Totally Spies

Smiths SpySchoolNovels about spies and superheroes often converge in a familiar Venn diagram. Alter egos, covert operations, gadgets, megalomaniacal villains, weapons of mass destruction, and secret lairs are some of the tropes shared by these two genres. If you like entertainment with a dash of adventure and espionage, there’s very little difference between Nick Fury and James Bond, Natasha Romanoff and Elizabeth Jennings, and Bobbi Morse and Emma Peel.

Author Beth McMullen clearly understands the link between spies and superheroes because she’s having a lot of fun with it in her latest book. Seventh-grader Abigail “Abby” Hunter is shocked to discover that her top-tier New England preparatory academy is actually a secret spy school for girls (like Russia’s Black Widow program but a whole lot sunnier). “This place is a secret breeding ground for spies!” cries Abby in disbelief.

Even more shocking, Abby finds out that her mother is a highly regarded secret agent. Her mom even has a very superhero-like name. Jennifer Hunter is known around the globe as Teflon because she can walk into the worst situations and come out clean. She has a reputation for being hard-core and amazing, and her colleagues describe her as Superman and Spider-Man “or some awesome hybrid of the two.”

In fact, throughout the novel, the author freely namechecks a sundry of famous superheroes like Batman, Black Widow and others. Even when she’s not being explicit, she acknowledges her source material.

For example, the motto at Mrs. Smith’s Spy School For Girls is Non tamen ad reddet (“Not to take, but to give back”). It’s basically a fancy way to paraphrase Spider-Man’s memorable and oft-quoted motto. “We strive each day to make the world a better place,” says the school’s headmaster. “We aren’t just about ourselves but rather about the greater good.”

Despite her mom’s rep, Abby herself has no special training or aptitude for spying. One of her teachers even calls her a “chronic user of poor judgment.” But never mind. Now that she knows her pedigree, she’s determined to be the best teenage girl spy she can be (watch out Kim Possible!). After completing her first off-campus assignment, an ally assesses her performance thusly: “You did okay tonight, if we overlook all the parts where you screwed up.”

Things get better (and worse!) before the novel ends. “You’re just like your mom,” says the villain in his final showdown with Abby, “always messing with things that have nothing to do with you.” He’s just a mid-level minion, but he’s right. Even though she was struggling with a severe spy learning curve, Abby was exactly like her mom. “I don’t quit,” she says. Stay turned for further adventures.

[Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls / By Beth McMullen / First Printing: July 2017 / ISBN: 9781481490207]

Advertisements
Posted in Published in 2017 | Tagged ,

The Unsinkable Dreadnought

SovereignWhen you think about it, superheroes are lousy agents of democracy. Equality? Political freedom? Access to the legislative process? Forget about it. In no way does a crimefighting vigilante with superpowers represent democratic ideology.

“We’re told to pretend that everyone is equal,” says the titular villain in April Daniels’ latest novel. “But excuse me. Some of us can fly! Excellence isn’t celebrated anymore, and it’s suffocating humanity.”

The United States is rotting, says Richard “Sovereign” Garrison. “There are too many problems going unaddressed in our country because of special interests and small-minded politicians. Flabby mediocrity is the order of the day. No civilization can thrive if it insists on strangling its best members.”

But if superheroes aren’t exemplars of U.S. politics, don’t worry about it too much. Supervillains are much, much worse. Garrison, for example, rails against democracy, but his solution is hereditary dictatorship (aka NeoReactionarism). He rejects egalitarianism and embraces monarchism. Freedom and democracy are no longer compatible in his view.

Garrison’s got a crazy plan to promote superhuman supremacy by combining science and magic. “Only people who’ve earned the right to have super powers will get them,” he says during a mid-novel monologue. The best people should have the best powers. No more supervillains, and no more slackers. “It’s not fascism,” says a member of Dreadnought’s entourage. “It’s just a different flavor of shit.”

Part of Garrison’s master plan is to kidnap Dreadnought and steal her powers for himself. She is, after all, the mightiest superhero in the world. Acquiring her super powers would be a major coup for Garrison’s nascent NRx movement.

Danny “Dreadnought” Tozer is a tough nut to crack, however. She’s fought the worst of the worst – metahumans, hyper-tech malware, wizards, and kaiju. She’s been shot with cannons and stabbed with vibroblades. In her debut adventure (read our review here), she hammered the world’s most notorious supervillain. And in the new book, she escapes the torture den of a TERF sorceress (look it up). She may be just a 15-year-old kid, but Dreadnought is undefeatable. “Nobody wins against me,” she says. “Nobody.”

That includes her mom and dad. At the beginning of Sovereign, Danny is going through the painful process of divorcing her parents. Both of them have been shockingly unsupportive of her status as a gay transgender superhero icon. But enough was enough. It was time for Danny to finally cut them loose. If Sovereign and his henchmen couldn’t bring her down, neither could her parents.

It’s not easy being Dreadnought, that’s for sure. Throughout the book she’s pummeled and tortured relentlessly. But after all the bullshit, she finally gets the happy ending she deserves. We won’t spoil the final scene. But we have to say – watching the sun come up over the horizon while floating in space sounds like an awesome first date.

[Sovereign / By April Daniels / First Printing: July 2017 / ISBN: 9781682308240]

Posted in Published in 2017 | Tagged ,

Johnny Ribkins, Cartographer for Hire

RibkinsThink about all the mutants who weren’t good enough to get into Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Remember KwikStep? He was the kid who could put on his sneakers without untying them. And GoGo Kawasaki? She never had to stop at an intersection for a red light.

But do you have to walk through walls like Kitty Pryde to be a superhero? Do you have to have retractable vibranium claws just to be treated with a little respect?

Of course not. Everybody had skills and talents that made them unique, even superheroes with insufficient powers. The trick was to find your path in life and walk the earth with purpose – like the five members of the Justice Committee.

Back in the day, Johnny Ribkins and his super friends traveled around the country staging minor interventions, taking a knee, doing whatever they could to support the civil rights movement. “We were freedom movement adjacent,” said Ribkins in hindsight. The Justice Committee didn’t have any special training or facility; they just wanted to do the right thing. “We were fighting for freedom, trying to uplift people, and change the world.”

But nobody ever confused the Justice Committee for the Justice League. Ribkins and his gang had superpowers, but they couldn’t change the Speed Force like Barry Allen or alter reality like Flex Mentallo. Instead, they could project the illusion of beauty (Simone), spit firecrackers (Bertrand), flash a winning smile (Winston), and administer justice like a hammer (the Hammer).

For his part, Ribkins had sublime cartographic skills. For seven years, his maps set the agenda for the Justice Committee. Even Charles Xavier would agree, that was a pretty cool mutant power – especially if you had to be at the right place at the right time. You didn’t want to be late for the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, after all.

It’s too bad Ribkins never truly understood his esoteric power. He could draw a map like ringing a bell, but he never found his personal path in life. And now, at the age of 72, he was driving around Florida trying to find it.

Author Ladee Hubbard has done an amazing thing with her debut novel. She’s given us a story about history, racism, personal identity, human potential, complicated family relationships, and superheroes. Imagine if W.E.B. Du Bois created Luke Cage, Hero for Hire. Just think how great that would have been.

In the end, Johnny Ribkins gets a little assistance from his 13-year-old niece Eloise. She was the NextGen of Ribkins metahumans, and her nascent superpower would ultimately help her Uncle find the peace he was looking for. “I can see how stuff gets put together,” she told him, “from beginning to end and all points in between.” Instead of following a vague map with a crazy circuitous route, the “Talented Ribkins” finally figured it out. Right path, wrong path, it didn’t matter. It was his path all along.

[The Talented Ribkins / By Ladee Hubbard / First Printing: August 2017 / ISBN: 9781612196367]

Posted in Published in 2017 | Tagged ,

Live! In the Link Age 09.26.17

HolmesLama BookCoverWe enjoyed 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. His response below.

“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 a 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.”

The Red Raptor returns in Christopher J. Valin’s latest novel Superteam: The Red Raptor Files – Part 2 (First Printing: September 2017 / ISBN: 9781976332357). In this new adventure, the teenage war bird decides to start his own super group of “youngbloods.” No surprise, things don’t go as smoothly as planned. We liked Sidekick, Valin’s first book in the series (read our review here), and we’re anxious to dive into this sequel. Review TK.

Fans of female supervillains unite. Precarious Woman Executive Miss Black General (By Jin / Available 06.19.18) is about an executive with an evil organization called RX. When she’s not plotting world domination, she’s swooning over her arch-nemesis, a superhero named Brave Man.

Satan’s Secretary by Kamotsu Kamonabe (also available in June) is a “workplace” comedy about an admin who takes care of the organizational parts of Satan’s evil empire. “She’s frighteningly efficient!” says the publisher.

Episode 13 of Throwing the Gun is now available for your listening pleasure. As always, the Pen and Cape Society roundtable features a lively conversation about superhero prose fiction. Join Drew Hayes, Jim Zoetewey, C.B. Wright, and Cheyanne Young as they share publishing notes, discuss the recent Wonder Woman flick, and tackle a reverse trope that writers often ignore. And don’t overlook Episode 13.5 of the entertaining podcast series. Wright and Zoetewey chat in length with Eric Burns-White, a longtime advocate of superhero fiction.

Two books about a pair of “provocative” men were published this summer. Jim Shooter: Conversations (Edited by Jason Sacks and Eric Hoffman / First Printing: June 2017 / ISBN: 9781496811790) collects career-spanning interviews with the former EiC at Marvel Comics. A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison (By Nat Segaloff / First Printing: July 2017 / ISBN: 9781610373234) promises to be an “uncensored and unquiet” portrait of the influential science fiction writer.

Author Keith R.A. DeCandido shares his thoughts on the first Wonder Woman movie from 1974 (here). He also revisits Lynda Carter’s first turn as the Amazon princess in 1975 and re-watches Supergirl’s big screen debut from the ’80s.

Reviews for Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). But not everybody loved the book. We found one negative review (here). “It’s just a slow-paced book with a dull plot,” says Angela of SciFiChick.com.

Interviews: Leigh Bardugo, author of Wonder Woman: Warbringer (here). April Daniels, author of Sovereign (here). George Mann, author of Ghosts of Empire (here).

Reviews: Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power by Mariko Tamaki and Brooke Allen (here). Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds (here and here). A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King (here). The Damned Busters et al. by Matthew Hughes (here).

For your reading pleasure: Almost Invincible by Kristen Brand. Captain Action: Cry of the Jungle by Barry Reese and Jim Beard. Incredibles 2 Middle Grade Novel (author TBA). Supergirl: Book 2 by Jo Whittemore. The Flash: Book 2 by Barry Lyga. Devilman: The Classic Collection by Go Nagai. Special Delivery: EMT Services for the Super Powered by Martin Von Cannon. Mecha by Eric S. Brown. The Comics of Charles Schulz: The Good Grief of Modern Life edited by Jared Gardner and Ian Gordon.

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

Echo and the Indestructibles: A Conversation with Matthew Phillion

PhillionMugEvery superhero multiverse has some kind of tangential connection to the lost continent of Atlantis. There are a lot of aqua men in the sea, after all.

Now author Matthew Phillion has added Atlantis myth and magic to his ever-expanding Indestructibles universe. His latest book Echo and the Sea is about a teenage girl from a small New England town who discovers she is actually a superhero sea-ninja warrior princess from Atlantis.

Readers who are familiar with Phillion’s previous efforts (including The Indestructibles, Breakout, The Entropy of Everything, and Like a Comet) know he has an unchecked imagination, an ear for snappy dialogue, and a love of pop culture. If you haven’t noticed yet, he’s busy building an interlocking multiverse that freely embraces superheroes, folklore, fairy tales, and arcana. Read our chat with him below.

SuperheroNovels: Your “Indestructiverse” includes four novels featuring a scrappy group of teenage superheroes. Now you’ve expanded that universe with Echo and the Sea. You must have a master plan. What’s your long game?

Matthew Phillion: You’re right, I do have a long game, but the writing and publishing process can be so organic I haven’t ever taken anything for granted with developing the Indestructiverse, so I’m really laying each brick in the structure I’m trying to build one at a time.

I love shared universes, whether it’s Marvel or DC or the way Stephen King’s stories interweave loosely with each other, or how so many writers have taken a stab at the Cthulhu mythos. I’ve actually had the plot for Echo and the Sea in mind since the original Indestructibles book came out, but I felt like the pressing need was to make sure that series had a strong foundation before I did anything not directly related. But right from the beginning I knew there was a shared universe I wanted to explore and that the Indestructibles were just one part of it.

I’d like to expand that universe in all directions – parallel and concurrent, as well as exploring the past with Doc’s old team, and I definitely have ideas that will take place in the far-flung future of the same universe. I have a sort of loose map of this world and I want to explore all the corners of it and create a prose version of a comic book universe (and if I’m being honest, I really would want to see it evolve beyond just print media – I did come out of screenwriting after all, and would love to work in comics and graphic novels as well). I’d also like to touch on different styles and genres – like the main series is often called YA fiction, but Echo is a little more mature, and I’d like to write the equivalent of an R-rated addition to the shared world as well.

In a perfect world, I’d invite other writers into that shared universe too. I think of some of the old horror and science fiction/fantasy writers who willingly shared their worlds with each other, and want to create a playground other writers can join in with. It’s a different era now and IP rights will always be problematic, but I’ve talked with other writers about crossovers and casual references to each others’ stories, because even just acknowledging those other characters exist builds connective tissue.

I do have other, non-Indestructiverse stories I want to tell, specifically horror and a low-fantasy novels I already have outlines for. But building the Indestructibles world out in multiple directions is the backbone to all writing I’m working on right now. There’s another sequel in the works, and the cast of Echo have more stories in them. I want to tell Doc’s origin story some day.

SN: The events included in Echo and the Sea could easily have filled the pages of numerous books. The courtship of Echo’s parents, for example, would have made a great single novel. And there’s a lot of other stuff that begged for additional details, like Barnabas and his magic serpent, and Artem, the last son of the Amazons. We’re sure many writers would have enjoyed tackling the machinations of complicated Atlantean politics. What kept you from turning Echo’s story into an epic multi-volume series?

MP: Y’know, I never considered writing it in longer form – I knew what it was from conception. I think there are plenty of amazing authors out there who write long-form epic fantasy, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had aspirations to write the next Lord of the Rings (or more specifically, the next Dragonlance Chronicles saga). But right from the beginning I knew I wanted this to be an alternative to the sort of vast, ponderous epic and make it more fast-paced and cinematic (my background in screenwriting causing problems again). Also, I’m a big fan of Joe Abercrombie’s style of fantasy writing – sword and sorcery with the brakes cut.

But that’s not to say I don’t hope to explore those territories further. My initial game plan was a three-part series: Echo saves the surface world from Atlantis; Echo then needs to save Atlantis from a surface world wanting revenge; and Echo needing to somehow reconcile that both worlds can be harsh and violent and figuring out what she needs to do to keep them both safe. I’m not sure that’s the precise arc I’ll follow now that I’ve gotten to know the cast more, but many of the things you mention are things I do want to dig more into. I think Artem, in particular, deserves to headline a book. He’s become very important to me as a character.

I also try to know my weaknesses. I wouldn’t have found a lot of joy in the nitty-gritty parts of Atlantean politics (I think covering real-world politics for a while put me off to that type of writing), and the one thing I tell students when I teach writing is: write what you can’t shut up about. Write to entertain yourself first.

And as with the Indestructibles series, I like a finite story. One of the things I hold sacred in my own life is time; I’ve always felt like we never have enough time, and we never know how much time we have. I often joke that I write the books like I might get hit by a bus tomorrow and I don’t want to leave everyone waiting on a cliffhanger, but I’m not entirely joking. I like an epic and a cliffhanger as much as anyone, but one of my biggest influences in writing is William Gibson and his Sprawl and Bridge trilogies – self-contained books that tell an arc and have a unified message but stand alone on their own. My books are more direct sequels than those trilogies, but I like endings. I write every story with the ending already written in my mind, and with a stinger ready to go if I need it.

Finally – launching a book series is tough given the amount of content out there. I wasn’t sure there would be an audience for multiple Echo stories, so I wanted to tell the best, most complete story possible in case it turned out there wasn’t an audience for non-Indestructibles stories. Now that it’s done, though, I’m pulling on other threads. The ocean is vast, and full of were-sharks after all.

SN: According to your website, you’ve been a reporter, a screenwriter, an actor, and a filmmaker. It wouldn’t surprise us to discover you were also a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a king. How did this path lead you to superhero prose fiction?

MP: It’s funny, I sometimes forget how random and weird my career path looks. I’ll mention something casually in conversation (“Back when I was in that prog rock band…”) and get the weirdest looks. But I recently found my Sixth Grade yearbook and where it asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, I’d written “author.” I don’t remember it – if I hadn’t seen the yearbook I would’ve thought I’d written “comic book writer.”

But really the entire arc has been about trying to find the best way to tell stories people would care about. I’ve never been particularly picky about what medium I used – I have, to steal a phrase from a Warren Ellis comic, a pathological fear of boredom, so I’ve tried a little bit of everything. I wanted to write books, but then I fell in love with comics; I’m old enough that the barrier to entry for both of those was incredibly hard, but I tried my hand at both novels and comic book scripts but wasn’t a mature enough writer to make that happen yet. I became an actor because I thought that was how you learned to direct (clearly I didn’t do my research there). Acting let me help other people tell their stories, which is something I still love to do in any way I can – storytellers are a weird tribe and I think we need to stick together. Plus having an IMDb page is fun.

I became a filmmaker when the digital video era really opened the door for indie filmmakers to get their work out there. My last big film project (a romantic comedy called Certainly Never) was something I wrote with the intent to pitch elsewhere, but then I realized it would be a great first feature – small cast, low-key locations, no big special effects or action sequences. I ended up producing, directing, and acting in it (I made a joke that I was a “triple threat” and one of those friends who is really good at making sure I don’t get too big for my britches said: “threat is not a compliment”).

That took a few years and I’m incredibly proud of it, but in the end, a film means you’ve got dozens of people counting on you – you’re wrangling cast and crew and seeing things through the post-production process, all of that. Certainly Never turned out great but didn’t make any money or get real distribution, and I felt I let that entire team down, so I wanted my next project to be one where if it failed to succeed, I would be the only one let down. Novels are a pretty solitary endeavor. And after writing films specifically for realism – stuff that could be shot low-budget – I wanted to go big. So I returned to my roots. I had, after all, always wanted to write comics … so why not go back to where it all began and put some of the superheroes I’d been daydreaming about for my whole life on the page?

So unconstrained by a film’s budget, and without the fear and guilt of having a team depending on me, I gave myself a few months to put the Indestructibles together, and I’ve never had so much fun in my entire life.

I will say, though, the one through line that helped me the most through all of this is my background in journalism. It taught me research, work ethic, and deadlines. Deadlines are my religion. You’re writing to be read, and read soon, so you kind of don’t have the option to be neurotic (and, oh, can I be neurotic). My first editor told me “done is good” – get that draft done and we can fix it, but if you can’t finish what you start, you’ll never get your stories out there. I live and die by that lesson.

If I have one regret about turning to prose, it’s that it leaves little time for everything else. I still consider myself a filmmaker and actor … just dormant. And I’m convinced once a journalist, always a journalist. It’s a lifelong status even when you get out of the business.

SN: What can you tell us about the next Indestructibles novel and the next Echo novel? What’s next in the pipeline?

MP: I’ve started work on a fifth Indestructibles novel – the working title is the Crimson Child. All along, Doc Silence has warned the team that magic is the most dangerous thing they’ll ever encounter, to the point where he’s actively tried to keep them away from facing it as a threat. But that’s exactly what they’ll go up against this time. It’s a smaller scale story. Rather than time traveling to save a post-apocalyptic future or stopping an alien invasion, they’ll have to save one person – and the entire town she’s made disappear into thin air.

We’ll also see how the kids have changed and grown after saving the entire world at great cost to themselves. Plus the story brings to the forefront a very bad decision made by the Lady Natasha Grey way back in Breakout. That’s a hanging plot point I’ve always wanted to go back to.

I’ll put out a couple of the “one-shot” stories I try to offer between books – I’d like to get a holiday story out again this year, and I’ve been working on a slightly longer one in which the team gets trapped in what’s basically a cursed board game that’s a mash-up of HeroQuest and Dungeons and Dragons. We’ll get to find out what character class Emily would play which I found way more entertaining than it should have been.

I’m plotting out a sequel to Echo and the Sea that will deal with the ramifications of Reina’s actions. Artem’s emergence from the Island of Unwanted Things will attract the attention of the Amazons, and Yuri’s journey is just beginning. And I kind of see Barnabas as the Han Solo of the Seven Seas … trouble will always find him if he sits still long enough.

And I’ve got a few other irons in the fire that aren’t Indestructiverse-related too – a zombie apocalypse story that started off as a snarky “well, here’s what I’d do” plot synopsis into something I really wanted to write, and a dark high fantasy story from the perspective of the monsters, but those are back-burnered until I get the next Indestructibles book drafted up.

Posted in Interviews | Tagged , ,

The Young Woman and the Sea

EchoSeaAccording to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 80 percent of marine pollution comes from land. That’s why the Sub-Mariner and Godzilla are always declaring war on the surface dwellers. They’re tired of living in an ocean filled with discarded smartphone batteries, K-Cups, glow sticks, and Powerball tickets.

Author Matthew Phillion acknowledges this situation in the introduction of his new book about a young girl who discovers she’s an Atlantean princess. “You can’t write a story about Atlantis,” says Phillion, “without addressing humanity’s impact on the oceans, and where the future lies for all of us.”

He’s right. There’s always going to be tension between Homo sapiens and Homo mermanus as long as whale hunting and offshore drilling continue. “We let the land-dwellers defecate all over our kingdom,” says Reina, the Queen-in-waiting of Atlantis. “They destroyed our waters, irradiated our farmlands, and dredged up poison from beneath the ocean floor. We need to stop them before they destroy the world and take us with it.”

There’s been strife between surface dwellers and ocean tribes throughout history. But this time the Atlanteans are deadly serious. They’ve stolen four nuclear submarines and they’re prepared to rain fire from below.

Now it’s up to Princess Echo and her merry band of misfits to stop WWIII. By her side is Barnabas, a low-level magician and treasure hunter, Artem (not Artemis), the last son of Themyscira, and her quippy best friend Genke Lee. On their way to Atlantis, the gang visits a barbarous pirate island, an island of sea nymphs, and the Island of Unwanted Things. Their journey across the seven seas is a picaresque adventure filled with a melting pot of oddball fairy tale creatures.

Echo and the Sea is a slim and fast-paced book. Overall we liked it very much. But honestly we wish there was more of it. There’s a lot of untapped potential off the page. Author Phillion could easily have expanded his story to include all sorts of substantive backstory details. Usually high fantasy adventures like this inspire epic storytelling that spans multiple volumes.

But we’re sure Phillion will revisit the world of Echo and her scuba gang in the near future. It is, after all, connected to his ongoing Indestructibles universe. Maybe he’ll fill in the gaps as he deems necessary. Believe us, there’s still a lot of nasty business to be sorted out between Atlantis and the surface dwellers. Marine pollution has been around for millennia and it isn’t going away anytime soon.

[Echo and the Sea / By Matthew Phillion / First Printing: June 2017 / ISBN: 9780997916539]

Posted in Published in 2017 | Tagged , ,

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane

LLTripleThreatUp until this point, we’ve praised author Gwenda Bond for deemphasizing Superman in her excellent Lois Lane series. In two previous novels (Fallout and Double Down), Clark Kent was simply a part of the supporting cast orbiting around Lois Lane’s shining star.

But Lois and Superman have been linked (one way or another) since 1938 when they both debuted in the pages of Action Comics #1. Bond knew she couldn’t ignore their shared history forever. At some point she had to bring the two iconic characters together.

And frankly we’re happy to see it finally happen. In Lois Lane: Triple Threat, Lois and Clark bump into each other for the first time on page 166. That’s about halfway through the book. We’re glad Bond didn’t tease their hookup until the final chapter because the pair’s ensuing love story is sweet and funny. Like we mentioned earlier, we enjoyed the first two Lois Lane novels sans Superman. But we have to admit there’s magic in the air when the big city girl and the boy from Smallville team up for romance and adventure.

Superman wasn’t the only big revelation in the latest novel. Not only did it unite three villains who’ve been harassing Lois since she moved to Metropolis, but it also introduced a nascent supervillain named Alexander “Alex” Luthor. In addition, Lois found a little spare time to match wits with deposed crime boss Moxie Mannheim and investigate a quartet of annoying superpowered teens. You have to give the author credit; she was doing a great job of creating a rogues’ gallery for Lois Lane, super girl reporter. The only person missing was her archrival, Lana Lang.

Final verdict: Triple Threat is another enjoyable effort from Gwenda Bond. But we feel compelled to nitpick about a couple of things. We rolled our eyes, for example, whenever Lois stepped into the newsroom of the Daily Planet. We suspect Bond’s scant knowledge of newspaper culture comes from movies like His Girl Friday and TV programs like The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Most troubling, however, Lois veers dangerously close to damsel in distress territory during the penultimate chapter. It’s up to Clark to break into the villains’ secret lair and save her from getting conscripted into a weird science experiment. This final scene will probably make anybody who grew up reading Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane wince with disappointment.

But thankfully the good things in this novel far outweigh the bad. If you’ve ever wanted to be present for Lois and Clark’s first super kiss, for instance, this was the place to be. According to Lois, it was pretty terrific. “Our first kiss was better than fireworks and flying and front-page news all rolled into one.” Team Lois wins again.

[Lois Lane: Triple Threat / By Gwenda Bond / First Printing: May 2017 / ISBN: 9781630790820]

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