The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack


Marvel Universe

Marvel Universe


New Avengers: Breakout by Alysa Kwitney

I read this storyline in the comics many years ago but only remembered the first part of it. A major prison break has been planned and a number of heroes stumble into stopping it, then team up to find out what’s really going on—which appears to involve corruption at SHIELD. It’s a chance to give the Avengers a new line up with only Captain America bridging the gap between the new and old team. There’s a lot of action, as one would hope, but frankly, big teams are harder to pull off in these fully dramatized books than are single hero storylines.

Planet Hulk by Greg Pak

I vaguely recall reading this comic book and enjoying it. The backdrop is that Reed Richards and other Marvel heroes have decided to rid the Earth of the problem of the Hulk by tricking him into a spaceship and sending it off into deep space. Seeing as Reed Richards once saved the life of Galacticus, I always thought this was a totally out of character idea. Anyway, the Hulk doesn’t go where he’s supposed to and ends up on a world where a totalitarian ruler forces just about everyone to fight in gladiatorial combats for his amusement. Normally, this wouldn’t be much of a problem for the Hulk, but he’s not up to full strength on this planet. So he does a Sparticus, breaks free, and starts a rebellion. It was an opportunity to put the Hulk in armor and give him melee weapons.

There’s an awful lot of action in this book—which is clearly good. One does not read a novel about the Hulk in hopes of getting deep philosophical conversation. The voice acting is good, and the sound effects are fine. The plot is fairly straightforward geared toward constantly leading the Hulk to his next fight. The surprise for the Hulk is he also falls in love which, if memory serves, set the stage for the sequel event, World War Hulk. But this book ends before that story begins. It is fun but not deep.

Marvel Universe

Spiderman: The Darkest Hours by Jim Butcher

I love Spiderman. I’ve read his comics off and on since the summer between third and fourth grade. I watched the original cartoon series and many that have come after. I’ve seen most of the movies and read at least two dozen novels (probably many more) focused on the character. So it’s with some authority that I say Jim Butcher’s The Darkest Hours is one of the best Spiderman books out there.

First off, Butcher gets the key Spiderman elements right—action, banter, and sense of responsibility. His Spiderman feels like Spiderman from moment one. He’s selfless, he’s heroic, and he’s smart.

Second, Butcher utilizes Peter Parker very well by giving him a problem that Spiderman can’t solve for him. Then he gives Mary Jane a similar problem—something Peter wants to assist with, but can’t solve by spinning webs or climbing walls. These problems distract Spiderman at critical times to the good of the story.

Butcher also does more with the Rhino than any author I’ve yet encountered. I’ve always like the villain, but Butcher made me like the man behind the villain even more. Add to that, he doesn’t ignore the fact that NYC is full of superheroes who might be expected to help Spiderman with his problems.

Finally, and I think most importantly in a superhero novel, Butcher presents a trio of supervillains who are truly fearsome—an excellent threat for Spiderman from start to finish.

Spiderman: The Lizard Sanction by Diane Duane

I’ve listened to the audio dramatization of this book at least a dozen times over the years. It’s thoroughly enjoyable with decent voice acting and great sound effects. The plot is a perfectly credible Spiderman adventure. Duane has a good grasp of the characters and writes a good fight scene. I have always found it unfortunate that Marvel didn’t produce more of these dramatizations of their novels (there were quite a few of these published back in the 1990s) as it’s a great way to get your super-hero-fix. It’s especially sad that they didn’t do the whole Duane trilogy so we can hear the whole story.

The Ultimates: Tomorrow Men by Michael Jan Friedman

I really liked Marvel’s Ultimate universe. I found it to be a fresh and much appreciated retcon of the creation of Marvel’s superheroes. I loved the way that authors used the reader’s knowledge of the characters in the original Marvel Universe against them, turning heroes to villains and vice versa. So, when I saw this book, I was very hopeful it would be a great book. Unfortunately, it was only entertaining. Nothing about the plot seemed to me to require the Ultimate universe and while an effort was made to ground the cast of the Ultimates in the slight variations that differentiate them from the Avengers, it wasn’t enough to make this book stand out as a standard-bearer for the Ultimate universe.

The basic plot felt a little too typical to me. People from the future come to the Ultimates asking for help in preventing a totalitarian nightmare. The Ultimates are willing to lend their support, but very quickly suspicions arise that things are not precisely as the Tomorrow Men indicate. Tony Stark shines in this one as he seeks to uncover what the future will truly bring and what role the Ultimates should play in bringing it about.

X-Men: Days of Future Past by Alex Irvine

This is one of the most iconic X-Men tales. I read the original comics back in high school and it captured the imagination of my friends and me at the time and remains a favored X-Men story decades later. The basic plot is that an assassination of a U.S. senator by mutant terrorists triggered the creation of a police state in the U.S. that is enforced by robot sentinels. Those sentinels took over and have practically exterminated all mutants in the U.S. plus anyone with the genes for making mutants. Now they are getting ready to expand their anti-mutant program to the rest of the world, and the rest of the world is preparing to stop them from doing this with nuclear weapons. The only hope for stopping the apocalypse part 2 are the handful of surviving X-Men, Magneto, and Franklin Richards. Their plan is twofold. First they send the psyche of Kate Pride (adult version of brand new X-Men Kitty Pride) back into the past to try and stop the assassination of Senator Kelly. At the same time, the rest of the X-Men stage a break out from their concentration camp to try and bring the Sentinels down. It’s an exciting story that features the gruesome deaths of many of the future X-Men.

This fully dramatized audio version of the tale was very well done. The voice acting was great. The sound effects were high quality. And the expanded tale (from the two issues of the original comic book) was particularly well done. Perhaps the best addition was having 13 year old Kitty Pride be conscious in the future and have to deal with what is in many ways the end of the world. The author also tweaked some of those storylines giving Magneto a much larger role. (Too bad that wasn’t also done for Franklin Richards.) Overall, it’s a great retelling of a classic story.

Avengers: The Extinction Key by Greg Keyes

The Avengers must assemble to prevent an apocalyptic event brought on by twelve villains whose powers are inspired and powered by the Zodiac. It’s a good adventure fueled by Greg Keyes’ tight storytelling. As the stars get closer to the proper alignment, the villains’ powers get stronger, but they’re up against the Avengers and Dr. Strange, so the outcome is never really in doubt.

I think the best part of the story was the introduction of the Abomination with a new origin story. It adds a little humanity which I thought was more effective than the efforts with Bruce Banner and other members of the team. The best parts of the story were when the Avengers stopped forgetting they are a team and started, well, teaming up to face down the threat.

Iron Man: Steel Terror by Dean Wesley Smith

This novel should have been called The Avengers: Steel Terror, as it is really a team superhero novel. Ultron returns, stealing a synthetic form of vibranium that it uses to enhance the durability of its robot army in its ongoing effort to wipeout human life. So the threat is significant on a physical level, but Ultron is also a great villain on a moral and psychological level. It was created by Hank Pym who feels responsible for its rampages. It also created Vision which gives him internal conflicts where Ultron is concerned.

The solution to the novel is a little weak—Hank Pym comes up with an invention—but the story is fast paced and exciting and the characters feel legitimate.

Spiderman: Carnage in New York by David Micheline and Dean Wesley Smith

I first read this novel back in 1995 and enjoyed it enough to read it again when I came across It in audiobook format. Micheline and Smith give good Spiderman. The book has a very fast tempo with Spiderman’s life causing difficulties for Peter Parker as he tries to stop the serial killer, Carnage, from causing the deaths of thousands of New Yorkers. While this is happening, Aunt May desperately needs Peter’s help to save her house, putting Peter once again in the position of having to disappoint those he loves in order to save lives as Spiderman. It’s a great little story that would have made a fine comic.

Slugfest by Reed Tucker

Here’s a great account of the history of American comic books’ must famous rivalry—Marvel Comics versus DC—with all the personalities, ingenious innovations, and mindbogglingly stupid decisions that have characterized it over the past sixty years. If you are a fan of superhero comics, this is a must read. You will find the series you have loved in these pages and understand how they fit into the continuum of comics or better yet, shaped its future. You’ll also learn a lot about the men and women who helped create the modern comic—or who stubbornly stood in the way of their development. If you aren’t a big comic book fan, it will help you understand how superheroes have come to dominate movies and form an important niche in television, plus give you some insight into the industry that someone you know is so passionate about.

Slugfest is not an entire history of the comic industry and its related subindustries like the comic book convention. It focuses quite well on how Marvel and DC fought with each other, inspired it each other, changed each other, and very occasionally worked together to produce great collaborations. As someone who read his first comic book at camp the summer between third and fourth grade, I was absolutely thrilled with the book. I think you will be too.