the DC Super Hero Girls universe, Bruce Wayne doesn’t seem to exist. Like it or not, his absence leaves a big bat-sized hole in Batgirl’s debut novel.

Which is weird. Superman was mentioned in Yee’s previous Supergirl book (read our review here). And similarly, you’d think a Batgirl story would contain a small nod to Gotham’s most famous nightcrawler. These Super Hero High novels don’t exist in a bubble, after all. Yee and her comic book-writing partner Shea Fontana have been wildly inclusive when it comes to using the full lexicon of DC characters. It makes us wonder why Batman (of all people) wasn’t invited to the superhero party.

Maybe he’ll show up at some point. And maybe he won’t. Who knows? But for now, Batman’s brooding presence wasn’t part of the narrative and that allowed Barbara Gordon to establish her own singular bat-inspired alter ego. As a youngster she looked up to her dad, GCPD Commissioner James Gordon. And more than anything, she wanted to be a crimefighter when she grew up. Being allowed to enroll at Super Hero High School was a dream come true for her. Putting on a cape and cowl was inevitable.

But like all new transfer students, Barbara was at a disadvantage – especially at a school chock-full of goddesses, kung fu masters, shapeshifters, mind readers, mutants, and aliens. While she had been attending public schools in Gotham City, her new classmates had been nurtured at superhero preschools, elementary schools, and middle schools. Barbara was a smart cookie, no doubt about it, but she knew she’d have to step up her game if she wanted to keep up with Wonder Woman, Lady Shiva, Star Sapphire, and Miss Martian.

After a few missteps and one big doozy of a final crisis, Barbara eventually found her comfort zone at school. Supergirl, naturally, was a big help. The two legacy characters established an easy World’s Finest-like camaraderie right away. “We make a great team!” said the teenybopper from Krypton.

At one point, the kids at Super Hero High were asked to name the most powerful weapon in the world. Their answers were immodestly predictable. “Swords,” said Katana. “Power rings,” said Green Lantern. “Sonic booms,” said Flash.

The answer, of course, was none of the above. “It’s your brain,” said Lucius Fox, the school’s weaponomics teacher. “It’s your brain and your ability to access it to its fullest. A keen mind can overcome any obstacle.” To underscore the moment, Big Barda leaned over and gave Batgirl a good-natured nudge. “You’ve totally got this covered,” she said.

[Batgirl at Super Hero High / By Lisa Yee / First Printing: January 2017 / ISBN: 9781101940655]

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