Thursday, May 31, 2018

Best Character Ever: Darth Maul

As Lucasfilm revives a bevy of old characters with new actors in Solo, it seems an apt time to look back at a character I'd love to see more about. 

I have heard every complaint I think I can hear about the Star Wars prequel trilogy. They are far from perfect films. We all know that. But at the same time, I think they were also films faced with far too much anticipation to ever truly impress many viewers. The original Star Wars trilogy was mythologized so hard by so many people that George Lucas could never produce something that would truly impress most people.

That being said, the prequel movies have their share of great moments and great characters. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace had one figure that stood out beyond the rest. That was Darth Maul. Going into that film in 1999, so many fans only had the great visuals to go on. While Jar Jar or Queen Amidala both presented intriguing images, it was Darth Maul that captured my interest. Here was a bad ass with black skin and a tattooed face. Best of all, he carried the awesome double bladed lightsaber from Tales of the Jedi.

Ultimately, Darth Maul’s role in the film would be little more than cannon fodder. He is a means to an end to remove one jedi from play and start Obi-Wan Kenobi’s journey through the following films. It was clear even going into the film that his chance of survival was slim. After all, if only two Sith ever existed, he would have to make way for Darth Vader in another decade.

But Maul’s awesomeness has less to do with his characterization as it did with his visuals. Maul is the prime example of just how good George Lucas was with visual shorthand. His appearance marks him both as evil and as deadly. His build wasn’t imposing, but every movement he makes in the film marks how centered he is in his pursuit of his master’s wishes. He clearly is a man that knows how good he is.

So much of this is due to the visuals of actor Ray Park, the man behind the makeup of Darth Maul. His martial arts prowess and great facial work set the character apart. Coupled with amazing makeup work by Lucasfilm, Maul became the face of villainy that year. His action figure and apparel sold like hotcakes. And while many fans nitpicked The Phantom Menace to pieces, most folks can agree on one thing: Darth Maul is awesome.

He's also one of the best Star Wars Black toys.
Of course, the fine folks at Lucasfilm also learned it's hard to keep a great character down. Darth Maul made his return, cybernetic legs and all, on Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels. I suspect we still have a lot to come from one of the coolest looking villains of all time.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Phantom Hawk Rises (Kickstart the Week 64)

It's been a great Memorial Day weekend, but it's Tuesday now, and late or not, it's time to Kickstart the Week.

I have to admit there's something about a caped, low-powered vigilante that just seems awesome. From The Shadow to Batman to Night Man to Moon Knight, they all tend to work very well in the comic form. Now upstart publisher Apogee Comics is out to debut their own such character and he looks to offer some new ideas to the archetype.

Phantom Hawk focuses on Max Malone, a man accused of treason and injected with experimental nanites. He fights to clear his name while also scouring his home city for evil. The book features stunning artwork by Dino Agor, a name I've never seen up until this point, but I suspect will start to gain some recognition after this is complete.

The book has some really great pledge levels, but what drew my interest was an excellent $5 digital level. In addition to the first issue of Phantom Hawk it also includes two previous Apogee Comics Universe titles, Crimson Guardians #1 and Bengali #1. That's a truly great way to drum up interest in a new super-universe and it certainly got me on board.

The campaign has just under two weeks left as I write this and has just barely passed its goal. Support is always important to projects like this, so be sure to go take a look and throw it a few dollars.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Cosplay Friday: Crystal

With a deep dive into Kirby's characters at DC on the horizon, it seemed fitting to feature one of his characters for this Cosplay Friday. We turn once again to the always talented Florencia Sofen as she brings Crystal of the Inhumans to life!

As always, you can check out a lot more great Cosplay pictures over on the Tumblr. And while you are admiring some great cosplay here, don’t forget to check out some of the other great stuff on Super Powered Fiction this week!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Newer Gods are coming!

Inspired by far too many listens of various shows on the Fire & Water Podcast Network, I came to the realization that the world does not have nearly enough coverage of the Fourth World. And while Kirby's work has been covered in various amounts of detail, I thought it would be a worthy endeavor to look at the works featuring the stars of New Gods, Mister Miracle and The Forever People after their initial runs by Kirby himself came to an end.

The blog kicks off on June 4th with its first three updates! From there, it will continue on with a new comic every week! In the meantime, be sure to bookmark so you don't miss a single update!

Superior Writing: superhero slobberknockers and point of view

Over in a thread on Facebook, the topic fell on how to best portray action in super powered fiction. Without the bombastic visuals of film or comics, superheroes in prose must have every action detailed. But when it comes to a big battle with multiple moving pieces all at once, this can create issues.

George Perez makes big superhero fights seem easy, but prose offers different challenges than comics.
Image credit: Marvel & DC Comics.
The inexperienced writer might want to try to emulate comics, movies and games they've read and bounce around the scene to make sure every beat of the battle is covered. I'm here to tell you that's not the way to handle things.

When you write fiction, the point of view in narration is key. Most readers are familiar with two kinds of POV in fiction. First person, where a character is also the storyteller, has grown less common over the years but is still used with great results. But the focal point most commonly used isn't simply third person, as inexperienced storytellers might think, but rather third person limited.

Third person is divided into two forms: limited and omniscient. Omniscient means the narrator is basically a god, able to view everything happening around him. This narrative form would encourage showing every scene of a fight bit by bit. But this form is incredibly uncommon in most genre fiction. (Neil Gaiman is the prime example I can give of an author using this form to great effect, but you and I are not Neil Gaiman.) The reason is that it doesn't fit the narrative structure most readers want to see, a focus on a character that they can grow to love (or hate.)

Third person limited perspective focuses on one character. That one figure is the only person whose thoughts we are connected to when they are the focus of the story. Even in a prolonged superhero fight with multiple heroes and villains, their perspective is the only one that matters.

Here's an example. Imagine the Justice League is fighting the Legion of Doom. Batman is our narrative force. He's busy in a fight with Joker and Riddler in Gotham City. He might see Flash speed buy now and then, but if Superman is fighting Sinestro in the upper stratosphere, he won't see that so it isn't important to Batman's narrative perspective.

Now, what do you do if you want to show more of the battle? The simplest example is to start a narrative with more than one focal character. Lightweight: Senior Year has Lightweight as an obvious focus character. But Millie also has her own narrative throughout the tales as well. Chapter or section breaks always split those narrative details, always clearly delineating to the reader where one narrator stops and another begins.

Back to our example, Batman could be our focal point character on the ground while Green Lantern is the focal point of the sky battle. But it is key with two focal point characters to treat them as such in more than just the big fights. If Batman is the focus of all the novel outside the big throwdown, don't suddenly make Green Lantern a focal point just to show off the super-fight. Both characters will need to have a narrative through-line in the story if both are focal points.

Ultimately, point of view is key to writing any big fight in super powered prose. You want to be able to show the grandiose excitement of heroes and villains at war, but you don't want to break the rules of great genre fiction. With your focal points in place, you can tell a great tale while also keeping your story readable.

What are your thoughts on super powered fights in prose? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Great Art: Invaders by Tom Grummett

Tom Grummett is one of the greatest talents in comics, a criminally under-rated talent in modern comics. The fact he's not regularly drawing a book for either of the book two is sheer insanity to me. It does mean he's working on Section Zero however, a graphic novel I cannot wait to see.

His rendition of the core three Invaders seems like an apt choice this week, with Memorial Day only days away.

As always, you can check out a lot more Great Art over on the Tumblr. And after you're done admiring some great art here, don’t forget to check out some of the other great stuff on the site this week!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Unsung Greats - Superman: Panic in the Sky

Much going on at SPF Central right now, so here's a classic look at a classic comic. 

Maybe I am in the minority for thinking this, but the world needs more comics like Superman: Panic in the Sky.

The trade paperback cover by Dan Jurgens & Brett Breeding.
This six part story arc from late 1991 and early 1992 came only months before Superman’s much ballyhooed death storyline and by most of the same creators. It focuses on the return of War World, Mongul’s evil battle world from the Superman in space stories from a few years previous. Now the planet is ruled by Braniac who uses it to amplify his own psychic powers. He has an army of alien soldiers at his disposal as well as his allies Maxima, Draaga, and a mind-controlled Matrix/Supergirl.

The cover that drew me in.
With War World on its way to Earth, Superman gathers a group of heroes together to battle against the coming threat. DC mainstays like Wonder Woman, Batman, Captain Marvel and Aquaman join forces with the New Titans, Metal Men, New Gods, and a few former members of the Giffen-era Justice League to take on the threat. For the first time in the post-Crisis DC Universe, Superman shows his leadership abilities, aided and abetted by his chosen second-in-command… Deathstroke.

Most importantly, the fight between Brainiac’s forces and Earth’s heroes comes off as a heck of a lot of fun.

I was twelve when these issues originally hit stands and they were my second Superman story arc to purchase, right after the Supergirl Saga of a couple years before. The return of Supergirl on the cover to the prologue chapter drew me in, and my young mind was fascinated by a bunch of characters I only knew from some Batman issues, a couple Who’s Who magazines, assorted Justice League comics, and a few random annuals from 1989.

I was most intrigued by Deathstroke, a character whose costume I loved but I only knew as a villain from a Secret Origins Annual. It served to make the young me want to learn more about these heroes, even while I learned about them over the course of the story.

I’ll be honest: the tale isn’t anything ground-breaking to the comics world. Instead it is a great team-up multipart story that doesn’t involve the purchase of more than four comics a month. And those comics were only a buck a pop.

Sadly, most modern comic readers would probably take a look at a huge chunk of the gathered heroes and villains and be really confused. This version of Superman and Braniac have pretty much been retconned out of existence, Deathstroke is suddenly a psycho killer, and about a third of the cast is dead.

Still it does nothing to take away from the enjoyment of this series for me personally. I think any long time comic fan could read it with the same level of enjoyment. This right here is just plain good superhero comics.

The book is currently out of print (though not hard to find in the secondary market), but a new edition is currently available for preorder at Amazon.

Monday, May 14, 2018

A game of Cat & Mouse (Kickstart the Week 63)

Art by Dean Zachary. 
It's been a very long time since I last posted a Kickstart the Week on this column. It's been a year since I last ran a Kickstarter and almost as long since I last backed one as I have worked hard to pull myself out of the hole I buried myself in in 2017. But that has changed as of now, with the first comic I couldn't resist backing upon its return.

Flashback to the early 90s. As a twelve or thirteen year old, I first learned about the wild world of indie comics and I really wanted in. Unfortunately, I couldn't get to a comic shop regularly in those days. Fortunately, I was able to find the early issues of Malibu's Protectors as the publisher made in-roads into newstand publishing. I quickly became a fan of a bunch of stuff from that line, but didn't learn of the precursors to it until years later.

One of those precursors was a series called Cat & Mouse, which was something of a crime and martial arts comic mixed with superhero tropes. It wasn't quite as all out superheroic as Protectors would be, but it certainly had similar traits. And the editor of Protectors happened to be the writer of Cat & Mouse.

Roland Mann proved to be a great writer in the early 90s, even if the death of Malibu cost him most of his avenues for comic writing work. Thankfully, the power of Kickstarter has changed that for him as he's launched a new version of Cat & Mouse right now on the site.

As a bonus to yours truly, one of my favorite artists of that Malibu era is back working in comics to draw Cat & Mouse. Dean Zachary has worked on books from The Ferret to Stargods to Hawk & Dove, but hasn't done a lot in the last few years. It's great to see his line work back as the artist to the new edition of Cat & Mouse.

Go check out the new series over at Kickstarter now. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Cosplay Friday: Two Mummies for the price of one!

Ancient Egypt has been on my mind as I continue my work on the next few chapters of Quadrant. I can't really say why without a bunch of spoilers, but it seemed like an apt time to show off some mummy cosplay. Of course, I couldn't find just one great one so everyone gets two great pieces. First up is legendary cosplayer Yaya Han as Anck-su-naman of Mummy Returns fame. Then I've got an Ahmanet from the otherwise lackluster 2017 The Mummy as portrayed by It's The Fa. Enjoy!

As always, you can check out a lot more great Cosplay pictures over on the Tumblr. And while you are admiring some great cosplay here, don’t forget to check out some of the other great stuff on Super Powered Fiction this week!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

WIP Wednesday Late Edition

It's been a hectic week so far, hence this post hitting as the midnight hour nears.

I'm hard at work on the second draft of Project FOXHUNT as I type this. I hope to wrap it in the next day or two and get it submitted to the fine folks at Pro Se Press. From there, it will be up to them to see it come full circle for publication.

Quadrant falls by the wayside for a bit as I focus now on edits for a couple long gestated projects and the prep stages for my next mystery project for Pro Se. This one is going under the code name INDEPENDENCE. This tale is much closer to my usual super powered fiction wheel house than FOXHUNT. It's honestly the anthology project I'm most looking forward to working on this year as it features a character I'd like to write a lot more about.

Once I finish the edits on the three outstanding projects and the final draft of FOXHUNT, I hope to bounce between INDEPENDENCE and the next chapter of Lightweight. My current hope is to start a full fledged publication schedule for Quadrant and Lightweight early next year, but I need to get at least a half dozen tales for each in place before I start to look for new avenues for delivery of the tales as serialized content.

Today's image is the Marvel Comics character Free Spirit, created by Mark Gruenwald and Dave Hoover. This is a recolored version by original artist Hoover, and sticks quite in my mind as All American heroes are definitely brewing in this twisted head of mine.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Saying goodbye to old friends...

The original Lightweight tale.
When I first started to publish Lightweight, my original plans were to be individual chapters every one to two months. They would each tell their own story, but at the same time build to a greater old, not unlike many comic books of the past several decades. I published ten chapters this way, all of which were collected in the books Lightweight: Senior Year and Lightweight: Black Death.

As I published them and looked at the history for both the single stories and the collections, I quickly realized that Amazon's setup isn't really made to sell short fiction in such a way. So when I wrote the next five chapters of Lightweight's tale, they were only released in a full book format as Lightweight: Beyond.

Now as I work to streamline my work, I realize the individual stories really just clutter up my Amazon Author page. Few sell by themselves anymore. So it seems obvious that it is time to remove them from circulation.

However, in fairness to folks that might have been reading the series in individual chapters, I will leave all the current stories up in their old form until May 31, 2018. After that, they will be removed from Amazon and Lightweight will continue their as only a novel series.

That is not to say I do not have plans to serialize Lightweight in the days and months ahead. I have a new plan in place to do just that, but that is for another time and another place as it is still a few months down the road.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Get the first Quadrant Universe book free!

The Super Powered Newsletter needs new subscribers. So I've decided to up the ante!

Starting today, anyone that subscribes to the Super Powered Newsletter will get my first novel, A Dangerous Place to Live, free of charge! Once subscribed and confirmed, the email link with how to get your copy will whisk your way. After that, you will start to get biweekly news from yours truly and all around the world of super powered fiction!

A Dangerous Place to Live introduces the world to Freedom Patton, my unique take on the patriotic hero trope. It focuses intently on a small corner of southern Iowa as a super-powered separatist foments rage across several small towns. Freedom and a ragtag bunch of friends and rivals must do everything in their power to stop the villainous Atlas!

Head over to the newsletter and subscribe already! There's never been a better time to read than right now!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Adventures on the Homefront now available!

The fourth installment of the Pen & Cape Society's The Good Front series is now officially available!

Head over to Amazon or Smashwords for your copy of The Good Front 4: Homefront. This new volume turns the focus towards the supporting cast of the heroes of thirteen different writers.

My tale returns us to the world of D. B. Cooper, where an aging Coop comes face to face with his daughter for the first time. She's not quite what he expected though and that quickly makes complications in Coop's life!

Check it and the other twelve tales out in print or digital format.