Live! In the Link Age: Short Reviews of 2014 (Revisited)

9SuperGirlsThe 9 Super Girls (by Tigerlily Emi Kawasaki / First Printing: December 2013) is a self-published, one-of-a-kind portfolio of drawings featuring super-powered girls who punch, fly, swim, make music, wield swords, and control the weather. There’s even one character whose powers come directly from the spirit of Christmas. Without a doubt, our favorite is Punch Girl—she’s the toughest of the bunch. But we also have a fondness for Cat Girl (the most iconic) and Ghost Girl (the friendliest ghost since Casper). We can’t wait for the sequel. Coming soon, hopefully. [Review first published 02.24.14.]

BloodRust“Blood & Rust” (By Casey Glanders / First Printing: January 2014) is a short story prequel to the author’s first Gailsone novel, Big in Japan. In this adventure, young Allison is only 16 years old and still on the payroll at Purge, an organization that profits from villainy and tumult. She’s deployed to Indiana (!) to negotiate a business relationship with an upstart gang leader who’s building a drug and weapons cartel. Naturally, there’s lots of gunplay and wiseassery involved. In the end, Allison survives her mission (with the help of her benefactor, Alice “Dyspell” Gailsone). And she even finds time for a little romance too. We admit it’s nice to see Allison in action as a supervillain. But, really, not much has changed in her basic nature over the years. Even though she now hangs out with superheroes, she still comes on like a wrecking ball. [Review first published 03.22.14.]

PrimevalAnointed with preternatural powers by a council of Pakistani spirits, Ahad Bhai is slowly learning more about his newfound responsibilities as Sergeant Pakistan (“Primeval” / By Syed Hamdani / First Printing: April 2014). First on his to-do list is to squash a reprobate named Ba’al Hadad who recently escaped from an antimatter prison in Antarctica. Young Bhai still has a lot to learn about being a superhero, but he needs to get to the South Pole right away before things get messy. Call this one Sergeant Pakistan: The Winter Soldier. [Review first published 04.19.14.]

OperaMost people go to the opera for a night of music and spectacle. Dinner afterward might be nice too. But Alice Gailsone has other plans (“A Night at the Opera” / By Casey Glanders / First Printing: January 2014). She’s not interested in La Cenerentola or anything else by Gioachino Rossini. She’s come to the Sydney Opera House with hopes of bagging a foppish billionaire and squeezing a little bit of ransom money out of him. It was, she figured, an easy way to boost her employer’s bank account. Unfortunately, the night doesn’t end the way she thought it would. Secret identities, secret agendas, covert operations, drunken shenanigans, and a scary techno-shifting monster conspire against her. One good thing happens, however. Gailsone is left with a one-of-a-kind memento from her night in Australia—a selfie of her hostage with his face buried deep in her cleavage. Good times! [Review first published 04.19.14.]

Lightweight1When author Nicholas Ahlhelm announced (via Kickstarter) his intention to tackle a monthly publishing schedule for his latest project, we applauded him before a single word was written. Comic books have conquered episodic storytelling and it’s time superhero prose fiction did the same. “Dreams” (First Printing: December 2013) is the first chapter of Ahlhelm’s ongoing Lightweight serial and it introduces readers to a high school senior named Kevin Mathis with burgeoning telekinetic powers. In concert with his best friend Andy Case, and his wannabe girlfriend Millicent Bryant, Kevin butts heads with a school bully and a giant killer robot. “This is the end. My life just changed forever,” says Kevin after embracing his metahuman legacy. What he actually means, however, is that this is just the beginning. [Review first published 04.19.14.]

DateNightYears before she became a superhero sidekick, Allison Gailsone was a high-ranking officer and ruthless assassin in a premier global terrorist organization called Purge. By the time she was 16 years old she had killed more than 30 people. But even teenage killing machines need a little RnR. The latest Gailsone adventure (“Date Night” / By Casey Glanders / First Printing: February 2014) finds young Allison prepping for a romantic evening with her “boyfriend” Douglas. Because this is the pair’s first official date, Allison is a little nervous about her upcoming tryst and seeks advice from her aunt Alice: “Tonight, you’re a normal civilian,” says her guardian and mentor. “No projectile weapons or always-sharp knives. No explosives, no pellets, no nothing. Just go and have fun like a normal, non-psychotic teenager.” Think of it as a mission, the older Gailsone adds, “a sexy mission.” As expected, the date explodes in a burst of random violence. Which, as it turns out, is appropriate foreplay for a couple of young terrorists in love. [Review first published 05.17.14.]

CatgirlThere’s no question that “Catgirl: Heat of the Night” (By J.K. Waylon / First Printing: April 2013) is aimed directly at Catwoman fetishists and superhero horn dogs. That’s no surprise—people get turned on by all sorts of things, after all. But what surprises us is how well superhero tropes mesh with erotic fiction. It’s like William Moulton Marston and Fredric Wertham were right all along. There’s something tantalizingly illicit about superheroes, sidekicks, secret identities, and catsuits (especially catsuits). Yes, superheroes are for kids. But they’re also for adults who understand metaphor and subtext. In this case, former Olympic gymnast, Morgan Miles (aka Catgirl) is learning how to be a superhero from her mentor, Midnight Avenger. But like all sidekicks, she yearns to patrol the city by herself. Problems arise one night when she stumbles upon a burglary with no backup. Morgan’s strong like an Amazon princess, but the criminals soon have her subdued and begging for sexual release. That’s the way things go in Synne City. Give ’em an inch and “they’ll bang your butt all night long.” [Review first published 05.17.14.]

BlackbirdUp until this point, Alice Gailsone and her adoptive niece Allison have been the main focus of author Casey Glanders’ lively superhero serial. The Gailsones are former high-level terrorists who are struggling to reinvent themselves as clean living superheroes. There are a handful of other interesting characters in the cast, however. One such character is Victoria Green, aka Blackbird. She is the super efficient law enforcement operative who’s been butting heads with the Gailsone pair from the very beginning. “Blackbird’s Song” (First Printing: April 2014) lets readers see how Green overcame adversity at an early age to become a special agent for the FBI and eventually rise to superhero status in the Collective Good. Like the song says, all her life she was only waiting for her moment to arise. [Review first published 06.14.14.]

fire_rama1Alice Gailsone finds herself in a sticky situation in her latest Purge mission (“The Impossible Door” / By Casey Glanders / First Printing: April 2014). Her employer wants access to a magical gateway linking multiple realties. This “door” is the Holy Grail of magic—more powerful than the Staff of Black, and more incredible than the Eyes of Perseus. Unfortunately, Gailsone also takes orders from a spiritual magistrate who has other plans for this mythical passageway. Enlisting the help of a famous superhero named Miss Major, Gailsone is able to complete her assignment and satisfy both constituencies. For her troubles she gets a dollop of soft-serve ice cream and a bottle of orange soda (and a pay raise). Plus: she makes an unexpected friend. As it turns out, nothing is impossible. [Review first published 06.14.14.]

ConundrumA monster made of sentient garbage is destroying Lower Manhattan. In Cairo, the Sphinx is rampaging across the landscape. In Arizona, an army of Apache ghost warriors has descended upon Sedona. Someone in Mexico is trying to raise Quetzalcoatl by sacrificing virginal eco-tourists. And a lava-demon is terrorizing the island of Maui. All this carnage is the result of a supernut who calls himself the Prehistorian (“The Eternity Conundrum” / By Stephen T. Brophy / First Printing: July 2014). He’s bringing back all the ancient immortal gods from beyond time to rewrite reality. Henchman Duke LaRue (aka HandCannon, last seen in the author’s debut novel, The Villain’s Sidekick) has signed on to help the Prehistorian achieve his nihilistic wish, but he doesn’t seem to be concerned that the world may be on the verge of collapsing. As he says, “As long as the money spends and civilization ends, count me in.” LaRue changes his tune, however, when he gets an unexpected phone call from his wife. Suddenly he has a reason to change sides and team up with the good guys. But don’t let it get around. Saving the world could totally ruin his reputation. [Review first published 09.08.14.]

GhostRiderGN01We’ve been reading (and enjoying) the “All New” adventures of Ghost Rider (Engines of Vengeance / First Printing: October 2014 / ISBN: 9780785154556). Author Felipe Smith is a unique talent who might be the most interesting creator currently working in mainstream comics. As an auteur he emerged from the dreadful OEL (Original English Language) manga movement. But he quickly redeemed himself when he moved to Tokyo to work for Kodansha as an honest-to-goodness mangaka. Unlike David Mazzucchelli, Paul Pope, and Takeshi Miyazawa (three artists we like very much as well), Smith was actually published during his time in Japan. Gold star emoji for him.

Smith is an incredible artist so it’s slightly disappointing that he’s “only” writing the new Ghost Rider comic book. But we have a feeling he’s providing detailed page layouts and thumbnails because artist Tradd Moore is doing a pretty good Felipe Smith imitation. The end result is totally weird in a good way. Smith’s comics always feature a jumble of influences and they inevitably spring fully formed from his hyperactive id. Ghost Rider, we’re happy to see, contains a small spark of his eccentric genius. For a better idea of Smith’s full talent, however, we recommend his manga series, Peepo Choo. It’s already been translated and released in the U.S., so it’s easy to track down. [Review first published 10.04.14.]

URWe first discovered artist Eric Haven back in the early ’90s. His three-issue series Angryman was an amazing absurdist scramble of Jack Kirby and Werner Herzog (if you can imagine such a thing). Since that time we’ve kept a casual eye on Haven’s erratic output. UR, his latest book (First Printing: October 2014 / ISBN: 9781935233305), is a compilation of previously published work including his “Race Murdock” strips from The Believer. It’s nice to see Haven is still channeling Kirby (along with Steve Ditko, Charles Burns, Chester Brown, and Chris Ware). And it’s also nice to see that he hasn’t lost his zing after all these years. In one strip, Race Murdock replaces his head with a “shiny new robot head.” Now infinitely smarter, he makes his fortune in the stock market, drives fast cars, and enjoys the company of beautiful women. “Race Murdock,” says Haven, “had finally found happiness.” Too bad penis cancer would get him in the end… [Review first published 11.01.14.]

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