Scary Oz

While I’ve been reading through L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels, Zenescope Entertainment released their 2021 Oz Annual featuring their version of the Patchwork Girl. Like Big Dog Ink’s vision of Oz which I mentioned last month, Zenescope has their own take on Baum’s most famous creation. It helps to realize that like many other comic companies Zenescope has their own “multiverse” and many of their stories fit in that world. Oz is one of the magical lands in the Zenescope multiverse. The other lands are Neverland, Wonderland, and Myst. In the center of it all is the Earth we all know and love. In this multiverse, Neverland, Wonderland, and Oz do bear a passing resemblance to their literary counterparts, but they also have distinct differences. In the Zenescope version, Dorothy travels to Oz and ultimately becomes queen of the land. Thorne, the counterpart of the Cowardly Lion, is from a race of lion men. Bartleby is a living scarecrow.

Zenescope’s Patchwork Girl Annual

The 2021 Oz Annual introduces us to the Patchwork Girl. Instead of the happy-go-lucky Scraps of Baum’s novel we meet a witch called Jenny Patch. Long ago she was put on trial for witchcraft. Found guilty, the villagers tried to drown her. Instead of dying, Jenny came back as a living doll, capable of turning others into dolls. Eventually she’s captured and placed into Oz’s Ojo prison. The name is a neat reference to Ojo the Lucky who appeared in the original Patchwork Girl novel. Once she’s in the prison, the people she turned into dolls revert to normal.

Moving forward to the present day, Jenny summons a tornado, which destroys the prison and she escapes with her sidekick, a bug. I don’t recall Zenescope introducing an analog of H.M. Wogglebug T.E. before, so wondered if this was a nod to that character. Not only does Jenny escape, she escapes to Kansas where she unleashes a reign of terror on the townspeople of an unnamed, large town. From the buildings, I’d guess the city is supposed to be Wichita or the Kansas portion of Kansas City.

Dorothy, Toto, Bartleby and Thorne make their way to Kansas and find the Patchwork Girl is creating a whole army of living dolls. So, it’s up to our heroes to stop them. In the Oz novels, it’s stated several times that Oz’s magic doesn’t work outside the fairyland. In this case, the magic has no problem operating in our world, but again, this fits the rules of Zenescope’s multiverse. Overall, I find that Zenescope does a good job with horror action and this comic fits comfortably in that niche. The comic is written by Jenna Lyn Wright, whose work I haven’t encountered before. She seemed to sneak in a few more sly Oz references than I’ve seen in earlier Oz volumes from Zenescope.

Overall, I recommend this for the Oz fan looking for a twisted, scary take on the world. This one is definitely not for younger Oz fans. For those wanting to explore the Zenescope Oz universe you can start with the graphic novels at: https://zenescope.com/collections/tales-from-oz-trade-paperbacks

Aftershock and Awe

This has been a busy summer for my daughter. She had a remote NASA internship and took second semester physics as an intense six-week summer course. I did what I could to help with both of these areas, explaining things like orbital parameters for the internship and helping her understand physics problems. I know how intense these things are and some of what I did was simply not provide a distraction at inappropriate times by turning on the television. This caused me to turn to books and comics for more of my entertainment, which is not altogether a bad thing. In seeking things to read, I stumbled across a comic published in 2012 based on the TV series Space: 1999 called Aftershock and Awe, written by Andrew Gaska. Given my recent interest watching the show and listening to the audio re-imagining by Big Finish Productions, I thought this looked interesting. The only problem is that it had gone out of print around the time the COVID-19 pandemic began and appeared to be somewhat difficult to find. I did find some copies on eBay and most appeared to be available for a fair price, considering that it was a hardcover book. Still, I decided to ask some devoted fans whether this was worth the price.

On Facebook, there is a group devoted to a podcast hosted by Jamie Anderson, Richard James, and Chris Dale. Jamie is the son of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the producers of Space: 1999 and the podcast is devoted to the shows. If you enjoy shows like Thunderbird, Stingray, UFO, or Space: 1999, the podcast is well worth a listen. What’s more, the Facebook group is full of fans who genuinely enjoy these shows and have fun discussing them. So, I asked about the book there. I had some nice responses, including one from Chris Dale who said the book was worthwhile. I was surprised and delighted a few days later when they read my question on the podcast itself. Jamie Anderson indicated he was familiar with the book and liked it. The upshot of all of this is that I took the plunge and picked up a copy for my collection.

Showing off Aftershock and Awe while wearing my Space: 1999 shirt.

I’ve now had a chance to read the graphic novel and I agree, it was a good choice for my collection. The first half is a retelling of the show’s first episode, “Breakaway.” It features fabulous, classic Space: 1999 comic art by Gray Morrow along with new art and colors by Miki and dialog by Andrew Gaska. Like Big Finish’s version of “Breakaway,” it expands the story. It tells more about the backstory of Commander Gorski who leaves Moonbase Alpha at the beginning. It also suggests there is more to the moon leaving orbit rapidly than simply being propelled by a nuclear explosion. It’s not quite as satisfying as the explanation in the Big Finish audio, but it’s clearly heading in that direction and dovetails with it nicely. When I do have a chance to turn on the TV for a little while, I’m watching the second season of Space: 1999 and it was nice to see second season characters Tony Verdeschi and Shermeen Williams introduced right from the outset as minor characters. The opening title pages also give nods to both the first and second season credit sequences. Like many fans, I’m not as fond of the second season as the first, but the second season has grown on me and I think for the most part, it improved toward the end. So, it was nice to see this nod to continuity.

The second half of the book is set on Earth and sets up Space: 1999 as existing in an alternate history. As someone who has written various flavors of alternate history, I really like this approach. Featuring lovely painted illustrations by David Hueso, we find out what was happening on Earth to a group of people connected to those crewmembers on Moonbase Alpha who blasted out of orbit. Of course, the moon leaving Earth’s orbit suddenly would be catastrophic and such an event would set off numerous natural disasters. The apocalyptic events are highlighted by lines of poetry and quotes from the book of Revelation. The timing was interesting, since I’m about to embark on editing my 2007 novel, Heirs of the New Earth for a new edition, and I also highlight key elements with quotes from Revelation. The other aspect both the graphic novel and my novel share is that while they both imagine great disaster befalling the Earth, they’re both ultimately hopeful stories in that they imagine the human race persevering in the wake of the disaster. First edition copies of my novel are available for half off the cover price at: https://www.hadrosaur.com/HeirsNewEarth.php or you can support me at Patreon and support the work I’m doing on the new edition. My Patreon site is: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.

I was sufficiently impressed with Aftershock and Awe that I’d recommend it to any Space: 1999 fan. There was a follow up, which also featured Gray Morrow’s art, but that book, To Everything that Was, is much rarer and much more expensive. As I understand, these books were on Comixology for a time. It would be great if a new distribution deal could be made and they could return to digital format, or a new print run ordered for more fans to discover these books.

Oz in the Wild West

The Oz novels of L. Frank Baum take the kinds of ideas that appeared in the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and give them a distinctly American spin. One of the few ways Baum could have made them more uniquely American would have been to have put Oz in the Wild West. As it turns out, comic book writer and publisher Tom Hutchison of Big Dog Ink did just that with his series The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West. I met Tom at El Paso Comic Con a few years ago and bought the first two graphic novels in the series. Since then, I’ve purchased the next two. Given my read-through of Baum’s canon, I thought it was time to revisit Hutchison’s take on Oz.

The Volume 1 graphic novel largely follows the plot of Baum’s first novel and the 1939 MGM film. As one might expect from the premise, the settings and characters are changed to match the wild west setting. Dorothy is an adult and Toto is her horse. The Tin-Man is a Marshall who could really use a heart. The Scarecrow is a Native American “puppet” who is filled with straw and can’t speak. The Cowardly Lion moves more-or-less directly into the story, although he does wear make-up and a crown. The climactic showdown between Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West happens back on Dorothy’s farm in Kansas. Of course, it is presented as a western showdown, but water is still involved. I’ll leave it at that to avoid too many spoilers.

Volumes 2 through 4 of the series have largely followed the plot of the second novel, The Marvelous Land of Oz. Dorothy is on the sidelines of the action and we now follow the adventures of a boy named Tip. Although her adventures are on the sidelines, Dorothy’s arc is continuing the story as it wraps up in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Jack Pumpkinhead teams up with Tip. In this version, Jack is a former palace guard from the Emerald City who wears a pumpkin bandana to cover his disfigured face. Meanwhile, General Jinjur has taken over the Emerald City. Although the overall plot is inspired by The Marvelous Land of Oz, Hutchison draws in story elements and characters from several of the later Oz novels. We meet the Patchwork Girl and the glass cat along with their creator, Dr. Pipt. The Sawhorse has also entered the story.

Reading the Oz novels, it soon becomes clear that Baum did not plot any kind of story arc for the series as a whole. Each novel is written as something of a standalone story, though new characters introduced in earlier volumes appear in later volumes. One of the things I like about Hutchison’s adaptation is that he takes this vast universe of characters and weaves them into a tighter narrative arc. Hutchison recently ran a Kickstarter to fund the next few issues of Legend of Oz and I was one of his supporters. I’m looking forward to seeing where he takes the story after the first four volumes.

If you want to check out The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West, you can pick up the graphic novels at https://bigdogink.com. Also, watch Kickstarter. I gather Hutchison will be running another Legend of Oz campaign later this year and that can be an opportunity to pick up back issues. For those seeking out single issues, the Volume 1 graphic novel covers the original six issue mini-series. Volume 2 begins the on-going series with a new issue 1. The end of volume 4 coincides with issue 15. There are also two related mini-series. One covers the origin of the Scarecrow and the other is an adventure involving Tik-Tok.

The Maxx

I have long seen animation as an underutilized and undervalued medium for telling stories. I suspect part of this comes from early encounters with animation that didn’t talk down to kids. One early example was Star Trek: The Animated Series. Even though it appeared in the Saturday morning kid’s cartoon slot, it was produced by the live action show’s staff with writing of a similar caliber. The show’s only real writing shortfall was that stories were constrained to 30-minutes instead of a full hour. I also encountered anime, like Space Battleship Yamato at a fairly young age. Another real eye-opener was the French science fiction film, Fantastic Planet based on the novel Oms in Series.

So, in the 1990s when cable station MTV came along and introduced an animation block called “Oddities,” I was rather interested to see what stories they told. This block was introduced while I lived in Tucson, Arizona, when I first worked for Kitt Peak National Observatory. TV watching was somewhat intermittent and I don’t remember details from many of the shows that aired during the Oddities segment. One did grab my attention and held me enough that I still remember it fairly well some 25 years later. That show was The Maxx.

The animated adaptation of The Maxx was based on Sam Kieth’s comic book of the same name. The title character is a large, purple-clad homeless superhero who lives in a box in a large city. A young woman named Julie Winters is a social worker who looks out for the Maxx. Meanwhile, a serial rapist called Mr. Gone is on the loose and he’s stalking Julie. As the series progresses, we meet a teenage girl named Sarah, whose mom is friends with Julie. Besides Maxx being homeless, what made this different from the normal superhero fare is that Maxx popped back and forth between two separate realities. One was the “real world” city where he’s a superhero and Julie is a social worker. The other reality was a place called “the outback” inhabited by surreal, Dr. Seuss-inspired creatures. In that reality, Julie is the Leopard Queen, in charge of the realm.

As the series progressed, it became clear that the outback was a manifestation of the subconscious shared by Julie and Maxx. Something about their past bound their subconscious realities together. Each individual episode only ran for about 12 minutes, but they contained enough character development to engage me and make me want to see where the story led. Not only were the characters interesting, but the series explored the intersection of dream reality and the real world, plus had some serious discussions of feminism, missing from more mainstream entertainment. I especially appreciated that the series didn’t try to sell me on a viewpoint, but just gave me some issues to think about. I recently discovered that the series is available on home video. It only takes about two hours to watch all thirteen episodes, but it was worthwhile to rediscover this animated gem.

What was perhaps even more fun was that I discovered the original comic run is all available digitally at Comixology. It turns out the thirteen episodes of the animated series are almost a frame-by-frame retelling of the first twelve issues of the comic, which was remarkable. I only noticed minor variations in the story. I have continued on to read more of the story. The tale of Julie, Maxx and Sarah in the 1990s wraps up in issue 20. In issue 21, the story leaps ahead to the (then) near-future of 2005 where Sarah takes center stage as the comic’s protagonist. During this time, we continue to learn more about how the characters are interrelated and Kieth continued to explore interesting ideas and sometimes uncomfortable topics in comic form.

Given my recent experiences dabbling in the comic book form, it’s been fascinating to revisit Sam Kieth’s creation from the 1990s. The comic is available at: https://www.comixology.com/The-Maxx-Maxximized/comics-series/12331

Revenge of Zoe

Back in the spring of 2018, I was asked to drop by a Tucson comic shop for a brief walk-on appearance as one of the customers in a film called Revenge of Zoe. The film actually debuted at the TusCon science fiction convention in November 2018, but as with many small indie films, it then went onto the festival circuit. As it turns out, it won the Grand Prize for best Science Fiction Feature at one of those festivals, the Silver State Film Festival in Las Vegas. At last, the film is now available for anyone to view.

Revenge of Zoe Lobby Card

The premise of the movie is that two years ago, screenwriter Billy Shaw wrote a blockbuster superhero movie about the golden age classic comic book heroine “Fren-Zee”, aka “Zoe Muldoom Zephyr.” However, Billy couldn’t have done it without the help of nerdy comic book store owners Pete Raynoso and John Burns. But Billy got a little too full of himself and publicly took all the credit for the film.

Now, Billy is friendless, drug addicted, and broke. He’s also convinced that he’s being haunted by the ghosts of Fren-Zee’s creator Nick Levine and, more impossibly, by Fren-Zee herself. After losing his last valuable possession in a drunken poker game, Billy gets a miraculous phone call from his agent with an offer to write the sequel to “Fren-Zee” for a huge payday.

But first he must find a way to mend his relationship with Pete and John and get them to help him write the screenplay. Then, maybe the ghosts of Nick Levine and Fren-Zee will leave him alone.

Revenge of Zoe is a hilarious feel-good comedy feature film about a bunch of dysfunctional people who make their living in the world of fan culture. Shot largely in  real life, functioning comic book and game stores, Revenge of Zoe is about creativity, acceptance,  friendship and everything that makes fan culture awesome.

​The film features a terrific cast of skilled and likable comedic actors, and includes industry cameos from comic book creators, authors, at least one science celebrity and an amazing soundtrack contributed by some popular indie rock bands.

As with many people, I have long been fascinated with the process of television and film production. Back in 1989, I worked as an extra on the television series, Unsolved Mysteries. So, it was fun to return to another film set and this time actually have a real speaking part. As I say, my part was brief, but it still earned me a listing in the opening credits. Here we see me carrying my purchase to the counter just before my big moment.

In the foreground, you see Nathan Campbell as Pete, Eric Schumacher as John, and Michael Guyll as Owen sharing a group hug. Clearly I’m not sure what to make of all this. One thing that made this day memorable was meeting Robert Francis and his wife Elisa Costa-Francis who, a few months after this was filmed, would be on the production team for the cinematic trailer we filmed for The Astronomer’s Crypt.

As I said at the outset, the movie is now available for anyone to stream and it’s absolutely free to watch at: https://tubitv.com/movies/578850/revenge-of-zoe

Be sure to check it out!

Sneak Peek: Guinevere and the Stranger

Dragon’s Fall

I’ve been a fan of comics as long as I can remember and I’ve long wanted to try my hand at scripting a comic book. Over the years, I’ve also had artists say they thought many of my stories would make good comics. The question has always been, what should I try to adapt?

Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires has four “interludes” between the novel’s main sections. These are, essentially, little self-contained short stories that give added insight into the novel’s characters. Often when I’m asked to read from the novel, I’ll pick one of the interludes because they’re short, pack a punch, and are self-contained. It occurred to me that one of these might make a great short comic.

So, I adapted the interlude “Guinevere and the Stranger” into a comic script, and showed it to my friend Bram Meehan, an indie comic creator I’ve long admired. Also, I figure if you’re going to work on a vampire comic, you can’t go wrong talking to guy named Bram! He gave me some pointers to improve my script and introduced me to an Albuquerque artist named Michael Ellis. Michael enjoyed the script and he’s now drawing the comic. It’s been exciting to see his pages come in. He’s been doing some great work and I can’t wait to share the finished product with you. The pictures in the slideshow below are some of his preliminary sketches of Guinevere, the mysterious stranger, and Roquelaure, one of the main characters of Dragon’s Fall.

Arthurian legend features heavily in Dragon’s Fall, and Guinevere plays a pivotal role in the story. In many versions of the King Arthur story, Queen Guinevere’s story ends with her going to a convent. In some versions, she seeks refuge from Mordred. In others, she does this as penance for her infidelity with Lancelot. Still, it’s rare for us to know much about Guinevere’s story after she entered the convent. “Guinevere and the Stranger” tells about an important incident from that period in Guinevere’s story that has a major impact on the rest of the novel.

I hope you’re excited for this comic. Once finished, I plan to print copies of the comic which I’ll sell through the Hadrosaur Productions online store and at conventions when those happen again. I’m also considering a Kickstarter to fund additional comic adaptations. If that happens, comics will be available as a Kickstarter perk. The comic will be available online as an exclusive Patreon subscriber benefit once it’s complete, so if you want get updates on this project and read the story right as its released, be sure to sign up at https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

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.

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.

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

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.”