Live! In the Link Age: Short Reviews of 2013 (Revisited)

MalevolenceAfter 15 years behind bars, Nicholas McHenry is finally getting out of jail (The Machinist, Part 1: Malevolence / First Printing: February 2013 / ISBN: 9781482015850). Before being locked up, McHenry was an engineering genius who used his wonky gadgets for nefarious gains. But 15 years is a long time to be out of circulation in the tech world. When McHenry (aka the Machinist) was first incarcerated nobody had smart phones, Wi-Fi, email, or PayPal accounts. Imagine his surprise when he gets out of jail and discovers that an iPad and a Google Maps app can easily trump all his supervillain hardware. Author Alexander Maisey is off to a good start with the first novella in his Machinist trilogy. He’s created a universe that includes a James Bondian supervillain (Baron Brass!), a Nick Fury doppelganger, and a bunch of complicated superheroes. The author promises Part 2 will be ready to go sometime before the end of the year. Hopefully by then, McHenry will have invested in some much-needed tech upgrades. [Review first published on 02.08.13.]

ScienceFictionFor nearly 20 years, David Lasky has been a comic book artist following his own winding path. Early in his career, for example, he once produced a biography of James Joyce using language and iconography borrowed from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It’s obvious that Lasky is a man of many interests and his comics inevitably reflect his wide swath of influences. A couple of months ago the artist took a break from his drawing table and decided to publish a book with no pictures in it whatsoever. Science Fiction: A Zine of Stories (First Printing: November 2012 / Available at Etsy.com) features a burst of 63 single-page stories that form a large, but loose, mosaic narrative. We’re happy to report that a handful of these mini-stories veer into superhero territory. Throughout the years, Lasky has enjoyed tweaking history with humor and improbabilities, and he continues to do the same here with great success. In one story, he writes about a young John Kennedy and his days as a U.S. senator, a playboy, and a costumed vigilante called the Fighting American. In another story, Orson Welles abandons his career in Hollywood to become the Shadow full time. Later, looking back upon his crimefighting days, Welles regrets not making more films. We don’t think David Lasky will ever abandon his love of comic books, but side projects like this are always a welcome surprise. [Review first published 03.28.13.]

Superman PeaceBrainiac 2.5, Lex Luthor, and General Zod are all on the cover of Superman: Peace in the Balance by Michael Teitelbaum (First Printing: April 2013 / ISBN: 9780765364807). And you know what that means, right? It means that Superman is in a lot of trouble in this Choose-Your-Fate Adventure Book. While a World Peace Conference is being held (in outer space, of all places), the deadly trio decides to attack Earth. Now Superman is on a tight schedule to save the planet, smash his enemies, and write a news story about the peace conference for the Daily Planet. Readers need to be careful, however. Ten scenarios (out of 11) doom Superman to failure. Choose the wrong path and Zod takes over the world, Luthor establishes a “worldwide Kryptonite web,” Brainiac seizes control of the Internet, and good ol’ Perry White throws a newsroom temper tantrum. [Review first published 05.15.13.]

I Draw ComicsBorn from a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, the I Draw Comics Sketchbook Reference Guide by Matt Marrocco and Ryan Stegman  (First Printing: April 2013 / ISBN: 978065709598) is finally available. Intended for aspiring artists, comic book fans, and anyone interested in the craft of comics, the “sketchbook” is divided into five sections. It starts off with comic industry information (including tons of Twitter addresses!) and then dives into tutorials on perspective, proportion, layout, and storytelling. It’s a fine looking book and will undoubtedly inspire beginners to pick up a pencil and start scribbling. However, the book only devotes four measly pages to storytelling. And to us, that is the most important part in the process of creating a comic book. Note to all aspiring artists: even if your art is pretty and your three-point perspective is perfect, we’re not going to read your book if the story doesn’t engage us. Hopefully, an I Write Comics Sketchbook is forthcoming. [Review first published 05.15.13.]

Battling BoyThe hero of Paul Pope’s latest graphic novel (Battling Boy / First Printing: October 2013 / ISBN: 9781596431454) arrives in Arcopolis on a mission to help rid the city of its growing monster population. There’s just one teeny-tiny problem: “I’m no monster slayer,” he says, “I’m just a 12-year-old kid.” Battling Boy is a Shonen Jump-styled comic book about a young boy’s journey through life. Like Naruto Uzumaki, Son Goku (or even Thor Odinson), Pope’s hero must face insurmountable obstacles on his way to adulthood. Undoubtedly, as the story progresses, lessons will be learned, friends will be made, and dragon balls will be collected. Pope’s artwork (as expected) is an exciting mish-mash of all sorts of things: superheroes, manga, Studio Ghibli, bande dessinée, street art, fine art, rock’n’roll, The Mighty Thor, Jack Kirby, Taiyo Matsumoto, Theodor Geisel, Hugo Pratt—the list goes on and on. At one point in the story, our hero comes face to face with the mayor of Arcopolis. Losing patience with the mayor’s prattling, Battling Boy reaches for a pricey gewgaw and crushes it between his hands. Without a word of explanation he then proceeds to put the smashed antique back together again. You get the feeling that’s exactly what he has planned for Arcopolis: first he’s going to destroy the city, and afterward he’s going to rebuild it. In the end, that will be Battling Boy’s heroic legacy. [Review first published 10.01.13.]

AwakeningThe adventures of Sergeant Pakistan kick off in Syed Hamdani’s brand-new short story, “Awakening” (First Printing: September 2013). Ahad Bhai is a young, disillusioned army recruit who wants to serve his country (and the world) in any way possible. Like Billy Batson, Bhai is chosen to be humanity’s champion. But unlike Captain Marvel (who draws his powers from a disparate gaggle of worldly deities), Sgt. Pakistan’s superpowers come directly from a roundtable of indigenous Pakistani spirits. His superpowers are offered with a caveat, however. “If you stray from your path,” warns a mysterious masked figure, “your life will be forfeit. The mantle you carry will exact a life’s toll from you.” We didn’t see that coming. [Review first published 10.01.13.]

KaPowKa-Pow! is a brand-new superhero anthology curated by the good folks at Timid Pirate Publishing (First Printing: November 2013). We spotted some interesting names in the table of contents—most notably Phoenix Jones, Seattle’s No. 1 real-life superhero. We decided to contact the book’s publisher to get the scoop on Jones’ transition from superhero to author.

“Timid Pirate initiated contact with Phoenix Jones about one of his online posts,” says the book’s editor, Caroline Dombrowski, “and we’re happy to have his blessing in including a revised version in our anthology. His piece jumped out at us because it touched on the complexity of living life as a superhero (managing personal relationships and mood swings), as well as delving into the true reality (and in this case, comedy) of fighting crime as a superhero.”

“Tweedle D and Tweedle Dum” is a non-fiction piece focusing on Jones’ superhero experiences, and Dombrowski thinks it may be his publishing debut. But fear not citizens of Seattle, your emerald knight won’t forsake you for the spoils of literary fame. Says the editor: “It seems obvious that Phoenix Jones’ main focus is to fight crime, above any sort of writing career. But he can be quite literary at times and has mentioned on Facebook that he is working on a book. We look forward to seeing what comes out of him in the future!” Visit the Timid Pirate website for more information. [Interview first published 12.05.13.]

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