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.]

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