Building the Queen Emeraldas

When I finish a major writing project, I like to take a break and find something fun to do, like working on a hobby project. For the last year and a half, I’ve been engaged in a major rewrite of my novel The Pirates of Sufiro. The goal of the rewrite was to strengthen the novel as a whole and better position it as “book two” in my “Space Pirates’ Legacy Series.” Book one, Firebrandt’s Legacy, introduces readers to space pirate Ellison Firebrandt and develops his relationship with Suki Mori. Book two, tells what happens when they are marooned on a distant, alien world. Because this has been an intensive “from the ground up” rewrite, I decided a fun model-building project was in order and I thought it was appropriate to build the space ship of one of my other favorite fictional space pirates, Emeraldas from the manga of Leiji Matsumoto.

Emeraldas is a space pirate who fights for humanity. To her, the skull and crossbones symbolize her willingness to fight for humanity’s freedom until she herself becomes bones. She has been a character in many of the Captain Harlock manga and anime as well as the Galaxy Express 999 series about a train that traverses the stars. In most versions of Leiji Matsumoto’s universe, Emeraldas is romantically involved with Harlock’s best friend, Tochiro. In some versions they’re even married and have a child named Mayu. Her ship is known as the Queen Emeraldas.

I find the Queen Emeraldas an interesting design. It is a spaceship, but it resembles an airship with an old-fashioned sailing vessel as the gondola. The truly fascinating part of this is that such airships have become very common in steampunk art circles. I will note that in steampunk art, the ship is often so large, that I find it hard to believe the small gas bags above could lift the craft. If the Queen Emeraldas were an airship, it seems the ratio of sizes between the gas envelope and the ship would be much closer to correct.

One thing that was fun about this model was that it was lighted. I very much appreciated that my daughters have both taken enough Japanese to help me read the instructions that came with the kit. This allowed me to buy the recommended lights. Making a plastic model look good is a nice challenge and I enjoy painting them and making them look like they do in the show, but after several weeks of working at home, it was nice to actually wire up a small electronic project and have it work. Admittedly this is a simple project compared to those I work on at Kitt Peak, but it was still a chance to stay in practice.

If you’d like to read my novel The Pirates of Sufiro in its new version, you can learn all about it, read the first chapter, and find places to buy the novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/pirates_of_sufiro.html. As it turns out, the novel features both space vessels and airships!

Captain Harlock’s Endless Orbit

One of my Father’s Day gifts this year contained the DVD of the one Captain Harlock TV series I have not yet seen in its entirety, Endless Orbit SSX, from 1982. Also in the box was the first volume of Leiji Matsumoto’s original Captain Harlock manga from 1977. This was a wonderfully appropriate gift on several levels.

Of course, I’ve been a fan of the good captain since I first encountered him around 1991 in the movie Galaxy Express 999. The imagery of a space pirate who visited Western frontier looking planets no doubt helped drive some of my thinking when I started work on my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, around that time. Now, I’m hard at work on the novel’s twenty-fifth anniversary edition. A final proofread is underway and the book is being laid out, so I’ve been finding myself thinking about some of the themes and influences.

Many of my favorite space operas, the adventures of Captain Harlock included, have a certain family-like atmosphere. There’s a distinct sense of a band of siblings working toward a common goal, whether it be the exploration of a world, freeing Earth from tyranny, or solving some mystery in deep space. Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, despite his stated dislike of children, often feels like a wise father figure. In the 1978 Space Pirate Captain Harlock series, the captain is almost a literal father, looking after the daughter of his best friend who had died before the series began.

One thing that becomes clear as you watch the various Captain Harlock series is that there is no continuity from one series or movie to the next. That said, I prefer to think of the various Harlock series as stories about Harlock in assorted parallel universes, or perhaps running along alternate timelines. I wouldn’t be surprised if Harlock meddles in his own timeline given the Time Castle in Galaxy Express 999 and Harlock’s plot to reset the entire cosmic clock in the 2013 CGI Space Pirate Captain Harlock Movie.

The only exception to the notion that there’s no continuity between movies and series is that the series Endless Orbit SSX is a direct sequel to the movie Arcadia of my Youth. The movie and series tell about Harlock’s attempts to save Earth from an invasion of aliens called the Illumidas. In what I have watched so far, Harlock is still not a literal father, but he does rapidly become a father figure to Tadashi Monono and Revi Bentselle. Revi is the little girl on the box and first appears as a stranded passenger on a ship Harlock raids. Tadashi is a teenage boy who decides to collect a bounty on Harlock, but when he learns Harlock is the good guy, joins the crew of the Space Pirate Battlehship Arcadia as the cook.

The Captain Harlock manga has so far not introduced Harlock’s adopted daughter, Mayu, who appeared in the TV series, but again, Harlock rapidly becomes a father figure to an orphaned teen, Tadashi Daiba. In the manga, as with the original TV series, Harlock is working to keep aliens called the Mazon from invading the Earth.

In my novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, Captain Ellison Firebrandt has a daughter who grows up and leaves home. He also becomes a sort of elder statesman, advising the colonists who settle the planet after him. Harlock earns the loyalty of his crew and friends because he won’t abandon them, no matter what. Even though Earth shuns him as a pirate, he will fight to save the Earth. Firebrandt is much the same. One of the challenges in the new edition of my novel is that I wrote a prequel, which introduced readers to more of Firebrandt’s crew. Once I stranded my captain, I had to find ways to show him continuing to fight for the crew, despite being stranded and despite the fact that he grew to love the world he’d found himself stranded on. I think I’ve finally managed that and still tell the story I’d imagined nearly twenty-five years ago. At this point, I believe I’m less than a month away from releasing the new edition. I’ll announce that here. Otherwise, you can get a copy of the ebook upon release by supporting my Patreon campaign: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

Adam Warren’s Dirty Pair

No, I’m not referring to laundry or hygiene. I’m actually referring to one of the first manga series written and published in the United States between 1998 and 2002. Ever since my wife discovered Haruka Takachiho’s first two Dirty Pair light novels in a bookstore in Bisbee last summer, I’ve been learning more about the books, the anime series they inspired, and Adam Warren’s interesting American take on the series.

The “Dirty Pair” are Kei and Yuri, two young interplanetary agents in the distant future who investigate crimes for the World Welfare Works Association or WWWA. In the story, they received their nickname despite their high rate of success, because they’re infamous for leaving behind a path of destruction, though in all fairness the collateral damage is rarely their fault. The 1985 anime series was something of a muse for the Star Trek: The Next Generation production team. That series actually makes a handful of references to the Dirty Pair. As it turns out Haruka Takachiho was inspired to create the Dirty Pair after watching a wrestling match featuring a team called “The Beauty Pair.” Apparently Takachiho attended the match with A. Bertram Chandler, author of the John Grimes space opera novels. Chandler made a quip about how the team should be called “the Dirty Pair” because of their fighting techniques. Takachiho was then inspired to use that as the name for his science fiction action series. (Note: See the comments for more details and a slight correction about this story.)

In 1988, the American company, Studio Proteus, acquired the rights to do an English language version of The Dirty Pair. Later, the rights were transferred to Dark Horse Comics. The Studio Proteus version wasn’t going to be a translation of the Japanese books, but completely new stories. As I understand, Toren Smith of Studio Proteus approached Haruka Takachiho directly and showed him Adam Warren’s concepts for the characters. Takachiho liked what he saw and gave them permission to do their own version.

I decided to give this version a try. I started by picking up the original comic books that comprised the story arc Fatal But Not Serious which tells the story of the WWWA putting on a public relations campaign to improve the image of the Dirty Pair. They end up hosting a convention in Kei and Yuri’s honor. Of course anyone with a grudge against them comes gunning for them at the con. What’s more, someone unleashes a clone of Yuri and tells her she’s the real Yuri who has to kill imposters.

I’ve since gone on to collect the graphic novel adaptations of the other stories. Adam Warren takes the idea of The Dirty Pair and gives them a decidedly cyberpunk makeover. They get involved with bio weapons, they utilize chip implants to communicate, and even swap personalities. They encounter a wide range of adversaries both of the alien and augmented human variety. There are often questions whether they’re operating in the real world or a simulation. I was delighted to see the book Plague of Angels featured an introduction by fellow New Mexican and amazing cyberpunk writer Walter Jon Williams.

The last book in the series, Run from the Future, proved to be not only my favorite, but it turns out to be quite rare. Every now and then you can find a copy of the graphic novel on eBay. I found one at a price I could afford from a seller in Australia. Given shipping delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it took nearly seventy days to reach me, but it proved worth the wait.

