Steampunk Batman

One of the appeals of alternate history and steampunk is the ability to imagine wrongs of the past made right. Of course, one of the most notorious villains of the Victorian age was Jack the Ripper. For me, my first Jack the Ripper tale wasn’t alternate history, but science fiction. It was an episode of Star Trek written by Robert Bloch called “Wolf in the Fold” in which Chief Engineer Scott is accused of committing some very Jack the Ripper-like murders.

One of my earliest exposures to alternate history was the graphic novel Gotham by Gaslight written by Brian Augustyn and illustrated by Mike Mignola. It imagines that Jack the Ripper travels to Gotham City and starts his murder spree again, only to confront Batman. I bought and read the graphic novel soon after it was released in 1989. I was in graduate school at the time and comics were one of the few things I had time to read. It’s hard to call the original Gotham by Gaslight steampunk. The story pretty much limits itself to technology that was well established in the nineteenth century. That said, the artwork reminds me more than a little of Jacques Tardi’s artwork in The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. Also, it’s worth noting that Robert Bloch, who wrote the Jack the Ripper Star Trek episode, also wrote the graphic novel’s introduction.

Earlier this year, Warner Brothers produced a direct-to-video animated adaptation of Gotham by Gaslight. I knew I wanted to reacquaint myself with this story. I watched it on Netflix and liked it enough, I went out and bought a copy. I discovered Best Buy has a special edition that includes a reprint of the original graphic novel—very cool because that meant I could refresh my memory of the original without damaging my first edition.

As it turns out, the plot of the movie is quite a bit different from that of the graphic novel. This becomes apparent right away when it opens with Pamela Isley (better known to many Batman fans as Poison Ivy) working in a burlesque house and becoming the Ripper’s first murder victim. I have to admit to mixed feelings on this point. One on hand, it feels a bit like a betrayal of character to make Pamela a victim. On the other, it establishes right away that you can’t take your expectations of certain characters for granted and that does pay off as the movie progresses.

It’s pointed out in the commentary that the graphic novel was only 40 pages long and that doesn’t really provide enough material to fill out a 70-minute movie. What I like is that they didn’t add stuff just to add stuff. They fleshed out the mystery and we got to see my favorite aspect of Batman—we got to see him working as a detective, hunting for clues and actually figuring out who the Ripper is.

They also made it more steampunk than the original, but it’s not a gratuitous addition of gadgets. Instead, they added a World’s Fair, which was very much a showpiece of technology at the time, and they gave the police an airship. This latter works because in Batman: The Animated Series the police are shown as having airships, so it was great to see that idea explored in this alternate history version. They also gave Batman a couple of steampowered gadgets. Of course, Batman always needs cutting-edge technology in his work.

There’s great voice acting in the movie with Bruce Greenwood as Batman, Anthony Head as Alfred the Butler, and Jennifer Carpenter as Selina Kyle. The DVD’s special features are pretty much teasers for other DC/Warner film projects, but the Blu Ray includes a couple of bonus Batman cartoons, a commentary and a making-of featurette. All in all, this ended up being one of my favorite adaptations of a DC comic book. It seems like the makers of the live-action DC movies could learn a thing or two from the animation department.

Of course, if you’re in a steampunk mood, you should check out my Clockwork Legion series. I have plenty of airships to go around, plus there’s even the New Orleans World Cotton Exposition in the fourth book—one of the original World’s Fairs. You can learn more about the series by visiting: http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion. If you’re in Las Cruces, I’m signing copies this morning at COAS Books downtown from 10 until noon. If you miss that, I’ll be at Branigan Library tomorrow from 2 until 4pm.

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Superheroes

This past weekend I saw Deadpool 2 with my daughter. I enjoyed the film and particularly its theme of seeking out love and family in the wake of violence and chaos. It’s funny with a lot of self-aware, and sometimes inappropriate, humor. It also left me pondering Hollywood’s current obsession with superheroes. I sometimes feel like I suffer something I call “superhero fatigue.” Sort of a groan that escapes involuntarily when I see another new superhero film announced. Yet, I do go back to some that particularly grab my eye. Films like Logan, Wonder Woman, and Deadpool have engaged me in spite of my fatigue.

I loved superheroes as a kid, both from comic books and on television. I probably discovered them on television first through such shows as Filmation’s Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure and the famous Batman television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Discovering my friends from TV in comic book form no doubt helped me improve my reading. Because of when my birthday fell, I was only four when I started Kindergarten. I was younger than most of my classmates and smaller. My size probably wasn’t helped by my mom smoking while she was pregnant with me. As such, I have the familiar story of being the small kid picked on relentlessly by his classmates. I know I loved superheroes because I loved to imagine myself having super powers and impressing the other kids in class. Of course, super powers would also have given me the ability to beat up the worst of the bullies.

As an adult and a writer, I see superheroes in a different light. I’ve come to recognize that all good superheroes have limits or weaknesses and the best stories are when the villain pushes past those limits and weaknesses. All the best superheroes have people they love and they can be hurt when the people around them are hurt. That’s how Deadpool 2 starts.

As an adult, there are still dangerous forces I sometimes feel powerless to stop, such as climate change, poverty, and overblown man-children with nuclear arms who like to taunt each other through social media. Because of that, there’s still appeal in wondering whether I could do something about them if I had superpowers. Yet, it’s often the more mundane, day-to-day challenges that cause the most anxiety. Will my daughter be safe at school? How can I afford that bill I forgot about? Where did that bad Amazon review come from? Did they even read the book I wrote? Even if I had superpowers, those things probably wouldn’t change. I have to work through my limitations to find solutions to those things. I have to teach my daughter to be aware of possible dangers and avoid them when possible. I maybe have to sacrifice something for that bill, or reevaluate my finances. I should be brave like a superhero and look at that review and see whether or not there’s something I can learn from it.

The closest thing I’ve ever written to superhero fiction is Vampires of the Scarlet Order about a team of vampire mercenaries who must save humanity from itself. Can vampires be superheroes? Just ask Marvel’s Blade, who was brilliantly portrayed a few years ago by Wesley Snipes. As it turns out, I first learned about Blade when Neal Asher compared my book to Marvel’s movie and comic book series. My vampires have great power. They can move fast and have great strength. They’re hunters, but they have limits. Among other things, they can only work at night and they can be destroyed. As with the heroes in Deadpool 2, they also find family in unexpected places. If you care to see my take on superheroes, visit http://www.davidleesummers.com/VSO.html to learn more.

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Perhaps one of the things I miss most from years gone by is the ability to tune in to network television on Saturday morning and find a wide variety of animated cartoon programming. Much of this is due to television networks in the period of 1992 to 2002 deciding they didn’t make enough money to continue supporting animated programming. Also, around 2001 my wife and I decided that neither cable nor satellite TV were necessary items for our budget and we could see all the TV we wanted with other media such as DVDs. Of course, our decision was all part of the national trend that helped to kill animation in the first place. Not many people eschewed broadcast TV altogether as we did that early, but the number of choices available made it harder for networks to justify the expense of animation when certain cable networks specialized in it.

I grew up watching cartoons in the 1970s. I fondly remember many teams of crime-solving kids from shows such as Scooby-Doo and Josie and the Pussycats. The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour provided some great comedy, much of it originally produced much before my time. I was already a Star Trek fan and loved the animated adaptation that aired in the mid 70s. There were even some cool live action experiments during that time such as Land of the Lost about a family trapped in a land of dinosaurs and the superhero-themed Shazam/Isis Hour.

I never really fell out of love with cartoons, but the 1990s ended up being another high point for me. That was in the early days of my astronomy career and cartoons became an escape from my working life. They were also a welcome treat when my first daughter was young. What I particularly remember from that period were some exceptional superhero shows such as Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men. There were also some great animated superhero parodies such as Earthworm Jim, The Tick and Freakazoid.

Of course, for all the gems, there were many forgettable shows as well. Still, what I find amazing living in the times we do is how many of these shows that I thought I would never see again are readily available on video or with the touch of a button on the internet. For a guy like me who occasionally wants a dose of nostalgia, these are great times. That said, the real joy of those Saturday mornings was the fun of discovery and I think that’s what I really miss is having that easy means of discovering new favorites.

Giving people a way to discover new authors was much of the reason I edited Hadrosaur Tales followed by Tales of the Talisman. Publishing those magazines also helped me appreciate the economic reality that caused the networks to take Saturday morning cartoons off the air. Like TV shows gone by, you can still get most of the back issues of both magazines. There are some great stories there by authors such as Neal Asher, Nicole Givens Kurtz, David Boop, and Janni Lee Simner and many more. You can find the back issues of each at:

As it turns out, I can do better than just give you nostalgia, Hadrosaur Productions has published two anthologies of stories set around planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission. Be sure to check out: