Tor.com content by

Alex Brown

Pull List: Queer Women Writing Comics About Queer Women, Batwoman and America Edition

It’s March, which means it’s Women’s History Month, and since you’re a comic book geek, you probably want to read some great comics by women creators about women characters. Easier said than done. Indie, web, and alt comics are rife with diversity, representation, and intersectionally feminist stories and creators—special shout outs to Strong Female Protagonist, Qahera, Ladycastle, and Goldie Vance—but sticking to the Big Two is a bigger challenge. Sure, there are a bunch of awesome women superhero comics as well as a bunch of awesome women comics creators, but it isn’t often that both collide on the same Marvel or DC projects.

So imagine my unfiltered glee when I found out that not only is Marguerite Bennett helming the new Batwoman, but also that Gabby Rivera is running America. That’s a queer woman writing a comic about a queer woman vigilante AND a queer Latina writing a comic about a queer Latina superhero. Verily, we live in an exciting age. What a way to celebrate Women’s History Month than with female-created and female-driven stories about awesome women saving the day?

[“She’s one bad mama jama.”]

Wandering Through Meg Howrey’s The Wanderers

In Meg Howrey’s new novel The Wanderers, astronauts Helen Kane, Sergei Kuznetsov, and Yoshihiro Tanaka are selected by the private aerospace company Prime Space to pilot a trip to Mars. First they must go through Eidolon, a 17-month-long simulation in a warehouse in the middle of nowhere. During the sim, “obbers,” or observers, watch their every move as the astronauts learn not only how to work with each other but survive the stressors of intense isolation, forced socialization, and living an incomprehensible distance from home.

Helen, Sergei, and Yoshi have defined their lives and relationships by their profession and now suddenly find themselves having to interact with each other as regular people, a feat not as straightforward as they assume. We also spend time with relatives of the astronauts, including Helen’s daughter Mireille, Sergei’s son Dmitri, Yoshi’s wife Madoka, and one of the obbers. Mireille is an aspiring actor who both relishes and resents being the ignorable daughter of a celebrity, Dmitri a teenage boy discovering his sexual identity is more complicated than he expected, and Madoka a multilayered and exacting woman who loves her marriage mostly because of how little time she spends being a wife.

[“Awareness of imminent possible death is not without beneficial properties.”]

Corsets, Courtship, and Creepy Creatures in Alison Goodman’s Lady Helen Trilogy

It is a truth universally acknowledged that young adult SFF doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Sure, the ratio of chaff to wheat is depressingly high, but frankly that’s not any different than all the natter being cranked out in adult fiction. Or television or movies for that matter. Point is, you can’t discount a whole subgenre just because a lot of it sticks to the same tired formula, otherwise you’ll miss amazing gems like Alison Goodman’s passionate and powerful Lady Helen trilogy.

Only the first two are out so far, The Dark Days Club and The Dark Days Pact, but if you dig YA, Regency fic, Gothic romance, monster hunting, and intersectional feminism and diversity, then this is a series you must read. It’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Jane Austen for the YA set, and it’s even better than you think.

[“We must make our own rules”]

New Young Adult Fiction: Gamer Girls, Warrior Princesses, and Inner Demons

If you think sorting through the mass amounts of new fiction to find something quality to read is hard, wait ‘til you delve into the chaos that is young adult fiction, especially of the genre variety. YA, like adult, tends concentrate on only a handful of tropes, running through those same themes again and again and again. However, if you know where to look, there are some really great novels out there that either turn those boring old tropes on their head or shun them entirely for something completely original.

And that’s where I come in. As a teen librarian, not only do I read a TON of young adult genre fic, but I also keep up with reviews and upcoming titles. So, I thought, why not put those skills to work for you? To that end, I’ve pulled together a collection of some new and upcoming YA awesomeness just for you. Get ready to bust out that wallet or library card. Your To Read queue is about to rapidly expand.

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The Robotic Art of Murder: Standard Hollywood Depravity by Adam Christopher

It’s been over a year since Made to Kill, the first book in Adam Christopher’s crackling robonoir series, came out and I’ve been practically twitching with anticipation for the sequel. Even though Killing Is My Business doesn’t release until July 2017, stemming the tide is Standard Hollywood Depravity, a striking novella that’ll have you hooked from page one.

