Power to the People

RL SuperHeroesHave you heard the news? Superheroes aren’t just a figment of your amazing fantasy – they’re totally real. And if you’re living in a large metropolitan area like New York, Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, or Salt Lake City, these real life super heroes are fighting crime and keeping the streets safe for law-abiding citizens like yourself.

In her latest book, reporter Nadia Fezzani takes a deep dive into the “Real Life Super Hero” movement and asks some tough questions. For instance, what motivates a person to dress up and go looking for danger? Were they crazy? Were they uniquely brave? The results of her hero’s journey might surprise you.

Even though Phoenix Jones in Seattle uses his mixed martial arts skills to pummel rowdy scofflaws (check out YouTube if you want to see him in action), most of these superheroes don’t exactly “fight crime.” They help their communities with less aggressive pursuits. They work with disabled children, give food to the homeless, and counsel women in abusive relationships. Geist, for example, a hero who sports a cowboy-like outfit, travels around the country lending a hand to people in disaster areas. “I fight for the forgotten,” he tells Fezzani.

You’d think superheroes such as Thanatos, Purple Reign, Nihilist, and Mr. Xtreme would be applauded for their commitment to civic service. After all, hospitals, churches, animal shelters, and recycling centers need all the volunteer help they can get. But that’s not necessarily the case.

As it turns out, dressing in flamboyant costumes and carrying expandable stun batons is slightly controversial. Go figure. “Ninety-nine percent of these guys are ridiculous,” says the Baroness, a concerned citizen from Salt Lake City. “They’re delusional. If you’re going to call yourself a superhero, you better damn well act like one.”

The Baroness is referring to all the superhero wannabes who get their inspiration from the movie Kick-Ass. Phoenix Jones, for example, has gotten in trouble with the Seattle police because of his confrontational attitude, and a particular superhero from the Bay Area once infamously traded blows with the Oakland police. These heroes (and many others) have polarized the RLSH community.

To her credit, Fezzani doesn’t shy away from the controversial elements of being a real life super hero. In the end, however, it’s easy to see where her heart lies (just wait until you read the last sentence of her book, it’s a humdinger). She admits they’re an eccentric bunch of do-gooders, but she feels they have the potential to inspire people.

To emphasize her point, she quotes a superhero called Thanatos from Vancouver. “The world can be a nasty place,” he says, “but I know in my heart that one person can make a difference. If you look at history, it’s always been one person who’s started something big – Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus, Buddha, Albert Einstein. All of them made this world a better place to live.”

[Real Life Super Heroes / By Nadia Fezzani / First Printing: October 2017 / ISBN: 9781459739154]

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Posted in Published in 2017 | Tagged ,

Big Ol’ Jet Airliner

MM Phantom JetlinerIn 1942, Mighty Mouse fought mobsters, rescued damsels in distress, and punched erupting volcanoes. Like Superman, he was strong and wore a colorful superhero costume. Unlike Superman (who could only leap tall buildings at the time), Mighty Mouse streaked across the sky like a comet.

The character was conceived as a Superman spoof and was known as Super Mouse for a brief time in the very beginning. Even in 1981 when this novel was published, author Horace J. Elias used the pronoun “Super Mouse” freely. There’s no arguing that Mighty Mouse was rodentia progeny of Superman. But we confess – given the choice between the two iconic heroes, we’d pick Mighty Mouse every time.

Mighty Mouse and the Phantom Jetliner was one of three novels published to supplement a short-lived television show called The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckle (the other two books included Mighty Mouse and the Moon Men and Mighty Mouse Saves the Spaceship). Author Elias was a busy guy during the ’70s. He penned a raft of prose novels featuring the Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, Yogi Bear, Magilla Gorilla, Mister Magoo, Huckleberry Hound, and Johnny Quest. He was a lucky duck who found a way to pay his mortgage by writing books based on cartoon characters. Nice work if you can get it.

The Phantom Jetliner begins when Mighty Mouse gets a panicked call from the head of the Mouse Bureau of Investigations. Some sort of invisible aircraft was harassing commercial jet airliners. Fifteen pilots had narrowly escaped midair collisions, and the M.B.I. was in a tizzy. “I will do everything I can to help you get to the bottom of this mystery,” said Mighty Mouse.

Surprisingly (or maybe not), Mighty Mouse doesn’t rely on his mighty superpowers to solve the case. Instead, he spends a big chunk of the novel studying pilot logs, mapping flight patterns, and calculating collision angles. We’re pretty sure Superman never sat down with field reports and a calculator to defeat Brainiac.

One hundred pages later, Mighty Mouse discovers that his archenemy Oilcan Harry is responsible for all the fuss. The black cat nutball was trying to bait Mighty Mouse into a fight by flying around in an invisible jet. His cat-and-mouse game failed spectacularly.

“I don’t think we’ll be hearing from Oilcan Harry again,” Mighty Mouse told the chief of the M.B.I. “I flew his plane out to sea and then set the automatic pilot in a circular pattern. The plane should continue to fly in circles until it runs out of fuel.”

The G-mouse wasn’t convinced, however. “Do you think there’s any chance at all that he could be rescued and resume his villainous career?” he asked.

“I seriously doubt that,” replied the super mouse with a big, satisfied grin on his face. “Who could find the plane? It’s invisible!”

[Mighty Mouse and the Phantom Jetliner / By Horace J. Elias / First Printing: 1981]

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Unidentified Assailant in Black

NightwalkerBruce Wayne was a senior in high school at the beginning of Batman: Nightwalker. In his spare time he liked to read mystery novels and listen to the police scanner. All things considered, he was just a normal everyday teenage billionaire. Nobody knew what the future held for him.

Don’t be fooled, however. Somewhere buried deep inside his batling brain, Bruce was already working out the logistics of becoming a caped crusader. There was no doubt about it, the road to Detective Comics #27 was indelibly etched in stone the moment he witnessed his parents being murdered in Crime Alley.

Author Marie Lu begins her novel on the night of Bruce Wayne’s eighteenth birthday. Driving home after the party he witnesses a crime in progress and gets involved in a high-speed car chase. Naturally, things don’t go well for the nascent crimefighter. He’s busted for interfering with a crime scene, disobeying a police officer’s orders, and obstruction of justice. His sentence: community service at Arkham Asylum cleaning toilets and mopping floors.

During his time at Arkham, Bruce starts talking to a young and cute internee named Madeleine Wallace (her nickname was “Mads,” so you know she belonged in a mental institution). She was accused of three recent murders and was the youngest inmate in the history of Arkham Asylum. Like Catwoman, Madeleine was “a girl who seemed to exist in a realm between black and white, who seemed like a force of evil, then of good, and then everything in between.”

While Bruce was falling in love with her (“God, she was frighteningly pretty,” he swooned), Madeleine was ensnaring him in her deadly web. She was working with a terrorist group called the Nightwalkers that were waging a war against the super elite. And in Gotham City, nobody was more “super elite” than Bruce Wayne.

This was Bruce’s first tour of Arkham Asylum. In years to come, his connection to the institution would become more familiar and further complicated. Author Lu makes a case that Bruce found common ground with the asylum’s lunatics immediately. He was one of them, she says. In fact, her description of Arkham could easily substitute as a description of Batman during his twilight years. “Like a creature come alive in the night, Arkham Asylum was all gnarled limbs and sharp shadows, an illusion around every corner.”

Even beyond all the Arkham stuff, there was a lot of foreshadowing in this book. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. All Batman prequels were loaded with knowing winks and nods. Writers had fun with it, and readers unquestionably liked it too. We especially enjoyed the moments involving the first Batmobile (an Aston Martin) and all the scenes featuring Bruce wearing his beta version of the Batsuit.

Built by Lucius Fox, the experimental exosuit was meant to boost physical prowess. Although it was an impressive piece of tech, it wasn’t quite ready for prime time. There wasn’t a utility belt for instance. Bruce had to stash all his gadgets in his school backpack. In addition, the suit didn’t mimic any proprietary design. During Bruce’s first nighttime vigil, the police simply described him as an “unidentified assailant in black.”

By donning the Batsuit for the first time, Bruce finally caught a glimpse of his crimefighting future. The world was full of liars, traitors, thieves, and terror organizations like the Nightwalkers, but there were good people in the world too. “Gotham City was a place worth protecting,” he said at the end of the novel. Like it or not, it was his home.

