If You Enjoyed “The Villain’s Sidekick”…

When I first started writing my novella (which I seriously thought was just going to be short story) I was naive enough to think I was doing something at least vaguely original. I mean, I knew there’d been a hefty handful of comic stories told from the villain’s POV and/or stories in which a bad guy went good. Hell, half The Avengers started out as bad guys, or at least in the deep gray on the moral scale.

Of course, I’d only started reading superhero prose–funnybooks without the pictograms, in layman’s terms–shortly before embarking on my fictional experiment, but I was already aware of a couple of terrific novels that were in the subgenre I was working in. The first is probably still one of the most popular and widely read of these books, Austin Grossman’s terrific Soon I Will Be Invincible.

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The story of Dr. Impossible, recently released from prison and ready to get back to doing evil, this is one of those stories where the bad guy would be 100% more sympathetic than the heroes if it weren’t for the fact that the POV alternates from chapter to chapter between the bad doctor and a female cyborg superhero named Fatale. This was the first book I read that let me get inside the narrative heads of its antagonistic protagonists in a way that even the most literate graphic novels and comics sagas sometimes struggle to achieve. And while I already owe a huge debt to Grossman just for demonstrating that it can be done, and with an edge of satire tempered with genuine human emotions, I also owe him a debt for that narrator-swapping gimmick because I’ve shamelessly borrowed it for the follow-up to “Villain’s” that I’m hammering away at now.

Much like “Invincible,” when I first plucked Jim Bernheimer’s Confessions of a D-List Supervillain from Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library, I assumed it would be maybe good for a laugh, a jokey riff on supervillainy, based on the title alone. And considering it was an obscure offering available for a low price, I had low expectations in regards to its potential quality. Boy, was I wrong.

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Like “Villain’s” and “Invincible,” Bernheimer’s book is a first-person shooter in storytelling terms, from the point of view of Cal Stringel, a low-rent supervillain in Tony Stark armor who’s forced to help save the world when most of the population, including the heroes, are overtaken by alien parasites launching a full-scale invasion. When we first meet him, he hasn’t been out of his armor in days, and his descriptions of how sweaty and putrid that can get are the perfect kind of “never-thought-of-that” moments that give the story it’s realistic edge.

Of course, I’ve stayed on the prowl for superhero fiction ever since getting my first book out into the world, and in the process stumbled across the work of Casey Glanders and his Gailsone series. Glanders is one prolific motherfucker. I don’t know if he holds down a day job, but if so, I want to know his secret because I don’t think I have enough writing hours left in my life to pump out the amount of work he’s produced just in the last two years.

Big In Japan

Glanders created his villain-turned-hero, Alice “Dyspell” Gailsone, because he’s got daughters, and he looked around and felt there weren’t enough female heroes on the market. So his books are all led, and well-populated, by strong females (all with their share of baggage, as any good villain-turned-hero should have). After a lifetime on the dark side, Alice is taking a second shot at life seeing how the hero half lives, and while she’s not afraid to get dirty, she’s frequently better at it than the heroes who’ve recruited her.

Last but not least, there’s Rafael Chandler’s The Astounding Antagonists

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Don’t let the cover art fool you: this Anti-Avengers type tale makes for one solid book. It’s a wildly entertaining story about what happens when the “good guys” become nothing more than abusive authority figures who are as morally compromised as the so-called villains, and frequently worse. If anything, Chandler might weight things a little too heavily on the side of the heroes being just outright awful, while imbuing his Antagonists with far more complexity, weight and moral authority. But if you enjoy rooting for the outsider, if you’re the type to always bet on the underdog, or if you just want to identify with the bad guy’s POV sometimes, you couldn’t go wrong with any of these.

The Best Book We All Weren’t Buying

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These guys, am I right?

By now it’s a given that the Platinum Age of Television began on Jan. 10, 1999 with the premiere of The Sopranos, when indie cinema sensibilities started trickling down into the storytelling on that “vast wasteland” people of a certain age used to call the Idiot Box. After that defining date, cable TV–both premium and basic–began to allow for a model that let tightly contained long-form narratives like Six Feet Under, Deadwood, Mad Men, Battlestar Galactica (at its best anyway) Breaking Bad (and its so-far worthy successor Better Call Saul), Orange is the New Black and even The Walking Dead unfold over shorter seasons, without outstaying their welcome, and often telling stories as worthy of our time and attention as any Great American Novel or Important Awards-Baiting Film. The upside of this is more great entertainment at the click of a button. The downside is constant access to and constant replenishment of the narcotic that’s been my biggest bane since early childhood.

As we move further into the 21st century, a similar phenomenon is occurring in my other favorite serialized storytelling medium. In the funnybooks, the indie comics sensibility has made definite headway into the mainstream, allowing for a greater diversity of art styles, narrative approaches, creators and characters. This is probably most evident in one of Marvel’s most popular recently launched titles, Ms. Marvel, in which a teenage daughter of Pakistani immigrants and a practicing Muslim herself develops superpowers. The subject of personal faith probably hasn’t been this front and center with a mainstream superhero since Daredevil’s Catholicism. But the book’s second boldest choices have less to do with featuring a Muslim female than with its choice to be irreverent, smart, and boundlessly interested in the lives of young urban people coming of age in a way that’s reminiscent of a basic cable dramedy. And the art style is reflective of that in a way that’s hip and indie without losing track of the fact that’s it’s set in the Marvelverse, intricate and detailed without being overly busy, cartoony without seeming juvenile.

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Marvel seems to be leading the pack with this kind of book, letting writers and artists who’ve done great work in and out of the mainstream take a book and character and really put a strong creative stamp on them. Hawkeye would be another prime example, a book that felt like a wiseass character-driven cable action comedy series from the first issue, and that has made some of the boldest creative choices of any recent superhero book while keeping things on a mostly small, narrowly focused scale. The most acclaimed issue so far is an almost wordless noirish detective adventure told from the POV of Clint Barton’s recently adopted dog. It’s hilarious, clever, and a masterpiece of visual design.

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Both of these books have received attention, acclaim, and whatever passes for reasonably strong sales in the current comics market, but by far my favorite book representing this trend toward smart, funny, indie explorations of the Marvel world seemed to slip through the cracks. The Superior Foes of Spider-Man just ended its run after a mere 17 issues. Granted, that was five more than its originally planned twelve, but when it got the initial extension, I imagine all involved were hoping for an ongoing. I was (and yet also wasn’t!) It’s a curse that’s also a blessing, in its way, because writer Nick Spencer and artist Steve Lieber were granted the freedom to make the book they wanted, and to give it a proper ending. In the past, in comics as in TV, this opportunity to close the loop was rarely afforded, and many books and arcs were left open-ended as their titles died on the vine. Much like a particularly satisfying show that ends while still at peak creativity (many of my friends kept whining for more Breaking Bad but I thought it ended right when it should), there’s plenty to be said for a short-run comic that sets out to tell a tight yet sprawling story and is able to do so within some nicely defined parameters, escaping the trap of treading water and giving in to mediocrity due to creator changeover or simple exhaustion.

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Focusing on a new incarnation of the Sinister Six and pretty much eschewing Spider-Man altogether is a terrific choice, because from the title on down, it establishes these characters as the coattail hangers they are. Because this is not just a story about bad guys, it’s a story about losers, about the guys on the margin who are always being beaten down by the heroes, manipulated by the major players and big bosses, and left to fend for themselves when the shit goes down. They may have big dreams and big plans, but they will never be A-list baddies no matter how hard they try. It’s just not in the cards. Personally, having written my first book, The Villain’s Sidekick, about just such a guy, I am of course all about this. And I’m sure there’s a whole other level of fun for Spencer and Lieber just getting to play in this little corner of the Marvel sandbox, where they get to dream up lives and backstories and motivations and nuances for these characters that haven’t been considered or explored in their entire histories, which in the case of guys like Boomerang and Shocker runs to nearly half a century each. A key difference between my story and this one is that Spencer succeeds at keeping his anti-heroes very much on the wrong side of the law. There may be one–the more recently conceived Overdrive–who longs to flip from bad to good like Hawkeye or Scarlet Witch before him, but in the end it’s a pipe dream and he’s just another sorry schmuck whose life is defined by a long string of rotten luck and poor choices.

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Many of Spidey’s more infamous gangster-type rogues and bosses put in appearances–from Tombstone, who’s daughter joins the new Sinister Six (who, it’s worth pointing out, only boast five members throughout the series, yet keep the name regardless), to the Owl, to Silvio Silvermane (who’s severed yet still chatty head is both a major McGuffin and constant thorn in the various characters’ sides). There are superfights and action sequences and occasional stakes, but this is really one of those books where it’s all about the largely comedic dialogue (and the amazing, perfectly complementary artwork, which is filled with clever gags of its own). Fred “Boomerang” Myers narrates the book, and despite his many machinations and double-crosses and general not-a-good-guy-ness, I found myself rooting for him to pull out some kind of small victory, even if it was the hollow win of a nefarious plan gone right for once. He frequently introduces a staple character with the dismissive eye-roll line: “This guy, am I right?” If you’re familiar enough with the Marvel stable, you’ll find yourself agreeing time and again.

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And just to demonstrate that creating a fun book that asks you to root for the bad guys isn’t as easy as it might sound, I recently attempted to read the first volume of DC’s apparently popular Harley Quinn solo series. Also a comedic farce about a villain’s lackey, the words that came to mind while I tried to wade through it’s soup of moronic slapstick violence, terrible puns and cheap jokes was “hot garbage.” I think Harley’s a great character in the right hands, but this book seemed pitch at a level just south of adolescent. At one point, while she helps an aging cybernetic Federal agent (real name: Sy Borgman; hilarious…) snuff some Russian sleeper agents (who really don’t deserve their horrible, played-for-laughs deaths) they take out a female spy named, get this, Ivana Brekemoff. Again, hilarious! Right? No, me neither.

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Suffice to say, if you enjoy the company of wiseass wannabes and amoral a-holes with wicked senses of humor and the scruples of a basement rat, if more than once in awhile you find yourself wondering what the henchmen are thinking, how they live, or what they do with their downtime, you could do a helluva lot worse than giving Superior Foes a shot.

http://www.amazon.com/Superior-Foes-Spider-Man-Getting-Together/dp/0785184945/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1423863876&sr=1-2&keywords=superior+foes+of+spider-man

Far to the Crack

This is another story dashed off most likely in the wee morning hours of a meth-fueled comedown in the basement (it would be a stretch to call it a bedroom) of the townhouse in SF’s Lower Haight that was my primary residence for the better part of ’98. Apparently I wrote two versions of it, and while both have their merits, on reread I prefer the punchy energy of this one. Though chances are I’ll publish the other version next just for comparison’s sake. I’m not sure either is entirely successful in relating the story I wanted to tell, something about semi-militarized meat delivery drivers in a pre-apocalyptic wasteland of the Southwestern U.S. that had been abandoned by the govt. after a manmade toxic disaster. Somewhere under all the testosterone and self-consciously cybergrunge aesthetic I think there’s a redemption story trying to smuggle its way out.

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Far to the crack

A story from the Safety Belt

By Stephen T. Brophy

An impenetrable curtain of sand slaps the windshield, obscuring the white-hot horizon. Somewhere beyond the tumultuous orange cloud lies Cali, the golden homestead, prefab plastic suntanned ancient Rome, reenvisioned without irony by semiconscious imagineers of the Holowood Dream Machine. Somewhere back there, to the East, an impotent President prays to whatever God’s been preselected for a miracle cure, preferably one without too many deleterious long-term side effects…

I can’t go back for him. I can’t because it would mean my ass, too. I can’t go and cradle his head in my arms, give him comfort in his final moments. I can’t because for him, those moments have already passed. Besides, I doubt he’d want it. I do not mourn for him, alone here in the cab of his truck. Not just because I didn’t know him well, but because tears have never been much my style. Even as a baby, my Grandma Plowhorse told me, my capacity for extended, meditative silences was almost eerie. But then, Grandma Plowhorse was a full-blooded Navajo with a legendary gift for genealogical myth-making. Me, I never went in for all that Native American reservation bullshit, got out as soon as the getting was good and never looked back. My partner, though, back there on the roadway with his body all perforated and broken, wolves, buzzards and vermin hovering for their share of what the cannibals can’t finish, he and Granny Plowshare would have got along just fine. His collection of fully-posable, self-customized totemic action figures dangling from the rearview, ceiling, doorhandles, and most every other inch of nonessential space in the cab are plenty testament to that.

The Cracker Mac Daddy, what he called himself, a great fat redneck with a penchant for whisky and a history of dirty biz. DeepFed field work that took him to the farthest-flung, warrest-torn corners of what he called “this massive bastard planet.” Spoke broken bits of a hundred international lingos, all in his corn-syrupy slo-poke Bible Belt drawl. His visible skin, face, neck, forearms, even the fuzzy vee of chest exposed by the open throat of his Western shirt, a grisly cross-hatch of scar tissue and crude tattoos, badges of honor, merit, memory, whatever, like the dolls.

No…he’d said it through teeth so clenched I thought they’d shatter. They’re not dolls.

What are they then?

Action figgers.

Yeah?

Yeah. More’n that. They’re…they’re…symbols, y’know, icons, tokens. Of what? The fallen. The lost. The forgotten and the damned. Each one, see, is a perfect likeness of one of the soldiers I served with.

Friends?

No. This goes beyond friendship. These people were…fellow warriors. Ah, you wouldn’t understand.

Maybe, but I’m trying.

They were like braves. You get me now? Folks who did one thing, very well. What?

Fight. Kill. Die.

That’s three things.

No. T’ain’t. And these, these are how I remember them. See?

The doll…uh, action figures.

Yeah, like, like, kachinas. Get it. If I’m in a bad way, I can look at one of these, think of the person, and I…this gonna sound screwy and I don’t usually share this, but, guy like you, you oughta get me.

Yer, what…?

Anyway, they give me a little bit of their power.

Where do you, what, you get these at a toy store? Find em, steal em off kids, what?

They’re made for me. Each of these is an exact likeness of the man. Or woman.

(At this, he fingered the curvy, limbless, molded plastic torso of a redheaded GI Jane.)

Why are they all…messed up?

That’s to show what become of em. How each of em looked, last time I saw em. Toymakers do that? No. I do that part myself. It’s, well, kinda cathartic. Ah. Think I’m nuts.

Probably. Who wouldn’t be? All the shit you musta seen. Nuts not to be nuts.

Right. But I ain’t. I’m the sanest man ya ever met, I bet. Cause what I know, it’s enough to drive ya that way. Beyond right, wrong, good, bad, beyond leftist politics and reactionary dogma. Truth. Pure and simple. Humanity, so far from God, so close to eternity. Ya go and go until somethin breaks and no one can fix it, right? That’s all. Do what you’re made for. Just do it well. What else is there? Couldn’t tell ya. That’s right and that’s just fine, how I like it. What you believe in, Johnny?

The OmniBank, Monolith, and the almighty dollar.

Yer on yer way, boy.

To what?

Whatever. Fate. Destiny. A fat steak and a good fuck. But remember, a perk’s just a perk, t’ain’t a reward.

I’ll keep it in mind.

Do.

Alone in the cab now, trying to figure out the control system, all these dials and lights, myriad as a shuttle cockpit. Alone but not really. Mac Daddy’s pantheon of comrades all around me, staring out through their damage with dead little eyes, those that still have them, staring and giving me none of their secret strength. And in the back, a dozen plus head of live cattle still left, settling down now after their restless upset, the unexpected savagery of the SkullChasers attack, beyond their bovine comprehension. Still, no one to talk to, no one to help me reconcile the events of the last mad hour.

New to this, my first long haul, partnered up with BeefCo.’s number one meat runner, I didn’t figure he’d like me much, from what I’d heard about him. But we’d found a few things to talk about, if not a lot of common ground. Now he’s gone and I miss him. Sacrificed his Cracker ass so that I might live, not that I was so important. But the delivery had to get through, else we might both as well be corpsed. No turning back, not with BeefCo., unless you could afford to cover the cost of the meat, at retail price. Six months working gratis might repay the debt, eighteen if they only took a percentage, and that was if they let you back on long haul, highly unlikely. Shitcanned in the end, either way, Bob Buck and Co. didn’t brook sissies or cowards or drivers that couldn’t go the distance. Right job for a semi-retired soldier of misfortune like the Cracker, no doubt. But me? No warrior here, just a guy who liked doing bongs and watching cartoons on a Saturday morning, wanted a girlfriend who didn’t expect much, and enough liquid in the bank to make rent and maintain a low-key hassle-free approx of the so-called good life. Desperate times called for creature comforts, a roof, some hooch, tunes. Fuck the serious shit. But here I am, lips deep in it. Nothing at all like delivering pizzas in the burbzone. Sure, you can get killed doing that, too, but at least there’s tips.

Try it man, it’s good money, and if you do alright, Monolith’s got a tracking system, you can move up, motor pool, security, the sky’s the limit.

I never drove no big rig, hominy. Gameboy don’t count.

So, you fudge it on the rez, dudeman. Not a lotta guys wanna do this.

So why do I?

Cause, JT, you been outta work since two Xmasses, and the odd lawn job just ain’t gonna cut it, and the brown bud border runs gonna get your ass slammed.

Oughta just make this shit legal, hominid.

Fuck it, tobacco companies ready to jump right in on that, cut you down and out, no room for the small bizboys.

Too too true.

            Well, what say?

What day you say they interview?

I could just swing the truck around (not without jackknifing) or pull over (and be instantly set upon), go up topside with one of the autocarb’s (and get plugged with a hundred SkullChaser crossbolts), do something bold and rash and stupid and at least try to save the fat ragged bastard, too old and used up to be risking his half-plastic ass to throw a couple cows down as a sort of peace-offering-cum-decoy, appease or else slow the onslaught of those cannibal biker freaks. But no, the Cracker tells me, whatever goes down, ‘cludin me, just keep the rig on the road and goin’. And, he adds with a wink, ya ever call em dolls again, I ain’t responsible fer their actions. And that’s that. Goodbye, Cracker Mac. Son-of-a-bitch. Not everybody gets a burial. Cracker said that one, too.

Safety Belt rolls by outside, manmade badlands, scorched earth backdrop for a toxic odyssey. I journey further, keeping to the edge of the no-zone, no safer, really, in a big rig with nowhere to run. I wonder, as I chew on Cracker’s share of the beef jerky, what would happen if I just set the cruise control, logged to the coordinates of the onboard computer, and bailed. Truck knows the route better than I ever will, no doubt. That ever happen, Cracker, dust-crusted semi pulling into Cali, right into the BeefCo. Exchange nexus, hissing and pissing oil as it settled into a tired patient idle, no driver in sight? Here I am, look what I brung ya? Cracker has no answer, a hundred some-odd miles dead and gone.

Have to figure, most of my family, definitely Granny Plowshare, probably lots of others, several years since gone the way of Cracker and his comrades. Not the same way, mind, but rather poisoned as victims of the intentional fallout that ravaged and rendered uninhabitable this soulless stretch of contained Armageddon, what the mediators of buzzpop cleverly nicked the Safety Belt. Aftermath, many believed, of some government con to sever Texas and much of the Southwest from the precious resources of the Greater United Estates of AmeriCo. No way, I say, and some things Cracker drawled seem to confirm me. Fed’s haven’t got that kind of pull, not anymore, much less the imagination. Nah, only one bunch could pull off such a devilish deed and actually stand to bennie from it, what with their HQ smackdab in one of the superscrapers towering over downtown HousTex. Only Monolith. My boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss, only a few more bosses removed than I’ve got room for.

Rumors abound about the Belt and its attendant dangers, but thus far, the reality far exceeds even my wildest expectations. Tumor dogs, polyploids, manimals, feral chickens, no such childhood terror fables are any match for a full contingent of flesh-hungry motorcycle devos sporting handmade weaponry and their previous victims’ skulls over the headlamps of their custom-jerried hogs. I soiled my only khakis and when I finally can’t stand my own smell, figuring even a sudden crossbolt’s worth the risk, I roll down the driver’s side window. Almost right away, flies find their way in start buzzing my lap. Night falls, I hold out that long, pull over and have a good wash, kill the rest of the first day’s whisky and do a jolt of megamphetamine before I get back on the ancient broken highway. No rest for the wounded.

Get the babbling loonies, wired to the eyesockets and feeling the amp tingle all the way to my split ends. No one to talk to and every shape-shift shadow out the window a potential agent of looming doom. The radio long since given over to white noise, the atonal squawk of music from the Big Bang Era. I have to talk to someone, so I direct my garbled, nonsensical, all-give-and-no-take commentary to the seared, scarred, charred, and chopped figurines that comprise Cracker’s morbid pantheon. Try with all sincerity to remember their names, the few he told me, make them up whenever memory doesn’t serve. So much for honoring the dead.

I become particularly chummy with the one called Smokin’ Hole Jimi, who got his spine twisted up like a corkscrew after encountering a high-voltage containment wire, a near-invisible monofilament of secreted, waiting death. I have to resist the urge to twist his legs back around the right way, since that seems to be all that’s troubling him.

Try to strike up a flirtation with the red-haired mine-blast amputee, Hypodermia, try to make her feel attractive, okay about her ruined self, but all I get for my valiant efforts is a steely scowl and sobering silence.

“C’mon, guys, the night is young and so are we. Let’s light em up and burn em down!”

Nothing.

“Jimi, you know how to rage on the stage, huh? Let’s tear the roof off this whole theater of operations!”

Nada.

“Eddie Chunks. Special Ted. 2Fro. Give it up for the g-force, ya’ll! We need total all-out jam warfare deep inside the enemy perimeter! Can do?”

Zip.

“Alright, I give up. Don’t say I didn’t try. They ain’t pinnin’ these morale problems on my red ass. No way. Hey, what was that? You guys see that? Nobody? I swear, I thought I saw…”

Flashing by, just for a second, less, a patch of almost ghostly white in the uninterrupted darkness. Not a rabbit, maybe a coyote, but on two legs, not four, and wearing, I think, a T-shirt. Slowing down, why, I don’t know, amp logic, probably, making me hit the wrong pedal, making me downshift and ease off on the blast even as the schedulator counts off how much more time I’m losing. And dumbass, drug-buttered me slowing down to manually check stats on a possible psycho hell-bent on slicing me up for Sizzlean. Eyeballing the passenger sideview, just a smudgy square of night and the reflection of the rig’s running lights. And then…something else, staggering, lurching, clawing at the sidepanels as makes its way towards the cab. I’m frozen, can’t even remember how to manage the shifter.

“What’s my move, Jimi?”

Jimi swings on his lifeline of nylon fishing twine, slowly twisting until his feet face me and his face faces the armory box.

“Oh, right!”

Faculties snapping back into some approximation of action, I key the codelock and dig in the box for a suitable weapon as the whatever-it-is draws ever nearer. Grasping at the door handle now, desperate, wanting in. The top of a head appears, a round white dome, shaved not quite clean, scalp nicked here and there in the non-pro process. Then some eyes, the standard two-set, wide, wild, blue as they say the sky used to be, blue as it is in old vids, but how real is that? Peering in, frightened and curious and maybe completely deranged. A boy, I think, a kid, maybe thirteen, fourteen. Way out here? All alone? I point the White Noise gun at the face in the reinforced window and the eyes drop back out of sight.

Should haul ass, right? Throw it in motion and roll. Any sane man would. Like the Cracker. Shit, Cracker never would have stopped in the first. But I’m not the Cracker, and only questionably sane, this point, and more than any of this, I guess, I’m desperate for some company.

Sliding out the cab, all I can hear from everywhere is ticking, some kind of time-bomb ambience. The dash-Geiger, the schedulator rollover, the cooling engine—when’d I shut it off?–and little drips of fluid underneath the truck. And a more musical sound, the chirp-tick of what sounds like electric crickets. No boy, no being, somewhere far off a howl, and no moon even to bay at. A sudden scuffle as I bend down to peer into the shadowy gap between the undercarriage and the blacktop.

“Hey, hey,” I say, more abrupt than soothing, how I meant to be. “It’s okay, kid. I ain’t gonna zap ya.”
Silence. Kind of. Tick tick tick. Chee-urp. And some breathing, stereo mix, me and the kid.

Slowly, the kid slides out from under the truck, shakes off like a wet dog, and stands there, about ten feet down, just glaring. In one hand, a mean-looking blade, no handle, serrated edges and a kind of hook at the point. Holding it out, just a little, trying to look menacing. I’m unmoved. All fear gone, a wave of near-relief behind the megawatt ampage.

“Need a ride, kid?”

No reply, silent as the dolls inside, only the blue eyes aren’t so cold, so dead. Betray a hint of fear and plenty suspicion. Understandable.

“Can’t talk? What? C’mon, I gotta get movin’ here. And I could more or less use the company. What say?”

Kid lowers the knife, blade comes to rest alongside the seam of ragged Levi’s. Gesture of faith, I do the same, pointing the static stunblaster at cracked asphalt.

I try to feed the kid, try talking, get tight-lipped grunts and wild gestures in reply. Wild child, I figure, dumb bastard savage. How’s it stay alive? I wonder, but I don’t want to get too personal right off the bat. Kid keeps mute, staring at the broken little warriors, batting at them with grimy, blood-crusted fingertips.

“Leave her be,” I say, catching the kid trying to pull Hypo fom her dangling place. Suddenly protective, these stupid toys, but just because I don’t want to piss off the Cracker, dead though he’ll ever be.

The kid makes a motion, the universal gesture of for furtive scribbling, and I point at the glove box. Could get interesting. Kid fetches pen and notepad from amid the stowed rubbish, and I think I see something in there, something out of place maybe, but then the little door snaps shut on whatever it is. The kid there, scribbling away, then holding out the pad for me to read by the pale green dashglow.

“What ar thay?” it read.

“Hey, you speak the lingo. What up?”

More scribble. “I ain’t a idjit.” Written in near-perfect dialect.

“So I see. Anyway, long story, and not mine to tell.”

I started to wonder what the little punk’s trouble was, just mute or something grisly, like the tongue cut out.

“How come you don’t talk, kid?” Plunging on in.

The kid looks pensive for a long set of seconds, and kind of embarassed, too. Then shows me. A quick flash, lips pulled back in a grimace, revealing a crazy metal gridwork criss-crossing yellow-brown teeth, some missing, others just broken, some kind of botched backwater orthodonture. Thank the God of EZ Payments for my dental plan. No, thank Monolith. Evil fuckers sure take care of their own. Long as we stay useful. But this mess, shit, kid’s mouth like the site of a train derailment. Then it dawns.

“Wired shut, huh?”

Kid just nods.

“What, you break your jaw?”

Head shakes again, side to side this time, a negative. More scribble.

“Punnitchmint,” the note reads.

“Jeez, you musta been a bad boy.”

Kid looks puzzled, just for a sec, then furiously writes some more.

“I’M A GURL!!!”

And so she is. A puberty oversight. The slight lumps suddenly more visible beneath the soiled tee, finally making sense on that skinny frame. And the lashes around those beautiful blues, delicate, fluttery things, like insect legs.

“Sorry. My bad.”

The kid just shrugs.

“Got a name?”

“Andi,” she writes.

“That it?”

“Andi Monument,” the paper reads, once she’s added the surname.

“Johnny,” I say. “Johnny Throwdown.” Extending a friendly hand. “JT to my friends. What’d you do so bad, Andi?”

“Tok nastee.”

“Nasty, huh? Nasty how?”

She doesn’t write anything, just looks at her dirty hands in her lap, the pad and pen hanging loose and useless. A loss for words. Ashamed.

“C’mon, we’re all friends here. Jimi don’t mind. Do ya, Jim?”

The kid watches me funny.

“What’d ya say? Huh? Hypo wants to hear it.”

Heavy sigh and sluggish reluctance, Andi Monument writes down her crime for me.

“FUK GODD.”

I laugh at that, and Andi looks kind of horrified. “That it? Jesus X,” and she winces at the expression. “Where you from?”

She writes some more.

“Haretij Farms.”

I let out a low whistle, impressed and sympathetic. Heritage Farms. I know a little bit about the place, one of the more high-profile Safety Belt enclaves. Real Right White Wing Fundamental cases, Xian paramilitary survivalist types, a town with room for 144,000 souls, not one more, a number of some Biblical relevance, though I’ve never known what. The unofficial Safety Belt census tags the actual population a damn sight lower, though.

“Sucks for you, kid.”

“No mor,” she writes. “I gott out.”

“So ya did. Wasn’t easy, I bet.”

Her eyes go wide, she tries a laugh, a kind of painful snorting behind her barbed wire braces. I have to like the kid.

If sunset was uproarious purples and pinks and oranges and yellows almost off the spectrum, dawn is ashgray and toxic, drab harbinger of some horrendous nuclear winter on its way. I pull over, finally, all caught up on the schedulator after an all-nite drive. Spec-check the fuel reserves, enough blastahol to get us out of the Belt, long as our luck holds. One eye on the horizon at all times, wary of any potential weirdness, perpetually ready to crest. Mind-mangled crashdown, flaming psychic tailspin in the wake of the previous eve’s overamp. Speedfreak apocalypse, this no-place ready-made for it.

Nourish the cows, twice around the rig to survey and assess yesterday’s damage, patch as best I can whatever places the armor plating didn’t hold. Shorted by those BeefCo. sons-a-bitchin’ underbosses, no long-haul trailer this, weak-walled and cheap-fixed, rusted out and weather-wrecked in many integral spots. Not nice, cutting corners on us, underbidding their own profit margin or whatever. Like I know shit about the big biz.

Dig in the auxiliary toolkit, come up with tin snips, needle-nose pliers, a hacksaw blade no longer than my fuck-you finger, a hi-intensity laser coil. Go to work on the kid, impromptu oral surgery, stopping short and refiguring my strategy whenever a tooth chips or her gums start bleeding. By the time I finish, Andi’s lips and cheeks all swollen and torn, four hours gone and the schedulator’s resumed its wage-garnishing countdown. No partner, no matter, every unmiled minute’s costing me a pretty penny, nickel-and-diming my company credit rating down toward the deep red.

Crack an icepak from the medkit after packing Andi’s maw with sterilizing gauze. Sure she means to thank me but she passes out from pain and exhaustion right after I administer a squeeze tube of oatmeal pabulum. Anyway, her mouth is out of prison but still on parole, she won’t have much to say out loud for a day or so. Let her sleep it off, take a quick midday nod for my own ass, re-amp and get right back to rollin’.

“Where to, Mac?”

The Cracker didn’t laugh at my intro line, or much else for that matter. Neither does Andi. Missing my friends and all that flip hipster cynic shit that passes for funny where I’m from. Toxic morning shadows rolled back when Andi was under the knife, the rest is just unrelenting waves of unfiltered solar heat, cottonmouth from inhaling sand.

Andi moans alot in her sleep, I get shot through with empathy pains just listening to her. Harsh life, this, dragged from some suburban somewhere that must have seemed normal compared to the ironically monickered confines of the Safety Belt. My first full-fledged foray and already I want to never come back, cash advances and Monolith prestige ratings be damned. Little girl looking like bad news from Auschwitz—I know that much history—and whoever did her like this, probably her own family, still in their skinhead-secured sanctum feeling smug and self-righteous about the deed. Rough justice meted out with ruthless impunity, wonder what they do to post-juvie offenders, and no social services or overreaching enforcement agencies to answer to. At least half of why they ran, that, lawless Aryan trash who answer only to some Anglo-sadist remake of the original Xian deity, a wrathful Old Testament redneck with a bushy beard and a sawn-off double-ought lightning rod. Yahweh re-envisioned as a race-baiting hate-monger, dumb, drunk, and hungry. BeefCo. even makes occasional runs up Heritage way, so the Ku Klux Klowns can help themselves to the bloody red feast that is just a wee part of their sacred entitlement. Glad this ain’t one of those gigs, hard to resist igniting the fuel tanks and running the whole flaming fleshload into their full-of-it midst. How’s this for some wrath of God, you race-baiting trailer trash halfwits? Such are my thoughts, brainbaked in the wasteland.

“Where ya headed?” I finally get to ask, whenever Andi wakes up, sometime around dusk, if the sky’s right, never mind my memory of events.

Wincing as she struggles to form words with her stuffed and puffy mouth. I indicate pen and paper, and in her delirium, even that proves a struggle.

“bIG Crak,” she manages to write.

“The huh?”

“In thee Erth,” she adds.

“Forgive my idiocy. I ain’t read Revelations.”

Again, she looks slightly aghast, as if I’ve committed some heathenish act of treason. Scrunches up her brutalized features in concentration, at it with pen and paper again.

“mY frend Litl mAry tol mee. BIg kined ov hol. In thee grownd.”

Meteor Crater, all I can think of.

“Where?”

“aRiZone.”

“Hmm.”

I scan the dashmap until I find it.

“Aha. You’re talkin’ the Grand Canyon.”

“?”

“The Big Crack, that’s what they call it. The Grand Canyon. It’s a National park. See?” I point it out on the screen. “Mighty goddamn big crack alright.”

Another quizzical look, kinda fearful, like she might bear witness to my almighty smiting at any moment.

“Oughta wire my jaw, huh?”

That gets a kind of smile, with accompanying wince. She gets a lightbulb look, scribbles more.

“Doe yew beeleev?”

“In what?”

She points at the roof of the cab, presumably beyond.

“Shit, I dunno. Not my area of expertise, really. Do I think there’s soemthin bigger’n all of this, all us, well, it sure seems that way sometimes. I mean, this mess couldn’t have just come from nothing. And I kinda hope it’s so. Do I think whatever it is gives shit one about our sorry asses? Doubt it. No more than we think about the fleas on a dog, probably less. Some people call it God, or Allah, or Jehova, or whatever. I call it Nature. The Universal Mind.   Too big to figure it out in our measly little lifetimes. Too huge to even worry about.”

More than I’ve ever said out loud regarding my spiritual philosophy, and I can tell Andi isn’t quite following me. For a minute I’ve forgotten her age and the negligible educational standards of her homeplace. Although I’ve tried not to use too many of the Big Words.

“How bout you? You a believer? Must be. Gotta know God to wanna fuck him.”

She scowls at that, like a little kid who’s just had her first bite of spinach. Puts pen to pad in a quivery flurry.

“I don won du that.” Making an “eww gross” face for emphasis.

“Well, ‘Fuck God,’ right? Wha’d you mean?”

I smoke most of one of Cracker’s First Strikes while she composes her reply.

“Long story. Heritage people are chosen, right? Chosen for what? Where we live before was Ohio Canton. I had friends—lots! And Charlie my dog too. Daddy says all them people dead and gone to hell. To burn. Why? Not? Cause Daddy says they have bad thoughts and bad ways don’t love God don’t know him does Charlie I say he say no! Then when some people come and ask for food or water they get beat sometimes killed they burned the village with the dark people have a name for them I don’t think it’s nice Daddy did the burning to he says those people had the devil in them back but I don’t I think the devil with us!”

“I get ya. You don’t see why God would let all these shitty things go on and let his chosen few go off killing and hurting everyone that doesn’t fit within their narrow little Xian vision.”

She was even more confused. At that moment, I loved her, overcome with dumbstruck emotion in a way I never let myself get back home.

“You’re a smart little kid, Andi. What you’re talking about, they call it hypocrisy, babe. And it is fucking worldwide rampant. Human arrogance, manifest destiny, earthly dominion.”

Here came the flood. All the unbidden high dollar college scholarshit, the unformed notions gleaned from half-read books. My past playing footsy and grab-ass with the new ruined loser me and this poor kid’s sincerely struggling synapses, popgun epiphanies firecracking in her revelation headset.

“You’re right! You’re right! Don’t you get it? They lied to you! Not Fuck God. Fuck Daddy. In his big fat fortified whitebread ass, fuck him! Fuck him and all his Bible-bashing proto-Nazi uberminions!”

My words a cascading ack-ack-ack barrage of venom and righteous fury, worthy of the most evangelistic dogma, a drive-by crucifixion perpetrated with a verbal nailgun. Years of apathy-dampened hate-filled fervor bubbling to the surface, mindlessly misdirected at this helpless daughter who I suddenly loved and only wanted to help.

She was sobbing, hands trembling as she pushed the nib so hard into the pad that it punctured the sheet and the pen spurted , leaving an inky stigmata.

“I no I no I no I want to find the Big Crack where my friend went and throw myself in like her who want a world like this who want a world at all….”

And there at the edge of the Safety Belt, at the crossroads of nowhere and wherever, I braked the truck to a shuddery shrieking halt so sudden it got all the leftover cows going up back, mooing and lowing and stampeding in place. And I grabbed that sad and fractured little girl in my arms and kissed her misshaven head, no doubt another symbol of her undeserved punishment, and I cried with her, cried for her, and Grammy Plowshare and the Cracker Mac Daddy and all the damned and doomed and dangling action figures swingin’ from their nylon nooses all around us and for everything they meant to a dead man I hardly knew and it felt so miserably wretchedly fucking good that for just one moment awash in the poison-painted late afternoon Safety Belt sky I felt like maybe God finally really had reached down and smacked the back of my head the way my own Dad used to whenever I spouted something vulgar or just plain dumb, like, wake up, asshole, this ain’t just about you. For a moment only, though. Then I pulled my shitpile back together and got wiseass all over again.

Had to go into the mainframe to reroute the itinerary, convince the truck’s computer brain that there was a damn expedient reason to cut South. Lucky for me, Cracker still had the manual. Unplugged the schedulator, to make it shut up more than anything. Two major violations, already a flashfax would be beaming over to payroll, and I didn’t give shit one. I was quit as they come, and they could hunt my raggedy red half-breed ass to the farthest reaches of this “massive bastard planet,” far as I was concerned, looking for what I took off em, and they probably would. That’s Monolith’s style, after all, and I hear they’re used to be something called the Mafia that did biz the same way, only those guys had colorful names and distinctive faces. No matter. At that moment of stunning universal clarity, when my decision got made, whether by me or for me, I wasn’t so sure I wouldn’t just throw my own ass off the lip of that monster crevasse right behind little Miss Monument. Now I have a better idea.

When I went into the glovebox for the manual, I found something, an object buried in amidst the chargeless batteries and spent shell casings and empty ammo clips and the archaic paper maps and scraps of tissue and ignored Regional Defense citations and all the irrelevant detritus of Cracker’s happy mad road life. Another figure, if you didn’t guess, unmarred, unscarred, not a match burn or twisted plastic limb. All done up in cowboy camo, some little demolition dude, tricked out for some personal Armageddon, grinning wicked. After I let the cows go, which took some doing, dumb, reluctant beasts, fated for the food table either or, I hung the uncanny plastic likeness in a place of honor, in the midst of his warrior pantheon. Couldn’t bring myself to bloody him up, tweak him into some fractured lifeless version of the man, rather remember him the way he was, vital, fiery, all piss and blastahol. Hope he don’t mind.

The vast chasm is just across the way form here, filled with orange and purple and all the other colors of the morning sun. Now all I have to do is convince Andi that there’s a better way to get to the bottom of that Big Crack than going over the side. Not easier, not as fast for sure, but much more of a view, or at least more time to take it all in. I hope she’ll go along with it. We’ve made it this far.

I seem to remember hearing that there’s Indians living down there, or used to be. If they’re still around, if the Crack in the earth hasn’t swallowed them up. I don’t know if they’re my people, can’t remember, or if they’re some old enemy tribe, from back when those things used to matter. Whoever, whatever is down there, at the absolute bottom of the world, I only hope they’re willing to teach me something more than what I already think I know.

grandcanyon2

Black Holes and Revelations

When I started this blog, it just seemed like a necessary move to kickstart my “web presence” in the wake of publishing my first book. I don’t tend this little thoughtspew garden as frequently as I assumed I would, because I am prone to sloth by nature and because I have a LOT of other shit to do most every day. Sitting down to journal is a luxury from a past life. I had forgotten how much I used to do it until I cracked open a trunkload of my old spiral diaries and faux-leather-bound notebooks , vigorously and desperately maintained from the mid- ’80s through the late ’90s, a wild minddump of my (pedestrian, suburban, naively whitebread, hopelessly adolescent) innermost feelings, scraps of poetry, false starts at novels and short stories and scripts, and my most significant creative outlet until I started writing in genuine earnest and eventually getting paid for it sometimes.

What surprised me, and in equal parts heartened and frustrated me as well, was that much of the writing, in spite of the sometimes pathetic, navel-gazing, fear-stunted subject matter, was actually pretty good, especially for a guy in his 20s. Heartening because I know that writing is hopelessly entwined with the strands of my very DNA, and frustrating because I didn’t have the werewithal, back in those long-lost floundering days, to see things through to completion and start making my mark in some small way when I burned with that youthful energy and helpless need to find a way to connect with the world. When I had all the time in the world with me and ahead of me. And there’s that part of me that can’t help pondering, however uselessly, how different my life might have been if I had just knuckled fucking down and done it. But then I remember how much I genuinely like, even love, my life as it is now and realize that it’s all okay, and I can forgive myself my mistakes and lapses and not let them freeze and paralyze me in place the way they evidently did when I was young. Because I still have all the time in the world, even if I do have less of it.

I don’t know why I stopped journaling, except maybe I felt less desperate and started looking out more than in, or maybe my laziness just manifested in some new way, but honestly, what is a blog but a journal for the whole world to see (well, let’s be realistic–for the few dozen of you who might even bother to read this). The fact is, I’m supposed to be journaling as part of my sixth step in recovery, but I’m not sure I’m ready to bore, disturb, or frighten you all with a litany of my defects of character.

But I do recognize that my entries here, from the first one, have functioned as a kind of confessional self-appraisal blended–with little to no nuance–with my pop cultural obsessions. So as I continue to focus and figure out what I’m doing here, I figure I’ll just stumble forward in that direction, and I’ll either alternate or find unusual, hopefully interesting, frequently hamfisted ways of confronting my recovery while continuing to talk about my process as a writer, what I’m putting out in the world–or attempting to– creatively, and espousing the genuine virtues of comics, graphic novels, science fiction adventure, superpeople and capepunkers.

There will be the aforementioned navel-gazing, the requisite “what to watch/read/listen to” suggestions, the occasional shameless plugs for my books when they’re on sale or on the verge of publication, and whatever else crosses my fevered, frenzied, sometimes inspired, often dog-tired brain.

And this being October, I might as well suggest some horror shit for you people to investigate at your leisure.

I probably don’t have to tell most of you that the “Walking Dead” premiere was as good an episode as that show has done–fast-paced, probably a little slim on genuine character beats except for Tyreese and Carol, but filled with action that bordered perilously and brilliantly close to cinematic. Also shied ferociously away from that show’s tendency to drag things out when it comes to settings and certain main characters’ old tendency to spend more time talking than surviving. This one managed to be brutal, tense, and had me cheering for Rick in a way that I have been since he bit that son-of-a-bitch’s throat out. I was worried he was on the verge of becoming Jack from “Lost,” but Sheriff Grimes is really coming into his own. And it even managed to end on a warm, upbeat note in a way this show almost never allows for, with all of our heroes finally together and moving as one. I hope they can maintain this kind of confidence in both narrative and character going forward. This show might finally be ready to become great.

walking-dead-season-5-debut

Speaking of WD, I started reading “Outcast” by the creator himself, Robert Kirkman, and artist Paul Azaceta and I gotta say, so far, so great. It’s about a lost soul with an apparent gift for exorcising demons, which is a good thing because they seem to be popping up pretty much everywhere in his world. Terrific art and intriguing characters. Definitely worth  a look.

outcast_1

And finally, because I do have some of that other shit to do today, if you’re looking for some supremely weird and at times darkly funny low-budget horror, you could do worse than “The Banshee Chapter,” currently streaming on Netflix.

the-banshee-chapter

This caught my interest when I learned that Ted “Buffalo Bill” Levine from “Silence of the Lambs” and the amazing adenoidal voice and too many memorable character roles to count, was one of the stars. Only when I started watching did I realize that he was playing a Hunter S. Thompson analog (with savory dollops of Philip K. Dick mixed into the sauce) in a story about ill-advised MKUltra experiments involving a powerful psychedelic drug that opens a doorway to a very dark, Lovecraftian dimension. There are some “found footage” elements but it doesn’t stay stuck in that subgenre rut. It’s not easy to follow, but it’s fun to try and fathom what the fuck is going on. The acting is solid and Levine is amazing. Creep yourself out.

HST

And while this probably deserves to be a post all on its own, this weekend marks the third (fucking unbelievable) anniversary of the unexpected, tragic passing of my brother Michael. I have more thoughts and feelings around this than I can hope to process here or anywhere, but suffice to say he was special, wildly important to me and my family, and while I’ve found a place for my grief over the passing years, I still get frustrated, furious, and sloppily sad whenever it occurs to me (almost daily, really) that I will never get to share anything new with him ever again, and that he won’t be there to comfort me when the other inevitable tragedies of time befall me and the rest of my family. And while I was writing this post, this song came up on my iTunes. It’s a song that made me think of my siblings–for obvious reasons–from the first time I ever heard it, and I insisted it be played at his funeral as my way of saying goodbye. It’s called “Orange Sky” by Alexi Murdoch and I only recommend clicking if you’re in the mood to weep.

Infinite Midlife Crisis

If I were to try and trace the beginnings of my midlife crisis–such as it’s been–I imagine I could source its origins back to early 2008, when I was deeply unemployed and desperately depressed enough to seek help via a depression study I heard about in a radio ad. I’d been in a deep funk for months, the kind of constant emotional turmoil and pain that was reminiscent of the darkest depths of heartbreak I’d experienced at the crash-and-burn of romantic entanglements, or the bleak apocalyptic despair that inexplicably overwhelmed me during my first semester at college, when my personal uncertainties about the future manifested in the certainty that mankind as a species was doomed. A chronic self-medicator, I’d eschewed therapy and prescribed chemical assistance for the depression that had been my bane for most of my existence, from at least adolescence onward.

That depression, which the octogenarian head of the study would later refer to as “profound,” consisted of some fairly straightforward talk-therapy sessions, some very “Parallax View” computer memory tests, a little bit of cognitive conditioning, one of the scariest blood draws I ever experienced in my life (the slightly daffy, possibly incompetent nurse couldn’t seem to locate any of my admittedly pale veins, and I doubt GPS tracking would have helped her), and the administration of a drug that may or may not have been akin to Lexapro. It was a blind study, and of course no one could tell me if I was in the control group or the experimental group, so I had to take it on faith that I was actually getting help in that regard. I drew my own conclusions when, within two weeks, I started to feel like a human being and not a shambling meatbag full of simmering anxiety, swampy self-pity, bitter resentments and societal rage all swirling in my personal shame spiral.

Equally important, my wife noticed too, which was fantastic because my moods were not exactly contributing to harmony in the homestead, as you can imagine. Our son was a toddler at the time and my inner lethargy and emotional muck-wallowing meant I could barely see past the tip of my dick, much less offer any meaningful parental assistance. So in the nick of time, and while I had the time, thanks to unemployment, I took some action–mildly absurd action, it felt at the time, but at least a research study seemed like an interesting thing to do–and managed to rescue myself from ennui and maybe oblivion in the bargain.

There were still plenty of challenges to come–shitty jobs and worse bosses (but at least I was working again), personal setbacks, life shit, plus while things got easier at home, they didn’t suddenly become perfect. Magic pills they may have seemed, but even magic takes effort to keep working. I’ve remained on medication ever since, and fortunately I react well to what I’m on–no noticeable side effects and no recurrence of major depression, which is a big deal considering that in those early years I was still augmenting the meds with alcohol and drugs, self-medicating my mid-life away.

I suppose phase two of this crisis made itself known in earnest around 2010, when I was deep into popping a constant stream of unprescribed (at least to me) painkillers while simultaneously rekindling my long-shelved love of funnybooks. I’ve written a bit about this before, but I blame Ed Brubaker, particularly his Sleeper, Incognito and Captain America, in re-igniting this fire, to the degree that I began reworking a straightforward but stagnating (and still not quite finished) scifi novel I was writing into a superhero-stuffed opus involving Nazi scientists, atomic-powered sex goddesses, human-ape hybrids, ultrasecret agents and all manner of mid-20th-century craziness (gimme a couple more years and a few more books in between and I promise you it’s on its way).

The drug and alcohol abuse went the way of the dinosaur, but the reborn passion for comics didn’t. Good timing, too, because somewhere in there my wife bought me a Kindle and I discovered the joys of comixology and digital comics in general (if you’re a Luddite print-freak who takes issue with this, I respect that, but I still selectively collect when I can, and I only got so much shelf space). Not to mention the fact that Marvel’s complete takeover of Summer blockbuster cinema also coincided with all this, and suddenly my deep middle ages are a pretty incredible time to be a fan of well-made escapist entertainment.

Don’t get me wrong–I still enjoy serious grounded arthouse drama onscreen and on the tube and on the printed or computerized page–but if I have to be honest, 40-something me seems to crave, desire and appreciate the indulgent fun of alternate realities and costumed crusades more than adolescent me ever did. Which makes sense, seeing as I’m more or less the same age as a lot of my favorite creators of this material.

I’m also fortunate that, in creating and publishing my own superhero-centric fiction, I’ve discovered a whole vast narrative prose subgenre, much of it of great quality and sophistication. From Austin Grossman’s “Soon I Will Be Invincible” to Mike Leon’s “Kill Kill Kill” to Casey Glander’s Gailsone series and on and on, there is just a wealth of this stuff to be found on Amazon and elsewhere at very affordable prices and it’s a shit-ton of quick-reading fun that covers a lot of ground, from balls-out satire to sharply human drama to blood-soaked action.

And then there’s TV. I mean, seriously, just between Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. alone it is truly a great time to be a fan of this stuff, weekly doses of genuine comic book awesomeness beamed straight into my eyes for free! And if you’re a true Marvel fan who checked out on S.H.I.E.L.D. in the early, pre-Winter Soldier portion of its first season, I strongly urge you to give it another shot because not only did it come screaming to life after that shot in the arm in the back half of last season, it’s come roaring out of the gate in season two with a kind of confidence in its characters and storytelling that makes it seem like everyone on staff over there started taking the creative equivalent of supersoldier serum over the Summer. Seriously, last year Arrow was my favorite piece of pure entertainment on the idiot box, but so far this year S.H.I.E.L.D. is just crushing everything in its storytelling path. But I digress.

I guess my point, if I have one, is that there are certainly worse ways to “suffer” a midlife crisis. My life is better than it’s ever been. I’m writing, I’m creating, I’m being a better husband and father than I ever thought I could, and in between, I spend a lot more time with superheroes than I do with drug dealers.

So my Bukowski and Hunter Thompson-worshipping/emulating days are behind me. I’m not going to buy a Harley, have a tawdry affair, go on a wild bender, quit my job and run off to an ashram. Or at least, I won’t as long as I can keep getting my superhero fix.

FOGcon

Me and my good buddy Les Milton will be holding court at FOGcon in Walnut Creek, California (so far from God, so close to San Francisco) from Friday, March 7-Sunday, March 9.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/FOGcon/197503626926841

http://fogcon.org

We’ll be selling and trading copies of our books and hopefully shmoozing with varying degrees of success with other scifi writer-types. I have no clear understanding of how much it costs to attend for regular folk or if this is exclusively an event for writers and artists and whatnot, but if you’re in the Bay Area with money to spare, please come check us out.

By the way, Les’s book, which is a great young adult fiction read (and hopefully just the first in a series, if he gets off his butt and gets the next one done) can be found here:

http://www.amazon.com/Accidental-Adventures-Dogget-Mann-ebook/dp/B004LRP8LY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393742424&sr=8-1&keywords=Dogget+Mann

And mine can be found here:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Villains-Sidekick-ebook/dp/B00EYM8I7C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1381906252&sr=8-1&keywords=the+villain%27s+sidekick