Live! In the Link Age 01.11.17

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.

Author Timothy L. Cerepaka is featured in a recent hour-long video chat titled “Succeeding in the Super Hero Genre.” Cerepaka (writing as Lucas Flint) has produced nine books in his Superhero’s Son series. His most recent effort was released last month (The Superhero’s End / ISBN: 9781541022348). Cerepaka seems like a nice enough fellow, but he catches foot-in-mouth disease at the 20-minute mark. “The writing is a bit amateurish,” he says of the superhero genre. “The bar is a little lower.” Also participating in the chat is Joseph R. Lallo, author of The Other Eight.

Pierre Boulle’s original Planet of the Apes novel was a smashing post-apocalyptic parable (satire?) about mankind’s place in the animal kingdom. Boulle wrote only one book about his monkey planet, but that particular book is responsible for over 50 years of Apemania. Planet of the Apes: Tales from the Forbidden Zone (Edited by Rich Handley and Jim Beard / First Printing: January 2017 / ISBN: 9781785652684) is a new short story collection that further explores the concepts of Boulle’s 1963 novel, the blockbuster movie from 1968, and the ensuring TV series from 1974. The table of contents includes the names of many familiar authors, including Kevin J. Anderson, Nancy Collins, Will Murray, Dan Abnett, Greg Cox, and Paul Kupperberg.

Hugo-winning author N.K. Jemisin (The Fifth Season) is writing a book based on the popular RPG series Mass Effect. Expect to see her novel (at this time untitled) sometime in the fall of 2017.

Is magic a superpower? Is Doctor Strange a superhero? How about John Constantine and/or Zatanna? These are questions that continue to inspire debate among fans and authors alike. For the record: our answer is “yes” to all of the above. More discussion (here).

Hullmetal Girls (By Emily Skrutskie / Available 2018) is a novel about two teenagers who risk everything for the opportunity to become mechanically enhanced soldiers. Publishers Weekly says it’s a YA version of Battlestar Galactica. That sounds like required reading to us.

A live-action Hariken Porima movie is slated to hit (Japanese) theaters in May. Originally an anime series, Hurricane Polymar is about a kid who fights crime using hurricane-style martial arts techniques. “I’d like audiences to enjoy a cool Japanese superhero on par with Hollywood,” says director Koichi Sakamoto. Check out the movie’s trailer (here).

Interviews: Joelle Sellner, author of D-Man: Power Seeker (here). Alex Ziebart, author of Rookie Mistakes (here). Avery Write, author of Heroic (here).

Reviews: Batgirl at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee (here). The Regional Office Is Under Attack! By Manuel Gonzales (here). Iron Man: The Gauntlet by Eoin Colfer (here). Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee (here and here).

For your reading pleasure: Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno. Forging Hephaestus by Drew Hayes. Alt Right Ti’tt’y Bazooka by Bridget Chase. The Devil Was Green: A Pussy Katnip Novel by Brett Brooks. Sting of the Rose by Donnie Khan. Esper Files by Egan Brass. Rookie Mistakes by Alex Ziebart. “O Scaly Night: A Menopausal Superhero Short Story” by Samantha Bryant.

Posted in Live! In the Link Age

The 30 Million Dollar Woman

disruptorAs a crimefighting vigilante, Dani was slowly building a reputation in her neighborhood as the Ghost of Cabrini. But she didn’t like her superhero name very much. “I don’t want to be a ghost,” she complains. “I don’t want to be alone in the dark.”

Dani spent her nights haunting Russian mobsters, sex traffickers, and the lords of Dogtown. Even though she was trained in the military arts of infiltration, exfiltration, hand-to-hand combat, guns, knives, and anything else she could get her hands on, she was fighting a losing battle. She needed a sidekick, preferably one with the skills of Oracle and Overwatch.

Enter Kevin Moynihan, the wayward scion of the city’s wealthiest family. Until recently, his life was filled with endless parties and stupid stunts. He was a rich playboy dilettante who didn’t know the meaning of the word comeuppance. In no way was he sidekick material.

But after Dani saved his life from a group of Dogtown gangbangers, Kevin knew he had to turn his life around. He contacted Dani and proposed a crimefighting partnership. So what if he didn’t have the strength of a spider or the sting of a wasp. He had other useful superpowers. “I’ve got devastating good looks, irresistible charm, and a trust fund with no credit limit,” he says with a wink.

How could Dani resist such a rascal? He was persistent and cute. After getting frisky in the front seat of his car one night, the two decided to go into the superhero business together. She & Him Consolidated (with extracurricular benefits).

In a way, author Sonya Clark has turned the superhero/sidekick relationship on its head. In her world, the sidekick was the nurturing one with Bruce Wayne-like resources (and Wassily Kandinsky artistic skills). The superhero, on the other hand, was the emotionally fragile badass who needed a bit of tutelage.

To be fair, Dani never wanted to be a superhero in the first place. She was a runaway street kid who was coerced into being a lab experiment. After five years of biotech implants and gene therapy, she was transformed into some kind of cyborg super soldier. She was the $30 million woman, an “A+ killing machine,” she says.

Now on her own, she was a creature of righteous fury. Her number one priority was to protect women who were being bought and sold like chattel. “These traffickers,” she says, “they don’t even think we’re human. Women to them are nothing but property. Like buying a new car. Shit, they treat their fucking cars better than the women they sell.”

Kevin’s duties as sidekick were a bit more ambiguous. What was his job, exactly? He was willing to provide food, shelter, and material support. He was well connected in the community and was a pretty good wheelman. He was also available for boyfriend duties too. That definitely put him outside the Dick Grayson/Bucky Barnes paradigm. Ultimately, his job was simple. “You want to help people,” he tells his new charge, “and I want to help you do that.”

Once things get sorted out, Dani dons a superhero costume and announces her debut on social media @PSDisrupter. “I’m not a ghost. I’m very real. But I will haunt the streets of Point Sable and make life hell for those who hurt the innocent. I will fight for the powerless. I will defend the weak. I will disrupt the status quo.” So tweets the Disruptor!

[Disruptor / By Sonya Clark / First Printing: October 2016 / ISBN: 9781539137948]

Posted in Published in 2016, Romance/Erotica | Tagged ,

Live! In the Link Age: Short Reviews of 2016 (Revisited)

Cover300pxlEverybody’s got an origin story, even a chump on the downhill slide to nowhere like Duke LaRue (“The Devil’s Right Hand” / By Stephen T. Brophy / First Printing: February 2016). Before he became an infamous minion known as HandCannon (The Villain’s Sidekick), LaRue was simply a Desert Storm vet caught in an endless string of lost weekends. His life changed forever on a night in 1992 when he rescued a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model from a group of thugs on the sandy beaches of Nayarit, Mexico. Libertad Gutierrez (known as Liberty Nixon to SI readers) was no damsel in distress, however. Not only did she have deep connections to a major Mexican drug cartel, but she also possessed mind-blowing super powers as well. Beautiful woman have a way of altering the course of history, and “Freedom” Gutierrez was no exception. LaRue joins her entourage and she introduces him to Dr. Jass, a doctor who earned his medical degree from the University of Auschwitz (go Imperial Eagles!). “I’m finally in Hell where I belong,” says LaRue at the end of the story. For more HandCannon adventures, check out our review of “The Eternity Conundrum.” And be sure to keep a lookout for the novel, Citizen Skin (coming soon, hopefully). [Review first published 03.01.16.]

LadyJusticeMomma Doom was arguably the most powerful sorceress in the world. At one time, she even helped the police and the superheroes of Central City fight crime with her voodoo witchery. But those days were long gone. Now possessed by a fiery demon (“Lady Justice and the Zombie Apocalypse” / By Garth Ono / First Printing: March 2016), Big Momma is hanging out in the city’s graveyard and using her amped up powers to reanimate dead folks. After a quick shower (!!), Lady Justice and her young sidekick Justice Girl are on the case. But no matter what they do, their combined superpowers can’t stop Momma Doom and her undead crew. In less than a week, the United States, Canada, and Mexico are destroyed. “If we don’t stop them soon,” says a worried government official, “the zombies will kill everyone from Panama to the Arctic Circle.” He’s a smart guy. He knows there’s no justice in the zombie apocalypse. [Review first published 04.07.16.]

Garter's Big ScoreSuperhero comics aren’t just for kids anymore, and neither are superhero novels. For proof, check out Garter’s Big Score (By Stuart Moore / First Printing: May 2016). The story immediately jumps into adults-only territory in the very first paragraph (“To be clear: It’s not that Garter minds being tied to the bed with a costumed man’s tongue between her legs. It’s certainly not the first time, and it probably won’t be the last time”). Moore’s novella is definitely not for kids. And it may even be too explicit for certain adults. It follows a woman named Latara (code name: Garter) who uses her snake-like superpowers as a master thief. But she’s getting tired of all the bullshit. Being a thief is a dubious profession for a woman cruising rapidly through her 40s. She’s looking for one last big score before she retires. To this end, she hooks up with a crazy Harley Quinn-like character named Seera. Together they’re hoping to nab secret intel from a major biotech corporation. Garter’s big score turns out to be a big bust, but her actions uncover an interlocking universe that includes forbidden science, space aliens, and a secret history that goes back centuries. It’s also a story about a world where only women have superpowers and men are pissed off about it. Moore promises that we’ll see more adventures featuring Garter, Seera, Ballistic, the Zulu, Dame Crympet, and FemTech, the mysterious company at the center of it all. It looks like Latara is going to have to put her retirement plans on hold. Things are about to get super complicated. [Review first published 05.08.16.]

CartographerThrough the years, superheroes have proven to be a great boon for society. They punish criminals, extinguish fires, and divert meteors. Shout hooray. But do we, the powerless, do anything special for them? Surely the relationship between hero and civilian is a two-way street. That’s sort of the idea behind “Cartographer of Fortunes” (By Linda Maye Adams / First Printing: May 2016). Map Girl is a superhero with cartography skills. But since she’s not combat compliant like Kara Danvers or Carol Danvers, she has to pay her rent by working as a fortune teller in a cheap parking lot carnival. As you can imagine, her morale needs a boost. One day a woman approaches her for some counseling. She’s become emotionally involved with a married man and the situation is driving her nuts. Because of her cartographic skills, Map Girl gets a glimpse of her client’s future. And by doing so she sees her future too. “The nice thing about maps is that they can always change direction,” she realizes. You don’t have to be a slave to love. And you don’t have to be a sideshow attraction at the circus. Maps, like self-esteem, are constantly being revised. [Review first published 05.28.16.]

bedtime-batman

Bedtime for Batman (By Michael Dahl and Ethen Beavers / First Printing: August 2016 / ISBN: 9781623707323) is a book for parents who enjoy reading to their young kids at night. It’s like Goodnight Moon with a superhero twist. Everybody has his and her nightly routines. Bruce Wayne puts on his batsuit and we put on our pajamas. Batman cleans up the streets of Gotham City, and we pick up our toys. For kids, parents, and superheroes, the greatest adventure begins when the sun goes down. Goodnight, Dark Knight! [Review first published 05.28.16.]

BlackVoidBlackVoid is a superhero whose powers come from an ancient divine curse (BlackVoid, Book 1: Fate / By James A. Eugene / First Printing: June 2016 / ISBN: 9781534732551). He can create black holes and wield the power of an “imitation star,” but BlackVoid’s genetic code is inextricably linked to a civil war between angels in Heaven. As a result, he must answer to a higher calling than your average Green Lantern Corps recruit. The burden he carries is a burden that predates original sin. Quickie comment: If you can forgive the author’s reoccurring style and grammar gaffes, you might enjoy BlackVoid’s journey from hard luck kid to cosmic avenger. To be continued in Book 2: The Competition, Book 3: Finding Self, and Book 4: Transformation. [Review first published 07.19.16.]

monstersHeroes and villains work best when there’s some sort of shared history between them. And so it is with Alley Hawk and the Vermin King (“The Monsters We Make” / By Matthew Phillion / First Printing: August 2016). The story begins when a small time crook named Amos Canter tries to pull off a big time crime. Naturally the caper doesn’t go as planned. A superhero named Alley Hawk pursues him to an abandoned pesticide factory on the edge of town. One thing leads to another and Canter falls into a pit of burning chemicals and is transformed into a hideous rat-like monster. From that day forward, Vermin King and Alley Hawk are inextricably linked. Like Batman and the Joker, their personal drama rises to operatic proportions. If you missed Alley Hawk’s brooding presence in the latest Indestructibles novel (see our review here), you’ll be happy with this supplemental short story. The author calls it “Indestructibles noir.” And that’s a great way to describe it. [Review first published 09.27.16.]

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). [Review first published 10.18.16.]

supermarioLast 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 Peach Toadstool, Bowser (King Koopa), and Yoshi. Super Wario even pops up (spoiler alert!) in the final 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. [Review first published 10.18.16.]

bloodfinal2Who doesn’t like a mad monster party? Not us. From Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man to Destroy All Monsters to Freddy vs. Jason to Hotel Transylvania, we love all sorts of monster mash-ups. The werewolf-vampire crossover, in particular, is probably the most enduring hook up of all time. In Matthew Phillion’s latest Indestructibles short story (“Blood and Bone” / First Printing: October 2016), Titus Whispering, the group’s 300-pound teen wolf, encounters a vampire for the first time. “Our kind used to be enemies, you know,” says the porcelain-skinned bloodsucker during the pair’s graveyard rendezvous. “When the world was young. Our purposes were antithetical, instinct and manipulation, rage and desire, meat and blood, living and dead. But time makes for strange bedfellows, doesn’t it?” Yes it does. After discussing mortality and morality, the two creatures of the night join forces to battle the “real” monsters (hint: the human kind). In the end, Titus couldn’t decide whether he’d just made a friend or gained a nemesis. But that’s the way it goes when werewolves and vampires get together. Same as it ever was time immemorial. [Review first published 11.08.16.]

Posted in Live! In the Link Age, Published in 2016 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Superhero Novels: The Best of 2016 and a Peek at 2017

batgirlrobinWelcome to our celebratory recap of superhero novels published in 2016. You’ll notice right away that this year’s Top 5 list is unusual because it features books that are slightly askew of the genre. Three of our favorite books, in fact, aren’t technically superhero fiction. They are, nonetheless, heavily inspired by comic books and contain the familiar language of superheroes. Without a doubt, these efforts wouldn’t exist if the authors didn’t embrace the medium (comics) and respect the genre (superheroes).

Furthermore, these particular novels represent a continuing shift in the tenor of the marketplace. More and more, writers are moving beyond X-Men novels and pushing the boundaries of the genre. Taken as a whole, our 2016 Top 5 list personifies the Next-Men of superhero prose fiction.

1) The Regional Office Is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales. There are superheroes and supervillains all over the place in Gonzales’ amazing novel. But this isn’t your standard comic book inspired slugfest. Gonzales plays around with genre expectations and delivers the best superhero novel of the year. Spoiler alert: it’s not really a superhero novel at all.

2) A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl. Comic books, once marginalized and dismissed, have become a powerful media force these days. It only makes sense that someone would eventually write a novel inside the comic book bubble. Proehl’s love story between a mother and her son dives deep into nerd culture. The results are surprisingly inclusive. Highly recommended even if you’ve never been to San Diego Comic-Con.

3) The Oddfits by Tiffany Tsao. A hero’s journey begins with the call to adventure. But sometimes there’s a journey to get to the journey. That’s the case with Tiffany Tsao’s unlikely hero, Murgatroyd Floyd Shwet Foo. He must overcome an assortment of obstacles before embarking on his hero’s quest. Joseph Campbell would surely approve.

4) Lois Lane: Double Down by Gwenda Bond. We made the mistake of not including the first Lois Lane novel in our Best of 2015 list (Lois Lane: Fallout). We’re not going to make that mistake again. Double Down continues a winning streak for Bond and her irrepressible teenage heroine. Look for the author to three-peat in 2017 with Lois Lane: Triple Threat.

5) Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn. From start to finish, Kuhn’s novel is a hoot. But it’s not a blunt superhero spoof. There’s wit and purpose on every page. The author’s got a lot to say about friendship, familial obligations, cultural identity, and the pitfalls of fame. Kuhn’s humor has bite like a cupcake with fangs.

2016 is over and it’s time to look ahead to 2017. To quote Luke Cage: “Always forward, never backward.” Here’s a partial list of books we’ll be reading in the next 12 months.

Against the Odds by Amy Ignatow. Arrow: Generation of Vipers by Clay and Susan Griffith. Avalanche by Mercedes Lackey, Veronica Giguere, Dennis Lee, and Cody Martin. Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele. Batgirl at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee. Behind the Mask: A Superhero Anthology edited by Tricia Reeks and Kyle Richardson. Captain America: Restitution by David McDonald. Guardians of the Galaxy: Collect Them All by Corinne Duyvis. Ghosts of Empire by George Mann. Gotham: Dawn of Darkness by Jason Starr. The Halo Effect by Ben Langdon. Heroine Worship by Sarah Kuhn. How to Be a Supervillain by Michael Fry. Katana at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee. Iron Man: Mutually Assured Destruction by Patrick Shand. Lois Lane: Triple Threat by Gwenda Bond. The Many Lives of Catwoman: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale by Tim Hanley. Miles Morales: A Spider-Man Novel by Jason Reynolds. The More Known World by Tiffany Tsao. Power Game by Christine Feehan. The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente and Annie Wu. Spider-Man: Enemies Closer by Jim Beard. Spider-Man: Forever Young by Stefan Petrucha. Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory. Sputnik’s Children by Terri Favro. Thanos: Death Sentence by Stuart Moore. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Girl Meets World by Shannon and Dean Hale. Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo. The Zodiac Legacy: Balance of Power by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore.

Posted in Best Of, Published in 2016 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Phantoms Menace

fateflamesThere were four supergirls in Fate of Flames, but they weren’t without their own particular problems. One girl was a failed pop star, one had a bad temper, another was an inexperienced high school kid, and one was a full metal bitch. It’s not for nothing the author called them Effigies. They weren’t fully formed superheroes. They were just sloppy and crude imitations.

But the world needed superheroes badly. Mysterious phantoms had been terrorizing the planet since 1865 and they weren’t going away any time soon. Towers broadcasting electromagnetic dissonance helped scramble the monsters’ bloodthirsty impulses, but technology wasn’t enough to keep people safe. Like it or not, the world depended on the Effigies, a four-girl super squad who were “walking, talking biological warheads.”

Too bad these girls weren’t battle compliant in any way. They had crazy anime-like powers, but they didn’t play nice together. Not only were they moody and quarrelsome, but they were also unsupervised. Can you imagine – four young girls with godlike powers running around without any guidance? Naturally, people were concerned. “Are we really safe with that kind of power in the hands of a bunch of hormonal teens?” asks a skeptical bureaucrat.

To help straighten things out, an organization called the Sect (not the S.E.C.T.) agreed to take the Barbie slayers under its wing. This secret nongovernmental agency helped fight phantoms around the globe, so it made sense that the Effigies would fall under its jurisdiction.

The Sect wasn’t without its own problems, however. It was an organization that shared almost nothing with the world whose safety it was supposed to ensure. Behind everyone’s back, it was threatening global security by positioning itself as a neo-imperial superpower. Having the Effigies in its bag of tricks helped boost its advantage.

Ultimately, the most interesting thing about Sarah Raughley’s book is the developing relationship between the four flawed Effigies. The drama surrounding the phantom menace and the secret Sect society can’t compete with the big CW-like emotional moments created by Maia Finley, Belle Rousseau, Chae Rin Kim, and Victoria Soyinka.

As the girls come together as friends and colleagues, the author reveals one final twist that will undoubtedly fuel upcoming sequels. Her Princess Knight super warriors shared a dark secret. They were celebrities who appeared in the pages of Teen Vogue. And they looked sharp in their Valentino Bambolina dresses. But they were inextricably linked to the fearsome phantom menace. There was no way around it – they were monsters too.

[Fate of Flames / By Sarah Raughley / First Printing: November 2016 / ISBN: 9781481466776]

Posted in Published in 2016 | Tagged ,

The Hero with a 1001 Faces

ActionHeroineThe Hero with a Thousand Faces was first published in 1949. With it, author Joseph Campbell established the monomyth, a theory that all heroic stories followed a single and common narrative. Some people consider it to be the most influential book of the 20th century. Surely George Lucas would agree.

Campbell was a smart guy who devoted his life to studying literature and world mythology. But his treatise on the hero’s journey had one conspicuous flaw. It never acknowledged a woman’s unique monomyth.

“Women don’t need to make the journey,” he infamously said at one point. “In every mythology, the woman is already there. All she has to do is to realize that she’s the place that people are trying to get to.”

In other words: sit tight, ladies. Your hero will return to the hearthfire when he’s done squashing Grendel (Beowulf) and the Galactic Empire (Luke Skywalker).

Sadly, it’s true. The list of female action heroines who are at the center of their worlds and carry the largest burden of agency throughout their narrative is pretty short.

We can’t blame Campbell for this, of course. But we can blame him for the idea that “women don’t need to make the journey.” The belief that female stories do not matter has led to the disempowerment of women as a social group.

The female voice is horrendously absent or muted in the most influential forms of global cultural expression. Think about it. If women’s stories don’t matter, how easy is it to conclude their dignity and even their lives are equally irrelevant?

That’s the argument made by Satine Phoenix and R.K. Syrus, the authors of The Action Heroine’s Journey. Part writing manual and part feminist dialectic, Phoenix and Syrus (with the help of Christopher Vogler) revisit Campbell’s 17-step hero’s journey and whittles it down to 12 basic elements that are specific to the female monomyth.

The guide takes writers from the heroine’s initial awakening (her call to adventure) to her hierarchy of needs and to her ultimate “boss fight.” It ends when the action heroine builds her sheltering love.

Throughout the process, the authors compare and contrast the heroine’s journey to the hero’s journey. They’re careful not to negate Campbell’s initial theories, but they vigorously argue for the action heroine’s place in mythic storytelling. “Action heroines have it the same, but different,” they conclude.

Says Phoenix: “Like Ellen Ripley (Alien), Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Sarah Connor (The Terminator), our champions will have many identities and guises. She will have 1001 faces, and that is how we will recognize her each time she appears to us.”

[The Action Heroine’s Journey / By Satine Phoenix and R.K. Syrus / First Printing: June 2016 / ISBN: 9781910890035]

Posted in Published in 2016 | Tagged , ,

Every Line Tells It’s Own Story

drawthelineThink back to when you were in high school. What type of kid were you? A nerd? A jock? A kamikaze girl? Were you quiet and invisible? Or were you the captain of your school’s pep squad? Maybe, perhaps, you were a superhero?

Sixteen-year-old Adrian Piper wasn’t exactly a superhero. But he was an artist with a webcomic. To him, drawing comics was liberating and empowering. “My art is my superpower,” he says. “And I’m not afraid to use it.”

Adrian’s webcomic was about a character named Graphite, a “weird, sexy superhero/Renaissance hybrid creation.” Unlike other comic book heroes, Graphite didn’t fight criminals or smash monsters. In fact he didn’t do very much at all. He was simply a dreamy bishi boy who lived on the moon in a palace filled with art and beauty.

Graphite was also gay, and Adrian used his creation to express his own sexual orientation. As such, Draw the Line is a huge corker of a novel about secret identities, wish fulfillment, transformation, and sexual awakening. It’s a great example of how superhero fiction is able to rise above genre restrictions.

Eventually Adrian has the confidence to embrace his sexual identity. But at the beginning of the novel he’s a lonely, confused, and frustrated kid. “I’m outwardly gay on the inside, but inwardly gay on the outside,” he tells his friends. Truly, the only way he felt comfortable expressing himself was via Graphite, his idealized superhero avatar.

However, after witnessing a group of drunken football players beat up a flamboyantly gay classmate, Adrian decided he couldn’t stay in his bubble of silence any longer. Not only does he orchestrate a wildly convoluted plan to derail the jock hegemony at his Texas high school, but he also unleashes his inner gay superhero. He even attends an end-of-novel Halloween bash dressed as Graphite, the bishonen boy wonder.

Draw the Line suffers from patchy writing here and there, but the book is filled with a handful of truly great moments. One of the best involves Adrian’s first sexual encounter. Writing sex scenes isn’t easy, but author Laurent Linn takes special care to do it properly. The tussle between the sheets is sweet and awkward and will undoubtedly resonate with readers who are gay, straight, and non-binary alike.

Linn also does a good job of punctuating Adrian’s plight with 86 pages of supplemental artwork. Not only do these illustrations mark Adrian’s struggles and achievements, but they also speak directly to the power of comic book sequential storytelling. Linn quotes artist Gillian Redwood at the beginning of his novel, and we think her quote is also a fine way to conclude this review: “Every line tells its own story, even the very tentative ones.”

[Draw the Line / By Laurent Linn / First Published: May 2016 / ISBN: 9781481452809]

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