Archive for August, 2013

Rook’s Gambit


The Red Rook by Fritz Freiheit

This is the first sequel to Freiheit’s fun superhero novel “Dispensing Justice,” which was previously reviewed here. The new book switches the focus from Michael Gurick, the super-genius teen techno-hero called the Dispenser, to his best friend Penny Riggs-Armstrong, who’s superstrong and indestructible, but very resistant to her superhero mom’s beliefs that she’s ready to put on the cape and cowl herself. Penny prefers to operate as Michael’s tactical coordinator, advising him by radio, as a way to demonstrate her intelligence over brute strength.

Mixed into all of this is their friend Kimball Kinnison, a telepath who fights crime as Lensark; Penny’s twin siblings, Andy and Achilles, who are much too strong and much too rambunctious; and Cleo Fox, Michael’s girlfriend and the daughter of another superhero, who has unusual sensory powers of her own.

Life is running fairly normally — or at least as normally as things get for teenaged superheroes — until they’re all suddenly targeted by renegade killer androids. Robotic technology is pretty advanced in this alternate-history 1980s setting, so there are actually quite a few androids around — some of them very human-looking, some not. After several destructive attacks and the revelation that the notorious assassin Kill Switch has been hired to kill a politician, Penny and her friends will have to take on a team of supervillains and invade a deadly flying fortress. Can they prove themselves as true heroes and save the day?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Much like the first book, there are a lot of excellently drawn characters and dialogue, and a wonderful plot. Penny is an excellent protagonist — probably a better one than Michael was in the first book, ’cause Penny has a lot more common sense and charisma than Michael did.

And much like the first one, you may get freaked out about the length of this one. By my count, it runs almost 400 pages and over 120 chapters. But those chapters are short, and the reading goes really, really fast. You can zip through this one in just a few days, and you’ll love every minute of the ride.

If I’ve got a criticism, it’s that the early parts of the story are dominated by flashbacks, including retelling the climax of the previous novel from Penny’s point-of-view, along with some lengthy historical lessons. It makes it a little hard to get into the story when we spend so much time with stuff that’s already happened.

But aside from that, it’s a rollicking, exciting story, with a ton of grand action sequences (the androids’ attack on the school is particularly great), fantastic humor, and much, much more.

If you like superhero novels — and I hope I’ve trained y’all well enough that you do — you’ll definitely want to pick this one up.

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Superheroes in Verse


Flying Higher: An Anthology of Superhero Poetry, edited by Shira Lipkin and Michael Damian Thomas

This collection apparently sprang from a writing challenge among some friends to write poetry about superheroes, which is a sub-genre you don’t hear of very often. There’s horror poetry and science fiction poetry and all kinds of other poetry, but this is just about the first time I’ve ever heard of superhero poetry. I never even imagined such a thing could be, and I write about superheroes an awful lot.

So here we are — a collection of poetry about superheroes, some long and profound, some short and silly, some villanelles, some haiku, some limericks, some song parodies, some blank verse. We’ve got some that focus on established characters, and some that are about independent or generic heroes or villains.

I have a ton of favorites in this one, such as:

  • Erik Amundsen’s amazing “Said Gorilla Grodd, to God…” which posits the megalomaniacal gorilla decrying his failures to the almighty;
  • Lisa Bradley’s “Riveted,” about Rosie the Riveter and how her idealized image contrasted with the author’s life;
  • Torrey Stenmark’s “Pantone 032,” which ponders what might be the favorite color of the superhero;
  • Lisa Nohealani Morton’s “Supervillanelle,” which takes a look at a supervillain’s monologue through the lens of the villanelle;
  • Lynne M. Thomas’ untitled poem about Black Canary;
  • Emily Wagner’s “Invisible,” which lets Susan Richards vent about her powers and her life;
  • Michael Damian Thomas’s wonderful “Hawkguy,” which takes the current “Hawkeye” series as its inspiration;
  • Laura McCullough’s “The Scarlet Witch at Rest,” which takes a look at Wanda Maximoff’s private life;
  • Mike Allen’s “Darksein the Diabolic Plots His Comeback from Beyond the Grave,” which lets a supervillain rant about the indignity of being killed off for the sake of sales;
  • Stefan Krzywicki’s untitled poem focusing on life, death, and rebirth as a superhero;
  • John O’Connor’s “Rocket’s Red Glare,” about Rocket Raccoon;
  • Steven Marsh’s beautifully titled “You! I Thought You Were Dead!” about the joy of finding that one perfectly imperfect moment;
  • C.S.E. Cooney’s “Bless Us, Nellie Bly, Saint of the Secular Upstarts,” about the once-famous reporter who performed her own superhuman feats;
  • and Mary Anne Mohanraj’s “Princess of Gemworld,” which focuses on the secret tragedy of Amethyst’s existence.

And of course, plenty of others besides. I could almost list all of them, except then I’d just be listing the table of contents, and no one needs that.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I love the complete unexpected surprise of this. I really never considered the idea of writing poetry — serious poetry — about superheroes. It still seems like an odd idea, and I’m not sure I could ever manage to do it myself. But I’m glad all these poets managed to wrap their brains around the concept so well.

The variety of poems is very good, with serious works side by side with less serious ones, along with enthusiastic geekery, poets who are entirely ambivalent about superheroes, tributes to comics, films, and more than one real-life hero. There’s something here for everyone.

Oh, and did I maybe forget to mention that it’s free? Because the entire book is free. Trust me — it’s good enough for you to pay money for, so you definitely better pick it up when it won’t cost you a dime.

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Friday Night Fights: Rhino Rampage!

Well now, lads and lassies, if we’re going into another weekend, I think we’re going to want to start things off right, don’t you think? No, that doesn’t mean you get to start your weekend with a glass of warm milk or a half-dozen fiber pills or a wild evening of darning your socks. That means we’re going to start things off with… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s big fight comes to us from October 2010’s Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes #5 by Paul Tobin, the always awesome Chris Cross, and Rick Ketcham. Captain America has traveled to a small town stuffed full of HYDRA agents to help the Rhino, of all people, rescue an adorable baby rhinoceros. Hey, what happens when the Rhino fights a truck?





That should be your cue, lads and lassies, to head out, get your horn on, and truck things up this weekend.

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Crystal Light


Atomic Robo and the Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur #2

Atomic Robo and a small team of his Action Scientists are trapped deep underground, captured by the diabolical and loony Dr. Dinosaur, utilizing his beloved crystals to enslave an assortment of rock monsters. Dr. D plans to dump them all into a lava pit, just for the sake of being a crazy dinosaur, then blow up a giant nuclear weapon that he believes will dial time backwards to the age of the dinosaurs. But Robo manages to bluff him into thinking he’s stolen a vital component of his bomb, allowing the Action Scientists to make an escape, no matter how brief. Meanwhile, Majestic-12 is planning on shutting down Tesladyne permanently.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It should be enough for me to say “It’s Atomic Robo and Dr. Dinosaur,” but too many of you lunatics aren’t reading this. So basically, it’s hilariously written, there’s fantastic art, great action and dialogue and characterization, intrigue, suspense, cleverness… and it’s got Atomic Robo and Dr. Dinosaur running around the Hollow Earth. If you’re still not reading this brilliant series, you probably only read crap from Rob Liefeld and Greg Land.


The Movement #4

The cops of Coral City are getting ready to execute Katharsis, and the Movement and their allies invade the police department to get her back. And better than that, we finally learn more about the backstories of most of our main characters.

Verdict: Thumbs up. This book has had trouble finding its legs, but it definitely helps to learn more about who our heroes are and what makes them interesting. It’s too bad we had to wait four issues for this, but getting this out of the way is a good way for the comic to start becoming more interesting.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • DC Comics is run by stupid people if they think they can survive by blowing off great artists because they won’t write for the Dumb White Manchild market.
  • And the rot has reached a lot of prominent creators, who all seem to be afraid of writing for anyone but the Dumb White Manchild market.
  • And the comic creators who aren’t complete cowards seem to be asshole sociopaths.
  • Things in the comics biz have definitely gotten bad when you compare them to psycho clowns — and realize you’ve insulted the clowns.

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Bring Me the Head of Jack Kirby!


Do Anything, Vol. 1: Jack Kirby Ripped my Flesh by Warren Ellis

By now, I think we’re all aware that Warren Ellis, in addition to being a whiz-bang comics writer, is a heck of a prose stylist, too, right? I suspect we’ve read enough columns and op-eds and blog posts to recognize that he writes big, audacious, funny, offensive, brilliant stuff. And this is probably my favorite thing he’s ever written.

Ellis writes (wrote? will write?) a (semi-)regular column at Bleeding Cool called “Do Anything,” and this is the collection of a large chunk of those columns, edited, condensed down, and refined. It boils down to less than 50 pages, and it retails for six bucks, and this is why you want it in your life.

Ellis takes, as the central image that his essays are built around, the idea that he has on his desk the robot head of Jack Kirby, chewing on his cigars, periodically spitting out some bit of wisdom, and sometimes merging its consciousness with Phillip K. Dick or architect Philippe Druillet or some other artist. And that gives him the opportunity to discuss comics… and everything else in the universe.

From Jack Kirby, Ellis ranges over to the visual influences of “Star Wars,” musician Anthony Braxton, Frank Zappa, Archie Goodwin, Spain Rodriguez, Alex Toth, Brian Eno, Alan Moore, Robert Fripp, David Bowie, Takashi Miike, Jim Steranko, and so very many more.

In the midst of a discussion about DC having another artist draw Superman’s face in Kirby’s Fourth World comics, Ellis ponders how other artists, creators, and musicians would draw Superman’s head — Robert Crumb, Shary Flenniken, John Lennon, Emory Douglass of the Black Panthers, and Spain Rodriguez. He wonders what comics would be like if Kirby’s influence on popular culture would’ve been strong enough to bring other artists and intellectuals into the industry. He shows how Kirby influenced art and culture, how he interacted with people you never thought he interacted with, how he remade comics and molded history in both vast and mundane ways.

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is a surprisingly thin book — again, less than 50 pages, you can read it in a day if you work at it, or spread it out over a few days if you wanna take your time — but for such a small book, it’s absolutely packed to the gills with info and opinion and analysis and so dadgum much great stuff.

You should read this with Wikipedia open on your computer. You’ll need it to look up all the names Ellis drops — there are a bunch of artists, both comics and otherwise, who will be unfamiliar to you, and you’ll probably want to get acquainted with them.

Don’t know that there’s much more I can say about this one. Again, it’s just six dollars, it’s completely stuffed with way, way more than six dollars’ worth of amazing material, and you should go pick it up.

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Robots and Cheerleaders and School Funding!


Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

Here’s a nice, thick, but light-hearted graphic novel written by Prudence Shen and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks.

Our lead character is Charlie, the captain of the high school basketball team, whose main interests outside of basketball involve not having terrible things happen to him. Unfortunately, he’s stuck between two opposing forces — his best friend Nate (and his cohorts in the robotics club) and his ex-girlfriend Holly (and her fellow cheerleaders). See, the robotics club wants funding to attend a robotics competition, and the cheerleaders want funding for new uniforms — and there’s not enough funding for both.

So Nate decides to run for student body president, and in retaliation, the cheerleaders register Charlie as a candidate, too. And from there, the campaign gets really ugly really fast, as both sides unleash a string of dirty tricks, most of which end up humiliating Charlie. After both sides end up defacing the football field, the principal declares that neither the robotics club nor the cheerleaders are going to get the funding they want. So what happens now? Both sides are going to have to team up to get the funding they want — with deadly robot warriors!

Wait, so it turns into a science fiction epic? No, not really, though the book jacket does kinda leave that impression. With the cheerleaders offering up some money to help out, the robotics club converts their robot — designed to compete in a standard autonomous robotics competition to demonstrate that the team is good at engineering and programming — into a fighting robot, designed to compete in remote-controlled robot fighting leagues, which have much different requirements. Like built-in chainsaws. Can Charlie, Nate, the robotics club, and the cheerleaders prevail? Can they get the funding they need to complete their projects? Can the survive the repercussions of ditching their families on Thanksgiving Day?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a great, fun little story. It’s the type of thing that looks kinda light and airy — oh, just a high school story. But there’s also action, high drama, comedy, angst, conflict — and robots. Fighting robots! They could make this a movie, and it’d probably make scads of money.

The characterization is great, too. Sad sack Charlie, arrogant Nate, cold, steely Holly (the other cheerleaders take their cues from her), passionate, robot-loving Joanna, the pervy, hilarious twins, and even Charlie’s camping-obsessed father. Again, you put these people in a movie, and it’d be hilarious.

A lot of what I love about this book is how much it does seem like a movie. I kinda get the impression that Shen originally planned to make this a screenplay before opting to go the graphic novel route. I could be wrong, of course — but either way, there’s a great eye here for fast-moving, kinetic storytelling. And if I’m the first person to ever think of making this into a movie, and it eventually does hit the big screen, I want a percentage on points.

And of course, there’s the art. We’ve talked before about how awesome Faith Erin Hicks is, right? Awesome, charismatic, emotive artwork. She’s great at showing action, great at showing emotions, great at showing big, dramatic moments. She’s a fantastic cartoonist, and we should thank our lucky stars she’s getting as much work as she is.

This comic was a blast. Go pick it up.

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Friday Night Fights: Busted Banshee!

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, various and sundry, it’s been a rough week, and we’re looking at a too-short weekend. It’s a bad situation, we all know this — just a couple days off, to make up for what they did to us for the past five days? There is injustice there, my friends. But we gotta make the best of it, and the only way I know of to really get the weekend started the right way is with gratuitous violence, preferably delivered in convenient comic book form. Please put your hands together for… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes to us from March 1997’s Generation X #25 by Scott Lobdell, Chris Bachalo, Scott Hanna, and Al Vey. Black Tom Cassidy has kidnapped the kids in Generation X and is using some form of mind control — by growing his woody fingers into her brain — to force Emma Frost to fight Banshee. How’s that gonna turn out?








That’ll do it for us this week. See youse mugs on Monday.

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The Disappointments

I had high hopes for every single comic I got this week, and every single one of them let me down. Here’s the damage.


Batman Inc. #13

The final issue of Grant Morrison’s multi-year Batman epic, this one splits its story between Bruce Wayne, beat like a rented mule and arrested for various crimes, being interrogated by Commissioner Gordon, and Batman’s final duel against Talia, leader of Leviathan. Wayne tells Gordon how the murder of his parents left a hole in his heart and how he filled the hole with… something else. And Talia poisons Batman to get a device that will let her destroy cities with a new kind of energy — only to be betrayed by Jason Todd and killed by… someone else. Can Batman continue on, or is his time over?

Verdict: Thumbs down. This one got a lot of hype, and a lot of people who just knee-jerk loved it. I didn’t think it lived up to the hype. The art’s gorgeous, yes. I was pretty satisfied with Wayne’s talk with Jim Gordon. But the rest of it was predictable and pedestrian. Sorry, I wanted to like it, but I just couldn’t do it.


FF #10

Dr. Doom wants the aged, time-traveled Johnny Storm dead, and he’s ordered the blackmailed Alex Power to commit the crime. So he asks Ahura, Tong, Onome, and Bentley-23 is they know anyone who’s ever killed someone. Sure, says Ahura, let’s go talk to my uncle Maximus. And Maximus plays a game of 20 Questions with them to get them to set him free. Meanwhile, Ant-Man, Medusa, She-Hulk, and Darla Deering, along with Leech and Artie, take Tom Brevoort, Matt Fraction, and Michael Allred on a tour in the microverse that ends with everyone getting stalked by a miniaturized giant tiger.

Verdict: Thumbs down. Comic creators showing up as guest stars in Fantastic Four comics are a long-running tradition — Stan and Jack used to meet the original FF all the time. But this time is just plain uninspired — the creators were completely unneeded. And the bit with the genius kids getting completely played by Maximus was really just not very interesting. Sorry, I wanted to like it, but I just couldn’t do it.


Captain Marvel #14

Again, it’s a crossover with “Avengers Assemble,” so we miss about half the story — but I can’t actually tell the difference this time. Anyway, an old Kree supervillain named Yon-Rogg has it in for Carol Danvers and has a whole bunch of robotic Kree sentries converging on NYC. He’s somehow using the robots and his close proximity to Captain Marvel — and a piece of himself that he’s somehow implanted into her brain, which is what’s been causing all her medical difficulties — to materialize an ancient Kree city, which he’s going to use to crush the Big Apple. So she flies into space and dies to shut down the power source and save the city.

Verdict: Thumbs down. Man, it just made so little sense. And she’s not even going to stay dead a whole issue, ’cause we already know she’ll be back in a month, doing some kind of transformation into her old Binary identity. Sorry, I wanted to like it, but I just couldn’t do it.


Daredevil #29

Nate Hackett, former childhood bully of Matt Murdock, on trial for crimes supposedly committed as a member of the Sons of the Serpent, has just been shot… by the trial judge. He’s a member of the Sons, too, as is the bailiff, the prosecuting attorney, several cops — half the folks in the courthouse are members of the Sons of the Serpent. Can Daredevil save Nate, save the innocent paramedic who’s been picked as the fall guy, save everyone else in the courthouse?

Verdict: Thumbs down. I got closest to liking this one, but it just went past my ability to take seriously. If so many cops, judges, and civil servants were secret members of a racist supervillain conspiracy, Nate and Matt and half the superheroes in New York would’ve been taken out by snipers ages ago. Sorry, I wanted to like it, but I just couldn’t do it.


X-Men #3

While most of the team travels to Budapest pursuing Arkea (in the body of Karima Shapandar), Kitty Pryde stays home to deal with an attack on the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning by Arkea’s drones. Bling ends up doing most of the work — and seems vaguely ominous while doing it, though we have no real idea why. Meanwhile, the team pursuing Arkea tracks her to a hospital, where they’re attacked by a bunch of cyber-enhanced patients who’ve been possessed by Arkea. They somehow bluff their way into a victory and even get Karima back alive and more-or-less intact mentally.

Verdict: Thumbs down. I loved the art, but the rest of it? It was all just too abrupt. Fighting against an enemy who scared the crap out of Sublime, who planned to kill every living creature on the planet, and they run her off so quickly, with such a small team? It was too anticlimactic. Sorry, I wanted to like it, but I just couldn’t do it.

Today’s Cool Links:

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