The story takes place over one brisk fall evening in a patch of Los Angeles that tourism forgot starring characters who prefer to remain in the shadows. Robot hitman Raymond Electromatic takes a case that’s starts off easy and ends up with a pile of corpses and a gang war. He is hired by unknown forces to bump off a young go-go dancer named Honey. In theory, it’s a simple job, but the girl proves harder to kill than he or his computerized handler Ada anticipated. As the night progresses everything spirals rapidly out of control and Raymondo finds himself outsmarted, manipulated, and caught up in a femme fatale’s killer caper. Some criminals are bad, some are worse, and some just have a job to do, but all of them make an appearance in Standard Hollywood Depravity.

[“Private detective by day. Private killer by night.”]

A Mummy, a Mook, and a Thief Walk Into a Bar: The Wrong Dead Guy by Richard Kadrey

Charlie “Coop” Cooper is back in The Wrong Dead Guy, the raucous second book in Richard Kadrey’s Another Coop Heist series. The Department of Peculiar Science has finally made an honest man out of Coop; the former crook has gone legit with a real job in a downtown LA office building, albeit one filled with terrifying monsters and evil curses. Things are going well with his girlfriend Giselle, and Coop keeps busy at work by helping Bayliss figure out who keeps stealing her office supplies.

When his boss sends him on a caper to steal a second-rate mummy on display at the rundown Brian Z. Pierson Museum of Art, Antiquities, and Folderol, Coop puts his sticky fingers and magical immunity to government-sanctioned use. Unluckily for him, the incompetence of others mucks the whole thing up, and soon enough Coop ends up on the deadly end of the mummy’s curse. The newly reawakened Harkhuf has a hankering for ending the world and resurrecting his presently dead lover.

Meanwhile, back at DOPS, Coop’s arch-nemesis, Nelson, wields the mook-y might of the mail room and plots his sinister revenge, and a pair of agents are besieged by neglect and an ever-growing squid. Between enthralled rent-a-cops, undead mail clerks, monsters run amok, backstabbing psychics, mystical pachyderms, Richie Rich eco-terrorists, creepy clones with a lobotomy fetish, and skittish scientists, Coop has his work cut out for him.

[“Rockabilly sirens? Giant dubstep spiders? Maybe a barbershop quartet of sea serpents.”]

Legion Is Peak Prestige TV—But Is It Worth Watching?

Legion is exactly the kind of television I should like. It’s full of the things I love. There are great TV actors like Dan Stevens (if you haven’t seen The Guest, omg go stream it immediately), Aubrey Plaza, Bill Irwin, Katie Aselton, and the phenomenal Jean Smart. It’s a comic book show outside the limitations and purview of a meddling film studio—just look at the consistently enjoyable CW, DC, and Netflix Marvel mini-’verses that are as good as they are because they more or less stand alone from the film franchises. And it’s got a bananas premise by a creator (Noah Hawley) known for his steady yet absurdist work, quality notwithstanding (*cough* My Generation and The Unusuals were undermined by too much quirk and not enough plot *cough*).

So why, after all that, is Legion not my new favorite show? Let’s dig down into the first four episodes and try to uncover what the show gets right and what it’s fumbled.

[“How do you find the facts when memory becomes a dream?”]

Dead in the Desert: Thunderbird by Chuck Wendig

You don’t know it yet, but you’re about to fall in love with a woman named Miriam Black. It won’t be an easy relationship, no siree. She’s going to enchant you with her psychic abilities, splinter you with her vicious tongue, lure you in with her firecracker attitude, and frighten you with cruel circumstances. Sometimes you’ll need a break from her all-consuming intensity and sometimes you’ll be so obsessed you won’t be able to let her go. The longer you stick with her, the more her icy heart will melt until she drowns you. And you’ll love every. fucking. moment.

Thunderbird is the fourth in Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series, and it’s the point at which there is a fundamental shift in everything Miriam thinks she knows about her role in the universe and how her powers work. No one is safe and nothing is sacred. The people she loves can’t give her what she needs, her enemies’ motives are murkier than a muddy river, and even the extent of her powers outpaces her capacity for comprehension.

[“I don’t want any of this.”]

From Vampires to Space Battles: Where to Start with Chuck Wendig

It seems like everyone’s talking about this Chuck Wendig dude. Everyone but you, that is. And that’s a damn shame because Chuck Wendig is ten shades of great. On one hand, as a guy who’s done self-publishing, traditional publishing, and digital publishing (not to mention scripts and video games), he’s written a ton of stuff so you have plenty of titles to choose from. On the other, where the hell do you even start? Ah, my friend, that’s where I come in. Sit back, relax, and let me introduce you to your new favorite author.

Chuck Wendig writes like a punch to the face. His words are visceral and pungent, his tales discomfiting and nonconforming. There’s a fevered, staccato-like quality to his text which gives a sense of urgency, both for the characters and the reader. He writes characters who reject the norm even when they secretly crave it and rage against the family and friends they need the most, all while remaining imminently relatable and recognizable. Every time it feels like things can’t get any worse, Wendig turns the screw once more. Some writers can write big action sequences that make you feel like you’re part of the chaos and some can craft moments of quiet reflection between characters that make you feel like a fly on the wall. Chuck Wendig is one of those lucky few who can do both.

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Pull List: Goldie Vance and Ladycastle Turn Tropes into Treats

If you’re looking for out-of-the-box comics of diverse characters, stories, and creators, your first stop should be the indie/small press publishers. Especially BOOM! Studios and their imprint BOOM! Box. Some of the best comics around are coming out of BOOM!, and yeah, I’m counting Image in that ranking. BOOM! is balancing a fine line between bringing in new talent with fresh ideas and Big Two vets with vast reservoirs of creativity, and it’s paying off like gangbusters. Marvel and DC would never publish anything like the two titles we’re looking at this month, Ladycastle and Goldie Vance, but then again neither would Image. All the better for BOOM!, if you ask me.

Goldie Vance and Ladycastle are two pretty different series—the former about a girl detective, the latter a women-driven high fantasy—but both take the stale tropes of their chosen genres and subvert them with intersectional feminism. The hard truth of the matter is no matter how many Riri Washingtons or Jessica Cruzes the Big Two create, there’s always a Tony Stark or Hal Jordan ready to take back their mantles. The real diversity work is happening in the small presses and YA.

[“Pet my snake and bake and dream of anarchy!”]

“And the Master-Poet painted…”: Neil Gaiman Revisits Old Gods in Norse Mythology

Neil Gaiman’s newest book, Norse Mythology begins before the beginning with Surtr and his flaming sword in an empty, mist-choked universe and ends after the ending with the sons of gods and a game of chess. It tells the stories of creation and destruction, birth and death, life and cataclysm and everything in between. The ancient Norse lived in hard lives in a frigid, unforgiving land. Their cold and unyielding gods mirrored their world and worldview, and the Norse treated them with fear and reverence in equal measures.

It was Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s reworked God of Thunder from The Mighty Thor comics that first caught Gaiman’s interest and another retelling, Roger Lancelyn Green’s Myths of the Norsemen, that set him off on a lifetime of mythological fascination. Gaiman brings all of that awe to Norse Mythology, and you’ll be hard-pressed to finish it and not feel just as inspired.

[“That is how the worlds will end, in ash and flood, in darkness and in ice.”]

The Tree of Life and Death: Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

In a world made from a massive, interconnected forest, thirteen treetops form the kingdoms of Canopy. Each one is the domain of a god, the physical embodiment of traits necessary to keep the great forest alive such as rain, life, and death. Below and cut off from Canopy by a magical barrier is Understory, a sometime trading partner and most often raiders to the sun-soaked privileged above. And below Understory is Floor, a sinister, dark place full of demons and the bones of the ancient deities slaughtered long ago by the first incarnation of the thirteen sitting gods.

This is the world in which Unar is born. After the tragic loss of her baby sister, Unar commits herself as a servant in the Garden, the sacred temple of Audblayin, the goddess of creation and life. Unar believes her role in life is to be the bodyguard of the next Audblayin. But when she loses her chance at a promotion, her pride pushes her to extremes. Act act of brazen empathy leaves her cast out of Canopy and into the depths of Understory. Determined to take what she believes is her rightful place near the top of the Garden hierarchy by any means necessary, Unar embarks on a quest filled with blood, lies, pain, and sorrow. Her arrogance and selfish disdain for the feelings of others may be her own undoing when she inadvertently aids a force of evil so great not even the gods can challenge.

[“The goddess of life has called to her.”]

Archiekins Gets a Sexy Upgrade in Riverdale

My love for Archie comics may be new, but it’s deep and undying. I came in with Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’ updated take on the Riverdale crew in 2015, and with the launch of Chip Zdarksy and Erica Henderson’s Jughead I was officially obsessed. Today an Archie fanatic can indulge in Betty and Veronica, Reggie and Me, Josie and the Pussycats, and a digital-first Life with Kevin, not to mention the upcoming Sabrina the Teenage Witch relaunch. What really kicked off the reboot, however, was Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s Afterlife with Archie, a series that not only propelled the publisher to new heights but Aguirre-Sacasa himself. He’s now both the COO of the comics company as well as the creator/executive producer of CW’s newest sensation, Riverdale.

Despite being left relatively unchanged for most of its run, the Archie multiverse is surprisingly adaptable. Whether adding zombies, battling the Predator, or shifting to the small screen, the charm and heart always remain true. Riverdale is more than just a Twin Peaks-ified Archie. Layers of Stand By Me and River’s Edge roughen up the edges of the typical CW teen melodrama, like peering at the seedy underbelly of the ‘burbs. But it’s also so much more than a gritty reboot with Dawson’s Creek-esque dialogue.

Mild spoilers…

[“Safe, decent, innocent. Get closer though and you start seeing the shadows underneath.”]

Pull List: The Best of Marvel’s New Female Superheroes

Unlike its cinematic counterpart, Marvel Comics has done a decent job at upping diversity in recent years. Of course they’ve had some pretty spectacular fails as well, far too many to recount here but I’m sure you can easily think of half a dozen off the top of your head. There still aren’t nearly enough queer and/or PoC leads but the few we have are (Sam Wilson battling SJWs aside) generally top notch. Production-side diversity isn’t as good as it could be either, but the shift toward telling new kinds of stories with new kinds of characters has definitely broadened the stables. I guess what I’m saying is at least they’re trying.

Now that Civil War II is finally over—finally!—a crop of new series have landed on the shelves, including the pair whose praises I’m about to sing. With Hawkeye and The Unstoppable Wasp, Marvel passes old mantles onto new female characters with rousing success. Kate Bishop and Nadia put their own unique spins on being superheroes, and it’s an absolute joy to behold. As much as I scoffed at DC’s bimonthly push with Rebirth, I’d happily shell out extra cash for twice the fun with Hawkeye and The Unstoppable Wasp. They’re so good that I’m totally over my annoyance at Civil War II. Welcome back to my good graces, Marvel. I missed you.

[“Excuse me, I’m here to make a deposit. Do you accept…sass?!”]

Can Anything Save the DC Extended Universe From Itself?

“Hate” is probably not the best word for what I feel toward the DC Extended Universe, but it’s close. I’d say I’m really somewhere between searing disdain, deep frustration, and weary resignation, none of which are emotions any studio would want associated with their tentpole brand.

The problems with the DCEU are bigger than just three crappy movies. What failed in Man of Steel was repeated in Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad and will likely continue to fail in Wonder Woman and beyond. Warner Bros. knows they need to retool their format, but whether they can, and what shape it will take if they do, depends entirely on how much course-correcting new DC division co-runners Geoff Johns and Jon Berg can do between now and Diana’s solo film. They have an uphill battle, that’s for sure.

So let’s dig in to see where the DCEU went wrong and what, if anything, can be done to salvage it. Obviously, spoilers ahoy.

[“Nobody cares about Clark Kent taking on the Batman.”]