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.

Downtown Arts Ramble

On Friday, June 7, I’ll be at Zia Comics in Las Cruces, New Mexico from 5-7 pm, where I’ll be available to talk about my books and sign them as part of the Las Cruces Downtown Arts Ramble. The Downtown Art Ramble is held on the 1st Friday of every month.  As a self-guided tour, visitors get to explore the galleries, shops, businesses, and restaurants of Downtown Las Cruces. With refreshments and entertainment along the way, this event is a great Friday night out.

At the event, I’ll be featuring my recent titles, including Firebrandt’s Legacy, which tells the story of space pirate Ellison Firebrandt, who is already a force to be reckoned with when he discovers a remarkable new drive system and meets a woman who can help it reach its full potential. I will also have copies of Maximum Velocity on hand. This book features eighteen stories of epic space action featuring pirates, strong women, the military, monsters, vagabonds, and battles by such authors as Mike Resnick, Irene Radford, and Dayton Ward. Two of the project’s editors were nominated for the Hugo Award. Since this is a downtown event, you can bet I’ll have copies of Vampires of the Scarlet Order on hand as well, which has several key scenes set in the neighborhood right where the arts ramble takes place!

Zia Comics is one of my favorite shops in Las Cruces. They’re located at 125 N. Main Street and the shop features not only comics, but toys and games. They also serve ice cream, which is a great incentive to drop by on a warm summer evening. Once you’ve discovered Zia Comics, you may get addicted. They not only sell stuff, but they have game and puzzle tournaments to provide a chance to hang out and meet other folks who share your interests. Zia Comics is also the sponsor of the local comic conventions in El Paso and Las Cruces.

So, why would you find a novelist in a comic store during an arts ramble? From my perspective, comic books have long provided a source of fun and inspiration as long as I can remember. In fact, during college and grad school, comic books were about the only things I had time to read for fun and escape. Last week, I discussed setting mini-goals, but I also talked about longer goals such as yearly or even life goals. Well, one of my life goals has long been to turn one of my stories into a comic. Over time, I’ve been collecting information and learning things and while it’s not quite ready to be a goal for this year given other things on my plate, it is certainly a goal for the next five or ten years.

Be sure to come by Zia Comics during the Downtown Arts Ramble this Friday, see what the shop has to offer, and talk to me about pirates, vampires, or other fun and scary things I’ve written about.

Phoenix Fan Fusion

From Thursday, May 23 through Sunday, May 26, I will be at Phoenix Fan Fusion in Phoenix, Arizona. It is a major pop culture event featuring numerous celebrity guests from television and the movies including such folks as Jeff Goldblum, Paul Reubens, Nichelle Nichols, Catherine Tate and many more. There are also numerous writers and artists from the comic industry, many writers from Arizona and beyond, and a huge dealer floor where you can find toys, videos, comics, books, and much more. You can learn more about the event at: https://phoenixfanfusion.com/

I will have a table at the Amazing Wykid Writer’s Island in the vendor hall. This group is organized by talented author, artist, and jeweler, Terry L. Smith. She writes mythology/science fiction fusion, sells jewelry to match her books, and now has art. Her paintings continue the theme of space mythology fusion. Also in our group are a wide array of science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, and non-fiction writers, artists, and editors such as DuAnn Black, Dr. Bruce C. Davis, Hal C.F. Astell, Deena Remiel, K.C. Klein, Jenn Windrow, Sara Fujimura, J.F. Castillo, The Klute, Ross Caligiuri, Patrick Tylee, Joel Cunningham, Mariann Asinuma, Mark Rude, John B. Newsome III, and David Mogan. I have no doubt if you visit us, you will find a book or some art you will want to take home. Andrea Ritschoff has written a terrific introduction to all the authors and artists of the Amazing Wykid Writers and you can read that at: http://www.duncansbooksandmore.com/phoenix-fan-fusion-one-more-week/

You can find the Amazing Wykid Writers in the lower level exhibitor hall at tables A1701 through A1814. If you’re a Star Trek fan, you can probably remember that first table number pretty easily. Here’s a map of the lower level exhibitor hall. We’re the group of tables marked with the red oval.

Of course, Phoenix Fan Fusion is not just about exhibitors. Several of the Amazing Wyked Writers will be on panels over the course of the weekend. I will be on a panel from 1:30-2:30pm on Saturday, May 25 called “Global Warming and the Future World We Build in Books.” Earth is changing, whether we want it to or not. Global Warming is real, as are the consequences. As authors, have we built these changes into the books we’re writing? Probably not. Should we? How might Global Warming actually change Earth beyond what we recognize today? How might it change the populations of our world? Come listen to our authors as they share their insights, professionally and prospectively. On the panel with me are Dr. Bruce Davis, the Klute, Lloyd Pulley, Katie Salidas, and T.L. Smith.

I last had the chance to go to Phoenix Comic Con in 2015. I missed 2016 because I was in Baltimore for the release of the anthology Gaslight and Grimm. My observatory schedule prevented my attendance in 2017, and in 2018 I was attending my daughter’s graduation in New Orleans. So, it’ll be good to be back in Phoenix for Memorial Day weekend. If you’re in town, I hope you’re able to join us!

The Spirit of Rebellion

This past week, I received my signed copy of the latest Boston Metaphysical Society graphic novel, entitled “The Spirit of Rebellion.” The Boston Metaphysical Society is the brainchild of Madeleine Holly-Rosing and it’s a comic and story series set in an alternate 1895 where there are already rudimentary airships and computers, but where society has not progressed as much as it did in our world. The “Great States of America” are dominated by Great Houses and people in the lower and middle classes exist to serve the upper classes. The stories focus on ex-Pinkerton detective Samuel Hunter, a spirit photographer Caitlin O’Sullivan, and scientist Granville Woods. Together the three confront supernatural mysteries in Boston. Along the way, they encounter such historical figures as Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla, and Thomas Edison.

I first met Madeleine Holly-Rosing a few years ago at Gaslight Gathering in California soon after she started releasing the original six-issue miniseries of The Boston Metaphysical Society as a web comic. In the years since, she’s been quite adept at using Kickstarter to crowdfund new chapters in her steampunk world. “The Spirit of Rebellion” is the latest chapter in that series and is a follow-up to the original six-issue miniseries. This chapter focuses on Caitlin O’Sullivan and the consequences of her actions in the original series. It also moves the action from Boston to Philadelphia, giving more scope to the stories.

Even though “The Spirit of Rebellion” is a sequel, the story is self-contained and gives the reader the backstory needed to follow along. The change of setting also introduces all new characters for our protagonists to get to know and interact with. The story begins with a flashback to Caitlin being thrown out of her mother’s house. In the story’s present, Samuel Hunter takes Caitlin to Philadelphia to find a new place to live. While there, Pinkerton agents recruit Samuel to infiltrate a group of organizing laborers. In the meantime, Caitlin learns more about the extent of her paranormal powers.

This chapter has much of what I’ve come to appreciate about the Boston Metaphysical Society. It has a healthy respect and genuine love for the science of the time. Even though paranormal things happen in the story, they are treated as knowable with a suitable application of science. In earlier chapters, not everyone thinks before they apply their scientific know how, but that does sometimes happen in the real world. What I really like in these comics is the social sensibility, as Holly-Rosing looks at the role of class, race, immigrants, and women through the lens of steampunk to shine some light on where we are today.

You can learn more about the Boston Metaphysical Society and even read the original six-issue miniseries for free at the website http://www.bostonmetaphysicalsociety.com. Of course, you can also learn about my steampunk series with its own share of social sensibility and mad science by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion.