Upcoming: FIREFIGHT by Brandon Sanderson (Gollancz)

Sanderson-R2-FirefightUKI rather enjoyed Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheartthe first in the Reckoners series and also the first of the author’s novels that I’ve read. I stumbled across the UK cover for Firefight, the sequel, while researching something else. It’s a rather excellent cover, I think, and will sit very nicely alongside Steelheart and the novella Mitosis. Here’s the synopsis:

They told David it was impossible – that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet, Steelheart – invincible, immortal, unconquerable – is dead. And he died by David’s hand.

Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life more simple. Instead, it only made David realise he has questions. Big ones. And there’s no one in Newcago who can give him the answers he needs.

Babylon Restored, the old borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic, Regalia, David is sure Babylon Restored will lead him to what he needs to find. And while entering another city oppressed by a High Epic despot is a gamble, David’s willing to risk it. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David’s heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic – Firefight. And he’s willing to go on a quest darker, and more dangerous even, than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answers.

Firefight is due to be published in the UK by Gollancz in January 2015. Here are the other two covers:

Sanderson-R-Steelheart&MitosisUK

Guest Post: “Writing in the devastating wake of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” by Jonathan Wood

JonathanWood2To the best of my recollection, the first thing I ever had published was a review of the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. I was ten. I belonged to a local Youth Club that put out a small paper ’zine every month or so. You could write in and volunteer to review movies. I was devotee of the TNMT cartoon, and had been awaiting the release of the movie with growing anticipation for months. I wrote in, and to my shock and delight was selected. I even got free movie tickets. Few ten year olds have known the height s of ecstasy I reached.

This is typically the point in the story where my dreams are all crushed, and I leave the theater shaking my fist at an unrepentant Hollywood heaven. But in fact, the movie fulfilled my every pre-teen wish. I laughed, I gasped, I demanded pizza afterward. As for the review itself… it was a breathless plot summary that descended into excruciating detail. My father cut me off when I was about halfway through – a mercy killing if ever there was one. As I recall, the final immortal line was, “And the rest was great too.”

These days, I’m in my mid-thirties. But sitting beside me on my desk while I write this is a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mug. Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo, and Michelangelo all stare on.

WoodJ-Hero1&2

Again, this should be the point where I launch into a tale of dark obsession involving terrapin pit fighting, and a restraining order. But honestly, the Turtles have actually never been my #1 nerd. They’ve just always been there – clinging tenaciously to their spot in my heart for over 25 years. Like that album that never quite leaves the lower reaches of the Billboard charts, just sitting there year after year, desperately clinging to relevance.

Recently I finally started to wonder why the Turtles have had such lasting appeal for me.

EddingsD-B1-PawnOfProphecyFor a long time, I couldn’t work it out. But then I had another encounter with another old childhood passion: eighties epic fantasy. I’d been going through something of a reading crisis. I just could not find a book I wanted to stick with. And then, one way or another I stumbled over David Eddings’ Belgeriad series. It was the sort of thing I’d have chewed through in a week or two as a kid, but I’d missed it back then. These days, while I still enjoy the occasional epic tome, I don’t read it with the same alacrity I did in my youth. But I devoured this series. All five books in two months, which is a decent pace for me. And I loved it to bits.

And examining that reaction, and staring at my TMNT mug, I realized there was a connection. Both were stories that, at their core, were about a team of friends.

TMNT has lasted for me, not because of the stories, and not even because of the individual characters (Michelangelo is the best, all you Raphael-lovers can suck it), but because of the interplay between those characters. The adventures are fun yes, but seeing the way these characters deal with it, and the way they trip over each other, and then help each other up as they go through everything – that’s what I love. That’s why through all of their various iterations, no one has messed with the basic archetypes of the characters. Raphael is always aggressive, Michelangelo always a goofball. Because seeing the way the four main characters play off each other is what has people like me continuously coming back to the franchise.

tmnt61

A lot of fiction, these days, seems to focus on the lone hero. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve read and loved many books with that focus. But the stories of my childhood, the ones that are all wrapped up with nostalgia and love, they were stories about groups of friends united by a single purpose. The focus was on the group dynamic as much as on any individual character’s growth. I miss that.

And then I realized, that without consciously doing it, that was what I’d written about in my own books. There may be a distinct lack of heroes in a half-shell, but they’re definitely stories about a group of friends, all driving each other crazy, all working towards the same goal.

And, having realized that, it’s actually kind to think that ten-year old me, could actually be proud of the guy I’ve grown up to be.

*  *  *

Jonathan Wood is the author of No Hero and Yesterday’s Hero – both published by Titan Books. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

WoodJ-3-AntiHeroThe third novel in the series, Anti-Hero, is due to be published in March 2015, also by Titan Books. Here’s the synopsis:

What do you do when your best friend becomes a supervillain? Agent Arthur Wallace is used to dealing with danger that is extraterrestrial, supernatural, or generally odd. But when a drone-strike interrupts his best friend’s funeral, it becomes clear that his next assignment is going to be stranger than usual. When it turns out that the drone was hijacked by a rogue, digital version of that friend… well then nothing is clear to Arthur any more.

Now the man Arthur counted on most is set on destroying humanity in a grand scheme to save the natural world. And the CIA is set on destroying that man. And Arthur can’t work out who the hero is any more. But he has to work out the all the answers fast, because now he’s staring into the bloody maw of the zombpocalypse itself.

Quick Review: Batgirl, Vol.4 – “Wanted” (DC Comics)

Batgirl-Vol.4Series continues strongly into its fourth collection

Writer: Gail Simone, Marguerite Bennett (#25) | Artist: Fernando Pararin, Jonathan Glapion, Daniel Sampere (#20), Carlos Rodriguez (#20), Vicente Cifuentes (#20)

Batgirl struggles to continue fighting crime after being emotionally drained by the death of her brother, James, Jr. With her relationships with Batman and her father strained, Batgirl face one of Batman’s most ruthless villains, The Ventriloquist, alone.

Collects: Batgirl #19-26, Ventriliquist #1

Gail Simone’s run on Batgirl has been critically acclaimed from seemingly all quarters. As, actually, has most of her work. This was the first series written by her that I’ve tried, and it has been a favourite of the New 52 titles ever since. That being said, though, I’m not really sure how to write about it. So, I’ll keep this brief and to the point… It’s really good. Ok, that was a bit too brief…

Simone’s writing is excellent throughout. Not only has she crafted an engaging, unrushed overall narrative, but she’s also done a brilliant job of digging deep into what Barbara/Batgirl is going through. And, indeed, Simone really puts our heroine through a beating, physical and emotional. For example, there is the fallout (psychological and otherwise) resulting from the death of her brother; the tension between her and her father; the death of someone else close. And, of course, the baddies: in this book, the Ventriloquist is at the centre of Batgirl’s world, and she is damned creepy. Her origin story backs it up, too. Possibly one of the creepiest, non-cartoony DC villains I’ve read in a while. And a previous group of villains resurfaces, bringing with them an interesting example of franchising or outsourcing crime. I know that’s all a little bit vague, but Batgirl is subjected to a lot of trauma in this collection, and all of it is pretty momentous. It’ll be really interesting to see how Barbara’s story continues.

As for the artwork? It’s brilliant. Pasarin and Glapion do a wonderful job of realising Simone’s story, and also Bennett’s in the Gothtopia issue. The panels, full-pages are all clear, vibrantly coloured and yet still appropriately moody and atmospheric.

If you haven’t read this series, yet, I would strongly recommend it. Personally, I think it’s much better than Simone’s work on Red Sonja (but that may be a result of my general disappointment with that series as a whole).

Batgirl-Vol.4-Content

Quick Thoughts on VENOM by Rick Remender & Cullen Bunn (Marvel)

Venom-Vols.3&4

I’ve been reading through the latest run on Venom, by Rick Remender and Cullen Bunn and, while I haven’t been moved to write a full review, I did want to just flag it up as a series that is well worth reading. The covers above are for the latest two collections that I’ve read. There are six Venom-only books in the series, which a couple of cross-overs (Spider Island and Minimum Carnage).

Remender kicked off the series, and does a great job of making it stand out among the Spider-Man related series. For one thing, it’s not nearly as quippy as other Spidey series, which means it didn’t quickly become irritating, and I was able to read through three collections without wanting to confine the protagonist to the trash heap of comicdom (as can so easily happen with the uneven Amazing Spider-Man). It is a darker series, overall, and works very well. What I like best about the series is that it largely avoids the Marvel glibness, which (in my humble opinion) has ruined too many series (e.g., Captain Marvel). Instead, and despite the supernatural/Hell-related storylines, this is somewhat more on the horror side of things. Very welcome indeed.

I much prefer the non-super-heroing storylines in this series. The plethora of other symbiotes were less interesting to me, to be honest, but they do on occasion add another element of tension and emotional angst for Flash.

Venom-22-Preview4

Remender shows us how Eugene “Flash” Thompson is not your typical hero. For one thing, unlike many other Marvel heroes, he started out as a bully: Peter Parker’s tormentor at school. Rather than just telling us that he is a bully who has come good, Remender instead builds Flash’s background brilliantly and gradually. Present day scenes are interspersed with flashback to his childhood, abused by his alcoholic father and emotionally betrayed by his beaten-down mother, and the emotional damage this has done. Coupled with his double-amputee existence, made bearable by the Venom symbiote, he is constantly struggling to become the hero he always wished he could be. He is confronted by the lasting damage of his childhood; the damage he caused as an angry jock, and then as an alcoholic and also as Venom. Bunn picks up this character development expertly, and doesn’t miss a beat, building on what Remender started really well.

Venom-03-Preview1

I know I’ve focused on the two writers, but it should also go without saying that the artwork is excellent – from the controlled action and off-mission scenes to the Venom’s-Taken-Over-And-Gone-Crazy moments (which are far less frequent than you might think, especially in the latter-half of the series), it is an eye-catching, visually impressive and brooding series.

Definitely recommended.

Venom-22-Preview5

Review: MITOSIS by Brandon Sanderson (Gollancz)

Sanderson-R-MitosisUSA good short story stop-gap between Steelheart and Firefight

Epics still plague Newcago, but David and the Reckoners have vowed to fight back.

Sanderson self-published this short story, set in the same world as his first super-hero novel, Steelheart. I rather enjoyed the novel (which was the first of the author’s that I’ve read), and when I stumbled across this I was very happy to be able to dive back into the world he’s created. I’m not going to include an official synopsis, as that will give away the ending of Steelheart.

Nevertheless, what you need to know (for both the novel and Mitosis) is that in this reality, super-heroes exist – something happened that bestowed upon a small percentage of the global population special powers. Unlike in the super-hero comic books of Marvel, DC, et al, the power has very much gone to most of these powered individuals’ heads, and they started using them for their own ends. In Chicago, Steelheart reigned supreme with a coterie of other powereds. Steelheart the novel was the story of a fight against this tyranny, spear-headed by an insurgent group known as the Reckoners and their new ‘recruit’, who is a bit of a geek, and has been cataloguing the powered dictators and criminals as a means to learn of their weaknesses.

Mitosis deals with a single powered individual: Mitosis. The story moves quickly, and there is a rather nifty homage (perhaps) to Agent Smith from second and third The Matrix movies. That is all I shall say on the specific plot of this story.

If you are familiar with Sanderson’s writing – be it The Way of Kings or his Mistborn series – then you are sure to know what to expect: brisk, engaging and professional storytelling. The man can certainly write, and I intend to get more of his novels read by the end of this year. [Famous last words, perhaps, but I managed to read three of the four authors I promised to last year…]

Short, but well-worth reading to hold you over until the release of Firefight.

***

UPDATE: When I first wrote this, Gollancz had yet to announce the UK cover art, which I have now included below. The UK hardcover edition also includes an excerpt from Firefight and also some character sketches. It’s a really great little book. Perfect for any fan of Sanderson’s writing.

Sanderson-R2-FirefightUK

Superman, Vol.3 – “Fury at World’s End” (DC Comics)

Superman-Vol.03-ArtWriter: Scott Lobdell | Artist: Kenneth Rocafort (#13-17,19), Aaron Kuder (#18), Tyler Kirkham (#18), Robson Rocha (#18) | Inks: Aaron Kuder (#18), Jaime Mendoza (#18) | Colors: Sunny Goh (#13-16,18), Blond (#17-19)

H’El has come to Earth. When a mysterious ghost from Krypton’s past comes to Metropolis in hopes of finding the lost planet’s last son, his arrival comes with disastrous consequences for not just Superman, but also for Superboy and Supergirl. H’El has decided that Earth is the place to resurrect Krypton, but the price the lives of everyone on the planet! Guest-starring the Justice League, Wonder Woman, Orion and more!

Collects: Superman #13-17 [+ #18-19]

Continuing my attempts to catch up on a few New 52 titles, before I… uh… give them up… I actually quite like the Superman series. It wobbled a bit early on when the DC Powers That Be (DCPTB) decided to tie it in to the daemonite/Helspont mess that dominated the story-arcs of Grifter and Voodoo, but also roped in Stormwatch (and maybe a couple others?). I liked the greater attention paid to Superman/Clark’s everyday life, as a journalist and as someone navigating the changing industry and also his personal relationships. This collection of issues had a lot of this, too, and I’m certainly glad I read it. However, it also features the Superman issues that tie into the Super-family Event, “H’El on Earth”, which presented some issues for me.

