Bombshells

While visiting Bisbee, Arizona a couple of weeks ago, I found a fun figurine of Batgirl with something of a steampunk makeover in a boutique called Va Voom! I walked around the shop two or three times and finally decided she had to come home with me. I also decided I had to know whether she had a formal appearance in the comics. As it turns out, she did. She was the star of DC’s Bombshells Annual #1.

For those not familiar with DC’s Bombshells, the comic was set during an alternate World War II and imagines that many of the DC Universe’s female superheroes have gathered together to fight for the Allied cause. Among the Bombshells are familiar heroines such as Wonder Woman and Supergirl. Batwoman, who I remember discovering in reprints of vintage Batman comics, also takes a major role here. The team is spearheaded by Amanda Waller, who readers of Suicide Squad are sure to recognize. I’m sad to say the comic has ceased publication, but the last three years are widely available in collected graphic novels both in print and ebook editions.

The Batgirl story in this world actually opens in the swamps of Louisiana during 1941. Killer Croc has gone in search of the Batgirl of the swamps and he succeeds. What’s more, he discovers she’s a vampire! The action moves to West Point in 1941 where Amanda Waller is talking to a new recruit named Francine Charles. Waller sends Charles on a mission to recruit Batgirl to the Bombshells. When she asks why, Waller tells her Batgirl’s story.

We learn that Barbara Gourdon was a French girl living during World War I who loved tinkering with machinery. Her mother has fields of lavender and her father is a police officer. He buys her an airplane and she learns to fly. She ultimately falls in love, but disappears when she must save her lover. It’s up to Francine Charles to learn how the ace pilot became a vampire and to see if that vampire can be recruited to the Bombshells.

At the beginning of the summer, I talked about “superhero fatigue.” In that case, I spoke primarily of finding nothing but superhero movies at the cinema. One place I rarely suffer superhero fatigue is in my local comic shop. There are many fun and innovative titles on the shelves and I see the superheroes I grew up with being taken in new and interesting directions. Superhero fatigue in the movies has much to do with the fact that we’re seeing stuff that happened 20 years ago or more in the comic pages!

I love the idea of a feminist superhero team like the Bombshells. After reading Annual #1, I picked up the entire first year of collected stories and was impressed by the writing and the artwork. I love the exploration of characters who received too little page time back when I read comics more regularly many years ago. In the Batgirl comic in particular, I liked how they gave her a lavender bat costume like she had in the Adam West series, but also created a good reason for her to have that costume.

I also liked how Batgirl took a dark turn and became a vampire. The opening scenes in the Louisiana swamps with Killer Croc reminded me not a little of Marcella DuBois’s debut in my own novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. What’s more, Marcella is one of my own characters who I’ve explored in an alternate timeline. That version of Marcella appears in Straight Outta Tombstone which has just appeared in a nifty trade paperback edition. I have a feeling Marcella would be right at home with Amanda Waller’s Bombshells

You can learn more about Vampires of the Scarlet Order at http://www.davidleesummers.com/VSO.html

You can learn more about Straight Outta Tombstone at https://www.amazon.com/Straight-Outta-Tombstone-David-Boop/dp/1481483498/

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April and the Extraordinary World

A few weeks ago, my friend William J. Jackson posted a review of the movie April and the Extraordinary World on his blog. William is the author such novels as An Unsubstantiated Chamber and Cerulean Rust. Be sure to check out his blog and his books at the links above. When a steampunk writer of William’s caliber recommends a steampunk movie I haven’t heard of, I take note.

April and the Extraordinary World is a Belgian-Canadian-French co-production based on the visual style of Jacques Tardi, who is probably best known for the early steampunk graphic novel series The Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, which was adapted into a live action movie in 2010. April and the Extraordinary World came out in 2015 and starts by imagining a scientist named Gustave Franklin who has been creating super soldiers for Napoleon III. When the emperor comes to visit, there’s an accident and the two most promising super soldiers escape—a pair of hyper-intelligent Komodo dragons named Rodrigue and Chimène. If that last sentence alone doesn’t make you want to watch this film, I’m not sure what will!

We then jump ahead many years to a future where Napoleon IV rules France. Many scientists such as Einstein and Fermi have just vanished and the governments of the world are secreting away what scientists they can. Gustave’s son and grandson are working on a formula to regenerate the cells of animals to heal any injury and possibly extend life indefinitely. They come to the attention of those who are making scientists disappear and pass the formula on to their daughter, the April of the title, just before they disappear.

We now skip ahead a few more years to a point where April is a young adult and a scientist in her own right. The police are trying to round up any scientists they can get their hands on to work for the government. Meanwhile other mysterious forces have discovered that April has continued work on her parents’ formula. She finds she must get to the bottom of this conspiracy of vanishing scientists in order to learn the fate of her parents.

Even though we’re now in the world of the 1940s, everything is still steam powered. The streets are clogged with smoke and dirty. Gas masks are the province of the elite. This alternate 1941 Paris is a beautifully rendered, if frightening steampunk world. The artwork not only takes inspiration from Jacques Tardi, but from Japanese filmmaker Hiyao Miyazaki.

One minor issue I had with the film was that early on, it makes a point of telling the audience “this is alternate history” and “this is how we’ve changed the world from the one you know.” The best speculative fiction works by just introducing you to the world and showing it to you in such a way that you suspend your disbelief. That said, this straightforward approach may make this a good film for introducing those who don’t understand steampunk to steampunk.

My one other minor issue is that for a plot so embroiled in the work of scientists, some of the technology seemed almost magical in its amazing abilities. This magical element is part of what reminds me of Miyazaki and its beautifully rendered, but I might have enjoyed the film just a little more if some of the inventions we saw seemed just a little more plausible.

Those minor nitpicks aside, I highly recommend the film. It’s one of those I rented on Netflix, then immediately decided I needed a copy and was delighted to find one at my local Barnes and Noble. It was in the anime section, appropriately next to Miyazaki’s films!

I liked the fact that this was very much alternate history that asked what if the level of science and technology had changed. I liked that April was a strong woman—and not necessarily in the butt-kicking way. She was smart and solved problems with her brain, yet was a well-rounded character who had believable feelings about the people around her. In tone, it accomplished much of what I also shoot for in my Clockwork Legion novels. You can learn more about them at http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion