My buddy Mark Simon, who does storyboards for The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, and a bunch of other cool shows, put together this animatic of the opening sequence for my TV pilot adaptation of The Villain’s Sidekick. I think it’s kinda fun.
Word of the bombing spread virus-quick across the hi-tension infovine, fingers pointing and accusations flying through the humid miasma of Puerto de San Frantic. Free D. knew about it soon enough to make a few bucks off it before it hit the metamedia. Possibly the last readicash he’d lay hands on for quite some time. Situation ripe for a riot, had been for months, years, maybe the whole of the century, and most of the one before. Free D. could smell the bitter end of his own San Frantic era, already laying the groundwork for his next move, a new base of operations in another hotspot far from home, another 3rdWorld subsidiary a year or two from absolute boilover. For San Frantic, the moment had finally arrived. Thousands of angry citizens, many indigenas, pressed to the limits of their long-seething outrage. Such a minor indignity, this, an indefinite number of civilian casualties caught within the blast radius, wrong-place/wrong-time pedestrians, extras in the epic pageant of subsidized violence, bit players in the corporate cold war. Somebody’s spouse, still and all, somebody’s sibling, parent, offspring. Innocence could only be measured in degrees, but these unlucky few were now instant martyrs, unable to enjoy their elevated status, the spontaneous emergence from anonymity into historic posterity, 15 minutes of posthumous fame for a few dozen corpses blown to glory.
A rally in the zocalo, bracketed by the church, the Edificio Federal, the Nordstrom’s and the US Embassy, remained peaceable for nearly half an hour before incendiary remarks sparked volatile tempers and rebellious fire smoldered, flared and finally blazed out of control. Free D. watched it all from the vista of a penthouse suite at the Mono/Hilton, sipping top shelf scotch with foreign journalists from all over the 1stWorld, tuning in on the Wavemonitors an event that was occuring live right outside their windowall. Copying each other’s notes, Xeroxing each other’s dispatches, transfaxing glib, indifferent, and utterly half-assed reports to UPI and the InterSystem Wavewire, vocalizing contempt for the wretched citizenry and their ill-timed pseudocoup, interfering as it did with 3rd World Cup coverage and delaying payoffs from the bookmakers. Only Free D. and a couple of others watched it live, a Frenchman from the Paris Match overcome with ennui, way past horror or disgust, just plain bored, and a hearty blonde from Lapland, oohing and aahing and trying to figure out just who she should root for; in the end, she went with Nordstrom’s.
On the square, rocks, sticks, bottles, claw hammers, axe handles and small arms flew, swung, and fired, even as gun-happy government thugs rubber-bulleted, tear-gassed, stun-gunned, and billy-clubbed the huddled masses. Clashers on both sides fell, clutching bloody head wounds only to be trampled by boots, sandals, sneakers, and high heels. Not that there were sides, as such. Just a surging mass of bodies, the individuals who comprised the whole somehow able to distinguish the enemy in the midst of all that heat and dust and chemical smoke. Clusters of luckless rioters found themselves coated in fast-hardening crowd-control foam spewing from hoses like a monster-mutant moneyshot from some XXX-rated Japanime. Still others were snared in Taser-charged webs of shocknet. But they were greater in numbers than the better-armed goons, and even the high-tech hand-me-down weaponry was no match for the amorphous collective of raw primal fury.
Free D. looked on, rapt, fascinated, secretly loving it for a bundle of contradictory reasons, happily sucking back the ill-gotten booze from these ratbastards’ double-stocked minibars, ignoring the sophomoric babble of wisecracks and Catholic jokes and Universal toilet humor delivered and traded in two dozen languages, most of which Free understood. Outside, the American Embassy troops remained blandly neutral, stony eyes observing events from their own semi-remote vantage, behind the electrified perimeter gates, as a section of the hostile mob detached itself and surged up the steps of the federal building, into a stuttering hail of real bullets this time, panicky soldiers on full automatic. Another group, mostly women, some kids, swept south, hurling fury at the plate glass display windows of the department store, the overwhelmed Nordstrom’s security contingent resorting to their own lethal means of merchandise protection, negative publicity be damned. Only the church, more or less defenseless, remained immune to the conflagration, regarded by the mob as both sanctuary and headquarters, though a lone altar boy guarded its entrance, equipped with an Israeli flame thrower, mostly for show. Within the cathedral, priests, nuns, and other clerical workers were shuttling gilded treasures to a basement vault, just in case.
Rioters inside the fed edifice now, Free D. didn’t even have to use his imagination; Wavelinx connected the metamedia suite to all the action, covered now by oldschool wallmounted vidcams, images instantaneously colorized as they came over the monitors. Bloodthirsty San Franticanos carrying the carnage down the sumptuously carpeted and ornately adorned halls, into the offices and apartments and conference chambers, bludgeoning hapless secretaries and low-echelon civil servants, left behind when el Presidente and his entourage fled for safety through the labyrinth of subterranean tunnels that led west to the airport, east to the harbor, or straight down to the fortified bunker, an artifact of the Atomic Age. The vidcams down there had all been disabled by a previous administration, during the turnover coups of Decade Zero. Apparently that long-gone dictator’s mistrust of the metamedia joybuzzards extended to the potential betrayal of his sanctuary location; should he be compelled to flee, he didn’t want either his destination or hiding place broadcast to the free world, or even a roomful of pisstakers like this one; from what little history Free D. could remember of that era, the epaulet marionette in question didn’t reign—or survive—long enough to realize his concerns.
Back in the present, whatever passed for leadership on either side was maintaining a profile so low as to render its representatives invisible. Free D. couldn’t help thinking that if the movement possessed any organizational faculties, they might take this opportunity to install a new leader, claim their restless uprising as a legitimate coup, wait for the smoke to clear, the blood to dry, the world to recognize their legitimacy, and the corruption to take hold. But this was classic chaos, old-fashioned anarchy, even the ostensible instigators and principle agitators no longer held any sway over the teeming throngs, their outrage now a multi-headed, many-limbed beast of its own, mythic in proportion, mindless at the core. Wild-eyed, unrelenting, some among its number now armed with the lethal machinery absconded from fallen loyalists, catching each other in the misdirected crossfire of their sadistic ire.
As the melee swirled outward and on, something less than thirty minutes having passed since the first stone was cast, the zocalo ran red with the slick spillage of vital fluid, bodies broken and scattered, assuming impossible contortions, faces frozen in expressions of agony, surprise, terror, and dismay. Even way up here, safe and soundproofed, the screams of the injured and dying could be heard, mingling with the frenzied cacophony of righteous defiance and unbridled contempt, the same rage no matter who fought on which side.
Looters pouring out of Nordstrom’s, Free D. aware of his companion, the girl from reindeer country emitting throat-stuck ululations of outrage and envy as the desperate citizens rushed around frantic and antlike down below, clutching clothing and cosmetics, jewelry and appliances, furniture and housewares. Politics forgotten, ideals abandoned in the mad rush of conspicuous consumption, seizing whatever useless gewgaws were at hand, possession at last of the material trappings so long denied them, inanimate iCons of the good life, as if bath towels and table lamps and IntraVid rigs guaranteed sudden prosperity, an instant change of status inherent in their bulk and heft, the softness of cloth or solidity of hard plastic, the aesthetic freshness of something brand new, mass-produced items heretofore known only to those among them fortunate enough to be involved in their production, handling each fleeting item as it rolled by on the ceaseless assembly line. Willing now to catch a bullet to bring home a handful of the middle-class dream.
And so it raged, bloody and feverish and savage, well into the night, the antic madness backlit by the hellish glow of burning dumpsters and shopfronts and an occasional warning flame from the altar boy when things got too close for the church’s comfort. Diplomats within the embassy reporting events to stateside liaisons, who in turn kept the corporate interests apprised, as the stock market closed at a record low for the day.
Chris Herron at Tall Tale TV has done an audio version of my HandCannon short story, “Last Dance.” Chris himself has a great personal story, having turned on to audiobooks when he was suffering from temporary legal blindness in 2015. He’s since recovered, but launched this project both as a way to give back to folks who can’t experience stories the traditional way, and to give authors like me a promotional boost without having to shell out for the expense of creating an audiobook on our own. I think he’s done a terrific job and his project deserves more eyeballs and earholes, so how about you give this, and other Tall Tale TV stories, a listen?
March 21st! That’s tomorrow! And by the time some of you read this it’ll be today, or yesterday, or sometime last year when you’ll really wish you’d known about it before all the shit went down. It’s bound to be a wildly entertaining anthology with something for everybody who likes superheroes, funnybooks, movies based on funnybooks about superheroes, TV shows spun off from movies based on funnybooks, or just enjoys slowing their roll long enough in this era of endless infotainment deluge to read crazy genre stuff on the printed and/or digital page.
Full disclosure: I’m about to have one of those milestone birthdays this month, where I find myself a lot older than the younger version of me ever thought I’d live to be. So in honor of that, I guess, I’m offering a couple of my books free this month over on Amazon, beginning with the one that started it all, The Villain’s Sidekick. For the next five days, grab it and run and get the skinny on Duke “HandCannon” LaRue, the semi-lovable henchmen with a machine gun arm, an iron jaw, a steel-plated skull, a lethal boss, an irritable ex-wife, a precocious six-year-old daughter, and a heart of pyrite. It’s short enough to finish in three to five bathroom sittings and there’s plenty more where that came from (including an upcoming prequel story in the third Good Fight anthology and the origin tale, The Devil’s Right Hand, which will be available free next week).
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.
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.
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 Sidekick. Now 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 Conundrum, which 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.
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.
“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.
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!
You might think, with my background in comedy and my years as a writer in LA, that I should’ve been on dozens of podcasts by now. Or at least a few. Or hell, even started my own, by gum. But that just ain’t the case. In fact, my pending appearance on episode #307 of Jackie Kashian’s The Dork Forest is the official cherry-pop that will hopefully open a floodgate, or even just a small babbling brook of guest podcastery leading up to the release of my next magnum opus, CItizen Skin.
Recorded about a month ago, this was a fun, freewheeling conversation that used superhero prose fiction as a jumping off point to talk about the current state of mainstream comics, Marvel vs. DC movies, the ever-widening world of comics-based TV, and, in a moment of accidental depth, the value of redemption tales over bloody revenge stories (not that I don’t still love a good bloody revenge story from time to time).
Anyway, give a listen, and if you like what you hear, go ahead and subscribe to Jackie’s terrific show, where she invites a wide swath of guests from within and without the world of entertainment to come geek out about their favorite subject, from pop culture specifics to California surfing to obscure moments in history to hard futurist science to just about any topic worth throwing your mind, heart and soul into. She’s a great, game host with a quick wit and many dorkable passions of her own, and one of the best comedians on the scene these days.
And if you already know about her but are just now learning about me, go on and buy my books, cause I write better’n I talk!
This guy, am I right?
I’ve never been a big Spider-Man reader, so my awareness of the character Herman “Shocker” Schultz–frequent Sinister Six member in reasonably good standing and a Spidey foe for pretty much as long as I’ve been alive–was dim at best before I read Superior Foes of Spider-Man. In that fantastic series, Herman makes a fateful decision that leads him and the other five members of the Six (if that doesn’t seem to add up, just read Superior Foes, dammit!) down a path that could spell doom for all of them. But in the end, out of everybody, it’s the Shocker (whose only superpower is the shock-resistant suit and vibration gauntlets he built in prison, because he’s actually kind of a genius even though he doesn’t know it) who pulls out a big win when he single-handedly takes down…well, why should I spoil it for you?
It was my childhood friend and brother from another mother Jeff Coleman who turned me on to Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Claremont and Byrne’s X-Men and Dave Sims’ Cerebus when they were the freshest things on the spinner rack, and thus inspired my lifelong dalliance with comics. He’s also the artist responsible for the 3D rendition of HandCannon that graces the top of this blog. He recently stumbled across a terrific piece of fan fiction that basically answers the question “what would The Villain’s Sidekick be like if I’d written it using licensed Marvel characters?”
Shocker: Legit, written entirely on spec, or for fun, by Max Landis (son of filmmaker John Landis, screenwriter of the found footage superhero flick Chronicle) concerns itself with what might happen if Herman Schultz were to grow weary of being a punching bag for metahuman crimebusters like Spider-Man and try his hand at doing the hero thing himself. He gets his first opportunity when he comes across the Hulk-ish Ravage running riot in downtown Manhattan and manages, through grit, determination, and some dumb luck, to take the monster down.
During this encounter, he gets an unexpected assist from Felicia “Black Cat” Hardy, who becomes his unlikely ally as they uncover a vast conspiracy involving a company called First Person Shooter that allows regular, high-paying citizens to operate mind-controlled supervillains and use them to wreak real-world havoc as if the actual death, destruction and carnage were all some kind of virtual reality game. And that’s just the tip of the conspiratorial iceberg. Meanwhile, Felicia becomes an even more unlikely love interest for the embattled Herman.
It’s not hard to see why (and for the record, I had to search far and wide to find an image of Black Cat that made her look like the badass she is in this story, rather than the hypersexualized fantasy figure she’s usually portrayed as). No sooner do they start investigating this dark conspiracy than they are the targets of not only the drone-operated super baddies, but mercenaries for hire like Bullseye and the Enforcers, and while Herman and his crew manage to beat the odds time and again, they are well-brutalized for their troubles–in addition to repeated nose-breakings, contusions, lacerations, stabbings and shootings, at one point Herman loses an ear. A fuckin’ ear!
The story’s not perfect. Considering it’s fan fiction, there’s an impression from the typos, occasional grammar mistakes and tense switches, and a few places where small but crucial bits of information seem to be missing, that you’re reading a first draft. And considering it’s unsolicited fan fiction, one can’t really fault Landis for not going back and fixing it all for our consumption. Plus, it compensates with a pretty ingenious story, a smorgasbord of well-placed Marvel character cameos, and an extremely likable, relatable take on its accidental protagonist.
I’m not exactly sure when Landis wrote it–my best guess is that it’s from sometime in the mid-oughts–but what struck me right away, from the first page, was how stylistically similar it is to Villain’s, Confessions of D-List Supervillain and other works in this subgenre (bad guy/henchman goes good) of a subgenre (superhero narrative fiction). Like my own book, it concerns a street-level goon with self-esteem and anger issues whose abilities are purely technological; it’s first person present tense, highly comedic without resorting to parody, and as loaded with heart as it is with violence and insanity. Especially touching, along with Herman and Felicia’s love affair, is his equally unexpected friendship with this guy:
Landis’ and Herman’s portrayal of Rhino is as a not-always-gentle giant with a heart of gold and the mind of a child. He’s simple, sweet-natured, capable of terrific destruction but loathe to hurt innocents or civilians even as their war heats up. Again, I haven’t read enough Spidey to know how accurate this portrayal really is, but it works well here, providing another sympathetic layer to Herman as he looks out for his big loyal lug of a buddy.
Along the way, Herman scores some more unlikely admirers and allies in a quest for truth that leads to some (emotionally as well as physically) uncomfortable places: Reed Richards and Tony Stark marvel at the genius of his prison-created suit and power gauntlets and begin to treat the low-level schemer as an intellectual equal…
…and after an extremely unpleasant initial encounter, he even earns the grudging admiration of this taciturn motherfucker…
More than anything, for fans of this kind of stuff, which I obviously am, Shocker: Legit is just one of those unexpected treasures the internet coughs up every now and again that hits right in the sweet spot. Well worth a read. And the price is unbeatable.