Luke Cage’s symbol of justice

luke-cage-bulletproofCaptain America has his shield. Thor’s got his hammer. Iron Man’s got his full-body armor. Not just weapons that they wield, but iconic symbols of their mythic power. At first glance, all Luke Cage seems to have is superhuman strength, bulletproof skin, and some pretty cool street clothes. And while some purist naysayers may not agree, I have to say he looks a lot tighter in his chosen garb than if he was wearing, oh, this:

power-man

But as the new Netflix series bearing his name proceeds, it becomes fairly obvious that while Cage doesn’t have red leather fetish gear like fellow New Yorker Daredevil, he does have an iconic costume of sorts–he just has to change it more often than even MCU Cap changes his. Luke’s armor may be his own black flesh (as powerful a metaphor today as when he was created in 1972), but his symbol of justice, as potent as Cap’s red-white-and-blue, as memorable as green skin or a spider logo, is his bullet-riddled sweatshirt. TINY SPOILER AHEAD: This becomes more explicit in a kind of “I’m Spartacus” moment late in the series, but it’s clear that showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker is well aware of the mythic power of his central protagonist as well as the imagery with which he’s chosen to adorn him.

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I don’t go need to go into too much real-world detail to explain the sociopolitical ramifications of that aesthetic choice. It’s not subtle, nor is it intended to be. The imagery of superhero comic book mythology is rarely subtle, and for all its nods to gritty street level realism, Marvel’s blaxploitation-savvy, issues-tweaking Luke Cage engages just as equally, and as crowd-pleasingly, with the immersive comic book multiverse from which it sprung. Case in point, during Luke’s origin story, Coker and company conspire to let us see Luke in this snazzy get-up:

luke_cage_trailer_1_screenshot

As in Daredevil and Jessica Jonesreferences to the MCU abound, from a corner kid selling DVDs that feature footage of the “incident” where aliens invaded New York in The Avengers, to villain Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes quite accurately calling out the stoic, righteous, cursing-averse Cage as “Harlem’s Captain America.” Dependent on the viewer, these occasional nods both large and small to the hyperfantastic “world outside your window” in which these stories take place may render their Bigger Ideas cheap and facile, and it may seem that Marvel’s adult-oriented Netflix shows are scratching at the surface of bigger social issues and ills as a way to borrow a deeper relevance than they earn. And it’s a fair argument, for sure. On the other hand, if these stories are functioning as a synthesis of pop art and cultural myth, isn’t it better that they stretch to imbue the narrative with some meaning, even if the reach at time exceeds their grasp?

For better or for worse, the Netflix shows are the equivalent of Marvel’s more challenging and engaging slate of comics, like G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. MarvelDennis Hopeless’ Spider-Woman, and Tom King’s Visionwhere creators are given a long leash to play in the Marvel sandbox and craft smart, compelling stories with relatable leads (in spite of their preposterous abilities) that reflect a bit of the real world and the way we live in it back at us. And they’re expanding the playground in a way the movies haven’t managed or even attempted yet, giving us a strong female lead confronting issues of abuse and disempowerment in Jessica Jones, and a nigh-unbreakable black protagonist who’s equal parts badass streetsmart John Shaft and steel-skinned Boy Scout Clark Kent. And in both cases, they’ve gone outside the white male box and hired showrunners (Melissa Rosenberg for Jones, Coker for Cage) with a uniquely qualified perspective on the issues they’ve chosen to address head-on. In a world brimming over with mainstream pop entertainment that often scrupulously avoids coming to terms with anything that might make us pop a social blister, there’s something refreshing, if not downright heroic, about that.

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When it comes down to it, the only downside I see in having a bulletproof sweatshirt as your icon is that it’s much harder to print on a t-shirt. Though I wouldn’t mind owning one of those hoodies.

 

 

 

It Ain’t Shakespeare, but It’s Definitely Suicide Squad

SUICIDE SQUAD

Maybe I was just seduced by the tantalizing marketing, but up until very recently, David Ayer’s Suicide Squad marked the first time I was genuinely excited about an upcoming DC/Warner Bros. property since at least The Dark Knight. Critical response, and feeling pretty burned by Green Lantern  and The Dark Knight Rises, was enough to keep me from experiencing Man of Steel or Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Suckness in theaters, and watching them later on home video did neither film any favors. If the BvS director’s cut was really the more coherent version of that story, I can’t imagine the mess laid at the feet of those of you who did deign to watch it on the big screen. Not only was that movie all over the place, tonally and plotwise, but the behavior of its so-called “heroes” made the impending “get ready to root for the bad guys” aspect of Suicide Squad seem almost redundant.

But it’s exactly that Dirty Dozen with Supervillains concept that had me hooked early in regards to the Squad. After all, as my own book The Villain’s Sidekick and its sequels ought to prove, I’m a sucker for a supervillain redemption story. Full disclosure:  I never read John Ostrander’s seminal ’80s run and in fact only really got drawn in to the book by Ales Kot’s brief sojourn with the team from a few years back. In many ways, though, it’s that version of the team that is reflected in the movie version, so between that, the intriguing portrayal of Task Force X on a few episodes of Arrow’s high-point second season, and the animated Assault on Arkham (far and away my favorite of the DC animated films so far, and unlike Ayer’s film, deserving of a strong R rating), I felt pretty primed for the big-screen adaptation.

I was able to ignore the more irritating details of Jared Leto’s fratboy-on-crack on-and-off-set behavior, the stories of panicky post-Deadpool/BvS reshoots and other potential red flags coming out of the geek press and just focus on the stellar trailers (hoping as usual that all the best gags and plot points weren’t being revealed with every teaser and TV spot). But then the reviews started to roll in and it felt like BvS all over again. “Cool your jets, fanboys,” those reviews seemed to say, “not only is Suicide Squad not all that, it’s pretty much a digital shit-show.” I had the sinking feeling I’d only ever watch it half-distracted in a late-night on-demand viewing.

Well, praise be to the God of Managed Expectations, because I went ahead and took the plunge with a couple of ten-year-olds in tow, and much to my surprise, the movie that unfolded in front of me was almost exactly what I’d hoped for/expected when I first saw those high-energy trailers. It’s mostly a light-hearted, fleet-footed action-comedy romp with terrific performances, particularly from the luminous Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and a let’s-have-fun-again Will Smith as Floyd “Deadshot” Lawton. I also thoroughly enjoyed what the underserved Jai Courtney, who I usually find quite bland, brought to Captain Boomerang (who would guess that he’s a better actor when he’s allowed to play a born Australian?), and likewise Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s very earthy Cajun take on Waylon “Killer Croc” Jones, whose brown velour pimp hoodie may be my favorite costume detail in the whole movie. Critics and more than a few fans have complained about the extended “intro” sequences for most of the core characters, but I found that this first act moved with the rhythm and style of a comic book, embracing that energy in a very similar manner to the much-loved Deadpool. 

A major complaint about this film, much like Bvs, has been its purported incoherence, but I found it to be pretty streamlined, easy to follow (maybe even a bit simplistic) and moved from A to Z without a lot of unnecessary filler. Was character development sacrificed here and there to keep the story bulldozing ahead? No doubt. I would have loved to know a little more about Croc’s inner life, and the significance of Boomerang’s stuffed unicorn. Did the Joker sequences detract from the main story to a degree that rendered them all-but-superfluous? Abso-freakin’-lutely. It didn’t help that Leto’s performance was so hammy that he left the scenery sticky with his saliva; he ‘s earned his seat at the horshoe-shaped table in a Legion of Doomed Characterization alongside Jesse Eisenberg’s equally ridiculous take on Luthor. Was the hypersexualized male-gaze nature of Harley’s portrayal problematic? A case could most certainly be made, but I still enjoyed everything from Robbie’s off-kilter line deliveries to the way she frequently allowed the broken woman to peek out from behind the stream of sassy banter. (SPOILER AHEAD) Could they have given Slipknot maybe one more thing to do than just die without making an impression? Yes, dammit. I’m not some gigantic Adam Beach fan or anything, and I don’t even know who Slipknot is, but the poor guy deserves better than what he got.

Probably the most disappointing aspect from a story perspective is that, much like so many of these comic book movies, the Big Bad is a bit of an underwritten disappointment, though the connection between Enchantress (Cara Delevigne) and Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) at least gave his subplot some emotional momentum. And yes, the fact that our anti-heroes have to save the world from a big cross-dimensional laser-pointer aimed at the sky was an unkind reminder of The Avengers’ third-act problems, but again, that’s a frequently committed sin, and the short-sightedness of rarely allowing these films to have even slightly smaller-scale problems. Part of what worked so well for me in Civil War was that the final confrontation came down to three guys in a room tearing each other apart because one wounded man wanted to make it happen. But in the end, the Squad’s final confrontation wasn’t any more preposterous than the climax of Hellboy II, and I’ll watch the hell out of that movie just about any time.

I’m not saying rush out and see it, because I don’t want to shoulder the blame if you hate it as much as so many others seem to, but for my money, I got my Dirty Dozen with Supervillains, and in the end, the Squad proved to be much less reluctant, much less disturbing, and significantly more entertaining heroes than those cape-clad mopes in that other big DC release.

The Best of Marvel Lives in the Margins

-SpiderWoman-cover

First off, apologies to all three of my regular readers (okay, I’m probably inflating those numbers) for the inexcusably long break between blog posts. I’d like to say that life gets in the way most days, but the fact is, so does laziness. Yes, I’ve been churning out new fiction at a rate unheard of since the days when I did meth on the regular, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be able to find an hour a week, at the very least, to punch some keys and paste something here to justify maintaining a blog in the first place. I could make promises and claims to do better going forward, but I’ve done that before and much like all the times when I’d say I was going to quit smoking and then smoke twice as much in defiance of my own better angels, I’d probably just double down on the apathy and take a whole year off from here.

And it’s not like I don’t find inspiration everywhere, from stuff I’m reading to things I’m watching to the eternal tectonic shifts of dark reality, but every now and again I find a reason and a minute and all the stars line up and BAM, you guys get another blog post. You lucky fucks!

The unlikely source of today’s inspired ramblings is a comic book character I’ve rarely thought twice about, except whenever Comixology puts some of her books on sale and I see a writer’s or artist’s name attached that piques my interest. I’m talking, of course, about your friendly neighborhood Spider-Woman. I don’t know much about her historically as a character, except that she exists as the result of Hydra genetic experiments and not because she was standing at the back of the class and got bitten by the same radioactive spider as Peter Parker later that same day (there’s a whole other recently introduced character, Silk, with that origin, because comics!). I imagine she exists as a result of the same possibly craven motivation that’s given the world Supergirl, Batgirl, Batwoman, She-Hulk, and various other gender-swapped variations on wildly popular superheroes. I don’t know if that impulse involves a desire to recruit more female readers and thinking that’s the best way, or if comics creators just wanted to craft versions of their power-fantasy figures they could daydream about having sex with after a super-battle (“That Spider-Man sure is dreamy–golly, if only he was a girl! Hey…!”).

Whatever their inauspicious origins, once these characters prove to have some lasting appeal, they inevitably fall into the hands of writers and artists who genuinely find them interesting, or at least seize the opportunity to do interesting things with characters who are perceived to be “second-tier.” That’s how you get books like J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman’s incredible “Batwoman” run, Babs Tarr and Cameron Stewart’s recent bestelling “Batgirl” revamp, “She-Hulk” in the hands of Dan Slott or Charles Soule, and now, Dennis Hopeless‘s excellent take on Spider-Woman.

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Hopeless is a writer I’m not particularly familiar with, so if anything made me snap up digital copies of these books, it was Javier Rodriguez’s glorious artwork, which strikes the perfect balance of cartoony without going too broadly comical, realistic without belaboring the details, and enhanced with Alvaro Lopez’s fine-lined inking and Muntsa Vicente’s bright poppy colors. What that told me at a glance was that this book was going to be fun, embracing the inherently over-the-top silliness which is the only sane way for a grown-ass adult to approach and engage with a superheroic universe. The borderline indie-comic spirit put me instantly in mind of Fraction’s “Hawkeye,” the current “Ms. Marvel” and my much-loved “Superior Foes of Spider-Man,” all books that bring a kind of cable-series vibe and a much-deserved spotlight to some of the outliers of the Marvel Multiverse.

What I love about those other books, and indeed what I usually look for in a superhero book these days, is the way they engage with this preposterous reality from a fresh perspective, sneaking humor, humanity and even heart into the dialogue and character interactions, creating small relatable details that don’t interfere when the action gets big; in fact, they enhance it. I love stories that dig into unexplored nooks and crannies of the superpowered world, like who a D-list henchmen hangs out with in his downtime, or what an Avenger watches on cable on her nights off, or the consequences of sneaking out past your bedtime when you’re a hero who still lives with your parents. I also love to see an industry titan like Marvel upgrading its characters so that the “world outside your door” at least starts to look somewhat like the world outside mine. Making the new Ms. Marvel a Pakistani Muslim immigrant was an excellent step in that direction. Giving Jessica Drew a new costume that looks like something she picked out for herself, rather than had painted on against her will, is another. For a character that’s always been presented as a powerful, if conflicted, woman, she’s spent too many years in an outfit that rendered her a hypersexualized male fantasy figure rather than a legitimately self-empowered individual.

I’m not saying I hate this, because my Neanderthal lizard brain most certainly responds to it…

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…but this is way more practical, a whole lot cooler, and while I can’t necessarily picture my wife in it, I could at least imagine running into her somewhere…

SpiderladyContinuing this streak of real-world feminism and self-propelled sisterhood, Hopeless and Rodriguez craft a terrific story arc in which Jessica, now striking out on her own as a private detective, her time with the Avengers in the rearview mirror (for now), takes a keen interest in the cases of multiple missing women. All of these women–and some children–have one thing in common: they are the wives, girlfriends and significant others of a who’s-who of supervillains, henchmen, and assorted powered goons. Teaming up with the Daily Bugle’s hardest working investigative journalist, Ben Urich, and a third-tier criminal with a bad rep and a big heart with the unfortunate alias Porcupine, Jessica finds her way to an idyllic small town inhabited almost solely by women and children. As it turns out, an enterprising abuse survivor has established a kind of underground railroad for women who’ve been victimized by their good-for-nothing, often psycho costumed spouses and boyfriends, spiriting them away to this rural getaway to live a peaceful life off the abusers’ radars. Unfortunately, the brains behind this operation has become something of a criminal mastermind herself, convincing a number of the crooks that their loved ones are being held hostage and forcing them to pull jobs that will funnel funds and resources to the fledgling community/sanctuary. That’s how Porcupine ends up in Jessica’s orbit, becoming a surprisingly sympathetic ally as Jess attempts to find a solution that will put an end to the criminal activity while preserving the much-needed retreat for these unfortunate women and their offspring.

Needless to say, when I downloaded the first issue in this run, I was not expecting a story of such depth and complexity, where a segment of the expansive Marvelverse becomes a potent metaphor  not only for the victimization and subjugation of women, but of the potential for even long-suffering victims to find the inner strength and resources to stand up and fight back, not with the fists of their oppressors (well, not just the fists anyway) but with solidarity, and smarts. It’s the second time inside of a year that I’ve come across a Marvel story with such a well-crafted contemporary feminist slant, the other being the Netflix version of Spider-Woman’s namesake and fellow superpowered P.I. Jessica JonesIf this is a sign of things to come as Marvel plays catch-up with the world, and caters more carefully and overtly to their many female fans, I can only say we geeks are richer for it. And it leaves me eager to get my hands on the next volume, where this happens…

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Another One in the Can

Update: It being my birthday and all, I figured it’s only right to announce that The Devil’s Right Hand will release on February 29th, just in time for Leap Day. Makes a great gift for that special someone you only think about once every four years…

Available for pre-order right here.

from the author of -The villain's sidekick-' (1) copy

Just over two weeks ago, I typed the final words of the first draft of Citizen Skin, my long-gestating sequel to The Villain’s SidekickNow the hard work lies ahead, of doing a major revision, then recruiting a few beta readers, then polishing the hell out of it, then having an editor fine-tooth comb it, many steps I was confident enough to skip when I threw Villain’s into the world. But that book was less than a third of the length, had a much simpler, more streamlined plot, and poured out of me in a very short time. Citizen I’ve been hammering away at almost since I first finished that one, and it’s a monster by comparison.

Still, in the interim, I did manage to churn out The Eternity Conundrumwhich like Villain’s was born after a quick, mostly painless delivery and a very short period of labor (yeah, I’m running with the pregnancy metaphors, as if there’s any real comparison). It hasn’t been quite as widely read or well-received as my first, but it serves its purpose and I still stand by it as something I’m proud to have made, even if it maybe could’ve used a little more time in the oven. Not that it’s half-baked, just a tad undercooked. And now I’ve got another one of those, a short story, even leaner than Conundrum, that explores Duke’s HandCannon origins, how a war-wounded veteran turned petty criminal found himself swept up in the world of supercrime and metahuman villainy. It’s called The Devil’s Right Hand (at least for now) because I was listening to the Steve Earle song of the same name (“mama says a pistol is the devil’s right hand”) and it was so literally perfect to describe a guy who’s right arm is a machine gun. Of course, in this story he doesn’t even have that bit of his identity yet, but you can get a good glimpse of where his life is headed. Also, without spoiling anything, I will say that this little tale contains possibly my favorite of all the ridiculous superpowered characters I’ve come up with in the HandCannon Universe.

This is an early announcement, as I literally just finished the first draft of the story a few hours ago, so I still have to do my own revisions, let a beta reader or two opine on the story, and then get it as polished as I feel like getting it in time for my publisher, Budget Press, to have it on the table for the L.A. Zinefest in early March. But it’s been such a goddamn productive few weeks on the writing front, I just felt like I needed to share. Plus I knocked out a nifty cover that doesn’t  exactly match the uniform aesthetic I would love all the books to have, but for a guy with absolutely zero graphics skills, I don’t hate it as a placeholder.

Anyway, more news as it comes along in the next week or so, but for now I just wanted to whet your appetites.

The first taste is free:

“Load up on guns, bring your friends…”

                                                                                    Nirvana  “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

El Paso, Texas, November 1991 

Everyone’s got an origin story, but not all of ‘em are created equal. I mean, on one end of the spectrum there’s you, right? Just some regular schlub trying to get through your life and not die before you’re ready—good luck with that, by the way—and on the other end there’s the lone survivor of some vastly superior but still inexplicably humanoid alien race who shows up on our planet and gets to live out his days playing messiah to every hapless fuckwit too useless to rescue their own damn selves. How relatable is that? In between you’ve got your obsessive, vengeance-minded billionaire geniuses, one-percenters who think they know what’s best for humanity and have the toys and means to force their worldview on the rest of us. And then there’s the angry narcissists, despotic freaks deformed by rotten luck or raw nature acting out egomaniacal agendas; a lot of these guys and gals have their own secret bases, their own armies, even their own countries sometimes, full of slack-jawed goose-steppers that willingly follow these id monsters in spite of the fact that they’re usually just cannon fodder or targets for misdirected rage. And that’s not even covering your ordinary Joes with deep personal flaws and devil-may-care life approaches who stumble into industrial accidents or come across ancient talismanic objects that grant them amazing powers and turn them into low-level deities for good or ill.

And then, somewhere below all of them, luckier than a lot of you Jane Does and Joe Six-Packs but unluckier than most, there’s folks like me. Criminal chumps on a downhill slide to the Big Nothing before getting unexpectedly called up to the majors, coasting for awhile on the same thrill that athletes, actors, musicians and politicians must get when their star first starts to rise.

***

I wake up to the sound of snoring—deep, loud, and disconcertingly male—and after a few foggy moments I start to piece together where I am. The hard thin mattress barely protecting me from the metal struts of a cot screwed tight to a cinderblock wall. The overwhelming stench of piss, vomit and despair. The reverberating clang of metal on metal and the murmur of discontented voices.

Jail.

Of course.

Where I else would I be after a string of days and nights spent and wasted on border-hopping bar-crawling culminating in an epic-length blackout? The final hours of my latest self-annihilating binge reduced from a hi-def videostream of crystal memory to a series of time-lapsed Polaroids, like the film ran out of budget and the third reel consists of nothing but storyboards and snapshots of scouted locations. My next question: what side of the border was I on when they rounded me up? I dimly recall an El Paso drowning hole called La Boca del Leon, a couple of mouthy shitkickers who didn’t understand how I could shoot pool so good with just the one functioning arm, and the kind of all-hands-on-deck bar fight you assume only ever happened on a Hollywood soundstage in the heyday of the Western. I get my answer only when my head clears enough so that I can suss out from the nearby voices of jailbirds and law enforcers that most everyone seems to be speaking Texas-accented Americanese.

I try to sit up and literally everything hurts, from my alcohol-drenched brainpan to my war-wounded arm stump. My insides roil and heave with an admixture of every kind of booze, most types of pills and an unhealthy gut-bomb of grease-sealed Tex-Mex. The rust-crusted, shit-stained steel toilet seems impossibly far away, even in this 6×8 cell, so I just roll over and aim for the floor as my body rejects a platter-sized splatter of semi-digested flotsam from deep in my innards. I expel so much I’m pretty sure I’m puking stuff I haven’t eaten in years, like baby food, or even in this lifetime, like primordial soup. It’s only when I go to brace myself to keep from tumbling off the cot that I realize my prosthetic arm is missing.

The queasier among you will not want to hear this next part, so, yeah, spoiler alert: I go face first into my own belly stew and split my chin on the cold cement floor beneath it, which at least does me the favor of giving me an entirely fresh shock of pain to focus on.

“You mind keeping it down over there, pal? I need my beauty sleep before I bust outta here.”

It takes a few to realize that A) the snoring has stopped and 2) that rumbly voice, more amused than threatening, must be coming from my cellmate.

“Yeah, well, pardon me,” is the best I can muster, about 30% sincere and the rest however-much-amount sarcastic.

“S’matter?” my celly asks, and as he sits up and lets the thin scrap of what’s meant to pass for a blanket fall away, I realize he’s at least as big as I am. And at seven feet plus and close to 300 pounds of mostly muscle, I am nobody’s idea of small. “Bed wasn’t cold or hard or vomity enough? Decided you’d be more comfy in a warm puddle of your own sick?”

He’s a black guy, the kind where you actually get why they call ‘em black, with skin the shade and sheen of a well-worn leather biker jacket. 400 pounds easy, with shoulders practically as wide across as the front grill of a ’65 Lincoln Continental. Even just sitting there, in boxers and a wifebeater, I know he’s ex-military, although I can imagine the NFL champing at the bit just to place him on field in the defensive line like an immovable human wall.

“Kelvin Watts,” he tells me, even though I haven’t asked. “Friends call me Battery.”

“Cause you’re so powerful?” I hazard. “Or as in ‘Assault and…’?”

“Pretty much every reason you could think of,” he says, smiling wider than he already was.

“Duke LaRue.”

“I’d shake your hand but…” He indicates the mess I’m still extricating myself from, then tosses me his blanket scrap so I can start toweling off.

“What you get popped for, Kelvin?”

“Same as you, I’m guessin.’ Makin’ more trouble than a man my age oughta be.” He glances, then gestures, at my arm stump. “When’d you get back?”

“What’s it been? Six months I guess. You?”

“Shit, I’m not sure I am back. But about a year, if you go by the Gregorian calendar. How’d it happen?” He taps his elbow to indicate he’s referring to my stump. Guess that’s more of a conversation piece than the facial scars and glass eye.

“Chopper went down.”

Kelvin nods, then, “Friendly fire?”

Helluva guess. “How’d you know?”

“Lotta that in Desert Storm. Plus, the ones it happens to tend to be more pissed off than the ones who came about their wounds the so-called ‘honorable’ way.”

“I seem particularly pissed off to you?”

“You were when you got here. They musta worn out five TASERs puttin’ you at your ease.”

“Since when do El Paso cops have TASERs?”

“It’s the ‘90s, baby. Brave new world. So, how you earnin’ your beer money these days?”

“Sympathy, mostly,” I say, waggling my stump for emphasis. “And when that runs out, cheating. At cards, at pool, with rich guys’ wives. Supplemented with the occasional strong-arm robbery.”

“I see.” He gives me a long once-over, his expression turning 100% serious for the first time since we met. “You affiliated?”

“What…like…am I in a gang?”

Kelvin comes back with a noncommittal shrug.

“Yeah, sure, I’m an honorary Crip. But only because I don’t look good in red. I hope you ain’t a Blood. Nothin’ personal if you are.”

If he grins any wider, the top half of his head might come off.

“I’m not really talkin’ street gangs. I mean, once you been to the other side of the world, that shit starts to seem kinda pedestrian, doncha think?”

My turn to shrug.

Kelvin stands up and finds the county-issued orange jumpsuit folded neatly under his bunk, starts forcing himself into it like ground pork into a sausage casing.

“Well listen, friend. It’s been real nice chattin’ with you and all, but I got places to do, things to be, people to kill. You know the drill. So if you’ll excuse my abruptivity and forgive my shortage of social graces…”

With that, Kelvin “Battery” Watts gives me my first-ever up close and personal demonstration of what it means to have superpowers. Quicker and more graceful than I woulda thought possible, he heaves his enormity up off his cot and unscrews the lone bare light bulb that hangs in the middle of our cell. With nary more than a jovial wink in my direction, he jams two thick fingers into the empty socket, making contact with the live exposed wires inside, a shower of sparks cascading down over him like little electric snowflakes and his eyes glowing yellow, maybe just from the reflected electricity though it seems more like the light’s coming from inside his head. The lights flicker and dim in the corridor and the other cells and the ongoing murmur of voices shifts suddenly to a louder chorus of mild alarm. Without removing his fingers, and reacting to the surge of power coursing through him with a kind of ecstatic shiver, Battery reaches over with his free hand and pounds the cinderblocks once, twice, three times until the back wall crumbles to small chunks and pulverized dust and Texas morning sunlight streams into our tiny shared space.

“You’re welcome to join me, of course.”

The frenzied sounds of human confusion are already swelling in intensity as a gaggle of guards clomps down the corridor outside our cell, and as tempting as the daylight looks, I think maybe I don’t have it in me to move far or fast enough to outrun these chumps and making a break for it would just be turning a pretty minor misdemeanor into something I might not be legally or emotionally ready to handle. Plus, I’m in my skivvies and they’re holding my other arm.

“Not today, man,” I say, settling back onto my cot.

“In that case, I appreciate you not trying to score brownie points by shouting for the uniforms. If you ever get south of the border, look me up. We could have us some fun. Maybe even turn a dime for it.” And with that, he steps through the hole and disappears into the El Paso morning.

“I’ll do that,” I say, knowing full well that I won’t, and that I’ll never again lay my good eye on Kelvin “Battery” Watts.

Funny thing about certainty though: in this life, it’s not really so much a thing.

 

 

 

 

Rednecks & Pigskin

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Growing up Texan, I’m pretty sure I was meant to be a football fan. My father is, my sister is, my brother was. Legendary Dallas Cowboys QB Roger Staubach attended the same church as my family when I was a kid. My neice is married to the son of another legendary NFL-er who played for my home team, the long-gone Houston Oilers.

But for whatever reason, the football bug never bit. In fact, between my own little league baseball and soccer experiences, which left a bad taste in my mouth for the spirit of competition, and a general interest in geekier pursuits, I’ve never cared for sports at all. Except, of course, in the realm of fiction. From the foul-mouthed kids of the original “Bad News Bears” to the debauched troubled souls of “North Dallas Forty” to the soft-hearted lug of “Rocky” I could always relate to the underdog/outsider metaphor of one team, or individual, fighting long odds just to survive, much less win.

Amidst the “Breaking Bads” and “Sopranos” and “Mad Men,” and somewhat overshadowed by them, I’m of the opinion that “Friday Night Lights” is one of the greatest TV dramas in history, its depiction of a small Texas town that lives and dies by the success of its high school football team providing a backdrop for stories about marginalized human beings, righteousness and wrongheadedness, and one of the most dead-honest portrayals of a healthy happy but sometimes bumpy marriage since, I dunno, Dan and Roseanne, I guess. It’s much more of an optimistic, feel-good show than those I just mentioned above, but it comes about that optimism honestly, and with genuine respect for its small-town Southern characters and their humanity. In other words, it’s not “Seventh Heaven,” or “Coach” or even “The White Shadow.”

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“Southern Bastards,” Jasons Aaron & Latour’s epic graphic ongoing is about a small town just as mired in its obsession with the ritual significance of what happens on that high school football field week in and week out, but very much the anti-“Friday Night Lights” in every conceivable way. If Coach Eric Taylor was a kind of patron saint of tough love mentorship, “Bastards” Coach Euless Boss is the devil incarnate. Here’s a man who’s clawed his way up from an abject life to a position of power and authority that he not only realizes to its fullest extent, but will never let go of as long as there’s life left in him. If his surname’s not already a clue, Euless functions not only as the head coach of the Runnin’ Rebs, but as the town mob boss as well, maintaining a tight-fisted reign over his ruthless, toothless goons, most of whom seem to be former students who’ve gone on to something less than glory off the field.

Coach Boss’ mandated order of things is challenged when Earl Tubb, aging son of the town’s long-gone legendary sheriff, returns home to settle some family business. The two crusty sons-of-bitches run afoul of each other pretty quick, especially once Earl picks up the old family war club off the mantle and starts beating the hell out of Boss’ thugs. However, as much as “Southern Bastards” ain’t “Friday Night Lights,” it ain’t “Walking Tall” either, and things don’t turn out quite the way we’ve been led to expect from a century of cowboy movies.

The genius of the storytelling–and really, this is the mark of a lot of great storytelling, especially in the Age of the Anti-hero–is that the Jasons create a thoroughly loathsome villain in Volume 1, then sucker-punch you with a sympathetic tale of Euless’ origins in Volume 2, forcing you to understand him a little, even if he is a man most likely beyond all hope of redemption. Watching him fight against all odds to impress his own less-than-worthless father and get some sense of familial respect (love’s too much to ask for ’round these parts), becoming a football player with no natural talent through sheer force of will, you see the bumps, bruises, and breaks that formed the literal and metaphorical scar tissue that’s made his hide so dense.

Volume 3 switches gears again and spins a series of single-issue tales about the various townspeople, from the black ex-football star sheriff who’s been looking the other way for too long to the proselytizing super-Christian who believes any soul is worthy and capable of saving to the sociopathic redneck who happily, viciously proves him wrong.

Since the end of the first story arc, Aaron and Latour have been teasing the arrival of Earl Tubb’s Middle East-war vet daughter, who promises to be the fuse that ignites the powder keg of small town insanity, bigotry, rage and vengeance at the core of Euless Boss, his town, and this incredible story.

 

 

 

The Villain’s Sidekick 2nd Anniversary Sale

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This week marks two years since I threw common sense to the wind and unleashed my self-published novella onto the world. As I chip away at the sequel that’s taken twice as long as originally predicted, I pause to celebrate by putting the original e-book up for sale on Amazon for a mere .99c. I know most of you who bother to read this blog have long since read it (or at least bought a copy that you have every good intention of reading when you really genuinely feel like it), but maybe you can pass the good word on to a friend, coworker, associate or stranger who’s a degree or two away from the short arm of my marketing reach. It’s still as good as it was 2 years ago, and most of its contemporary references have not been consigned to the dustbin of “That is sooo 2013” just yet. The sale starts tomorrow, Friday Sept. 4th and continues until the following Friday, the 11th.

So give it a shot, huh?

And for those that haven’t heard it yet, here’s a link to the Dork Forest podcast that I participated in just recently. If, like me, you can’t get enough of this whole superhero fiction phenomenon, then this is the online chat show episode for you!

Shameless Self-Promotion Tour 2015

It’s been nearly two years since I first published The Villain’s Sidekick, and while I’d much rather be pushing the sequel by now, it’s been a bit more of an undertaking than I anticipated, so for purposes of trying to keep interest alive for the stuff that’s already out in the world, I’m throwing a little 2nd anniversary party for Villain’s. As such, for anyone out there who hasn’t read it, the Kindle Edition will be on sale for the mere pittance of .99c starting Friday Sept. 4th and continuing through Sept. 11.

As such, I did a little promotional interview with the e-reader targeted online publication, Book Reader Magazine and figured what the hell? Why not share it here and fill up some blogspace in the bargain?

http://bookreadermagazine.com/featured-author-stephen-t-brophy/

Featured Author Stephen T. Brophy

IMG_2501Featured Interview With Stephen T. Brophy

Tell us a little about yourself. Where were you raised? Where do you live now?
I was born and raised in Houston, Texas, which I ended up choosing as the setting for my first novella, The Villain’s Sidekick, even though I haven’t lived there in years. I left Texas after college and settled for a good long while in San Francisco, where I landed my first paid writing gig after many years working below my abilities in restaurants and cafes and the like. Once bitten, I couldn’t go back to those day jobs, so my girlfriend (now wife) and I relocated to Los Angeles a few years back. We now have a pretty amazing son and two wonderful, tragically aging dogs, a neurotic Lab mix and a pit bull/boxer.

At what age did you realize your fascination with books? When did you start writing?
I was born to two voracious readers, so the love of reading was instilled from about as early as I can remember. I actually had a little difficulty learning to read but once I got it, I took to it like a Great White shark to a helpless sea lion, and within very short order I was bored with kiddie lit and moving on to grown-up books. I remember reading “Jaws” when I was 8 years old (hence the shark reference) after being so enthralled by the movie. So, fittingly enough, when I started writing, my first book was entitled “Jaws,” and involved a shark who could walk on land (SNL had just started airing around that time, too, so dual influences at work). I wrote a lot of derivative stuff until I found my own “voice.” Which is really probably just a mash-up of all the authors and stories I’ve encountered and loved ever since.

Who are your favorite authors to read? What is your favorite genre to read. Who Inspires you in your writings?
My favorite genres are science fiction (Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, John Brunner, Ramez Naam), crime fiction (James Ellroy, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, Elmore Leonard), and the literature of the dissolute (Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, Don Delillo). They’ve all equally inspired what I do now. But the biggest influence over the last few years–and at my age maybe I should be embarrassed to admit this but I’m so not–has been a rekindled love of comics, from weird indies to straight up mainstream superhero fare. I’d read them off and on since adolescence, but when a friend introduced me to Sleeper by Ed Brubaker, and I went on to read his Captain America stuff, I became more immersed than I’d ever been. In fact, I’d been kind of stuck on a science fiction story I was telling and it was only when I got the inspiration that I could include superpowered characters and take it to a more interesting, liberating place. Since then, I’ve read a LOT of superhero prose fiction–basically comic books without the pictures, I guess, but so much more, too–like Austin Grossman’s “Soon I Will Be Invincible,” Jim Bernheimer’s “Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, Rafael Chandler’s “The Astounding Antagonists,” Blake Northcott’s “Arena Mode” series and on and on. It’s really a whole terrific genre just waiting to be discovered by the mainstream. And with the current popularity of superheroes in film, it seems just a matter of when.

Tell us a little about your latest book?
I’ve written two novellas featuring my alter-ego, Duke “HandCannon” LaRue, a supervillain’s henchman with a machine gun arm, a steel jaw, an ex-wife who used to do crimes with him before the birth of their adorable precocious daughter, and all the troubles that go with being a semi-reformed bad guy in a 12-step program who may be harboring a hero beneath his frightening exterior. He’s basically the distillation of all that Bukowski, Jim Thompson and William Gibson I mentioned up top. There’s The Villain’s Sidekick and it’s short prequel, The Eternity Conundrum, and I’m currently working on a full-length sequel, Citizen Skin. The sequel alternates POVs from chapter to chapter between HandCannon and his badass best friend Trista Brooks, also known as Nightguard. She’s a supporting character in Villain’s who steps large on the stage in the follow up.

The Good Stuff

I promised a while back that I would get better about posting to my blog with greater regularity, and I have all-but-failed mightily in keeping that promise. I was also hoping that this blog would take on some weighty theme that balanced my life in recovery with my love of comic books, superheroes and all manner of pop culture ephemera. Who knows? Maybe it still will. Someday.

But for now, I’m just going to throw up a lazy list of cool things I’ve stumbled across in my free time lately, the material that’s been filling my brain or stuff that just deserves a little extra exposure.

Thanks to Comixology, I read a lot of digital comics these days, filling up my e-shelves with runs of whatever they put on sale for .99c if they sound the least bit interesting, and doing my best to never pay more than $1.99 an issue for the premium stuff, which usually means waiting at least a month after the original release date for the prices to drop. Thanks to the convenience of the site, I’ve been exposed to all kinds of stuff I might have never discovered otherwise, especially since I haven’t been a single-issue print purchaser for decades, from mainstream “Big Two” books to all kinds of amazing indie material covering a multitude of genres.

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Far and away the most interesting, entertaining book I’ve been reading on the regular for the past couple of years–the one I look forward to most each month (or longer, if they’re shipping behind schedule)–is Lazarus from writer Greg Rucka (Gotham CentralPunisher: War Zone) and artist Michael Lark (Winter Soldier, lots of other terrific work with Ed Brubaker). Set in a dystopic American future (can we conceive of any other kind?), it’s the story of Forever Carlyle, the enhanced posthuman bodyguard for her family, one of a small group of corporate clans who control all of the world’s wealth and resources. Each clan has one family member who is dedicated as the family Lazarus, nigh-unkillable warrior-soldiers who protect their blood relations at all costs, and carry out much of the dirty work when it’s called for. And it’s called for pretty often. The rest of the populace falls into categories under an oligarchical caste system in which everyone’s societal status is determined by their value to their respective clans. Laborers are known as Serfs, and everyone below them–most of the 99%–are deemed Waste. And opportunities to change your station are slim to none at best. Which doesn’t stop people from trying, usually to their own regret.

It’s an impressive exercise in world-building science fiction and a brilliant allegory for our current state of income inequality, while also being action-packed, soap operatic, and immersively entertaining every step of the way.

Five Shots to the Skull! Highest rating!

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I recently discovered the British scifi comedy/drama Misfits, which ran for five tight, short seasons from 2009-2013 and was a moderate hit on BBC America. It’s an offbeat coming of age series about a group of young adults doing forced community service for various crimes, and on their first day on the job, they’re caught in a storm that imbues them with an odd assortment of superpowers that very much reflect their damaged personalities. In an American version, you might expect that these kids would fairly quickly realize their gifts and heed the call to become “proper superheroes,” but in this anarchic swirl of hormones and bad behavior, it takes this crew five years and a gradual but complete cast and character overhaul before they really pick up the mantle of herodom. In the meantime, they drink, drug, creatively curse, fuck and accidentally kill multiple probation workers in possibly the most punk rock TV show it’s ever been my pleasure to binge-view. It’s more reminiscent of Skins than it is The Avengers or even Mystery Men, with a hint of Buffy in the way that their young lives, their powers, and the monstrosities they encounter are frequently metaphors for the painful, puzzling struggles of adolescence and the agonizing transition to adulthood.

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Apparently loyal viewers during its original run were unhappy with the wholesale cast changes that took place, particularly from season 3 to 4, but watching it in one fell swoop made the transition feel much more organic, and eventual series lead Joseph Gilgun (a terrific bad guy in Lockout and soon to co-star as the Irish vampire Cassidy in HBO’s take on Preacher) is so goddamned entertaining he pretty much walks away with the whole show anyway. Also entertaining to see Iwan “Ramsay Bolton” Rheon as a likable nerd and burgeoning badass in the early seasons. It’ll make you hate his face just a little less.

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Three Strikes Against Your Record! Highest Rating!

This past week I read an article on the AV Club about David Fincher having the plug pulled on his proposed cable series Utopiawhich was said to be a remake of a fairly recent scifi suspense series from Britain’s Ch. 4, in which an obscure graphic novel holds secrets that could apparently lead to either mankind’s salvation, or its doom. Maybe depending on who’s reading it? I dunno.

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This was the first I’d heard of it in any form, and considering my recent good luck with British scifi series, I tracked it down, finding several episodes from its two seasons available–in high-quality HD no less–for free on YouTube. Watch the first scene of that first episode and if you like your scifi thrillers gorgeously shot, intriguingly scored, shockingly dark and laced with brutal humor, you’ll be hooked from the jump. I’ve had to search a little harder to find episodes four and five but I have found them, and while I’m not quite through the first season, I’m enjoying it at least as much as I did the Wachowski’s Netflix series Sense8 (though that show is decidedly more utopian than Utopia for sure).

Four White Rabbits! Highest Rating!

Finally, for today, I want to mention Springan offbeat romantic horror fantasy that feels more like a well-made naturalistic indie drama before the high weirdness kicks in. It’s the story of an underemployed young man from California (Lou Taylor Pucci from the 2013 Evil Dead remake) who gets into some potential legal trouble shortly after the death of his mother and decides an impromptu trip to Europe is just what he needs to get free of the life that’s closing in on him at home. Once there, he meets some incredibly obnoxious British backpackers who drag him on a roadtrip to an idyllic resort town in the shadow of Vesuvius (and yes, SPOILER ALERT, that is definitely Chekhov’s volcano, destined to go off in the third act). There he meets Louise (the jaw-droppingly stunning Nadia Hilker)

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who is either God’s gift to weary travelers or a nightmare walking, depending on her blood sugar levels. It’s equal parts Before Sunrise and American Werewolf in London with a hint of another recent indie horror flick, The Afflictedthough it doesn’t suffer from that movie’s ill-considered choice to muck around in the exhausted subgenre of the found footage thriller. It’s solidly scripted, the leads are charming and likable, and the indie directors got a lot of mileage out of utilizing carefully planned drone shots to capture their Italian seaside setting. And even when it erupts into horror, it’s anything but a generic monster movie, emerging as something much more Lovecraftian while remaining thoroughly romantic and surprisingly sweet. This is a horror flick that, occasional grossouts aside, would make a better-than-average date movie.

Four Probing Tentacles! Highest Rating!

Roleplay and the Art of Storytelling

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - The Walking Dead _ Season 5B, Key Art - Photo Credit: Courtesy of AMC

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes – The Walking Dead _ Season 5B, Key Art – Photo Credit: Courtesy of AMC

For a few months now, my 9-year-old and I have been playing our own “role playing game” based on his favorite TV show, The Walking Dead. I put RPG in quotes because the fact is, while we did make character sheets in the early going, we’ve never used them, nor do we make maps or roll dice. We just pick which character or set of characters we want to play as, and one of us serves as game-master, pitching out scenarios and asking the other what their response will be. It’s a very free-form version of roleplaying, basically an interactive way of telling each other stories using these characters and scenarios. We mix and match characters from the show, the comic, and the videogame, so Darryl can interact with Dwight when they stumble across Clementine and Lee wandering the Georgia wasteland. It can be a lot of fun, and my boy came up with a very entertaining do-over of the war with the Governor which ended with a much more satisfying death for that old bastard than what we got on the show.

However, after several weeks of playing for fifteen or thirty minutes before bed a few nights a week, I noticed that our narrative thrust was suffering from some of the same inertia as the show frequently does. A lot of time was being spent navigating a bus down abandoned-vehicle-choked back roads, fighting zombies and ill-tempered human survivors in the woods or at one broken-down compound or another, then hitting the road again. We were trying to juggle too many characters, completely forgetting some were even on hand while continuously focusing on our favorites. In short, what started as an enjoyable diversion became dull (more for me than him) fairly quickly.

So last week, after the boy caught me rewatching episodes of Netflix Daredevil series, he abruptly switched gears and suggested that instead of Walking Dead, we should start a new game involving everybody’s favorite blind-attorney-turned-vigilante from Hell’s Kitchen. Now it could be just my own prejudices and personal predilections at play, but right away, I was more into our little no-rules RPG than I had been for a long while. Part of the reason was the freedom that came with playing only as one lead character, rather than trying to juggle a Michonne/Rick/Darryl combo, then needing to switch to play as Tyrese/Sasha/Carl when the scene shifted. I liked the focus, and my familiarity with the character was enough that I didn’t need dice or stats to know what my guy was capable of, what kind of damage he could inflict on which type of nemesis, and what his specific limitations were. And whether I was the quester or the gamemaster, I felt like I never ran out of options, and I could be a lot more creative than the “zombie/bad human attacks, kill zombie/bad human” status quo we’d been mired in. I think we both felt the change, because suddenly we were jumping up and acting out our fisticuffs and pitched supervillain beatdown campaigns. New York City was an instantly more exciting backdrop than the endless rural South, and I could be attacked by anyone from Tombstone to Elektra while receiving unexpected aid from the Punisher or SHIELD, or having a chance encounter with Spidey and Doc Ock.

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I think what really got my juices flowing more than anything was the simple narrative elegance of those classic Daredevil stories, and the endless options afforded by the Marvel Multiverse, and although he’s read and seen more Walking Dead than anything from Marvel, Ash was equally inspired in his yarn-spinning–the narrative twists he’s come up with have been smart, exciting and frequently hilarious. Not a lot of laughs as humanity dies off one by one, but when guys dress up in longjohns to prowl for crime, well, there should always be room for a good gag or seven. Rather than open-ended wandering through an apocalyptic wasteland with no end of danger, misery or suffering in sight, we get to indulge in boss fights with nigh-invulnerable mob goons in a cramped midtown alley or the Silver Samurai suddenly bursting from a shipping container on a fog-shrouded New York dock.

This is not to say that Daredevil is a better, more tightly constructed vessel for storytelling than Walking Dead (I shouldn’t have to say it because it’s just a simple, straightforward–and utterly subjective–factpinion). But there’s something to be said for the sense of mission, purpose, and the possibility for achieving a goal–stopping a bad guy, saving an innocent, getting through the night without killing anyone, even when/if they’ve more than earned it–beyond mere brute survival. My point being that all the problems I’ve had with that wildly popular zombie narrative on the screen seem to be so much an organic part of its overall structure that they couldn’t help but reassert themselves even when we had nothing holding us back but the limits of our own unrestricted imaginations.  Then again, maybe I was just dragging my own subconscious baggage with me into our gameplay.

Anyway whatever else happens, whether our next RPG is based on Mad Max or They Live, I just hope I’m not begging for Jon Bernthal’s character to die (when he joins season 2 of DD as the Punisher) the way I was for him to bite the big one when he played Shane on WD. Know what I mean?

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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.

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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.