Dracula, motherf**ker!

One challenge of the pandemic is that its kept me from spending quality time at my favorite bookstores and comic shops. I’ve still been patronizing them when I can, but I have missed spending a luxurious hour just wandering the shelves looking for new things to catch my eye. With that in mind, about two weeks ago, I started browsing some lists of the best comics and graphic novels of 2020 just to see if I missed something I would want to know about. One graphic novel that popped up on several of those lists was Dracula, motherf**ker! written by Alex de Campi with art by Erica Henderson. I was already well acquainted with Erica Henderson’s art from her work on Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Jughead. Also, she’s one of those artists I’ve known of from way back when, since I used to do a lot of work with her father, C.J. Henderson. Between Erica’s work and the description of the graphic novel as a grindhouse-inspired Dracula story set in 1970s Los Angeles, I knew this was something I needed to read. A quick search of my local comic shop’s website revealed they had the book on the shelf.

Nosferatu recommends Dracula, motherf**ker!

Dracula, motherf**ker! opens in 1889 Vienna. Dracula’s brides capture the count and nail him into his coffin. The action then jumps ahead to 1974 Los Angeles where Hollywood star Bebe Beauland opens his crypt. A short time later, photographer Quincy Harker appears on the scene to take photos of the carnage that results. We soon learn that Bebe Beauland is not as dead as she first appeared and, of course, Dracula is on the loose again. Dracula’s brides from the opening of the story appear and begin helping Quincy.

The story is told largely through the visuals. Many pages are nighttime dark cut through with bright neon-like colors. The graphic novel format gives Henderson the freedom to design the story around two-page visual spreads. Even when there are two discrete pages of narrative panels, there’s a visual cohesion across the two-page spreads. Dracula himself seems inspired by Nosferatu but ratcheted up a few notches. He’s a monstrous creature of eyes and teeth with an old man’s arms and a cape of night. The story’s stars, though, are the brides and Quincy. Henderson does a great job of conveying emotion through the characters’ facial expressions and body language.

This was the rare graphic novel that I actually read three times back-to-back. I kept seeing things in the art and picking up things from de Campi’s minimalist, but effective dialogue. I recommend this volume for fans of vampires and good comic books. I picked up my copy at Zia Comics in Las Cruces.

Some of my interest in this graphic novel came from the fact that I’m collaborating on a vampire book project based on a short episode in my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires. It was fascinating to see so many of the lessons I’ve been learning applied effectively in Dracula, motherf**cker! Next week, I’ll be back with a little sneak peek at the project I’m working on.

Barbarella

Barbarella

I recently came across Kelly Sue DeConnick’s 2014 translation of Jean-Claude Forest’s 1962 comic, Barbarella. I was already familiar with DeConnick’s work on the Captain Marvel comic from around the time this translation was released. I mostly knew Barbarella from the 1968 Jane Fonda film which I first watched in college. The film sticks with me as something of a relic from its time and place. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by Roger Vadim, it tells the story of an agent from Earth sent to Tau Ceti to prevent a super weapon from falling into the wrong hands. The film is also famous for Jane Fonda’s anti-gravity striptease and the scenes where she learns about the joys of primitive old-fashioned sex, as opposed to the safe sex practiced on Earth with the help of pills.

I decided to give the comic a try. In effect, the story reminds me of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon comics. Barbarella is an adventurer whose space ship breaks down on an alien world and she moves from adventure to adventure across land and sea to a remote island. From there, she goes to a snow-covered land where she’s menaced by a gang of youths with biting dolls. She escapes from them and acquires a mole machine and turns up at a labyrinth surrounding a castle-like city. Barbarella herself comes off like the female version of the Captain Kirk-stereotype. She’s willing to have sex with just about any good looking male she meets. Although it was billed as an erotic comic back when it was released, it seems rather tame by modern standards, in part because of the simple art style and in part because Barbarella only occasionally loses her clothes and it’s typically only for a panel or two before the next action/adventure scenes start. What I enjoyed most about the sexual part of the story is that it just presented sex as a natural, fun thing for consenting adults to enjoy without bothering to nod and wink. That’s not to say there aren’t innuendos and double entendres. Kelly Sue DeConnick gives us plenty of those, but it’s all presented in the spirit of good fun.

