Live! In the Link Age 08.30.16

NeoVerseNeoVerse is a recently launched shared universe of superhero prose fiction. It’s only been around for a short while, but the core contributors have been busy creating their expanding multiverse. We contacted charter member Enrique Bentacourt for more intel.

SuperheroNovels: Give us the scoop on NeoVerse. How did it start and what are your ultimate goals?

Enrique Bentacourt: The idea came about last year when a group of writers (including me) took a course in superhero folklore taught by Michael Uslan and Stan Lee. That’s when we started putting the pieces together. After six months of conversation and planning, we came up with the idea of a shared universe of prose fiction. We used Indiegogo to help launch our first two novels and we’re super proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.

Our ultimate goal is to create superheroes that are diverse and amazing in prose format. We love traditional superheroes, but we’ve specifically created characters that are different than the norm because we want to put our own spin on the genre.

For one year we’ve been working hard writing the novels, establishing timelines, and getting everything into print. We’ve been working like machines because we’re totally committed to this project. We’ve reached over 2,000 fans on Facebook in just two months. I think that’s amazing.

SN: What’s next? Any upcoming projects you’d like to hype?

EB: We’ve released two novels so far: Auroch: The Mantle by Casey C. Van Camp and Black Thorns by me. We’re really anxious for readers to get these books and give us their feedback. Our upcoming projects include novels about a military werewolf, a telepathic teacher, and an immortal teenager. After that we have plans to launch a couple of superhero teams. Eventually all our heroes will merge in a big crossover event next year.

In similar news, the Unbelievable Universe is a shared superhero universe launched by writer Den Warren. It is, says Warren, under construction by whoever writes the stories and contributes artwork. Best of luck to everyone involved. The site also plans to review superhero novels with a humorous bent. More information (here).

Stripped of his powers, Thanos embarks on a journey to reboot his place in the Marvel multiverse (Thanos: Death Sentence / By Stuart Moore / First Printing: February 2017 / ISBN: 9780785199557). Says the book’s description on Amazon: “This all-new original tale explores the inner life of one of the most powerful beings in the universe.” Will the mad titan maintain his illusions of grandeur? Or will he reinvent himself in some other fashion?

Collect Them All by Corinne Duyvis (available Spring 2017) follows the Guardians of the Galaxy as they discover someone is stealing branches from Groot and selling newly grown saplings to unsavory characters across the star system.

Get ready for Egypt’s first female superhero. Created by married couple Safia Baraka and Hamid Yehia, Lamis is a super-powered heroine who rises above the dark world of drugs and gangs. What makes Lamis so unique, says Baraka, is her mix of good and evil. “This is the reality of human nature,” she says. “None of us are totally good or pure evil.” More information (here).

As an artist and writer, Trina Robbins has been in the comic book biz a long time. She was one of the “founding mommies” of Wimmen’s Comix, she designed Vampirella’s iconic costume, and she’s written a handful of books chronicling the history of comics. She’s got a lot of projects in the pipeline and hopefully (fingers crossed) her four-issue Wonder Woman series from the ’80s will get rereleased at some point. C’mon DC, it’s been 30 years since The Legend of Wonder Woman came out. We’d like to see it compiled in a handy trade paperback. For more information about what Robbins is doing, check out these recent interviews (here, here, and here).

Interviews: Lisa Yee, author of Supergirl at Super Hero High (here). Teel James Glenn, author of Tabloid Terrors and contributor to The New Adventures of the Eagle (here). Joe Staton and Paul Kupperberg (and others) talk about the legacy of Charlton Comics (here). Yves Corbiere, author of Mimi and Ky: The Beginning (here).

Reviews: Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn (here). The Midnight Guardian by John C. Bruening (here). Sidekick: The Red Raptor Files, Part 1 by Christopher J. Valin (here). Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson (here and here). Cousin Joseph by Jules Feiffer (here). The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley (here).

For your reading pleasure: “The Monsters We Make” by Matthew Phillion. Disruptor by Sonya Clark. Capeville: The Death of the Black Vulture by Matt Mikalatos. The Art of The Iron Giant by Brad Bird. Hero High: Figure in Flames by Mina Chara. “The Chimera Project” by Jolie Mason. Psy by Joey Slater-Milligan. The Crashers by Magen Cubed. Nanonaut by Wayne Stewart. Mover and Shaker by Kaye Bellot. Peridot: Three Against the Mob by Tyree Campbell. The New Deal: Masks and Mutations by Sean Taylor, D. Alan Lewis, Lance Stahlberg, Sean Dulaney, Tommy Hancock, and Andrea Judy. Adventures in the Arcane by Mark Boss, S. Brady Calhoun, Lou Columbus, Jayson Kretzer, and Tony Simmons. Dear Cyborgs by Eugene Lim. The Amber Amulet by Craig Silvey.

Coda: Are you an author who is considering submitting your book to SuperheroNovels for review? If so, please ask yourself one question: “How will I react if I get a negative write-up?” If you can’t handle criticism, then don’t solicit our opinion. Recently, The New York Times interviewed author Curtis Sittenfeld (Eligible) about how she reacts to book reviews. She’s got a good attitude about the whole thing. Read the interview (here).

Posted in Live! In the Link Age

As Above, So Below

KarnakJust because no one worships them anymore doesn’t mean the ancient Egyptian gods are gone forever. All gods, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, or otherwise, have infinite patience. They’re just waiting around until the time is right for a comeback.

But if all the ancient gods are on hiatus, what exactly does that mean? Here’s one theory: According to Hermeticism (a philosophy that embraces the mysteries of the universe), the physical world represents the heavens, and the heavens represent the physical world. The two are basically interchangeable. What happens here on earth is a direct reflection of what’s going on in the celestial realm. As above, so below.

Think about it. If the pantheon of ancient Egyptian gods has been displaced because of a heavenly reorg, what (or who) replaced them? Mankind perhaps? And if so, does that mean we possess the ability to manipulate the heavens too? Magic Eightball says “Sure, why not?”

Obviously this power vacuum offers an opportunity for an enterprising madman to take control of Aaru, Duat, and all the temples of Karnak. All he has to do is resurrect Thoth (the architect of heaven) and Sekhmet (the daughter of the sun) and burn down Manhattan (otherwise known as the Empire of Greed).

That, in a nutshell, is the crisis Gabriel Cross faces in his latest adventure. Cross (aka the Ghost) is familiar with all sorts of supernatural shenanigans. In two previous superhero/pulp/steampunk novels (read our reviews here and here) he dispatched an army of moss men, monsters from an alternative dimension, giant one-eyed squids, and a riot of itchy raptors. More than anyone else, the Ghost has the experience (and the gadgets) to smash any sort of shaggy apocalyptic cult that shows up uninvited to his front door.

But this time the Ghost needs a little bit of help. In the very first chapter, he suffers debilitating injuries from a guy encased in a Gundam/Appleseed-like armored suit. Consequently, to squash the Cult of Thoth, he must put together a preternatural version of the Howling Commandos that includes his sharp-shooting girlfriend, a persnickety museum curator, a necromancer, a couple of inspectors from the New York Police Department, and an 18th century automation. Ghost Gang assemble!

As always, the Ghost is a compelling character who moves between shadows “like a specter, swift and silent.” Like the Shadow he’s a combat veteran who’s ongoing war with criminals gives him a purpose in life. And like Batman, he’s a wealthy dilettante by day who patrols the night with a cache of cool gadgets. His tactics might be anathema, but he gets the job done. “We’re better with him, than without him,” says one crime scene detective.

Despite his well-earned rep, Gabriel Cross isn’t the hero of this particular book. He’s just an ineffectual peripheral character. It’s actually Ginny Gray and Astrid Lunn, two members of his Ghost Gang, who dismantle the Thoth/Sekhmet alliance. We like the Ghost (and we’re looking forward to the next book in the series, Ghosts of Empire), but these two wildcats steal the spotlight every time they report for duty. To paraphrase the quote from the previous paragraph: “Ghosts of Karnak is better with them, than without them.”

[Ghosts of Karnak / By George Mann / First Printing: May 2016 / ISBN: 9781783294169]

Posted in Pre-existing | Tagged ,

Heroine Chic

Heroine ComplexWe don’t know Sarah Kuhn at all, but according to her author bio we live in the same city. That means we might have bumped into each other unknowingly at the Westfield San Francisco Centre, or attended the same 4-Star Theatre matinee, or stood in line together one weekend for a scoop of Humphry Slocombe’s Secret Breakfast ice cream.

It’s true that we’ve never met. But we’ve read Kuhn’s novel Heroine Complex, and that means we have a pretty good idea of what kind of person she is. Undoubtedly she’s funny and clever and a sparkling dinner companion. She’s probably a little bit of a rude girl, but that’s okay with us. She’s equal parts Kelly Sue DeConnick and Ali Wong, and as a result, her novel contains a big jolt of Captain Marvel super power and Baby Cobra super spunk.

Kuhn is probably a great friend too. So it’s no surprise that friendship plays a big part in her novel. Heroine Complex is a big smashing superhero story about Annie Chang and Evelyn “Evie” Tanaka, two women who’ve been best friends since kindergarten.

But as we all know, friendships are complicated things. Especially life-long friendships. Mostly you get along great. But there are times when you want to strangle the other person. And one thing is certain: Friendships can get particularly sticky when one person is a superhero.

Case in point: Eight years ago Annie reinvented herself as Aveda Jupiter (great name btw), the self-appointed protector of San Francisco. “I am a beacon of hope for this city,” she proclaims. She fought otherworldly demons with the ferocity of Taz, the Tasmanian devil, combined with the tenacity of Ms. Pac-Man. She was loud, self-absorbed, image-obsessed, and bossy. When she showed up in public she inevitably looked like an intergalactic cheerleader.

Aveda Jupiter took care of San Francisco, but her best friend Evie took care of her. She was her babysitter, confidante, and therapist. “As Aveda’s personal assistant,” explains Evie, “it was my duty to fulfill her every need and cater to her every whim.”

The pair’s personal dynamic gets turned upside down when Aveda is sidelined due to an unexpected injury. Despite her misgivings, Evie agrees to temporarily masquerade as her super friend until she recuperates. “Of all the people in all the world,” she says with a sigh, “I was probably least equipped to be a superhero. Or even impersonate one.”

Once Evie starts parading around town as a superhero, Heroine Complex takes off like a supersonic invisible jet. Not only does Kuhn have a lot to say about friendships and how they change over the years, but she also addresses familial obligations, and the perils of fame. She even pokes fun at her hometown to great comic affect. Anyone who’s lived in San Francisco for any length of time knows the city has an “astronomical quirk factor” and is ripe for gentle teasing.

Kuhn also has a lot to say about Asian identity and cultural role models. For example, when Evie agrees to become Aveda Jupiter for a brief time, there’s never any doubt that the friends’ ruse won’t work. All Asian women look alike, right? “We’re both Asian,” says Aveda dismissively. “That’s enough for most people.” Never mind that their “Asian-ness” didn’t match (Annie was Chinese and Evie was Japanese). Even in San Francisco, the overriding homoplasy often renders ethnic identity invisible and indistinct.

From start to finish, Heroine Complex is pretty much a perfect novel. It succeeds at being funny and serious at the same time. Plus it’s the first novel in an ongoing series and you can’t beat that. If we had to nitpick, however, we’d have to say that Evie is a little bit of a Mary Sue-type character. But whatever. That simply means the book’s insights are unfiltered and the author’s personal agenda isn’t cloaked in layers of fiction. We’re already looking forward to the further adventures of Annie Chang and Evelyn Tanaka, the Heroic Duo (aka Galactic Warrior Princess and her best friend Rude Fire Girl). Asian lady superheroes to the rescue!

[Heroine Complex / By Sarah Kuhn / First Printing: July 2016 / ISBN: 9780756410841]

Posted in Published in 2016 | Tagged ,

Lost in Space

GotG CastawaysYou have to admit, the Guardians of the Galaxy are a funky bunch. They consist of a seven-foot-tall ambulatory tree, a raccoonoid, a green-skinned lady, a humorless muscleman, and a Han Solo wannabe. Frankly, we’re surprised Jaxxon or Howard the Duck weren’t part of the regular crew. They would fit right in.

Calling them heroes would be a stretch, however. It’s questionable whether these “Guardians” actually guarded anything, galactic or otherwise. Rocket Raccoon, for one, would rather spend his time gambling. Drax was only interested in destroying and revenging. Peter Quill’s “inability to resist a pretty face” kept his team bouncing from one misadventure to the next. And as the adopted daughter of Thanos, Gamora had a ton of family issues to work out. Only Groot could arguably be called a hero. He was the only one who possessed anything resembling a moral compass.

But one thing was certain; the Guardians were a quirky genre-busting aggregate. And because of their disparate natures they had the potential for outlandish (and otherworldly) humor. On a good day they resembled Sun Ra’s Arkestra with Chewbacca at the microphone. In our opinion, that put Quill and his pals a notch above the Herculoids and the Crystal Gems.

On a bad day, unfortunately, the Guardians were just another dumb collection of superhero ciphers. Take this particular novel, for example. It follows a familiar Guardians of the Galaxy template. The gang quibbles like cranky siblings and they get swept into a wildly preposterous caper. In the end, they settle their differences and abscond with some kind of treasure or reward. Taking a tip from the song “O-o-h Child,” they put it together and they get it undone.

But the success of any Guardians adventure isn’t strictly about the adventure itself. Mostly it’s about a loose confederacy of freebooters and their personal relationships to each other. The adventure is only the petrol that keeps the crew moving forward.

For some reason, the author of this book never fully commits to the characters’ screwy charms. Peter Quill is certainly an unrepentant horndog, Rocket Raccoon can’t escape his Napoleon complex, and Groot continually sheds leaves everywhere he goes. But for a big chunk of this novel, the “castaways” are scrubbed clean of all their idiosyncrasies. That’s too bad.

To make matters worse, the plot is dull as dirt. The crew is marooned on an uncharted planet (“Only about 350 light years off course,” says Quill sheepishly) and in short order they get caught up in a messy civil war. Quill spends his time “fighting and feasting and frolicking” (off the page mostly), and there’s a lot of boring chitchat about military strategy.

Like the Guardians themselves, the locals are flat and unremarkable and there’s not an ounce of nuance in sight. Even the Duke of Vylara, possibly the nicest man since Atticus Finch, doesn’t exhibit any of the duress you’d expect from a magistrate in the throes of a revolution.

In the end, the gang unravels the crisis and solves a big mystery that’s haunted the planet for generations. We admit, it’s actually a nice moment that eschews the typical slam-bang superhero finale. But in no way does it excuse the previous 213 pages.

Maybe next time, Quill, Rocket, Gamora, Groot, and Drax will return to the bad behavior that made them compelling antiheroes. In other words: we’d like to see more canoodling, more destroying, more wiseassery, and more funny business. More guarding of the galaxy would be nice too.

[Guardians of the Galaxy: Castaways / By David McDonald / First Printing: August 2016 / ISBN: 9781772752045]

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

The Rise and Fall of the Regional Office

RegionalOfficeIf your daughter suddenly turned into a green hulk or started controlling the weather with her brain, there was perhaps no better place to turn for help than the Regional Office, a place uniquely positioned to empower and strengthen otherwise troubled or at-risk young women.

The Regional Office would happily take your daughter and train her to be a superpowered warrior woman. Once indoctrinated into its system, the girls of the Regional Office would be deployed as a barrier of last resort between the survival of the planet and amassing forces of darkness.

For 5,000 years (accounting for space and time travel irregularities), the system worked beautifully. The female fury battalion did a great job of saving the world from destruction, self-annihilation, interdimensional war strikes, and alien forces.

But you couldn’t operate a specialized agency such as the Regional Office without stepping on a few toes. Naturally, there were going to be people who wished for its demise — even people within the organization itself.

The decline and fall of the Regional Office came quite suddenly. But if you were looking for a tipping point, the beginning of the end could be summed up thusly: A man fell in love with a woman. No surprise really. The same could be said more or less about any iconic tragedy (including The Aeneid, The Iliad, Romeo and Juliet, and King Kong).

And so, despite all the explosions and weird science, The Regional Office Is Under Attack! isn’t a shojo superhero slugfest at all. It’s mostly a sad story about love, loss, and loneliness. With superheroes.

Obviously Manuel Gonzales is playing around with genre expectations. His novel is filled with hero and villain archetypes that everybody is familiar with. But he’s also pushing us into a post-modern period where genre tropes can be remixed and subverted. It’s not an easy thing to do. Thankfully, Gonzales is a smart and funny guy. And he’s a darn good writer too. In our opinion, The Regional Office Is Under Attack! is exactly what superhero prose fiction needs at this particular moment — even though it’s not about superheroes. Not really.

[The Regional Office Is Under Attack! / By Manuel Gonzales / First Printing: April 2016 / ISBN: 9781594632419]

Posted in Published in 2016 | Tagged ,

Lois Lane: Double Trouble

LLDoubleDownThere’s always something crazy going on in Lois Lane’s life. A few weeks after successfully smashing an online mind control racket (see our review of Lois Lane: Fallout), she finds herself embroiled in a politically charged clone conspiracy. As it turns out, the DNA from her best friend’s 14-year-old sister was used as a serum to create a doppelganger of the Mayor of Metropolis.

Wait. What? Someone took the DNA from a teenage girl and cloned an elected official? A middle-aged man? Why in the world would someone do that? And does that even make any sense?

If your name is Lois Lane it does. Clones, high school girls, deposed politicos, crime bosses, mysterious flying men, and top-secret government agencies – it’s just another day in the life of ace cub reporter Lois Lane. When something weird is going on, her Spidey sense starts tingling. “Finding things out is what I do,” she says.

Here’s the scoop: Two years ago the mayor of Metropolis ran afoul of the city’s crime boss. Instead of using the usual coercion tactics favored by most Mafiosi, Moxie Mannheim cooked up an improbable plot to create a “doppelmayor.” But creating a clone was only the first step in his mad plan. He also needed a way to control his Frankenstein monster. And that’s when Melody Simpson was recruited.

Melody was a twin. And everybody knew that twins had a special preternatural bond with each other. By sampling Melody’s DNA, Mannheim was able to fashion a quantum connection with his clone. And that provided a way for him to exert undo influence in the Mayor’s office in Metropolis.

But Mannheim made one fatal mistake. He messed around with the sister of Lois Lane’s best friend. And nobody gets away with that. Lois was determined to derail Mannheim’s nefarious schemes. “I want to knock him out,” she admits.

Double Down is a terrific sequel to Lois Lane’s debut novel from last year. In our opinion, author Gwenda Bond is totally in sync with her iconic heroine. Lois lives life in the fast lane and doesn’t slow down to accommodate anyone else (even lonely space aliens from Krypton). Only briefly does the doppelmayor deign to compete with her for the reader’s attention. But that’s okay. The clone’s existential ennui is a fine counterpoint to Lois’s unquenchable lust for life. “You’re pretty amazing, Lois Lane,” says her best friend at the end of the novel. How could we disagree?

[Lois Lane: Double Down / By Gwenda Bond / First Printing: May 2016 / ISBN: 9781630790387]

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

Hot Stuff

HexedHexed: The Sisters of Witchdown contains everything you’d expect to find in a horror novel. There’s a haunted house, a spellbook bound in human flesh, numerous pocket universes, black magic, one sexy witch, several ugly witches, demonic possession, a couple of exorcisms, grave digging, and reanimation. There’s even a character named Lucifer.

And yet, none of it is spooky in any way. Michael Alan Nelson’s novel is more in line with sunnier fare such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Wynonna Earp, and iZombie. The adventures of Luci Jenifer Inacio Das Neves (Lucifer for short) began in the funny pages and her prose debut exists as a happy hybrid of comic book and urban fantasy high jinks.

Things like this really hit our hexerei hot spot. Nelson’s comic book series debuted in 2008 and introduced the world to a bunch of eccentric and willful ladies, including Lucifer (our hero), art dealer Val Brisendine, Raina (the intern), CEO of Graeae Industries Madame Cymbaline, and the Harlot (otherwise known as the Keeper of Secrets). Over the years their intertwining lives have become too big and complicated to be contained in a mere comic book. A prose novel was inevitable.

At the center of it all is young Lucifer. No matter what people think, she’s not a devil, a sorceress, a witch, or a paranormal PI. She’s not even a normal teenage girl. She’s a thief from the slums of Brazil who traffics in magical trinkets and totems. “I keep bad things out of the hands of bad people,” she says. And that basically sums up her job description for the past eight years.

Nelson’s novel revisits the early days of his scrappy heroine. Sort of. We get introduced to Lucifer and all of her friends and foes. But the story has been tousled to provide a fresh remix. This time Lucifer is hired to rescue a high school girl being held captive in a pocket universe of death and witchery. There’s even a whiff of romance in the air. That’s substantially different than how the comic book series started. Lucifer doesn’t even meet her benefactor Val Brisendine until late in the game.

But no matter. Lucifer survives the retcon because she’s a remarkable hero and an indefatigable firecracker. She’s like Buffy Summers and Sydney Bristow (from Alias) with the fighting spirit of an Amazon warrior princess. Because of one early misadventure, she bears the mark of the Keeper of Secrets on her right shoulder (for continuity wonks, the mark appears on her left shoulder in the comics). As a result, her life has become “one giant carnival of magic-covered suck.” That’s bad news for her, but good news for the rest of us.

[Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown / By Michael Alan Nelson / First Printing: May 2015 / ISBN: 9781633880566]

Posted in Published in 2015 | Tagged , ,