Tor.com content by

Alex Brown

Pull List: Star Wars: Poe Dameron

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Oscar Isaac took off his helmet, his tousled hair cascading around his face, and Finn and the internet collectively fell in love. And now thanks to the Disney merchandising machine we all have a chance to spend a little more quality time with the greatest addition to Star Wars canon since Mara Jade. Who I guess is technically not canon anymore thanks to The Force Awakens. So…um…how ‘bout the galaxy’s best pilot, eh?

[“Okay, okay…we can do this! Probably!”]

Can Fear the Walking Dead Be Saved?

It’s time we as an audience admit that Fear The Walking Dead is not good television. The show is 42 minutes of a wasted premise, unfulfilled potential, and idiotic decisions. It is all of The Walking Dead’s worst attributes magnified. All my worries about the long-term quality of Preacher stems from how quickly TWD capsized, how long it took to finally right that ship, how much of a struggle it’s been to keep it afloat, and how eager AMC was to repeat the same mistakes with the spinoff. Yes, the second season is stronger than the first, but that was an awfully low bar to hurdle. And I’m not the only one to notice the quality issues. The show is practically hemorrhaging viewers. Now, 4.8 million sets of eyeballs is still a great number for AMC (though it pales next to The Walking Dead’s 14.2 mil), but that’s also a loss of nearly half its viewership since the season 2 premiere.

With last night’s midseason finale, we’re at a good point to stop and survey. It’s easy enough to note where FTWD has gone horribly awry, but I’d rather look at how it can improve. The show doesn’t suck (although much of the fun has been sucked out of it for me at this point) but it has a long way to go before it comes anywhere close to being Must See TV.

[“These people are not our friends. Get it through your heads.”]

Preaching the Wicked Word: Preacher Series Premiere

“What the hell did I just watch?” That was the general consensus amongst the audience when I caught the screening for the Preacher pilot back at WonderCon this spring. Long-time fans like myself were thrown off by the myriad differences from the comics and newbies found themselves thrust into the middle of a story with no explanation or time to catch up. But despite all the chaos and confusion, the audience cheered the house down when the credits rolled.

I had no idea what the hell is going on, but I know I freaking loved it.

[“It was the time of the preacher…”]

“Amen To That”: The Death-Defying Literary Feats of Preacher

This Sunday, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s epic graphic novel series Preacher finally makes its way onto the small screen, and for many viewers it’s going to be their first (and only) iteration. For the rest of us, we’re going into the television show knowing that it doesn’t matter how great it is—it’ll pale in comparison to the graphic novels.

[“Where preachers dare.”]

Pull List: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and in light of all the whitewashing of Asian roles going on in Hollywood right now, I think it’s time for a little spotlighting. It’s no secret how poorly treated many Asian and Pacific Islander characters are in media and how often their cultures are appropriated for white characters and stories.

I always hate those “Top Ten” lists that act like their ranking is the definitive list, as if it’s completely objective and scientific. So instead what follows is a list of my ten favorite Asian and Pacific Islander comic book characters. Some of them are pretty far under the radar while others are obvious additions, but j’adore each and every one. There’s a lot of non-superheroes here, with a deep dive into indie and non-Marvel/DC publishers. Not because I dislike most of the Asian American/Pacific Islander superheroes, but because I don’t think either Marvel or DC has really figured out how to do them without falling back on stereotypes and tokenism. There are a few wins—Amadeus Cho is cool and I’m way looking forward to Gene Luen Yang’s Chinese Superman—but for the most part they tend to get relegated to sidekicks, teammates, alternate dimension easily excised from canon, or martial artists. The people on this list looked at those options and said “Hell no.”

Did I overlook your fave? Share your love in the comments.

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Sexy Texas: Night Shift by Charlaine Harris

Midnight is a tiny village in of Texas at the crossroads of the middle nowhere to even more nowhere. It’s a place that attracts transients and those looking to live under the radar. Like the town of Bon Temps in Charlaine Harris’ other more famous series, Midnight is a quirky country town with a preponderance of magic. A lovelorn witch, an empathetic psychic, a vampire, a pair of fallen angels, a pack of weretigers, a mystical quickie mart manager, and a talking cat all call the town home, not to mention the professional hitwoman, the restaurant owners who aren’t who they claim, and the equally lovelorn pawnshop owner.

In the first two books of the “Midnight, Texas” rural fantasy trilogy, Charlaine Harris explores the deepest, darkest secrets of the townsfolk, and in Night Shift she digs into the evil under the town that drew them there and may end up killing them all. When strangers wander into the crossroads and start killing themselves in increasingly brutal ways, the Midnighters rally together to figure out why. Lemuel acquires help translating the ancient books Bobo found in the shop, and what he discovers offers no good news. A newcomer sparks the locals’ interest, especially since about the same time as his arrival a voice begins talking to Fiji. Turns out the town is built over an imprisoned demon and he wants out. Now. Unfortunately for Fiji, she’s the key to his escape as well as his continued imprisonment.

As bad as the spellwork required to battle the demon is, it’s her collapsing unrequited romance with Bobo that hurts her the most. It’s time for Fiji to take her life into her own hands. Saving the town and finding happiness are up to her, but only if the creeps following Olivia, the threat posed by Teacher and Madonna, and Lemuel’s risky dealmaking don’t get in the way first.

[“Fiji was not a happy witch.”]

Fear the Walking Dead: Checking in with Season 2

Fear The Walking Dead: a show where exciting stuff happens to people I hardly care about. The writers give me an interracial gay romance—yay!—and a gaggle of angsty, obnoxious, selfish teenagers with few redeeming qualities—boo! Nick levels up by mimicking the walkers but apparently uses up the jar of smarts because everyone else makes the world’s worst choices without pausing to consider the consequences. At least the water zombies are cool.

[“We’re just going to each other alive.”]

Pull List: Black Panther

April was a gangbusters month for comic book fans. The Wicked and the Divine returned with a huge reveal, Grant Morrison continued DC’s trend of disappointing Wonder Woman reboots, Xena returned to comic books, and even Poe Dameron’s tousled locks got to play comic book hero. But the main event was, of course, Black Panther. This month’s Pull List is all catsuits, Afrofuturism, and intersectional feminism, so strap in, kiddos.

[“And we must now reckon with what we have done to our own blood.”]

“What’s Past is Prologue”: Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose

Once upon a time in a far away land, a redheaded princess was woken by a kiss from a prince. Rebecca Berlin loved hearing her grandmother, Gemma, tell her version of Sleeping Beauty over and over again. The tale never altered and Gemma swore she was the princess—księżniczka—of the story, and after her death Becca begins to suspect the tale may not be fantasy after all. Gemma left behind a small box of a few clues to her life before: a name, a monogrammed ring, some photographs, a war refugee immigration card, and other scattered memories. Each item reveals more of Gemma’s secret past, and yanks Rebecca further out of her quiet, boring life.

In Briar Rose Jane Yolen weaves the history of the Holocaust around the threads of a fairy tale about love conquering hate. Gemma’s story takes Becca from a small mill town in Massachusetts to Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in New York then to the Chełmno extermination camp in Poland, with each step bringing her closer to a tragic truth her grandmother was unable to face. As she uncovers Gemma’s story, her own fairy tale romance emerges with an unexpected prince and a kiss to kick-start her life.

Originally published in 1992 as part of Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale Series, Jane Yolen’s classic young adult novel is being re-released with an updated preface.

[“Gemma, tell your story again.”]

Funpocalypse: The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey

One day, a long time ago, God decided to destroy the world. Not everyone thought that was an especially good idea, but when God sends a Flood there isn’t much time for disagreement. Fortunately for us and unfortunately for Him, us pesky humans survived and went on to irritate another day. The second time God tried to destroy the world He sent an angel to do His murderous bidding, and yet again the plan fizzled out. The angel lost the box with the key to destroying the world and humanity scraped by.

Cut to thousands of years later in glitzy, grimy Los Angeles. Coop, a petty criminal with an immunity to magic, is back-stabbed by his ghostly robbery partner and he ends up in a black site jail for magical criminals. His former BFF Morty Ramsey pulls some strings and gets Coop out early, but only in exchange for doing a job for mercurial gangster Mr. Babylon. All Coop wants to do is forget his jail time, eat pizza, and rekindle his relationship with his ex-girlfriend Giselle, but fate has other ideas. When the heist predictably goes bad, Coop is forcibly recruited by Giselle’s bosses at the Department of Peculiar Science to steal the stolen box back. And, of course, that heist goes badly as well so Giselle pulls some strings to get him hired by DOPS so he can set up yet another heist… well, you get the picture.

Meanwhile two cults compete with each other to steal the box and undermine bake sales, a Stranger wanders the countryside killing people and mooching sandwiches, and the perpetually unlucky Angel of Office Supplies tries not to mind the fact that he sleeps in an abandoned zoo. Coop is the only one who wants absolutely nothing to do with the blasted box, which makes him the epicenter of the chaos. Through kidnappings, heists gone awry, and schemes to out-scheme other schemes, Coop and his motley crew of low-level filchers have to do something about that damn box whether they want to or not.

[“It’s a funny world, don’t you think?”]

Apocalypse Drought: Thirst by Benjamin Warner

Benjamin Warner’s new novel Thirst tells the story of Eddie and Laura Chapman, a young middle-class couple who find themselves trapped in a world suddenly deprived of fresh water. The streams and rivers burst into flame and all systems of communication collapsed. Suburban citizens are left to their own survival, forgotten by the cities and emergency workers.

As he makes his way home on foot, a sinister man approaches Eddie for water then stalks him, but the stranger isn’t the worst thing Eddie will soon come to fear. The punishing summer heat ratchets up tensions in his neighborhood as friends bicker with each other over whether to leave or stay. Suspicions rise as friendly gestures are misinterpreted and violence quickly erupts. The Chapmans are at the center of the storm as Eddie’s stress-induced temper curdles Laura’s maternal nature into a maelstrom of hallucinations and childhood fears. Society depends on humanity, but for Eddie and Laura, the brutality they must confront in order to survive will challenge their moral code.

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Water Zombies and Pirates: Fear The Walking Dead, “Monster”

It’s been a week and I’m still pissed off at The Walking Dead. And boy howdy was it a mistake to rewatch the first season finale of Fear The Walking Dead in prep for the season 2 premiere. I went into the FTWD premiere feeling both profoundly annoyed and overdosing on zombies, and by the end of the episode my mood hadn’t improved by much. The new premise—Water zombies! Pirates! San Diego!—has too much of the old premise—Secrets! Boring family melodrama! Everyone being total dumbasses!—dragging it down.

[“It’s my goddamn boat.”]

All the Demons Are Here: The Demonists by Thomas E. Sniegoski

Exorcist John Fogg and medium Theodora Knight are happily married and running a successful if not well-respected television show about paranormal investigations. On a recent Halloween night, a publicity stunt in a haunted house turns disastrous and John and Theo’s lives are forever altered. That same night an ancient demon god wakes. He selects his depraved apostle and sends him off to collect children to sacrifice. FBI agent Brenna Isabel is tasked with recovering the children, but her own terrible past may drown her first.

In their desperate attempts to rescue Theo from the host of demons that now infest her body, John makes a deal with a metaphorical devil while Theo makes a deal with a literal one. Neither really understand the full ramifications of their actions, and the consequences will be severe. The demons want to kill John and Theo, the god wants to rule the world, and two orders of very powerful men battle over humanity’s soul.

[“They want to hurt you, John—in any way they can.”]

The Walking Dead Season 6 Finale: “Last Day on Earth”

Do the writers of The Walking Dead ever beta read their scripts before sending them off to production? Or do they, like Zack Snyder and David Goyer with comic book superheroes, actually hate the characters they were hired to write? The last season alternated between making no sense whatsoever and being so trope-heavy the whole plot threatened to collapse, while the finale was so mired in grotesque manipulation that the cliffhanger ceased to have any meaning.

[“‘Cause as long as it’s all of us, we can do anything.”]

Pull List: Wonder Woman, Bombshells, and Black Widow

With every passing day DC continues to double-down on its weird insistence on grimdark storytelling and tokenized diversity. Last month’s announcement of the unpleasant new “Rebirth” reboot has only grown less appealing with the reveal at WonderCon this past weekend of its creative teams. Only four women are on the creative side of the multiverse event, two of the female-led series are being run by dudes, and no women are running any male-led series (of which there are way more than necessary). And don’t even get me started on the melodramatic, erratic, illogical, OOC-ness of Batman v Superman.

Wait! Don’t leave yet! Not everything DC does is painful, I swear! Besides the joy that is their TV offerings (well, maybe not Gotham…), they publish two wonderful digital comics: DC Comics Bombshells and The Legend of Wonder Woman. These two non-canon series are delightful examples of what happens when DC stops grafting grimacing white men on everything and lets the creators tell their own excellent stories.

We’ll also have a quick chat about one of the best debut issues of the year so far: Black Widow by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee. It’ll blow your socks off, for reals.

[“What…a woman? Who is she?”]