The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack


Super Heroes


Catwoman: Soulstealer by Sarah J. Maas

The DC Icons series offers a glimpse of prominent figures in the DC universe before they have quite become the heroes (and villains?) the fans know. They are, presumably, geared toward a young audience, and thus far have been very effective. It’s also an obvious opportunity to retcon the subject of each novel for new audiences.

In Soulstealer Maas makes a couple of daring moves to set the stage for her story—she decides to link Catwoman’s origins to the League of Assassins (it’s possible that this is actually part of Catwoman’s background, but if so, I had never heard it before) and much more controversially she chose to set Catwoman against Batwing—not Batman—bringing all the tension and attraction from the original relationship to the new one. To do this she takes Batman out of Gotham on a secret mission and leaves the defense of the city totally in the hands of Luke Fox/Batwing.

Catwoman, fresh out of her training with the League, has come to Gotham with an agenda and begins carefully setting both Gotham’s elite society and its underworld on edge through a series of daring robberies. She hooks up with a young Poison Ivy and through her with Harlequin—who’s price for making it a trio of crime is the freeing of Joker from Arkham Asylum.

Batwing and the Gotham PD grow increasingly frustrated by their inability to stop Catwoman’s very public crimes. Yet something is not right in the background. The League of Assassins begins appearing, but they are trying to kill Catwoman, not support her plans. As law and order becomes ever more tenuous in Gotham it begins to become apparent that Catwoman is playing for much larger stakes than anything in a bank vault or around the necks of Gotham’s elites at the next gala.

This is an increasingly emotional story as the reader gets a glimpse into the woman behind the cat mask and heroes and villains both are forced to confront their biases and figure out where they really stand.

Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu

I really enjoy superhero novels. I’ve probably read more than 200 of them—some amazingly good and some worthless pieces of excrement. This one ranks among the best. It is marketed as a Batman novel, but Batman doesn’t exist yet in this book. Instead we have eighteen year old Bruce Wayne who has not yet settled on his obsession to fight crime as the Batman. Wayne has just come into his billions when he tries to help the police in a high speed chase by using his sports car to stop the bad guy. They thank him by charging him with interfering with the police and he is sentenced to probation and community service—which he has to complete mopping the floors in Arkham Asylum. The novel than takes a turn toward Silence of the Lambs or Broken Time. An eighteen year old murderer, believed to be connected to the notorious Nightwalkers, will speak to Bruce when she’s refused to speak to anyone else. So the detective in charge of Bruce’s probation tries to use him to draw her out and the whole situation gets out of control.

This was a hard book to put down. While Bruce at eighteen is not what I imagined, he was a likeable character I could relate to. And having people like Harvey Dent showing up in the book really added to the enjoyment. This is Bruce before he’s lost to his life’s mission as the Batman and we get to watch him move closer to that vocation as the novel progresses. Hats off to author, Marie Lu, on a novel very well done.

Wearing the Cape #1 by Marion Harmon

This is a novel for people who take their superheroes seriously. Like all the other superhero novels out there, Wearing the Cape still demands a certain level of suspended disbelief, but there is a gritty realism in the way this work is envisioned that goes well beyond standard super hero fare—especially that coming out of the genre leaders at Marvel and DC comics. Yet all of that gritty realism doesn’t get in the way of genuine super heroics and the fun that comes from reading about your favorite heroes (and Astra will quickly become one of your favorites) saving the day in the face of truly diabolical villains. If you like some genuine emotion intertwined with your hard-hitting action and a backdrop that feels entirely plausible, give Wearing the Cape a chance.

Wearing the Cape 2 Villains Inc

This book starts with Godzilla attacking Chicago and just gets more exciting from there. The plot is tighter than in the first book as it all revolves around a mystery involving a shape-changing thief and the super villains trying to kill him. Astra also has to come to grips with the problem that powerful as she is, she’s not truly invulnerable, and she has to figure out what to do about that. Harmon packs this novel with more interesting breakthroughs and some great new characters. (I’d like to see a short story collection featuring some of the supporting cast like Seven, Lei Zi, Fisher, Blackstone, and Touches Clouds who are never going to get the on screen time I’d like to see.) Ultimately, while this novel thrives on excellent battle scenes, it also carries through on the strengths of the first book—going the urban fantasy route with superheroes instead of vampires and werewolves.

Wearing the Cape 7 Recursion

Marion Harmon is one of the two or three best superhero novelists out there, and his Wearing the Cape series is at the top of the genre. Recursion is the sort of book that can only be written with several books in the series to back it up. Astra, Harmon’s heroine, finds herself back in time inhabiting her body one month after the end of the first novel with no idea why she’s there. What follows is a great mystery with the reappearance of Astra’s greatest foes—one after the other. This one is a ton of fun.

Wearing the Cape 7 Recursion

Marion Harmon is one of the two or three best superhero novelists out there, and his Wearing the Cape series is at the top of the genre. Recursion is the sort of book that can only be written with several books in the series to back it up. Astra, Harmon’s heroine, finds herself back in time inhabiting her body one month after the end of the first novel with no idea why she’s there. What follows is a great mystery with the reappearance of Astra’s greatest foes—one after the other. This one is a ton of fun.

Batman and Psychology by Thomas Langley

This is a fun overview of Batman and much of his supporting cast of friends, heroes and villains from the slant of trying to understand the characters through the modern psychology. I found the overview of the character’s history in comics, television and movies the most interesting part of the book with insights from the various authors and artists who have worked with Batman to be also highly interesting. There is a section where Langley explores how the Comics Code interfered with the development of Batman and resulted in Catwoman being exiled from the book for about a decade that was particularly fascinating. If you like Batman you will probably enjoy this book.

The Rules of Supervillainy by C. T. Phipps

This is a lighthearted romp through the mind of a supervillain. It’s a little slow getting started, but the story quickly grabs holds of you and enmeshes you in the problems of a man who is determined to be evil—sort of—all the while keeping the love of his wife who wants to be a hero. Throw in two ex-girlfriends—one a proud henchwoman and the other the greatest superheroine of the age—and “Merciless” will have you laughing at his antics. Things eventually get serious when mega-villainous (we want to destroy the world) type bad guys get brought into the plot. This story would have failed if Phipps took his story seriously, but since he doesn’t, give it a try and have some fun.

The Games of Supervilliainy by C.T. Phipps

The absurdity continues but with a darker twist as Merciless keeps finding himself on the wrong (that is to say the “right”) side of the battle between good and evil. There are a lot of laughs in this novel even as the situation goes from dark to darker and the ending sets the stage for an even bleaker sequel. It’s to Phipps credit that he can make these situations humorous.  

The Secrets of Supervillainy by C.T. Phipps

Phipps obviously adores superhero comics and this series is a loving satirical homage to them. In this third installment, Merciless is trying to find a way to bring his wife’s soul back into her vampiric body while dealing with the hilarious mess of his life. To make matters worse, a massive conspiracy to take over the world is underway and the conspirators have decided they need to take him out first. Naturally Merciless, who insists he’s not a hero, is coming up with reasons to stop the bad guys.

I enjoy these novels, even if the first three have been a little too slow moving for my preference. My favorite parts are always the flashback scenes to Merciless’ college days when he’s unknowingly dating Ultragoddess, the greatest heroine in the world. They are always quite humorous and masterfully capture that nostalgic feeling old comics can bring to mind. The other thing I love about these books is how Phipps brings all the great themes and plot devices of comics into play in frankly ridiculous fashion. It just makes them fun.

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.

So Not a Hero by S. J. Delos

Supervillain books seem to be the rage these days and this one does it better than most. “Crushette” is trying to go straight and not getting a lot of support from anyone. She used to be the girlfriend of Dr. Maniac—one of the biggest bad guys in the U.S. but after a two year stint in prison she’d trying to leave the villain life behind and become a typical American—except she’s nine hundred pounds, super strong, mostly invulnerable and unable to stop getting into trouble. The story really picks up when she’s recruited onto a superhero team, the unimaginably named, “Good Guys”, and has to start confronting other people’s expectations and the dirty secrets of her past. This one is worth your time.

Some Kind of Hero by S.J. Delos

I quite enjoyed the first book in this series, but this sequel didn’t move me in the same way. First the good: I like the world Delos is building with its mix of heroes, villains and government agencies. It very easily could be a four color comic book which is a lot of what I look for in a superhero novel. On the other hand, Kao is suffering from two distinct problems in this novel. First, she is way too powerful and Delos doesn’t know how to challenge her at this power level. As a result I very rarely felt any tension at all in her fights. Second, and far more important, Kao caught a case of genuine stupidity and it affected her ability to fight the bad guys. (Maybe she had this problem in the first book and I didn’t notice, but it is glaringly obvious here.) Kao is super powerful, but her mind-numbing arrogance lets the bad guys get away again and again and again. I lost track of how many times she approached the bad guys, stopped to spout melodramatic nonsense at them, and as a result they got away to continue developing their nefarious schemes. Kao can fly, she’s very fast, and she’s super strong and highly invulnerable. Almost every time she surprises the bad guys and I think every single time she gives away this advantage so she can stop and tell them how stupid they are being for acting evil around her. And she never learns from her mistakes. Spider-man sprouts all kinds of great one liners at the bad guys, but he’s bouncing around like a super ball avoiding their attacks and smacking them all over the place while he does so. Not Kao. She just stands or hovers and spouts off and it didn’t work for me. (She also fails to share critical evidence which would prove to the heroes the identity of the bad guy, but that’s a whole different kind of stupidity.) Add in two highly depressing epilogues and I think I’m done with this series.

Super Sales on Superheroes by William D. Arand

This was the strangest take yet on the superhero genre. Felix is a totally unlikeable, self-centered, creep with a very low key superpower and dreams of doing better. He lives in a city just taken over by a major supervillain that is working under what we might describe as villainous laws. Felix is barely scraping by when he attempts to buy a hunk of exotic metal he thinks he might be able to use his power to turn into gold. Instead of metal, Felix accidentally buys an enslaved superheroine who was nearly tortured to death. He discovers that owning her somehow enhances his own powers and sets himself on a journey to buy all the superheroes and supervillains he can. Along the way, he starts fixing (i.e. healing) them and improving their power sets, which also magically increases his own strength. And along the way, he and his enslaved superheroes and supervillains start influencing each other in pretty interesting ways. I don’t know quite how to categorize this book, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and happily await the sequel. Very original.

Super Sales on Superheroes 2 by William D. Arand

I think this book can best be described as a transitional piece setting the stage for the next books in the series. Unfortunately, whatever made the first novel fresh and exciting is long gone and I found it difficult to get too interested in the plot. Felix, the unlikeable protagonist, feels like a different character in this book. In the original novel, he needed the supers he kept purchasing to manage everything in his life for him but now he blithely gives out orders and gives the appearance of ultra-competence. It just wasn’t the same guy.

We also got our first look at the big bad who took over Skipper City in the last novel and she just didn’t come off as smart, capable or impressive. That was a huge disappointment.

On the other hand, there’s some decent world building as Arand puts pieces in place for future novels. Gods have returned to the world and are turning it upside down. We also learn that the planet of Super Sales is even more different from our world than the presence of super beings would suggest. There are plot threads in these revelations that will hopefully produce many good stories in the future.

The best aspect of this novel is the continued development of the supporting cast, especially the character Miu. She made for a convincingly and disturbingly insane villain and if perhaps we can’t quite figure out why she’s fixated on Felix, it did make for the most interesting storyline in the whole book.

Overall, my enjoyment of the first book kept me in there hoping and will get me to read the next one as well.

Super Sales on Super Heroes 3 by William D. Arand

The overall storyline is better in this novel than in its predecessor, but Arand still hasn’t recaptured the magic that made his first novel so interesting. Several years have passed and Felix and his Legion are enmeshed in city and inter-world politics. He meets a cousin with the powers of a demigod and gets a new assistant who starts taking over everything. She felt off from beginning to end of the novel and I can’t really figure out if she was supposed to. From page one I was waiting for her to betray Felix, but she seems to be yet another superpowered creature who is madly in love with him and again, I can’t figure out why. Felix is slightly more likeable in this novel, but that only makes him unlikeable as opposed to thoroughly dislikeable. Over all, this novel had a couple of interesting subplots but the main story felt dragged out and the villain revealing herself at the end felt contrived.