[Batman: Nightwalker / By Marie Lu / First Printing: January 2018 / ISBN: 9780399549786]

Posted in Marvel/DC, Published in 2018 | Tagged , ,

Young Man Blues

SuperteamLike Dick Grayson, Vincent Sawyer grew up as a superhero’s sidekick. But at 16 he wanted to say goodbye to his Batman-like mentor Black Harrier and fight crime solo. It was time for him to establish his own identity. He figured, if Nightwing could do it, so could Red Raptor. For further details, see our review of Sidekick, the first book in the series (here).

Now at 17, Sawyer was looking to form a New Teen Titans-like group. Inexplicably he wanted to trade one interdependent relationship for another. If he wanted to be the star of his own comic book series, he wasn’t doing a very good job of it. Branding experts agree: stay on point.

But there was one significant difference. With the Resistors (cq) he would be the leader. No more Batman and Robin stuff. Sawyer would interview and audition candidates for his new superteam. He would supply the secret lair and the tech – and he would set the agenda too. That was his hope, anyway.

Naturally there were problems along the way. By using social media (always a bad idea), Sawyer attracted an odd bunch of applicants with questionable talents (like a not-quite master of kung fu). Later, when the charter members were finally chosen, discipline and training became a pressing issue. And during its first official mission, the Resistors (including Sawyer along with Osprey, Bash, Neith, and Pace) were busted for not having superhero permits. The Resistors Initiative was definitely a work in progress.

All things considered, we were a tad disappointed with Superteam – especially because Christopher Valin’s first novel was so dang good. Conflicts resolved themselves in an unfettered manner, and big revelations didn’t provide a big bang. For some odd reason, drama and narrative tension were askew throughout the entire book.

But there were many things we liked about this second Red Raptor outing. Mostly we were happy that Sawyer’s spunky attitude hadn’t softened over the past year. He wasn’t a bad guy by any means. He was just suffering from a Mose Allison ailment called “Young Man Blues.” As a kid trying to make his way in life, Sawyer was a lot like Peter Parker the Boy Wonder. But he was also like the loud and somewhat annoying Boy Wonder from the Teen Titans Go! television show. Like this sequel, Vincent Sawyer was simply experiencing a little thing called growing pains.

[Superteam: The Red Raptor Files – Part 2 / By Christopher J. Valin / First Printing: September 2017 / ISBN: 9781976332357]

Posted in Published in 2017 | Tagged , ,

One Woman Army Corps

Sienna McKnightSienna McKnight was born in the harsh desert of Central Asia. She was, says author R.K. Syrus, “An orphan girl born in blood with the birthright of pain and scars.” Nothing in life would be easy for her.

Now a full bird Colonel in the U.S. Army, McKnight’s personal mission was to return to the wasteland of Khorasan and punish her mother’s murderer and find out what happened to her father. The circumstances surrounding her birth and the ensuing years spent on a military base in North Carolina were improbable. But what came before seemed inescapable. No one could stop Col. McKnight from returning to the badlands of Asia. She was looking for a slice of justice with a big scoop of no mercy.

Along for the ride were a scruffy battle-tested ops team known as the Dogs. These howling commandos were basically grown-up versions of the kids in high school who dressed in black and barked at the moon. Now as sanctioned military personnel, they carried licenses to kill.

The Dogs were a tough bunch all right, but just in case they needed a little backup, McKnight “borrowed” a piece of top-secret Army tech known as RAPTEK. The self-contained weapons system was infused with a mysterious alien power source, and McKnight knew it would transform her into a Kirby-esque O.W.A.C.

What she didn’t know, however, was that the “Railgun: Ansible Powered Test Kit” could trigger ancient powers hidden deep inside of her. Combined with the alien technology, McKnight’s inner wraith roiled with a surge of unprecedented havoc.

The story of Sienna McKnight’s existential journey first appeared in a comic book back in 2012. For one reason or another, creator Syrus decided to cancel the comic and continue the story in prose format. After reading this novel (the first in a planned 10-volume series), we think he made the right choice.

Syrus ably captures McKnight’s situation by mixing military science fiction and superhero prose fiction – a genre mash-up that we haven’t seen very often. He’s pretty good at military techno-babble, and he’s especially good with fight sequences. For example, his hero escapes from a Khorasan cellblock by overcoming her captives in a highly unusual way, and she later destroys the surrounding village (along with a surface-to-air missile launcher) by throwing stones (!) and creating shockwaves.

And lastly, for those of you who continually dismiss superhero prose fiction as inferior to comic books, we ask: What’s more visual than your imagination? Why let an illustrator define your optics? In our opinion, very few comic book creators could have captured McKnight’s surreal pre-birth experience in Chapter 22 any better than Syrus did here. There’s no reason a New Praetorians adventure can’t be as explosive and colorful in prose format than any other format.

[Sienna McKnight: New Praetorians 1 / By R.K. Syrus / First Printing: July 2017 / ISBN: 9781910890066]

Posted in Published in 2017 | Tagged , ,

Be Your Own Bloom

CosplayEveryone is a nerd about something, says author Cecil Castellucci in her latest novel. And we can attest to that. At various times over the years we’ve been inordinately preoccupied with a sundry of things. Rat Fink, Ricky Nelson, Angela Mao, RC Cola – the list goes on and on. Comic books, especially, have been a life-long obsession.

Castellucci’s novel will undoubtedly appeal to everyone ensconced in a Comic-Con-like bubble. The author mentions “free comic book day” in the first sentence of the book, and goes on to joyously name check a string of nerd icons such as B’Elanna Torres (Star Trek: Voyager), Izabel (Saga), and Shade, the Changing Girl.

These days, being a nerd is mainstream with hard-core edges. As proof, Castellucci casts her writerly gaze toward a highly enthusiastic sub-nerd niche. Don’t Cosplay with My Heart is the story of a high school girl named Edan who copes with a significant family crisis by dressing up like Gargantua, her favorite comic book character (“I need to be more like her and less like me,” she says at one point). Cosplay also gives Edan the wherewithal to navigate tricky social situations and even trickier romantic entanglements.

Sadly, nerd culture isn’t all Hello Kitty hugs and all-night LARPing parties. Sexism, bullying, and boorish behavior continue to plague the community like a “Dutch Oven” (look it up). To her credit, Castellucci doesn’t turn a blind eye to these lingering issues.

In particular, there’s a geek chorus of boys who continually harass and disrespect Edan throughout the book. They question her nerd cred and dismiss her opinions every chance they get. “You’re the girl who pretends to be all cool, but you really aren’t,” says their leader in a novel-ending harangue. “Girls like you … you pretend to be into stuff, learn to talk the talk, hooking up with boys, invading our spaces.” It’s a brutal verbal attack, but we’re betting it mirrors similar #MeToo conversations all women have had at some point in their lives.

Never mind that these nerd bullies aren’t fully formed characters. Castellucci doesn’t seem to care. She’s using broad strokes to make her point. Whether you’re an editor at DC Comics or a member of your high school cosplay club, you need to be respectful and inclusive. Let the girls have their fan fun without being belittled, insulted, ogled, or groped. “Here’s the truth about being a nerd,” says Edan. “You don’t have to be an expert in something, you just have to be passionate. There is no test and no application. If you say you’re a geek, then you’re a geek.”

[Don’t Cosplay with My Heart / By Cecil Castellucci / First Printing; January 2018 / ISBN: 9781338125498]

Posted in Published in 2018 | Tagged ,

Live! In the Link Age: Short Reviews and Interviews of 2017 (Revisited)

krampusAccording to singer Andy Williams, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. But if your name is on the naughty list you’d better watch out. Krampus the Christmas devil might come down your chimney instead of Santa Claus. That’s the premise behind Matthew Phillion’s latest Indestructibles short story (“Krampus in the City: An Indestructibles Holiday Story” / First Printing: December 2016). Krampus has come to town and he’s on the prowl for wicked children to abduct. Now it’s up to Entropy Emily and her ninja ballerina best friend Kate Miller to pull the plug on Krampusnacht. “I don’t think you understand, dude,” says Emily when she comes face to face with the hoary killjoy. “You don’t own Christmas anymore.” She’s right. If Krampus wants to ruin the holiday season, he needs to get in line behind Ebenezer Scrooge, the Grinch, Jack Frost, Oogie Boogie, Mr. Potter, and that unpleasant nutball from Miracle on 34th Street. [Review first published 01.11.17.]

LunaStation29With his telekinetic powers and dashing good looks, Captain Alpha was a popular and awesome superhero. But as boyfriend material, he was a total bust (“How Lady Nightmare Stole Captain Alpha’s Girlfriend” / By Kristen Brand / Available free in the March 2017 issue of Luna Station Quarterly). Poor Sara, she went on one lousy date with the mighty Captain and now she couldn’t get rid of him. How does someone break up with a superhero anyhow? Do you give him a one-way ticket to Apokolips or do you send him packing to Gorilla City? Your options were limited. As luck would have it, Sara was given the opportunity to jettison her “boyfriend” during a home invasion hostage situation. In her opinion, teaming up with a supervillain was preferable to dating a jerky superhero. Says the author: “Sara didn’t know if that said more about her own weird turn-ons or Captain Alpha’s complete and utter failure as a decent human being.” [Review first published 03.28.17.]

FlashFiction OnlineAs her name implied, Invulnerabella was nigh invulnerable (“The Terrible” / By John Wiswell / Available free in the April 2017 issue of Flash Fiction Online). Like Power Girl and Thundra, she was so strong she could take down a rampaging Kraken single-handedly if she wanted to. But as a superhero that wasn’t her main priority. Instead of throwing supervillains in the pokey and throwing away the key, Invulnerabella was more interested in rehabilitating the wayward. She helped Dr. Ogren find a second career as a chemistry teacher. And Male Gaze now ran a YouTube fashion channel. Some villains, however, stubbornly resisted her efforts – like Mercer The Terrible. Inspired by Bill Finger and Rube Goldberg, Mercer tirelessly built elaborate death machines specifically to kill his archenemy. But nothing worked. “I thought you’d be the first to get better,” said Invulnerabella with a sigh. “Not the last.” Maybe it was time the two longtime adversaries sat down for a little tea and empathy. Constructive Psychotherapy might be the answer for both of them. [Review first published 04.25.17.]

HochelagaAs a prisoner of war during WWII, Benoit Kurtz was a lab rat for mad German scientists (“Hochelaga and Sons” / By Claude Lalumière / First Printing: February 2013). When the war ended, he was released, debriefed, and shipped back home to Montreal. That’s when he found out he had every superpower imaginable – superstrength, superspeed, invisibility, telepathy, telekinesis. You name it; he had it. By combining science, torture, and occultism, Nazi scientists had somehow created the first Overman. Instead of being a radical agent for fascism, however, Kurtz was simply a mild-mannered gentleman with a strong commitment to his community. “What he liked to do most was find lost pets,” said the author. “Or get drunk drivers off the road.” Unfortunately, Kurtz wasn’t the only Beyond-Man forged by Nazi weird science. The Hegemony of Hate was still out there causing trouble. And so were Baron Zemo and the Red Skull. Like it or not, the threat of a Übermensch clash was always imminent. When the time came, would the reluctant hero and his two sons be ready? As Jews, would they wield their Nazi-given superpowers or not? The answer, we think, was obvious. To paraphrase the MC5: “Pikuach Nefesh motherfuckers!” [Review first published 09.05.17.]

HolmesLama BookCoverWe’re big fans of 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.

“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 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.” (Find out more about the author at his website (here) and follow him on Twitter @AdamLanceGarcia.) [Post first published 09.26.17.]

Serpents SacrificeTrish Heinrich’s debut novel (Serpent’s Sacrifice / First Printing: September 2017 / ISBN: 9780999066911) is about a young woman who reinvents herself as a superheroine to avenge the death of her aunt. The book has garnered a bevy of enthusiastic reviews on Amazon (plus here and here). We asked Heinrich for a little insight into her newly released novel and her ongoing series.

“I get asked a lot what the inspiration for Serpent’s Sacrifice was because I’m not a big comic book reader, but I’m very much a superhero geek. So, the inspiration came from a song by the geek rock band Kirby Krackle called “Needing a Miracle.” It’s this great song about a superhero that’s in love with a regular person and about how some day, when he’s done being a hero, they can be together, but if she ever needs him all she has to do is look up and he’ll be there. Very romantic and simple. So, originally, Alice was going to be a Lois Lane type of character. Then, while I was making dinner one night, I asked one of the most important questions a writer can ask: ‘What if?’

“What if Alice was a hero too, but without powers? And the rest of the story flowed from there. Though, I will admit, the story looks very different now than it did in the first draft, which was a complete mess!

“One major difference between the original concept and the book now is that in the original outline Marco (aka Shadow Master and one of Alice’s best friends) became the villain. As I wrote it, however, I realized that it didn’t work; maybe because I’d fallen a little in love with Marco.

“The villain was actually one of the hardest characters to nail down. I was having trouble getting a handle on my villain when, one night, I was watching Agent Carter and it hit me who the villain was. I don’t want to ruin it by revealing too much, so I’ll just say that once I knew the sense of injustice the character felt, the rest of the villain really came together.

“When I started writing this book, I couldn’t write a fight scene to save my life. So, the original draft had summaries of fight scenes instead of the actual scenes. While re-writing the original draft, I researched fighting styles that would be appropriate for a shorter woman like Alice, and decided on Brazilian jiu-jitsu. This lead me to Ronda Rousey and women’s mixed martial arts. I have to admit that my research soon turned into a guilty pleasure as I watched hours of footage of MMA fights to better understand BJJ and other styles of fighting. I also bought a book that is meant for BJJ fighters and breaks down each move into simple parts. I studied fight scenes in movies and TV shows and I read some books on the mechanics of writing these scenes. The fight scenes in the book have gotten some praise for being easy to follow but also descriptive enough that you feel the bones and blood. I take that as a huge compliment because I learned how to write those scenes from the ground up.

“What started as a standalone story has now developed into a series, with planned spinoffs. The sequel, Serpent’s Rise, will be available in November in Kindle format, with a novella to follow in January. I’m very excited to delve into this world of superheroes and tell these stories. I hope you’ll join me!” (Find out more about the author at her website (here) and follow her on Twitter @trishheinrich.) [Post first published 10.24.17.]

WhiteRibbonThe White Ribbon Runs the Red Lights (First Printing: November 2017 / ISBN: 9781978398689) is the latest novel by Blake Michael Nelson, and the fifth installment in his ongoing superhero series set in Signal City (earlier volumes include The Adventures of Jack and Miracle Girl, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, Orchid, and Disreputable Persons). He’s also compiled a handy “visitor’s guide” that allows fans and new readers to dig deeper into his ever-expanding oeuvre (get a free digital copy here). We asked Nelson to give us a peek behind the “Signalverse” curtain.

“I’m kind of a traditionalist when it comes to superhero universes – I like big, crazy worlds, full of magic, ancient gods, aliens, super-science, creatures from folklore, impossibly skilled martial artists, parallel worlds, and all the rest of it. Worlds like this give the writer a great deal of freedom, I feel; in my own Signalverse (so-called because most of the action takes place in the superhero metropolis of Signal City), for example, I can tell stories about globe-trotting mercenaries, crime-fighting billionaires, sorcerers, super-powered humans, or entirely ordinary people, and these stories can be as big or as small (scale-wise) as I want them to be.

The White Ribbon Runs the Red Lights is the fifth book in the Signalverse series, and although the stakes eventually get pretty high, it’s not exactly a huge epic – I wanted to tell a smaller, more intimate story this time around, with a smaller cast. I also wanted to write a story starring teenagers, partly because the series hasn’t had any teen protagonists yet, but also because teenage superhero-stories are so full of dramatic possibilities. Self-doubt, alienation, raging hormones, juggling a school life with a superhero career … these kinds of things can be a lot of fun to play around with.

“This series hasn’t really received a great deal of attention, but the books are so much fun to write that I’ve been working on them almost exclusively for the past four or five years. A lot of the fun comes from the world itself; I got a little carried away creating the Signalverse, and I’ve got so many characters to work with now that I can’t imagine I’ll ever run out of story ideas.” (Find out more about Nelson at his website (here) and follow him on Twitter @limitblake.) [Post first published 11.21.17.]

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