Superman: The Unauthorized Biography by Glen Weldon
Superman has been around for more than eighty years, often getting changed but in the end being pulled back to the core concepts that originally fueled his creation. He is the ultimate nice guy, willing to suffer anything to help people. In this book, Glen Weldon walks the reader through his long history in sometimes excruciating detail. I’ve never thought of myself as a serious Superman reader, but I was amazed at how many times—even in the periods before I was born—I remembered what Weldon was talking about. It turns out that reading Superman anthologies in the doctor’s office, picking up stray copies at friends, and reading a lot of books that Superman appeared in, plus the television series, movies, cartoons, songs, and so much more, actually has made Superman a common feature in my life. It was fascinating to see how often I “recognized” a particular incarnation, and fun to walk through the many retcons and other changes that his writers have subjected him to over the years. If you give the book a try, I’ll bet you’ll be surprised by how well you know Superman too.
4 The Science of Supervillainy by C.T. Phipps
I really like this series. Phipps combines an incredibly in-depth understanding of the superhero genre with a light-hearted tone filled with geeky pop-culture references that simply makes the series a delight to read. This time, in the aftermath of last book’s titanic battle against a time-traveling foe who got himself elected to be president of the United States, Gary has to take on his most awesome opponent yet—himself. Yes, Gary has to battle a Gary from another universe who has centuries more experience than he has and who is absolutely wonderfully crazy.
Throw in that he’s been imprisoned by said bad guy for five years and that everything in his hometown has changed as a result—including his girlfriend giving birth to Gary’s daughter opening up a whole new range of superhero plotlines for Phipps to satirize. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this is going to be a ton of fun.
Andrea Vernon and the Corporation for Ultrahuman Protection by Alexander C. Kane
This novel is a lighthearted parody of the superhero genre. It follows Andrea Vernon who has just become the administrative assistant to the head of the largest contractor of superheroes. As such, a significant portion of the book is dedicated to how superheroes become employed, what it’s like herding them into jobs, and what kind of bizarre tasks an admin assistant in such a job can get. It’s all funny and the tone is a good one. This doesn’t stop Kane from occasionally slipping into some serious superheroing, but he always remembers to worry about the peculiarities of contracts and money making. This book is a lot of fun for someone who loves the genre and wants something very light to read.
Andrea Vernon and the Superhero Industrial Complex by Alexander C. Kane
The quirky superhero universe of Andrea Vernon is back for another round of the ugly side of superheroing—that is the lobbying side of the game. This time the Corporation for Ultrahuman Protection (CUP) is up against Nevermore, a supervillain who has decided to take over the country from the inside by becoming a superhero organization and lobbying (read that as bribing and blackmailing) Congress into changing the regulations in a way that will allow her to effectively become the dictator of the country. The only things standing between Nevermore and dominating the U.S. is CUP and its Executive Assistant Andrea Vernon who also happens to be Nevermore’s best friend. But if Andrea is going to stop Nevermore, she’ll have to make peace with her own brother, the Senator who has made taking down the superhero industrial complex his life’s work.
This novel is fun from start to finish even if the major twist of the book was completely foreseeable. Heck, maybe we were supposed to foresee it. Kane certainly foreshadowed it quite strongly. The heart of this novel, like the first one, is the incredibly quirky cast of superheroes, and now supervillains. These are not the heroes you grew up reading in the comics—and yet, at times they feel like they could be.
So if you like your super heroics with a healthy dose of satire, pull up a chair and start reading this novel.
The Chronicles of Fid
Fid’s Crusade by David Reiss
This book just landed on the list of my top ten superhero books of all time. Ever since the creation of Marvel’s Wolverine, it’s been popular to depict heroes who often cross the line. Then there are villains like Cat Woman who sometimes find themselves playing the role of hero. Fid’s Crusade is the story of how the world’s most notorious super villain finds himself putting it all on the line to save the world—which would be awesome in and of itself even if the novel didn’t give you one heck of a lot more.
First, let’s be clear, Fid is not a particularly sane human. When his younger brother dies because a so-called “hero” puts protecting his secret identify over saving a child’s life, Fid goes off the deep end and determines to prove how fundamentally selfish and unheroic most heroes are. So Fid sets out on a lifetime mission to expose to the public how unheroic their heroes truly are, and in doing so because one of the baddest of the bad. The villain no hero can beat—even when they manage to cut his arm off in the middle of a battle. He’s tough, he’s smart, and not a single one of the heroes or the media who love to cover them, have any idea what Fid is really all about.
Nor do they have any idea that he’s been changing over time—not losing his need to expose heroic hypocrisy, but evolving to understand that monstrous violence might not be the best way to obtain his ends. This sort of evolution is a tremendously difficult task for an author to take on—especially in a single novel—but Reiss handles it brilliantly. Can Fid change despite the heroes lined up against him? And can he save the world despite the best efforts of the men and women who have sworn to protect it? This is a wonderful novel. I can’t wait to read the next one.
I received this book free from Voracious Readers Only in exchange for an
Behind Distant Stars by David Reiss
The notorious Dr. Fid returns with something of a public relations problem. It turns out that saving the world—even when you had to beat the heck out of a ton of super heroes to do it—softens your image as the baddest of the bad. Add to that a couple of unfortunate instances caught on tape—like saving a falling cat—and the world is asking if Fid has had a change of heart. Could he be becoming the thing he hates the most—a super hero?
Fid, being Fid, decides to use this confusion to pretend to become the hero in question, just so he can further expose how unworthy heroes are of the public’s respect, but in doing so begins to learn that the world is much more complicated than the black and white image he has clung to throughout his career and the journey he has started down might just be more true than he wants it to be.
It’s amazing that a novel that is as heavily psychological as this one is, could also be packed to the gills with amazing action scenes. David Reiss has given more thought to the armored hero / villain than the creators of Iron Man ever did and the reader benefits tremendously from this care on his part. Plus, Fid is a scientific genius to put Tony Stark and Reed Richards to shame and this time he really has to put his IQ to the test as he struggles to unravel numerous complicated puzzles in both his heroic / villainous career and his personal life.
Add to that his developing relationship with a couple of heroes you know he wants to like, his touching guardianship of Whisper, a child AI who oh so obviously reminds him of his long dead little brother, and even his deteriorating relationships with the villains of the world who are convinced he’s going soft, and you have a wonderfully well-rounded novel filled with action, mysteries, and genuine personal growth.
Part of the strength of the series is that I’m really not certain where Fid will end up in his personal journey, but I’ve already started the next book so I can find out.
Starfall by David Reiss
The notorious Dr. Fid emerged triumphant once again after the events of Behind Distant Stars, but the price was horrendous. For the second time in his life, Fid failed to protect the life of a younger sibling, but this time, there is just the smallest of chances that he can rectify his error and bring Whisper safely home again. So Fid totally rearranges his life to give one hundred percent of his attention to the task of rescuing his sister, and woe be it to any foolish hero or villain who dares to get in his way. And yes, you guessed it, it’s the heroes who are going to be the major problem this time.
Reiss has clearly been thinking of this last book at each stage of writing the first two, because all of the components of Fid’s life come together perfectly here. His unbreakable will, his towering genius, and—just like some of the heroes he most despises—his willingness to go to any extreme to achieve his aim. In this last book, we get to learn once and for all who Dr. Fid is and whether or not he has actually accomplished anything with his crusade against false heroes. The fact that it is not a world at stake but “only” the life of one little girl makes him both more awe-inspiring and more endearing than ever before. Reiss has found a way to answer once and for all the question of whether or not Fid is actually better than the false heroes he’s dedicated his life to bringing down and I think every reader will be totally pleased with the answer.
Yet, that was not the part of the book that brought tears to my eyes. Fid is not the only person tested in these pages. And perhaps his legacy will ultimately depend upon whether or not any of the self-proclaimed heroes out there really meet the standards they proclaim. Fid, of course, expects them all to fail.
This is a supers trilogy to stand with the absolute best in the genre. My only complaint is that it appears Reiss is finished with the story.
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.
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.
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.
Ex By Peter Clines
Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines
In comic books, it’s common for heroes to have an alternate earth adventure in which the bad guy has won, or the apocalypse has happened, or zombies have overrun the planet. That’s what we have here in Ex-Heroes, except that this is Clines “real” world. The zombies have come, basically won, and now the few remaining heroes are just trying to help everyone else survive. However, their problems are greatly magnified over the challenges of survivors in shows like The Walking Dead because there are still super villains out there and the zombies haven’t altered their plans to take over the world—they’ve just given them new tools to use to further their dreams of conquest.
The story advances both in the “present day” and in occasional chapters that detail how the zombies rose and destroyed civilization. Lots of people die, including my favorite hero. Because it’s a zombie story, it should not be a surprise that many of them return fighting for the other team, so to speak. Over all, I did not find any surprises in this tale be it the origins or the super villain plans and powers, but it is still a very good story. After all, everyone knows what Galactus is going to do and yet there are still many good adventures featuring him.
If you want a new twist on the superhero tale, Ex-Heroes offers an interesting mix of genres that provides a fresh setting.
A Hesitant Hero
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.
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.
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.
Nemesis 1 Dreadnought by April Daniels
It’s quite an impressive superhero story that manages to make the largest and most heroic battles happen not between hero and villain, but between the young heroine and her family and supposed friends. Danny Tozer is a young person with a secret. The world thinks he’s a boy, but she knows she’s really a girl stuck in the wrong body. Then she witnesses the death of the world’s greatest superhero, Dreadnought, and he passes his powers on to her and the first thing the powers do is rearrange her body to be the perfect her. In just a couple of minutes, Danny’s fondest wish comes true. She has the female body she has always wanted. Unfortunately, no one else seems happy for her.
A major portion of this book focus on Danny having to deal with withering rejection and hostility from her family and friends. She discovers that having superpowers didn’t change the dynamics she’s grown up with. She’s still an abused young woman who has to learn to stand up and fight for herself. It’s very sad that some of those who reject her are the supposed good guys—members of the Legion Pacifica who for a variety of reasons don’t want the powers of Dreadnought to belong to a fifteen-year-old girl. One of the most disturbing characters in the novel is one of these supposed heroes who is enraged at Danny’s physical transformation. The depths she will sink to over the course of the book were horrifying.
But all is not bleak. Danny begins to learn to use her powers and some of those encounters—especially the rescue of a passenger jet—were extraordinarily well written. She also makes a friend in another young hero and together they set about the task of trying to avenge the death of Dreadnought. In doing so, they uncover a terrifying threat to the entire world. As one would expect of a superhero novel—Danny must reach deep inside herself to find the hero the reader has always known her to be.
This is really an extraordinary novel which will touch you on multiple levels. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.
Nemesis 2 Sovereign by April Daniels
In this sequel to the powerful novel, Dreadnought, April Daniels breaks her heroine down again to rebuild her stronger than ever in this worthy second novel. Everything seems to be going right for Dreadnought until she runs into a problem she can’t simply punch to defeat. The problem is one of money—in the form of a corrupt billionaire (Sovereign) who had decided to attack Dreadnought through her reputation with the public in an effort to remove her as an obstacle to his plans for world domination.
As if that isn’t bad enough, Dreadnought still has to deal with the Grey Witch—one of the survivors of the Legion Pacifica whom the world thinks is a hero but we know is evil to the core. Like Sovereign, she’s smart enough to avoid going head to head with Dreadnought and remembers that the young heroine is still a teenager with the many vulnerabilities that implies.
So there’s a couple of great plots interwoven here that Dreadnought has to figure out how to overcome, but don ‘t think this is a novel without traditional super hero battles. It has plenty of those and they are every bit as exciting and well thought out as those in the first novel.
Sovereign is the full package with physical, mental, and emotional challenges which make for an incredibly exciting adventure.
Origins of a D-List Supervillain
Origins of a D-List Supervillain by Jim Bernheimer
If I had known this was a prequel novel to Bernheimer’s D-List Supervillain series, I wouldn’t have started with it, but would have started with book 1, Confessions of a D-List Supervillain. Prequels that try to explain how events got to where a series starts (as opposed to simply telling a good story) are challenging and I don’t think Bernheimer was totally successful in this book. The tale is enjoyable, but not quite as magical as I was expecting. The problem is that the plot is more focused on explaining how Cal became a supervillain instead of on a suitable challenge for him. (By contrast, the cliffhanger at the end of the book is very exciting and makes me very hopeful for Confessions.)
On the positive side, Cal’s backstory is engaging. Having invented the force blaster that makes the hero, Ultraweapon, so dangerous, he is outraged when he isn’t publicly credited with his invention. What’s worse, he’s blacklisted as a warning to other employees and his company then sets about making him unemployable anywhere. Finally, in desperation, he turns to crime and is pathetic at it. I suspect this was supposed to be somewhat humorous, but it didn’t make me laugh. The rest of the novel is dedicated to Cal trying to get his supervillain career going.
Why supervillains are not successful is an obvious underlying theme of the story which I suspect will continue throughout the series. I’m definitely interested in reading the next book, but quite frankly this first one is not the one you should start with.
Confessions of D-List Supervillain by Jim Bernheimer
This is what a superhero (I don’t really think Mechani-Cal is a supervillain) novel is supposed to be. It starts with a bang and keeps the explosions coming through the end of the novel. Cal may be the last human being in the world still free of the mind control of the “bugs”—a dastardly plot by the Evil Overlord that got out of control. The first part of the novel focuses on how Cal literally saves the world—and then, once again, gets screwed by the supposed heroes who think it will not look good if a D-List Villain saves the planet instead of them.
It’s also the story of Cal’s rivalry with Ultraweapon—a “hero” who isn’t all that good a guy (a common theme in supervillain-based series). His company has stolen from Cal a couple of times now and struggle to make his life hell and, of course, the heroes mostly support him in doing so. Watching Cal try to rebuild himself and his life as a hero made for a great story—especially when it was the so-called heroes who were often his biggest problem.
The Supervillainy Saga
The Rules of Supervillainy by C. T. Phipps
What a difference four years makes. When I first read this book back in 2017, I enjoyed it a lot, but I only gave it 3 stars. I went on to read the next two and always intended to go back and read the rest, but it wasn’t until recently that I decided to act on it—this time in audio format. Perhaps it’s the narrator, but this opening novel in the series struck me as much better than I thought it was the first time around. It’s just so dang well thought out—a tribute-through-parody to the superhero comics I’ve loved all my life.
Gary gets a package in the mail that turns out to be the magical cloak of the recently deceased superhero, Nightwalker. Gary dons it and instantly decides to fulfill his lifelong dream of being a supervillain. He names himself Merciless—which really proves to be a terrible name because Gary is filled with mercy and concern for those around him even as he pretends not to care.
As one would suspect of a superhero story, Gary’s life is filled with melodrama and bizarre coincidences. His brother was a “c-grade” retired supervillain murdered by one of the new “tougher” heroes, starting Gary down his “villainous” road. Apparently every woman he’s ever dated is on the path to being a supervillain or superhero as well—and of course he runs into all of them. He’s constantly stuck between his desire to be “evil” and his hatred of the idea that the innocent get hurt which leads him to become what he calls an anti-villain with hilarious results.
Hilarious is a good word to describe the whole series. Many of the villains feel like they could fit in well on the set of the 1960s Batman series. The cloak is sentient and talks to him. His henchwoman (ex-girlfriend) thinks he’s the best boss in the world because he doesn’t want sexual favors. (Gary is happily married to a woman who wants to be a superhero.) His henchman and villainous mentor is a strangely honorable Satanist. And it gets weirder and weirder from there.
What comes through most clearly as you read or listen to this novel is how much C.T. Phipps knows about the superhero genre and how important it is to him. If good parody truly comes from love of your subject, I think Phipps has been engaged in a torrid romance with superhero comics for the last forty or fifty years.
The Games of Supervilliainy by C.T. Phipps
Merciless returns to earth after a month on the moon to discover that the zombie apocalypse has overrun his home city. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, his beloved wife has been kidnapped by a rival supervillain who is challenging him to a showdown to decide which of them gets to be top dog in their town. And that’s just the opening chapter. A sorceress cult is looking to bring about the end of the world (and the zombie apocalypse suggests they are succeeding) and death (yes, the grim reaper herself) wants Merciless to come be her henchmen. And that’s still not everything that’s happening.
Whereas the first book was very much a supervillain versus superhero novel, this one is all about the black magic. There are zombies, sorcerers, death, a Cthulhu-like being, vampires, and need I go on? The series takes a dark turn in this novel, but it never loses its peculiar sense of humor. The only real question is how a bright guy like Merciless can still argue with a straight face that he’s a villain, not a hero.
C.T. Phipps’ knowledge of the superhero genre was quite impressive in the first book of this series. Now he dives in deep to the magical side of the genre, managing to both parody the medium while still producing an exciting plot with characters you love.
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 Merciless out first. Naturally Merciless, who insists he’s not a hero, is coming up with reasons to stop the bad guys.
Merciless’ growing frustration at his inability to save his wife is an insight into one of the ways true villains are made. We feel his pain and Phipps expertly makes use of this throughout the story, so much so that I think the story wouldn’t have worked without it.
All of that being said, that wasn’t even my favorite part of the novel. That comes in the form of one of the principal villains—the President of the United States. Think about that for a moment. How do you fight a president who is secretly planning to take over the world when you plan to keep living (mostly publicly) in those same United States? It’s a great dilemma, and a great novel.
Super Sales on Superheroes
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.
In Alpha Order by Author
The Good Fight edited by Scott Bachman
Here is a collection of a super hero stories designed to introduce the reader to the worlds of several authors in the field. It’s an enjoyable anthology featuring a lot of quick dips into various super hero worlds but none of the stories were strong enough to motivate me to invest in a new series. The ones that came closest for me was Out of Mind by Drew Hayes and Firedrake by T. Mike McCurly. These are two very different types of stories by two very differently powered heroes. The first tells of a man whom nobody can ever remember—and it was quite possibly the best story in the anthology. The second was a more traditional “get in a fight with the bad guys” tale. I had already read Marion Harmon’s Omega Night from his Wearing the Cape series, but as I’ve sung its praises elsewhere I won’t do so again here.
If you want a handful of quick fun reads in the superhero genre, you should enjoy The Good Fight.
Planet Hero: Civilian by M.A. Carlson
Planet Hero brings four-color comic books complete with over-the-top action and purposefully-cheesy dialogue to the ebook format. It focuses on Dr. Davis Mallory (probably of our world) who happens to be an exact-lookalike of supervillain, Dr. Portal, who finds himself switching places with his doppelganger and having to learn how to wield superpowers in a world where just about everyone seems to have them on some level. The premise isn’t that unique, but the plot is fun and moves fairly quickly. In an attempt to get home to the sister who needs him, Davis agrees to impersonate Dr. Portal to try and find out the dastardly plans of an even bigger supervillain. Davis is not trained for such actions and so has to be introduced to the world of super heroics at light speed. In doing so, author M.A. Carlson uncovers a fascinating world of nano-technology where science never developed because of the superpowers the nanites make possible.
I really enjoyed the story and look forward to seeing sequels to the book. My only complaint (and I’m not certain it’s a fair complaint) is that the author chose to make this a LitRPG. I have nothing against LitRPGs but I don’t understand why it was necessary for this novel. Davis is not operating in a game environment, and constant reference to his character sheet slowed the story down considerably. What frustrated me is, none of it was necessary. We were, after all, shown the development of Davis’ powers by what he does with them. We didn’t need a character sheet to keep track of his progress and in fact, giving it to us only served to break the suspension of disbelief that helped make the story so effective.
That being said, there’s a nice story here and if you like superhero tales, the odds are high you’ll enjoy it.
I got this book free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
The Brave and the Bold by Michael Curry
This is a very fast read because it’s more of a compendium of issue summarizations than a book. It’s especially interesting if you like Batman and the idea of comic book team ups. There is no in-depth analysis, but it’s very good at giving you a blow by blow of how this long running series evolved.
The Player Blackout by Lucas Flint
Most LitRPGs novels lock the hero in the game at some point to add tension to the story. The Player Blackout does it a little bit differently. The hero here is a small-town cop who died on his first day on the job. Why he is chosen for an experimental program that uploads brains into a gaming system is one of the mysteries of the story that we are trying to resolve. It’s that connection to the outside world (in this case a real-world mystery) that I really like in LitRPGs—stories where in what happens in the game matters in some way to life outside the game. Of course our hero, Winter, can’t get into the outside world anymore but that doesn’t lessen his interest in it. So this mystery has large potential for the series and I wish that Flint had spent more time developing it in this opening novel.
Over all, there’s tons of potential in this book, but Flint never fully takes advantage of it. For example, the first third of the story where he really needs to grab the reader’s attention is fairly slow moving. Winter is learning the mechanics of the game, but instead of showing him fighting and investigating as a new super, Flint skips most of this and spends his time showing the problems Winter has rescuing a cat from a tree. I’m sure this scene was supposed to be humorous, but it just didn’t work for me. The only other thing of interest that happens in these opening chapters is that Winter learns that a villain named Atmosphere knows his real world identity (which is a secret because his inclusion in the game is part of a top secret government experiment).
I should point out that it was quite obvious who Atmosphere was from the first time his name is dropped, and that his identity doesn’t make any sense. Clearly Flint understands this and has wrapped it into the larger mystery of who arranged for Winter to be downloaded into the game to begin with.
The pace picks up quite a bit when a new villain takes over the gaming world in an apparently unplanned revolution. Dark Cosmos cuts the game off from the outside world so that none of the players can log out, meaning that eventually, unable to eat, the bodies of the players will starve to death. Dark Cosmos offers the players two options to save themselves—kill him (which he claims is impossible) or bring him the low level Winter. Naturally the entire gaming world (pretty much) decides to go after Winter.
This is a great threat that I think Flint should have done more with—harrowing chases, etc. Instead Winter reaches the villain hide out really easily. Here we get some good action as he fights his way to his ultimate confrontation with Dark Cosmos. This last third of the book is by far the best. Yes, Winter continues to be dumb—defeating opponents and then forgetting to finish them off so they can recover and threaten him again, but the overall plot begins to advance. But even here Flint misses a major opportunity to knock his book out of the park. Dark Cosmos has been collecting players (heroes and villains) so he can torture them (because he’s…bad). When Winter needs a distraction at the end of the book, having those players go after Dark Cosmos in a massive powers battle would have been awesome and the (pretty good) battle Flint gives us for the ending could have still been worked in around the army of players trying to bring down the bad guy.
The ultimate ending also left me wanting more. No real progress is made resolving the big mystery of who put all of this in motion by arranging for Winter to be put in the game. Also, apparently no one expects the gaming company to suffer any serious consequences from having almost killed a few million players across the globe by losing control of their gaming system. I would expect every government on earth to start investigating/regulating the company. And I would suspect that a huge proportion of its gamers would never log on again. Saying they have good lawyers to fend off the civil suits seems to me to be a totally inadequate way of dealing with the ramifications of the book.
All of that being said, there’s a lot of potential in this story and Flint’s writing improved the deeper into the novel I got, so I have a lot of hope that the next book will keep getting better.
I got this book free from Audiobookcodes.com in exchange for an honest review.
Sandman by Neal Gaiman
Sandman is something of a legend among comic book fans. While I’ve never read any of those books, I know they are characterized both by interesting storylines and beautiful artwork. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel that translated well to this fully dramatized audio format. So while I was glad to have an opportunity to finally see what all the fuss was about, I didn’t actually feel like I found out about all that fuss. The book was entertaining but not breathtakingly so. Perhaps the problem was that I started the novel with unrealistically high expectations.
Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
I enjoyed half of this novel very much—the half from the POV of the supervillain. Dr. Impossible is just a great villain—a megalomaniac who fights against his need to rant about his plans as he tries for the umpteenth time to take over the world. I enjoyed every second he was “on the screen”. Unfortunately, the opposite was true when it was the heroes’ turn—most of whom proved to be jerks and none of whom inspired me.
So that’s a problem, because this is a book moving toward the ultimate confrontation between insane and “really not very nice” and I really wanted insane to win. I think it would have been fascinating to have the sequel be about learning to live in Dr. Impossible’s new world, but unfortunately, that was not to be. I don’t expect to read the next one.
Enhancer #1 by Wyatt Kane
Ty Wyatt is a nobody working a dead-end job who stumbles into possession of a mystery bracelet after watching two supers battle. The bracelet, which comes from the now dead hero, provides the wearer with superpowers—different powers for each recipient. The villain wants the bracelet which provides the conflict in the story.
Ty’s super skill is the ability to build and improve technology. He quickly becomes involved with a superheroine and another super individual and together they work to understand Ty’s new power and stop the bad guy.
There’s nothing original or particularly intense about this story. At times the super-powers-providing bracelet also appears to be an excuse not to develop a genuine relationship between the characters—as the bracelets make super heroes be sexually attracted to each other. But despite the two-dimensionality the story is fun and moves pretty quickly. My favorite character was actually Ty’s video-game-playing roommate who unfortunately drops out of the story fairly quickly (but maybe will reappear in later books). And there is good room for further development. Ty’s technological abilities make him able to reproduce the powers-giving bracelets so there is no reason that the number of superheroes can’t expand rapidly in future volumes.
I received this book from Free Audio Books in exchange for an honest review.
Superheroes! by Laurence Maslon, Michael Kantor
I’ve been reading a lot of histories of Marvel and DC comics lately, but this one adds all the other superhero comic companies into the mix and that makes it worth the cover price. It wasn’t just Superman versus Spiderman or The Justice League versus The Avengers. There was The Shadow, Green Hornet, Captain Marvel (or Shazam for those of you less familiar with the character) and so very much more. This is a must read for anyone who loves the superhero genre and has even the slightest interest in how it came into existence.
Why Superman Doesn’t Take Over the World by Brian O’Roark
This is a book that promotes itself on being about the economics of superheroing, and it is. Everything in the superhero life is looked at through the lens of the field of economics. But I think it’s really about motivation. Why do superheroes become superheroes? Why do they wear costumes? Why do they sometimes fight with each other? Why don’t they all become rich from their powers? Why don’t they try to take over the world? It’s not actually very deep, but it is a lot of fun.
Modified: Unified, Part I by Kat Stiles
Modified is a superhero novel without the costumed heroes. The big bad guy—Derrick—is inflicting people with superpowers which he then apparently intends to use to control the planet. Powered individuals who don’t cooperate with his plans are used to develop a serum which temporarily gives others their powers. Our heroes are trying to stop him from doing this.
So the overall plot is quite respectable, but the more narrow plot of Unified Part I is injured by the fact that it only works if all of the heroes are really, really, dumb. When every character in the story notices that one of them is acting totally out of character but it doesn’t occur to any of these superpowered individuals that perhaps a shape changer has replaced him, that’s really hard to accept. Afterall, as the reader, I figured out what had happened during the first encounter with the doppelganger. The substitution wasn’t cleverly hidden and frankly that broke the suspension of disbelief that is necessary for any story to work.
I think that the overall situation in this series is worth exploring. Unfortunately, this book only sets the stage for that over arching plot.
I received this book free from Audio Book Boom in exchange for an honest review.
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.
Paragon by Riley Tune
This novel starts slow but has a wild finish. I can’t stress that point enough. After a couple of chapters I almost stopped reading the book, yet by the time I finished I was very glad I stuck with it—glad enough I’m fairly certain I’ll be reading the sequel. So let me break down the good and the frustrating.