What I really love about this series is that Haruka Takachiho allowed Adam Warren and Toren Smith the opportunity to play in his sandbox. Warren’s vision isn’t exactly like Takachiho’s, but he takes the ideas and explores them in interesting and new ways. Much as I enjoy this version, I’m not sure I’d recommend starting with Adam Warren’s version. I’d recommend trying the anime, which is still distributed in the United States, or find a used copy of the original light novels. If you enjoy those and are looking for more, by all means, give Adam Warren’s version a try.

Return of the Scarlet Order

In August 2004, I signed a contract with LBF Books for my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. Lachesis Publishing ultimately acquired LBF and asked me to do another book in the series, which became Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. Earlier this year, the publishing contracts came up for renewal and both Lachesis and I decided it was time for the publishing rights to come back to me. The deal is now formalized and the rights will revert to me at the end of May. It feels like the end of a fifteen-year long era. I’m starting to get things set up so there’s minimal downtime between the Lachesis editions being taken down and the release of new editions from my Hadrosaur Productions.

As a result, I spent this last week giving Dragon’s Fall a fresh proofread. While it was the second book written, it was always intended to be the first book in the series. Timing my proofread right before Easter was an interesting coincidence, since one of the novel’s inciting incidents is based on the legend of Joseph of Arimathea taking the Holy Grail to the British Isles. It also explores a question that I’ve wondered about occasionally and that’s why don’t we have any writings from Jesus himself since indications from the Bible are that Jesus was literate. Now, there are many possible answers to this and most don’t even have huge theological implications. Still, the speculative writer in me did feel compelled to ask, what if Jesus did have writings that were lost?

Anyway, my proofreading pass is now complete and I just need to typeset the interior and finalize plans for a new cover. I’m excited about the preliminary discussions I’ve had with the cover artist and I hope to have a cover reveal and more news about that soon. Aside from proofreading catches and some stronger prose, the new edition will not be substantially changed from the earlier edition. I do expect the cover will make the title and subtitle a little clearer with “Dragon’s Fall” in a larger font and the somewhat modified subtitle “Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires” in a smaller font.

Once I finish some documentation in the coming week, I also plan to turn my attention to Vampires of the Scarlet Order. I’m thinking this novel will have somewhat more changes than Dragon’s Fall. Little of the actual text will change, but I’m tentatively planning to rearrange the chapters a bit to improve the narrative flow. As those who’ve read the novel know, I originally chose to tell the story in a very linear, chronological format. I’m thinking of revising it so that I start in the present day (where most of the action takes place), then let the characters tell the historical parts of the story when it’s natural for them to do so.

The return to my Scarlet Order world in this past week also coincides with the release of the latest Dance in the Vampire Bund manga’s English language translation. Its title is “Age of Scarlet Order.” The manga opens with the United States military appearing to take out vampire queen Mina Tepes and her werewolf companion Akira Kaburagi Regendorf in a drone strike. We then meet vampire refugees attempting to flee religious extremists in scenes that feel not unlike some that occur in contemporary America. From this opening, the story takes a turn and explores the origins of the vampires. Nozomu Tamaki first started using “Scarlet Order” in the titles of his books about a decade after my Scarlet Order Vampires first appeared. I have to admit, I came to his work out of curiosity about the similar title, but I’ve since become a fan of this series.

Waking up in the 20s

At the start of the new year, I read many social media posts reminding me that we’ve returned to the 20s. As it turns out, 1920 was something of a banner year for science fiction in that it saw the birth of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Frank Herbert. It also saw the birth of Patrick Troughton, the second actor to play the Doctor in Doctor Who and DeForest Kelley who would play the doctor of the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek.

I decided to celebrate the start of the 2020s by continuing the adventures of one of my favorite comic book heroines, Adèle Blanc-Sec. She is probably best known to Americans from the wonderful 2010 film by Luc Besson called The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. After watching that movie, I was curious about the character and found out she appeared in French comics written by Jacques Tardi whose work also inspired the movie April and the Extraordinary Journey. I found that Fantagraphics had produced nice translated editions of the first four of Adèle’s adventures, which inspired the movie. The problem is, the movie and the translated graphic novels both end on a cliffhanger. Adèle sets sail on the Titanic

As it turns out, Adèle’s story does continue. Volume 5 was translated and published by Dark Horse Comics as “The Secret of the Salamander” and tells what happens to Adèle as a result of the infamous voyage. Unfortunately, none of the comics after volume 5 have been translated. I was pleased to discover, though, that I could buy the French edition of Volume 6, which I translate as “The Drowning of the Two-Headed Man” in digital format from Comixology. This story begins a new chapter of Adèle Blanc-Sec’s adventures after World War I. It’s not precisely the 1920s, but the stage is being set for the roaring decade to come.

There was one challenge. I don’t speak or read French very well. I did have a semester back in middle school. I won’t say how many years ago that is. I also have studied some Spanish over the years and have a very rudimentary Spanish vocabulary, which helps to recognize French words. Still, armed with Google Translate and my limited French skills, I made my best go of reading the comic.

It turns out this actually was a pretty fun exercise. My French was good enough that I could tell when Google’s translation app gave me a wonky result, and I would need to dig deeper to figure out what someone said. I also have no doubt I missed some idioms that would have been clearer to a native speaker. Still, the process of going through very carefully allowed me to appreciate Jacques Tardi’s fine artwork as well as much of his wordplay, much of it making me laugh as I worked through the translation.

In short, the story opens with police finding a drowned two-headed drowned man in a canal. They are soon attacked by a giant octopus. Meanwhile, Adèle Blanc-Sec has awoken to discover a world war was fought. She has nothing but an overcoat. Still, she returns to her apartment and finds its been kept up in her absence. She soon gets embroiled in a mystery involving the French army, circus performers, and the aforementioned giant octopus. As I understand, her adventures continue into the 1920s.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec and April and the Extraordinary World are two of the better steampunk films I know. If Adèle’s adventures continued on screen, we could be treated to some fine dieselpunk. Hopefully, we will get some translated copies of her later adventures. If any comic book companies are reading this, I do have all my notes from reading the book! For the rest of you, you can learn about the steampunk adventures I’ve created by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

Also, for those seeking out steampunk goodness, I learned this weekend that I will once again be presenting panels at Wild Wild West Con in Tucson, Arizona this March. This is one of the most fun, immersive events I go to. You can learn more at: http://wildwestcon.com.

The Addams Family: An Evilution

Back in October, when I discussed the new Addams Family film, I expressed a hope that we would see some new reprints of Charles Addams’ original cartoons that inspired the TV series and the movies. As it turns out, the only new books I’ve seen are tie-ins to the movie itself and most of them are aimed at kids. Fortunately, one very good book that was published a decade ago by Pomegranate Press is still in print. It’s called The Addams Family: An Evilution and I bought a copy for my wife, who, like me, is a fan of Charles Addams. Once she finished reading the book, she passed it along to me.

Over the years, there have been numerous collections of Charles Addams’ cartoons. What sets The Addams Family: An Evilution apart is that it endeavors to collect all the original published Addams Family cartoons together under one cover, plus many unpublished Addams Family sketches. It also includes Charles Addams’ own notes about the characters that he compiled when the TV series was being conceived plus commentary about the history of the characters by H. Kevin Miserocchi, the director of the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation.

The book starts with a description of how disparate characters from one-panel cartoons became a “family.” Each section of the book after that focuses on a particular character from the Addams Family. There are sections devoted to Morticia, Gomez, Lurch, and the others, including the Addams house itself. I thought it was particularly fascinating that Addams’ own conceptions of the characters differed a bit from what we saw on screen, and especially from how they evolved into the movies. For example, Uncle Fester rarely appears in cartoons with the other members of the family and its not clear he was intended to be a blood relative. He may simply have been a close friend referred to as “Uncle” Fester because of his close ties to the family.

This last bit is also interesting because it appears that Addams viewed Fester as something of an avatar for himself. From the photos in the book, it’s clear that Addams himself was a more robust and handsome fellow than Fester. Still, one of the book’s opening cartoons is taken from Tee and Charles Addams’ wedding invitation and shows Fester and Morticia as a couple. This would be quite a twist in the story as we’ve seen it portrayed in the movies and on TV!

Another element I found especially interesting was that “the Thing” was not conceived of as simply a hand or even a hand in a box. I won’t spoil it by revealing who the character was in the cartoons, but I remember seeing an unidentified creature in some of the cartoons and wondering who that was supposed to be. There is a famous cartoon of an Addams record player where hands stick out of the player and change the records and put the needle down. It’s likely this inspired the TV show and it’s even possible those are supposed to be Thing’s hands.

As I read the book, I saw how elements of Charles Addams’ work has inspired me. I see elements of the vampire Alexandra from my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order in Morticia. I see the manic energy of John Astin’s Gomez in Professor Maravilla of my Clockwork Legion novels. Lurch’s frightening and imposing form is reflected in characters like Arepno and G’Liat from my Space Pirates’ Legacy novels. As always, I hope you’ll explore my works at http://www.davidleesummers.com. If, like me and my wife, you’re a fan of Charles Addams, I highly recommend adding The Addams Family: An Evilution to your library.

JSA Strange Adventures

I saw this graphic novel on the shelf of my local comic shop and pointed it out to my wife. As I’ve noted in earlier posts, I’m a fan of the first superhero team in comics, the Justice Society of America, who first appeared around World War II. What’s more, this comic was penned by Kevin J. Anderson, a writer I’ve long enjoyed and one I’ve had the privilege of working with. Not only that, but one of the truly legendary science fiction writers, Jack Williamson, both wrote the introduction and plays a starring role in the story. I was pleased when the graphic novel turned up as one of this year’s birthday presents.

The graphic novel collects comics originally released in 2004-2005. It tells the story of Lord Dynamo, an intellect with amazing powers and an army cyborgs at his command, who promises to end World War II and bring peace and prosperity if only Green Lantern will give up his power ring and Starman will give up his Gravity Rod. The Justice Society, of course, doesn’t believe things can be solved this easily and works to uncover the truth behind Lord Dynamo’s plans. In the meantime, Justice Society member Johnny Thunder, whose sole power is summoning a genie called Thunderbolt, wants to be a science fiction writer. Because the public is clamoring for Justice Society tales, famed editor Hugo Gernsback teams Johnny up with Jack Williamson.

The art in the graphic novel is beautiful. Barry Kitson and Gary Erskine did a great job of bringing the Justice Society to life on the page. Anderson’s story feels like the classic Justice Society stories that appeared way back in All-Star Stories comics during World War II. I was especially amused to see Jack Williamson ponder a trip to one of my frequent college haunts, the Owl Bar in San Antonio, New Mexico, for a green chile cheeseburger, though it would be out of the way given Williamson’s road trip from New York to Portales!

I’ve been fortunate to know Kevin J. Anderson for several years now. Our stories appear together in the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone. The photo above shows Kevin and I together at the signing event for the book in Denver, Colorado. Kevin is also the publisher of Maximum Velocity, the anthology that collects eighteen exciting science fiction stories about everything from pirates to ghosts to battles in space.

I was also fortunate to have met Jack Williamson in person. He was born in Bisbee, Arizona in 1908, but his family moved to rural New Mexico when he was young. He sold his first story to Hugo Gernsback in 1928. In the 1930’s, teenaged Isaac Asimov was one of his fans. He served in World War II as a weather forecaster, then in the 1950s he earned degrees in English from Eastern New Mexico University. He won the Hugo and Nebula Awards for his writing, was inducted in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, received the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement plus a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association.

I had the opportunity to speak to Jack Williamson a few times at Bubonicon in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He liked the fact that I encouraged new writers through the magazine I edited at the time, Tales of the Talisman, and told me I was doing a good job.

The graphic novel of JSA Strange Adventures appears to have limited availability, but the individual issues are still in print and they’re available digitally at Amazon and Comixology. If you want to check out Maximum Velocity, which includes short fiction I’ve both written and edited and which is published by Kevin J. Anderson, you can learn more by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com/Maximum-Velocity.html

Lovely Angels

I’m a fan of stories featuring strong women. While I recognize that physical strength or proficiency with weapons is not the only way to be a strong person, my love of action stories does mean I enjoy a story with women who fall into this category. While in Bisbee, Arizona’s wonderful Meridian Books and Comics a few weeks ago, my wife’s eyes happened to fall on the book, The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair.

I immediately recognized the title and the women on the cover from an anime series of the mid-1980s. What I didn’t realize is that the anime series was inspired by a series of novels by Haruka Takachiho. The book my wife found was an English translation of the first two novels published in 2007 by Dark Horse Books. For those not familiar with the books or the anime series, the “Dirty Pair” are Kei and Yuri, two young interplanetary agents in the distant future who investigate crimes for the World Welfare Works Association or WWWA. They’re essentially female James Bond types who travel in their own space ship with their pet Mugi, which is essentially an intelligent, alien cat. Their code name is “the lovely angels” but because they’re famous for leaving death and destruction in their wake, they’ve come to be known as “the dirty pair.”

Unlike many anime series, each episode of Dirty Pair is a self-contained adventure. Kei and Yuri often find one mystery that leads to a bigger mystery or find that a tactical situation has gone out of control and they must go in guns blazing while wearing their battle bikinis. At least the novels explain that their outfits do include a transparent polymer that protects them while giving them the appearance of lots of exposed skin.

What I love about the series and the books is that Kei and Yuri are strong, well defined characters. Kei is more hot-tempered and impulsive while Yuri is more thoughtful. It’s fun to see their camaraderie and how the situations regularly blow up for them to cause damage worthy of a contemporary superhero film. What I find a little annoying is that at times it feels like Kei and Yuri are Betty and Veronica from Archie comics each competing for the next cute boy, even in the midst of worlds blowing up around them.

One key difference between the novels and the anime series is that in the novels, Kei and Yuri have clairvoyant powers. If they concentrate and then hold hands, they can get a precognitive clue to the mystery they’re trying to solve. The only time I know this appears in the anime is in the movie, Affair on Nolandia. Of some note, this movie seems to be one of the least popular Dirty Pair stories, but it does feel like it takes most of its beats from the books.

The first Dirty Pair novels were serialized in 1979 in the Japanese magazine SF Magajin. This means Kei and Yuri started kicking butt the same year as Ripley in the American Alien franchise.

The Dirty Pair novels are fun if you’re a fan of the anime and curious about the story’s history. The anime is fun if you like diverting science fiction stories with plenty of gun battles and explosions. Just don’t go in expecting a lot of depth. You can find strong women who will tell more thoughtful stories in other places.

If you want to explore some of the strong women characters in my stories, you might enjoy meeting Fatemeh Karimi and Larissa Crimson in my Clockwork Legion Series. You might also enjoy meeting Suki Mori, Fire Ellis, and Kirsten Smart in my Space Pirates Legacy Series or Marcella DuBois, Jane Heckman, and Mercy Rodriguez from my Scarlet Order Vampire Series.

Vintage Justice

Reading is an essential part of any writer’s life. However, sometimes, I really do feel pressed for time to read. When that happens, my attention often goes to comic books. The best comics tell really good, tight stories and are presented with artwork I really admire. Lately, I’ve been spending time exploring the adventures of the Justice Society of America.

For those not familiar with the JSA, they were the original comic book super hero team, invented during World War II. The lineup included original versions of the Flash, Green Lantern, and the Atom, along with heroes I’ve spoken about before like Sandman. Other members familiar to modern readers of DC comics include Dr. Fate, the Spectre, and Hawkman. Thanks to digital comics, it’s fairly easy to find their early adventures. In those stories, the Justice Society largely stays in the United States and roots out Nazi sympathizers and other criminals who want to undermine the war effort. Each hero usually receives their own assignment and we follow that hero’s story for a few pages, then move on to the story of another hero. At the end, they would come together to wrap up the case.

DC Comics has brought back the JSA in various forms over the years. Most recently at the end of the 1990s and beginning of the 2000s, Geoff Johns and David S. Goyer presented a JSA composed of elder heroes training a new generation. These stories are a lot of fun and we get to see children and grandchildren of those original heroes. Still, my favorite stories are those actually told in the original time period. I think there’s a lot of room for these kinds of stories, especially after I read the excellent run of Sandman Mystery Theatre. I was excited recently to find the graphic novel JSA: The Liberty Files originally published in 2004, that imagined early members of the society taking a more active role in the war effort.

JSA: The Liberty Files is one of DC’s so-called Elseworld stories. They ask what if the heroes existed in a different time and place than they did in the main continuity of the universe. Of course, continuity in comic books is relative since many heroes rarely seem to age beyond their thirties! The first story in The Liberty Files imagines Batman teaming up with Hourman and Dr. Mid-Nite to track down a real Nazi Super-Man. Hourman is scientist Rex Tyler who developed a pill that gives him super powers for just one hour a day. Dr. Mid-Nite is Dr. Charles McNider, a doctor who can’t see well in regular light but has excellent night vision. Both Hourman and Dr. Mid-Nite were early members of the classic JSA.

In the second story, Batman, Hourman, and a more familiar Superman along with some other JSA members must determine who is killing American agents in Berlin. I like the dark, realistic artwork in these stories. I think they allow for a little more exploration of the characters, though I was a little disappointed to see Batman and Superman take the limelight away from the lesser known JSA members. There were also some points where I felt the JSA members could have avoided disaster if they’d been a little smarter. And really, the best superheroes do rely more on their intellect and how they apply their powers than relying on the powers themselves.

I know there are a few other modern JSA stories told in vintage style available and I do plan to look those up in the coming months. I find these appealing in much the way I enjoy steampunk and other retro-futuristic stories. In many ways, a steampunk world is like a good superhero world. It’s one where heroes use their intellect to apply science or magic to solve a problem. Like an “Elseworlds” story, steampunk is an alternate universe that asks what would have happened if different conditions were met than those which happened in the world as we know it.

You can explore my Clockwork Legion Steampunk World by reading the following books, maybe you’ll find your next favorite “superhero.”

Fan Fiction?

I’ve often heard the Japanese word doujinshi translated as “fan fiction.” So, I found it interesting to discover that Seven Seas Entertainment licensed two collections of Dance in the Vampire Bund doujinshi and translated them into English. Perhaps a better translation of the word doujinshi is “stories from a specific interest group published for that group.” As it turns out, the Vampire Bund doujinshi consist of manga drawn by Nozumu Tamaki, creator of Dance in the Vampire Bund along with stories he supervised created by friends. The originals were self-published by Tamaki and sold at the semi-annual Comic Market (or Comiket) conventions in Japan.

To me, it says a lot about a writer’s world building when the world is rich enough to support stories beyond those told in a given book or series. The first fan fiction I ever encountered was set in the Star Trek universe and my earliest stories were Star Trek stories. Even at a young age, I wanted to see what happened on other starships besides the Enterprise, or what people outside of Starfleet did. Since then, Pocket Books has published entire books using those ideas and Paramount has even done entire series on similar premises.

Dance in the Vampire Bund is a series that appeals to be because it presents a rich world where vampires have made themselves public and the queen of the vampires, Mina Tepes, has set up a home for vampire kind near Tokyo. The story is full of the political machinations among the vampire houses and the mysteries of the origins of the vampire kind. The two doujinshi published by Seven Seas entertainment are called Dance in the Vampire Bund: Forgotten Tales, consisting mostly of manga by Nozumu Tamaki, and Dance in the Vampire Bund: Secret Chronicles, consisting mostly of short stories and novellas introducing characters who live in this world, but aren’t necessarily involved in the main story line.

Many of the Vampire Bund doujinshi’s manga show the main characters in quiet moments between the main action of the series. The short stories introduce many great characters such as Dr. Saji, a vampire dentist who solves mysteries and Lazaro Spallanzani who fancies himself a vampire gourmet who wants to make blood more interesting and palatable to the vampires. We also get stories that explore important events in the history of the vampire bund.

The books also include behind the scene trivia and information about inspirations. I noticed that Mr. Tamaki uses titles from a number of vampire novels and stories and I’ve long been curious whether his more recent “Scarlet Order” series was somehow named for my own Scarlet Order series. Thanks to the power of Twitter (which is explored in a humorous chapter in the doujinshi) and some Japanese help from my daughter, I was able to ask him. As it turns out, he didn’t name his books after mine, but we had much the same idea, using “Scarlet Order” as a metaphor for the bloody order of vampires. I did find it cool to reach across the ocean and communicate with an artist whose work I admire.

I find this idea of collaborators exploring a fictional world in depth fascinating. In many ways, these doujinshi read like “shared world” anthologies here in the United States, which can be fun. I’ve even written in a couple of shared worlds. My novella Revolution of Air and Rust is set in Bob Vardeman’s Empires of Steam and Rust steampunk world, plus I have a story in J Alan Erwine’s Taurin Tales, set on a world he created. I love seeing what happens when artists interpret my characters for book covers or magazine illustrations. These vampire bund doujinshi take the idea of the shared world anthology and expand it further. It would be fun to see more officially translated doujinshi and it would be fun to see more expanded worlds explored by writers and artists alike in the English-speaking world.