Category Archives: Reading

Wonder Woman: Earth-One, Earth-Two and After

Having wrapped up the adventures of Earth-One’s Wonder Woman last week I thought I’d take a blog post to detail the differences between the Wonder Women of DC’s Earth-One and Earth-Two. My apologies if it gets a bit nerdy.

When Wonder Woman debuted in Sensation Comics in 1942, there was no talk of parallel Earths; she was the one, the only Amazing Amazon. That continued to be the status quo even after Barry Allen discovers, in Flash #123, that the Golden Age Flash he’d read about as a kid really existed on a parallel earth. Flash #137, however, established that Earth-Two had a Wonder Woman, a member of the Justice Society separate from the one Barry worked with in the Justice League. She wouldn’t appear in action for another four years and only occasionally after that. Probably she looked redundant, being identical to Earth-One’s WW (Earth-Two’s Superman and Batman didn’t show up until the 1970s).

Where the Earth-One Flash and Green Lantern were separate people from their predecessors from the first, there was no clear sign when Wonder Woman stopped telling Earth-Two stories and switched to Earth-One. Mike’s Amazing World makes a good case it was 1958’s  Wonder Woman #98. Robert Kanigher retells Diana’s origin, but with several different details from the Golden Age version. Athena orders the Amazons to send a champion into Man’s World to fight injustice, rather than fight WW II; instead of Diana worrying her mother won’t let her go, she’s worried Hippolyta will show favoritism and pick her; and Steve only arrives after Diana’s won the contest and is about to leave for the U.S. It’s also the first with Ross Andru and Mike Esposito as the art team rather than WW co-creator H.G. Peters (is that what freed Kanigher up to change direction?).

After that it was Earth-One all the way until Wonder Woman switched to Earth-Two for its WW II retro adventures in the 1970s. Unlike the other Golden Age heroes, we still knew nothing of her life in the present; we knew Batman married Catwoman and Clark Kent married Lois but nothing of WW. That changed after Roy Thomas and Gene Colan took over the book. In #300 they revealed that Earth-Two’s Diana had married Steve Trevor and they had a daughter, Lyta Trevor, who’d inherited Mom’s special gifts, enhanced by Amazon training. We’d see more of Lyta and her mother in Infinity, Inc., a series about the children of the Justice Society; Lyta was a member of Infinity, under the code name Fury.

Thomas’s beloved Earth-Two history vanished, however, when Crisis on Infinite Earths erased both WW from existence. While Dr. Fate, the Golden Age Flash and Green Lantern and other Golden Age heroes survived largely unscathed, Earth-Two characters too close to the modern versions did not — not only Wonder Woman but the Golden Age Superman, Batman, Green Arrow and Aquaman not only didn’t exist any more, they never had (this has soured Thomas on ever working with DC again).

That created a problem for Lyta. Thomas’ solution was to use one established Golden Age character, Quality Comics‘ Miss America and a new Golden Age hero, Fury, to fill the gap: Lyta was the first Fury’s daughter and Miss America (who took WW’s place in the JSA) became her adoptive mother after Fury I disappeared. However after Infinity Inc. wrapped up, Lyta got shitty treatment. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman killed her husband Hector off and made Lyta the mother of Daniel, Morpheus’ eventual replacement. After that she never showed up anywhere unless she was pregnant or comatose; Hector, by contrast, got to return and become Dr. Fate for a while.

And that was that.
#SFWApro. Covers by H.G. Peters and Gene Colan, all rights remain with current holders.

 

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Doc Savage finds Churchill, Hitler and … a fish?

December 1944 through February 1945 fall solidly into the realistic style of Lester Dent’s WW II novels for the series. Doc is constantly nervous, doubting his ability to carry out his missions. He’s distracted by the sexy women of the first and third book. He’s increasingly fed up with Monk and Ham’s antics, which he finds childish, and they half-concede the immaturity of their clowning and squabbling. In Strange Fish he tries to remember how to distinguish a real and fake Oklahoma accent and can’t recall the information.

THE LOST GIANT starts with Doc absolutely terrified by the scope of his mission, so much so he doesn’t trust his own makeup abilities. Instead he heads to a top Hollywood makeup artist who transforms him into Joe Powell, two-fisted adventurer. That enables Doc to attach himself to Fay, a mercenary hunting a mysterious McGuffin for the Axis. He pegs Joe as a capable troubleshooter and brings him aboard. But someone else has kidnapped Chester Wilson, the one man who knows the McGuffin’s location; can Doc and Fay find it and get their first.