After we each read the comic, my wife and I decided to go back and watch the film again. What surprised me is how much of the film’s plot is pulled from the comic’s pages. We have the labyrinth and Pygar the angel. We have Barbarella menaced by biting dolls. Durand, the old man in the labyrinth becomes Marcel Marceau’s character, Professor Ping. Meanwhile Durand’s name is taken and doubled for the scientist with the secret weapon: Durand Durand. Of course, I was delighted that the venue is Tau Ceti, a real-life contender for being a habitable world. Clearly the movie and comic aren’t for all audiences, but both have fun moments and my wife and I enjoyed sharing them as part of our Valentine’s weekend.

Salem’s Daughter

Salem’s Daughter graphic novel

Back in December, I purchased a bundle of graphic novels from Zenescope Publishing. I’ve discovered that I enjoy several of their titles including Van Helsing, The Black Sable, and Belle: Beast Hunter. One of the graphic novels in the bundle I purchased was a 2011 title called Salem’s Daughter. I was a little dubious when I saw the cover, but I have learned that you can’t always judge comics by their covers and this is especially true with Zenescope around the period when this book was released. When I flipped through the book, I found no scenes of a woman in lingerie being burned at the stake. What I did see in the interior pages looked very interesting. By all appearances this promised to be an interesting weird western story.

The graphic novel includes three story arcs. The first story arc introduces three characters. The woman on the cover is Anna Williams, a young witch who is just coming into her powers. She has a certain amount of clairvoyance and when threatened, she can literally burn an attacker’s face off. Over the course of the graphic novel she learns more powers. We also meet Braden Cole, a cowboy who rides into town seeking a no-good scoundrel who did him wrong. Finally, we meet that no-good scoundrel, Darius, who has the ability to manipulate people’s minds and get them to do what they want. The second story arc takes Anna and Braden to a new town where they learn about a missing child and discover that a Jersey Devil is terrorizing the town. The graphic novel concludes with a one-shot about Anna and Braden helping a man who has been seduced by a succubus.

All of this is great fodder for a set of weird western stories and I enjoyed the artwork as Anna and Braden make their way through old rustic towns and into saloons, jailhouses and remote caves. The only thing is, the dialogue tells us the settings for the stories are Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. I was reminded of episodes of The Wild Wild West where Jim and Artie travel to New Orleans. The series depicted the most desolate and dry, wild west version of New Orleans I’ve ever seen! In the show, it’s pretty clear the crew was given an “old west” town to shoot on and they did their best to make the sets they had look like the place in the story. I’m not quite sure why Salem’s Daughter is set in the northeast, yet looks like the Wild West. It seems like editing the story to place it further out west would have worked just fine. After all, there’s a small town outside Las Cruces called Salem and I could easily imagine a Jersey Devil finding his way out west.

Despite the disconnect in setting, I found the notion of a cowboy and a witch traveling together and solving problems to be appealing. It’s pretty much the premise I started with in my 2011 novel, Owl Dance. In my weird western, the magic is more subtle and the threats more science fictional in nature. You can learn more about Owl Dance at: http://davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html

You can learn more about Salem’s Daughter at: https://zenescope.com/products/salems-daughter-trade-paperback. There was a sequel, Salem’s Daughter: The Haunting. It appears to be out of print, but it looks like you can get digital copies at Comixology.com.

The Black Sable

In recent months, I’ve been enjoying Zenescope Publishing’s Van Helsing series which tells the story of Liesel Van Helsing, inventor and daughter of Dracula’s famous nemesis. Like many comic companies, Zenescope features a large common universe with characters who meet and interact. While learning more about their universe, I came across their space pirate character, the Black Sable. As someone who has written his share of space pirates as well as vampires, I decided to check this out.

Zenescope has been making a name for itself by creating a set of strong women characters. Most of these women are the type who kick ass now and ask questions later. The Black Sable is no exception to this. Set one century in the future, we find that humankind has developed a star drive and colonized much of the galaxy. They’ve also bumped up against the Mer, a race of vicious shark-like people. Humans have come out on top so far, but the Mer want to reclaim their place as the dominant species. The shark people are one of many ways we see that although this is a space saga, this pirate yarn is modeled strongly on tales from the golden age of piracy.

The story opens when Sable’s ship, the Fury, attacks a cargo transport only to discover the ship is hauling alien slaves. Sable refuses to make money off of slaves and frees them. As a result, they go back to a safe harbor to see if they can learn about any new sources of plunder. Sable runs across an old acquaintance named Blake who has a line on Korvarian Fuel Cells, which are, apparently quite valuable and should be an easy score. The two make plans to find these fuel cells. This immediately takes them into the middle of the conflict between the humans and the Mer. Not only that, but another pirate, Captain Blood, has also gotten word about the Korvarian fuel cells.

Over the course of the story, we learn that Sable herself was born a slave and has a deep connection to Captain Blood that she’s not aware of. I liked the fact that Sable is written as a pirate with something of a moral compass. The story is written primarily as swashbuckling adventure and doesn’t delve very deep into character motivations or the politics of the struggle between the Mer and humans and the corporation that’s also involved. Still, there’s enough there that the story kept me turning pages. Given that the story features nautical-inspired space pirates, they get bonus points for giving us a battle with a space kraken.

I had fun seeing some parallels between The Black Sable and my own Space Pirates’ Legacy series. Like Sable, Ellison Firebrandt is a pirate with a moral compass. Although he’s not born a slave, he does run up against slavery in The Pirates of Sufiro. A large, red, alien investigator named Officer Stanas reminds me a bit of my Rd’dyggian characters Arepno and G’Liat. Even the space kraken brought to mind the implacable alien threat of the Cluster in my novels. You can, of course, learn more about the Space Pirates’ Legacy series at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#pirate_legacy

The Black Sable was published in 2018 and it’s not clear how this story could feed into their bigger fantasy universe which is largely set in the present day. Still, it was such a fun ride that I hope they haven’t given up on this story and will produce another arc, or at least a one-shot, down the road. You can pick up a copy of the graphic novel at: https://zenescope.com/products/the-black-sable-graphic-novel

Two Van Helsings

Over the last year, I’ve been enjoying Zenescope Entertainment’s comic book mini-series, Van Helsing vs. the League of Monsters along with catching up on some of the earlier offerings in their Van Helsing universe. Last week, right after concluding League of Monsters, they released the Van Helsing 2020 annual, entitled Bloodlust. The comics follow the adventures of Liesel van Helsing, daughter of the famed vampire hunter Abraham van Helsing. She’s an inventor who was trapped in a hellish dimension called the Shadowlands for many decades, but finally emerged into the modern era where she continues the fight against vampires and other monsters.

Van Helsing: Bloodlust and Van Helsing the TV series.

In fact, Van Helsing vs. the League of Monsters reminded me of an updated version of those Universal monster fest films of the 1940s like House of Dracula or even the 2004 film Van Helsing with a strong woman taking Hugh Jackman’s role. Bloodlust finds scientists in a secret New Mexico laboratory investigating an ancient body only to unleash a vampire-like monster. Van Helsing and her sidekick Julie Jeckyl are called in to save the day. Unfortunately the monster kicks the game up a notch by attacking a nearby youth camp. Like those earlier movie examples, Zenescope’s Van Helsing is less about deep, thoughtful plots and character analysis and more about thrilling action. That said, it delivers the action well and gives us enough character development to care about the heroes. It’s just what I need when I’m looking for some fun, light reading.

Having become a fan of Zenescope’s Van Helsing, I was interested to discover there’s a series on the SyFy network of the same name “inspired by” the comic. I spent the last week watching the first season. The series imagines that the Yellowstone Caldera erupts, unleashing a cloud of dust and ash that lasts for years. This allows vampires to appear in the daytime and they have started rampaging the world. Meanwhile, in Seattle, Vanessa Seward is attacked by a vampire and falls into a coma. The show’s action starts three years later when vampires rush in and attack Vanessa again. This time, we learn her blood has the power to restore vampires to humanity. Now awake, Vanessa finds herself caught in a fight for survival with a handful of humans in a Seattle hospital. Vanessa desperately wants to leave so she can find out what happened to her daughter who was in the apartment with her when she was first attacked. As the season progresses, Vanessa learns that she’s a descendant of Abraham van Helsing.

The series mostly seems inspired by the comic in the sense that it’s focused on a woman vampire hunter named Van Helsing. The way vampires are portrayed is also similar. Both stories portray most vampires as vicious, animal-like predators. Only a few seem to rise to higher consciousness, though they are just as evil as their more feral counterparts. What I did find interesting was that the storyline of Vanessa looking for her daughter echoed another Zenescope storyline. Part of Zenescope’s Grimm’s Fairy Tales comic involves its protagonist, Sela Mathers, seeking her daughter.

It’s fun to think about what my own Scarlet Order vampires would make of either Van Helsing world. I suspect they’d do their best to avoid a confrontation with either Liesel or Vanessa. In Vanessa’s world, I could actually imagine them helping the humans, which would make an interesting plot twist. Of course it helps that the Scarlet Order vampires don’t have to drain humans of all their blood, though a couple have been known to get greedy! You can learn more about the Scarlet Order vampires at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Battle Angel

November is my birthday month and in this modern age of digital shopping, that usually means a slew of coupons find their way into my email over the course of the month. I don’t use all the coupons. If I did, I’d probably go broke saving all that money. That noted, the coupons that tempt me most are the ones that get me to shop at bookstores. Among other things, the coupons become an excuse to try some books I haven’t explored before.

Battle Angel Alita

This time around, I found myself looking at the manga shelf at the local bookstore when Kodansha Comics’ beautiful deluxe edition of Battle Angel Alita caught my eye. Mostly I knew of Alita from the recent film directed by Robert Rodriguez and starring Rosa Salazar. I’d put off seeing the film because I knew it had been based on a manga and I wanted to know the source material before going to see the film. Among other things, I’ve often been disappointed by American interpretations of manga and anime.

Kodansha’s deluxe edition of the manga features an introduction by Brenden Fletcher, beautifully reproduced artwork at large size and some great translator notes. From the introduction, I learned that this cyberpunk manga by Yukito Kushiro had its origins in the early 1990s. Its Japanese title might best be translated as “Gun Dream Gally.” The manga first appeared in the United States in the mid-1990s, which probably explains why I wasn’t familiar with it. I was busy being a new dad at that point. However, arriving in the mid-1990s, manga and anime characters were still subject to having their names changed by translators, so Gally (or Garii) became Alita.

Battle Angel Alita is set in a dystopian, dark futuristic version of Kansas City, which sits under a floating, modern city called Zalem. A cybernetics specialist called Ito finds a beautiful robotic head in the scrap dropped by Zalem. He repairs the head and attaches it to a body and thus Alita is born. It turns out that Ito isn’t just a cybernetics specialist, he’s also a bounty hunter who dispenses justice to humans and rogue cyborgs who have broken the laws of the factory, which has become the central authority in this version of Kansas City. Alita’s first volume is largely a martial arts adventure story as Alita discovers she is a skilled warrior. She must battle a rogue cyborg called Makaku.

In the second volume, Alita falls in love with a boy named Yugo who dreams of going to the floating city. The only problem is that Yugo is illegally killing cyborgs and harvesting their spinal columns, the only part of the human body cyberneticists can’t duplicate. This volume explored the Yukito Kushiro’s science fictional world much more and I found myself much more engaged by the complicated set of emotions experienced by Alita and Yugo. Overall, I highly recommend this deluxe hardcover manga.

Upstart Mystique

It turns out that Battle Angel Alita was also made into a short original video animation. As of this writing, the anime can be watched for free on YouTube and it does tell much the same story as the manga, though somewhat condensed. Having watched the anime and read the manga, I’m now interested in seeing the American film.

As with many of the best cyberpunk stories, Battle Angel Alita explores questions of our relationship with machines. In the future, how much will machines become part of our bodies? Will we be able to move our consciousness from one body to another? Can the brain live long enough to be transplanted? Can consciousness survive in a computer without the brain? I was pleased to edit and publish a novel that also explores these questions, though it’s set on a distant alien world encountered by the crew of a starship. If you’re intrigued by these questions, I also encourage you to read Upstart Mystique by Don Braden. The book is available at: http://hadrosaur.com/UpstartMystique.php

NaNoWriMo-ish

November is the National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. During the month, many authors endeavor to write 50,000 words. While that won’t count as a complete novel for most publishers these days, it’s a large chunk of a novel. To reach 50,000 words in one month, you have to write about 1,667 words per day. You can even sign up to participate at nanowrimo.org and to find tools, structure, community, and encouragement to help you succeed. My daughter has signed up and participated for the last couple of years. Although I didn’t officially sign up to participate in NaNoWriMo, I wrote two novels as NaNoWriMo challenges when LBF Books was publishing my novels.

The Solar Sea

The first of my NaNoWriMo novels was The Solar Sea, which I wrote in 2004. This is a novel I’d tried to write twice before, but abandoned both times partway through. The first time I abandoned the novel, it was because I was a young writer who lacked the discipline to see the story through. The second time, I had a sense of the plot, but hadn’t really nailed down the themes I wanted to explore. Between that and not being really certain what I audience I was writing for, the novel bogged itself down. In 2004, I had two young daughters who I wanted to excite about math and science. That and the 50,000-word goal of NaNoWriMo encouraged me to write The Solar Sea as an adventure story primarily for a young adult audience. I calculated my daily word goal and set myself a time to write each day after my daughters went to bed. Once I got into the routine, I found I could meet my writing goals pretty well each day. It taught me the value of writing each day at a set schedule. You can learn more about the novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html

Dragon’s Fall:
Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires

I wrote my second NaNoWriMo novel in 2005. This was intended to be a prequel to my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order which had recently been published by LBF. In this case, I knew 50,000 words would only be a little more than half the novel. When I wrote The Solar Sea, I had a clear idea of the plot and I had been thinking about certain story elements for almost fifteen years before I started NaNoWriMo. When I wrote Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires, I had a one-page synopsis. So, my 50,000 words were much more stream-of-consciousness than The Solar Sea. At the end of the month, I really liked the beginning of what I wrote, but felt the stuff I wrote at the end of the month lacked focus. Still, this gave me a solid core that I could work on and develop. It took about two years, but the novel did take shape. I added a few chapters before the original opening and then tightened the latter sections and added a solid ending. This experience helped me see that I could be disciplined while writing by the seat of my pants, and I was ultimately happy with my tale of three vampires who come form a band of mercenaries. You can learn more about Dragon’s Fall at: http://davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

This year, NaNoWriMo occurred right as Kitt Peak National Observatory reopened from being shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So I haven’t participated in NaNoWriMo this year. That said, I was given the assignment of writing a novella in early September. At the time, I knew Kitt Peak would likely reopen around mid-October to early November, so I wanted to get as much of the novella written as possible before work resumed and I had to settle into a regular work routine at the observatory again. To accomplish the task, I used the skills I had gained in NaNoWriMo. In this case, I wrote a detailed outline and I set myself a clear word-count goal for each day. Even though I had an outline, my characters did their own thing at parts of the story and I did have to re-outline, but I’m used to this. I managed to finish my novella by the time I returned to work at Kitt Peak. I have since turned it in to the publisher who assigned me the project. Just this past week, the publisher sent me the contract for the story. I’ll share more details about this novella soon.

Although I haven’t participated in NaNoWriMo this month, I did assign myself the project of writing my first comic book script. In honor of being NaNoWriMo, it’s an adaptation of one of the scenes from Dragon’s Fall. I’m currently working with an artist to bring “Guinevere and the Stranger” to life and hope we’ll have something to show off by spring 2021.

Halloween Reading

In the lead-up to Halloween, I’ve been indulging in a mix of comic books and novels that fit the season. Throughout the year, I’ve been reading the Van Helsing Versus the League of Monsters miniseries published by Zenescope Entertainment. This month saw the release of the finale, so I took time to re-read the entire series. October’s selections for the Vampyre Library Book Club were the first two novels in Charlaine Harris’s “True Blood” series, Dead Until Dark and Living Dead in Dallas.

At their roots, Halloween and horror fiction are about humans facing the one thing they can never escape—death. The confrontation can bring out the best and worst in people. They might face death with bravery and dignity or they might do everything they can to run away from it. They may even try to cheat death, but that usually has horrible consequences.

The “True Blood” novels tell the story of telepathic cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse who has started dating a vampire named Bill Compton. In Dead Until Dark, a murderer is stalking women who date vampires. Of course, Sookie would like to see this murder caught before they come for her. Along the way, her grandmother is killed, her brother is thrown in jail, and Sookie must face the real murderer. In the second novel, Bill is asked to bring Sookie to Dallas to help solve the mystery of a vampire’s disappearance. She ends up a captive of a church who wants nothing more than to see all vampires destroyed. I’ve been enjoying these novels because Sookie is an ordinary person who rises to extraordinary heights when confronted by death.

Van Helsing Versus the League of Monsters is sort of a cross between a superhero comic and those great Universal Monster Mash-ups of the 1940s like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man or The House of Frankenstein, which adds Dracula to the mix. Zenescope’s title character is Liesel Van Helsing, daughter of the famous vampire hunter. In this set of comics she teams up with other Zenescope heroines such as Robyn Hood and Angelica Blackstone to face off against Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, a group of werewolves and more. As with most comics, the heroines of Van Helsing face death with a quip upon their lips and stylish action, but they are ready to throw their lives on the line for humanity.

Both sets of books are good fun romps. Of course, both have vampires in common. I’ve long been fascinated by the different ways vampires are used in fiction. Sometimes they’re the implacable monsters who have seemingly defeated death. Sometimes they exist as a metaphor for addictive behavior. Some vampires are heroes and many are villains. I’ve long thought an extended life could either be a blessing or a curse. It all depends on what you do with it.

My Halloween reading doesn’t tend to stop on October 31. I’ll keep reading scary stuff well into November. Somewhere around Thanksgiving, I may turn to some lighter fare to get into the spirit of Christmas. Or maybe I’ll keep reading spooky stuff. Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas if there weren’t a few ghosts lurking in the shadows. With that in mind, allow me to present you with a couple of Halloween treats. First is a reminder that Vampires of the Scarlet Order is November’s selection for the Vampyre Library Book Club. You can learn more by joining the Facebook group at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/663608917753704. I’ll be sharing behind the scenes looks at the novel throughout the month, then Vampyre Librarian Steven Foley will interview me at the end of the month. If you attend, you’ll be entered to win some cool prizes.

If you’re more interested in ghostly scares, you can pick up the ebook edition of my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt for just $1.00 at Smashwords until November 15. In the novel, astronomers, ghosts, drug dealers, and a monster from the beginning of time collide at a remote observatory during a violent thunderstorm. Use the coupon code YL57J on checkout. The book is at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1025608

Happy Halloween!

The Judas Contract

My teenage years got off to a difficult start. I lost my dad to a heart attack when I was thirteen. By the time I reached my senior year of high school in 1984, I was pretty much done with being a teenager. This all goes to explain why it was that although I made regular visits to the comic shop and though some of my friends were loving a title called The New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, I was pretty much focused on other longtime favorites. I didn’t really discover how much fun the Teen Titans could be until I stumbled on the anime-styled Teen Titans show which ran on Cartoon Network from 2003 to 2006. Even today, I gravitate more toward titles like Justice League Dark, which is what prompted me to pick up the recent Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, when I saw it in the store. The presentation of the Teen Titans in that movie made me curious about their earlier movie appearances, so I picked up the movie Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, which in turn took me back in time to 1984 to read the original graphic novel.

In The Judas Contract, the Teen Titans have a recent recruit named Terra. Most of them have grown to trust her and depend on her. Beast Boy may even be falling in love with her. However, it soon becomes apparent that Terra is not all that she seems. A hallmark of the graphic novel is that this is the point where Dick Grayson first decides to stop being Robin, the Boy Wonder and adopts the mantle of Nightwing, thus allowing Jason Todd to begin his tenure as Batman’s assistant.

It was interesting to compare the movie and graphic novel versions of the story. The movie foregoes the Nightwing story. In the movie, Dick Grayson is already Nightwing. Jason Todd is already dead and Damian Wayne is now Robin and already working with the Teen Titans. The movie starts with the Teen Titans up against a cult leader named Brother Blood. As the movie progresses, we find that the Titans’ longtime rival Deathstroke is working for the cult. In the graphic novel, the conflict with Brother Blood and the conflict with Deathstroke are two separate stories. I love the graphic novel because we get more of Deathstroke’s backstory and more of his connection to Terra. That said, the movie feels like a more rounded and complete story and it also better explores the romance between Nightwing and Starfire.

The movie also contained two episodes of the 2003-2006 Teen Titans series featuring Terra. Those were interesting enough that I went back and rewatched the whole Terra arc from the series’ second season. The Terra in the TV series proves to be quite different from the version in the graphic novel and the movie, but all three versions make an interesting exploration of the concept of betrayal.

I’ve long been fascinated by the character of Judas in the Bible. At the risk of going down a theological rabbit hole, Judas begs many questions. Was he inherently evil? If so, why did Jesus choose him to be an apostle? Just to betray him? Was Judas really a good man? Did he betray Jesus because of free will? In the three versions of The Judas Contract, we see three different interpretations of Terra, ranging from a good person led astray to a person who always was a psychopath. I won’t spoil the story by telling you which is which in case you haven’t delved into these stories and want to explore on your own.

In the story I’m writing, I’m confronting choices like this. Are the good guys what they seem? Are the antagonists really to blame for the events happening? As I reach a point about two-thirds of the way through the outline, I’m going back through and reading what I’ve written and deciding whether I forge ahead as I drafted the outline or if the characters are going to lead me in a new direction. Seeing a story like The Judas Contract explored well in three different ways does help me think about the possibilities. The important thing to remember, and the reason these stories are good, is that all the pieces were in place to tell you why the characters made the choices they did. The hints were there for those who pay attention. So if I do move in a different direction, I need to make sure I’ve also laid that groundwork.

All-Star Dialogue

In earlier posts, I’ve discussed my enjoyment of comics featuring the Justice Society of America. This was the first superhero team to appear in comics. The team made its debut in issue #3 of All-Star Comics in November 1940. I knew the book was created as a way to showcase those heroes who were not Batman and Superman, yet appeared in other titles published by DC Comics and its brother company All-American Comics. In the first Justice Society story, the society exists largely as a framing device. The heroes meet and each of them tells about a recent thrilling adventure. It’s less a team comic and more a way to introduce stories about each of the featured heroes. In the next issue, each hero still had standalone stories, but each story contributed to solving a bigger mystery.

So, what about All-Star Comics issues 1 and 2? These aren’t available digitally, so I had never read them. However, a few days ago, I discovered my local comic shop had a copy of DC’s Archive edition that collects the first two issues. It was even on sale. So, I ran over and picked up a copy.

As one might expect, the first two issues of All-Star Comics were simple anthology comics. They collected individual stories of heroes like the Golden Age Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkman, and the Spectre. Each hero had their own story and they didn’t meet. As with many Golden Age comics, the stories were simple, but they were fun. The stories were written and drawn by such people as Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel, Sheldon Moldoff, and Gardner Fox, people who had a hand in the early days of Superman and Batman and would also help to usher in characters like the Silver Age Green Lantern and Flash.

As it turns out, I rushed out to buy this book while working on a big writing project. I can’t say much about that project at this point, but I can tell you it’s set in 1942, right after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It’s a time period I’m familiar with from the stories of my parents who were teenagers then. Truth be told, I bought the book as a little bit of fun distraction from work. One of the challenges of working at home during a pandemic is that you almost never leave the office!

That said, as I was reading the book, I came to realize it’s set just a little before the events of the story I’m working on. I should pay attention to people’s attitudes and how they speak. If you’re writing historical fiction, it can really help to read stuff written at the time your story is set. Watching movies of the period can help as well.

One of my favorite moments in this book was when they put in an editor’s note to explain what the FBI was. Although the FBI had already existed for several years, it had been a tiny department in Washington DC. It had just recently been expanded under President Roosevelt when the comic was new. More than once, when someone encountered something unusual, they described it as “queer.” It fits the dictionary definition perfectly well, but our modern ears tend to give the word a different meaning. Even Ultraman of the year 2240 is concerned about people being out of work and how a war in Europe will affect life at home. Of course, there’s also more than a little casual racism and sexism in some stories.

I won’t use everything I found in these stories, but the attitudes do reflect those of the period and help me to shape the way my characters speak. It reminds me of attitudes even progressive and forward-thinking people would have had to cope with. Words that are unusual to our modern ears should be used with care, but one or two sprinkled here or there can help transport a reader to a given era. You could do far worse when writing historical fiction to read a few comics of the period, if they existed. You might even have a little fun along the way.