As I just mentioned, I really like the focus on Clark’s non-super life. It’s something other readers really didn’t seem to like in earlier issues/books, but I think some of the most interesting content in the Superman mythos and character comes from his interactions with real life, how he handles his gifts, how he struggles to be “normal”, and how his over-developed sense of Right and Justice makes him stand out as a throwback to classic portrayals of the character or what would be considered “goody-two-shoes”, naïve characters today. For example, this monologue on the idealism of journalism:

Superman-Vol.03-Interior3

Unsurprisingly, Clark loses his job after this…

I’m not sure about the way Clark’s relationship with Lois is being written. His continued difficulty with her moving on, and moving in with Jonathan (although, I can’t remember who that is, exactly), seems forced. Given the timing and the events from the end of Justice League #12 (Superman’s kiss with Wonder Woman, and the start of their relationship), I found it difficult to consolidate his sense of justice and decency and this jealousy (even if it did make him out as more human). I felt bad for Diana, to be honest, that he is with her and yet pining for Lois. Given that the New 52 Superman had been steering clear of a Clark-Lois romance (I thought purposefully), it felt a little bit like a manufactured conflict for Clark. It’s well-written, though. Just felt a little out of place, given the stated intentions of the DCPTB. I would, however, accept that I may have missed something, given how much time lapsed between reading these issues and anything before.

Superman-Vol.03-Interior2

The “H’El on Earth” stuff, which is woven around and over Clark’s ‘mundane’ life, is kind of a typical, Supehumans-Breaking-Stuff-in-Large-and-Improbable-Manner tale. It’s… fine. But if you think about it, highly over-done. I’m looking forward to an understated Superman story. Something that doesn’t require him to just be invincible and strong enough to bench-press more than the weight of the Earth (as we are informed he apparently can do, at the start of issue #13). The exaggeration is, I understand, part of the charm of Superman – for some, it seems to be all they want. But for me, I would really like some more variation in the approach to the character.

Superman-Vol.03-Interior4

I do so love Batman’s cavalier attitude…

After “H’El on Earth”, there are two issues of strangeness, involving Orion (who made out with Wonder Woman in her solo series), and Hector Hammond (of the massively-bloated head – who I last saw in Green Lantern pre-New 52, I think… I don’t quite remember). Issue #19 was not too well written, sad to say. It felt clunky, with some info-dumping, and a little too heavy on telling and lesser writing for the first six pages. What happened? Things improved at Lois’s house-warming party. But then everyone starts to act strangely, and the issue ends as Orion catches up with Superman. I was left none-the-wiser as to what was going on. I guess I’ll have to wait until I can pick up the next few issues (those that will comprise volume 4, I suppose).

Not bad, but starting to show cracks. I hope this gets better, and doesn’t end up spinning its wheels, while the DCPTB try to come up with another cross-series Event to generate sales. In the meantime, I shall investigate some of the older Superman stories – for example, For Tomorrow, Lex Luthor, Superman For All Seasons, Secret Identity and maybe some others.

Review: THE VIOLENT CENTURY by Lavie Tidhar (Hodder)

Tidhar-ViolentCenturyUKA strange-yet-brilliant blend of Watchmen-style Super-Heroes and John le Carré Spy Fiction

They’d never meant to be heroes.

For seventy years they’d guarded the British Empire. Oblivion and Fogg, inseparable at first, bound together by a shared fate. Until a night in Berlin, in the aftermath of the Second World War, and a secret that tore them apart.

But there must always be an account… and the past has a habit of catching up to the present.

Recalled to the Retirement Bureau from which no one can retire, Fogg and Oblivion must face up to a past of terrible war and unacknowledged heroism, a life of dusty corridors and secret rooms; of furtive meetings and blood-stained fields, to answer one last, impossible question: What makes a hero?

The Violent Century is, much to my shame, the first novel of Tidhar’s that I’ve read. And it’s quite the impressive accomplishment. Tidhar is not a stranger to pushing the envelope – see, for example, his World Fantasy Award-winning Osama – and in The Violent Century, he has created an original, engrossing fusion of noir-ish super-heroes and gritty espionage thriller. The publicity material that came with the ARC managed to capture it very well – “Watchmen meets John le Carre”. This is a very good novel. Continue reading