On the positive side, Riley Tune has thought of a large number of superpowers and his characters often use them very well. He builds his story around both a mystery and a conspiracy. I found both fairly transparent, but that didn’t hurt the story. We’re watching a fairly dumb teenager slowly put the pieces together and it’s credible that he has more trouble doing it than the reader does. As he gets closer and closer to the truth, the tension builds and the final battle is highly enjoyable. A couple of the supporting characters are also very well drawn as Tune plays off our knowledge of famous heroes and uses that knowledge to steer our expectations. I respect that. It strengthened the ending considerably.
On the less positive side, I was frustrated by a couple elements in this story. First, I only began to like the main character in the last chapter or two. He’s a fairly stereotypical teen with a huge chip on his shoulders who is also certain that he knows everything he is ever going to need to know about living. That might be realistic, but it’s not attractive in a hero. It also makes him stupid. He has impressive force-field creating powers. But he never figures out very simple things he could do with his powers to quickly defeat just about anyone. For example, making a skintight force field around the face of any air-breathing foe. He also fails to simply enclose a mist-form villain in a force field, trapping her. I could go on, but you get the idea.
I also was disappointed in the world building. If you’re going to tell a serious superhero tale—and I believe that’s what the intent was here—there has to be at least some marginal credibility regarding the birth of new heroes and villains. Frankly a prep school for supers in which everyone talks about the need to decide one day if the students will become heroes or villains just didn’t do it for me.
That being said, the actual plot is pretty well thought out with critical elements being introduced early and then “forgotten” until they are needed later in the story. It’s always nice when you see that sort of planning come to fruition.
There’s a lot of potential in this series. I look forward to seeing what Tune will do with it.
Modified by Kat Stiles
Let’s start with a little truth in advertising. Modified is neither a short story nor a novel, it is the opening chapters in a larger story. It is not the first book in a series in the traditional sense. There is no resolution of the plot nor a comfortable stopping point for the reader to wait at until they get the next book. Presumably if you bought the boxed set you would get the equivalent of a novel. I don’t know. I haven’t decided if I’m going to invest in more of the series yet.
It’s unfortunate that the author chose to break her novel up in this way, because the plot to this point was enjoyable, if still in its infancy. Our heroine, Kate, is kidnapped for one night. We don’t know what happened to her during this time (nor does she) but she apparently gets a superpower given to her and has to figure out what it is, how to control it, and how to stop other people from taking advantage of her to abuse it. Most of that brief description is in the future of the series, but Kate is a strange but likeable heroine and Stiles does a decent job of introducing her and her problem. There is a small supporting cast also taking shape for what looks to be a light-hearted (if dark) super hero story. Modified has the potential to be a lot of fun.
The Caped Crusade by Glen Weldon
This is a great little book about Batman and Batman’s fans—giving both the history of the characters and how fans have responded to his evolution. The point that comes through most strongly is that there are actually many “batmen” – not just the one. In a non-comprehensive list: there is the Batman of the 1960s television series, Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, several from the various movies, the detective, the Super Friends, and well you get the idea—and no fan appears to like all of these different “batmen”.
This book will walk you through all of it, showing how things like the charges of indecency that led to the comics code, and the reactions of fans, helped the character to evolve. To make the book even more fun, you will see yourself in many of the pages, responding to the new Batman being offered at any given time.
Hoods by David Wilson
San Valencez has a problem. Gangs are overrunning the city and the cops are too corrupt to do anything about it. It’s not even safe for high school kids to get to and from school because every street seems to be the territory of one gang or another. Which sets up the action of the story…
Hoods is about four students with very low-level super powers who decide to band together and try and do something about the gangs. It’s a cute story—not particularly deep but with lots of fun action. Watching the superpowers get put to use is always enjoyable, although I wish there had been a little more time spent on character development. All in all, this is a simple origin story with the clear promise of more adventures to come.
As superhero stories go, I think Hoods ranks in the middle of the pack but has the potential to rank much higher with the next adventure. There’s just enough realism to ground the story in our world—no four color super heroic adventuring here. In fact, the four teens struck me more as low level batmen setting up their network to watch over their neighbors so they can sweep in to protect them. I couldn’t help but cheer for them so I’ll be keeping my eye out for volume two.
I got this book free from Audiobookcodes.com in exchange for an honest review.