This is a good, solid spy thriller, and the McGuffin is actually substantial: Winston Churchill’s plane has been downed in the Arctic Circle and Chester Wilson knows how to find it. Dent makes it clear it’s not just the blow of losing England’s prime minister that we’re facing (Churchill scoffs at the idea he’s indispensable) but Churchill’s knowledge of the Allied war plans.

VIOLENT NIGHT (released in paperback, as you can see, as The Hate Genius) has Doc now hunting for Adolf Hitler, but the premise is better. Hitler’s fleeing Europe via neutral Lisbon, leaving his double behind in his place. However he’s arranged to have the double killed, apparently by Allied assassins; Adolf figures this will infuriate Germany, driving them to fight to the last man; Germany and the Allied forces will both pay for Hitler having to flee! And the kill goes down in just 48 hours unless Doc catches der Fuehrer first.

Unfortunately the execution is pedestrian, at best. People keep revealing hidden identities or secret agendas to Doc or one of the other players, then reporting to someone else that yes, Doc Savage bought the supposed Big Reveal! Dent got very bad about exposition during this period and this is a very talky one.

It’s also annoyingly sexist. Pat horns in on the action, convincing Monk and Ham that they should make themselves targets for Hitler’s crew to distract them from Doc. With the clock ticking, Doc wastes time and manpower trying to scare Pat off by having U.S. agents pose as a creepy bunch of Nazis. When that doesn’t work, he has her shipped off to America by force, but she has a McGuffin Hitler needs so the Nazis hijack the plane.

There’s also a curious moment when Pat refers to Doc as not being really close — they’re only third or fourth cousins. That’s not accurate, but it is explainable (maybe she was being careful not to make herself look like leverage).

STRANGE FISH feels like a short story stretched out to novel length, and even given they were short novels by this point, the stretching shows. We open on Paris, a millionaire heiress/WAC, sent back from Europe after recovering from war injuries. She’s happy in New York until she sees a mysterious man following her, prompting her to fly to her Oklahoma ranch and her trusty right hand, Johnny Toms. Johnny’s a native American who amuses himself talking like a movie Indian even though he’s Harvard educated (the third such faithful but intelligent Native sidekick of the war years, following The Goblins and Secret of the Su). Unfortunately the bad guys have followed Paris to Oklahoma; Johnny tries calling Doc, who’s happy to help as an exciting break from his current plastics research (plastics was a wonder material back in that era).

The crooks try to distract Doc by convincing him Johnny’s call is to distract him from the real threat, somewhere in Brazil; Doc sees through the ruse and heads to Oklahoma with Monk and Ham. They’re almost immediately framed for murder, but it plays almost no role in the plot after that.

And what is the plot? It involves an aquarium fish everyone wants to get hold of for no discernable reason. Somehow the fish ties in to a Nazi war criminal fleeing the collapsing Reich; the fish is supposedly a clue to his whereabouts. It turns out to be more twisty than that, but not clever enough to be interesting.

Weirdly, the story seems to take place after V.E. Day, which is still several months off. There’s constant talk of Johann Jan Berlitz, the German the Allies have picked to replace Hitler. Unlike Jiu-San, it doesn’t appear to be a plan for the future; it reads as if the Allies are already occupying Germany and ready to start the new government. Did the publisher get short-handed and have to use this novel early? Or what?

#SFWApro. Pulp covers by Modest Stein, paperback by Leaf Larkin, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Special agents, space travel, Russian warrior women and more: books read.

CHASE by Dan Curtis Johnson and James H. Williams III was a 1998 DC comics series I wish had run longer (though Chase has been bouncing around the DCU ever since). Cameron Chase is an agent for the DEO (yes the inspiration for the one on Supergirl) which covertly watches over the metahuman community. Chase has some issues with the superhero set, but she’s a capable agent who does her job, whether it’s with them or against them; she also has a latent meta-power of her own that allows her to shut down other people’s abilities. The explanation for it was one of the things they never got around to, as well as the mystery about how reformed supervillain Mr. Bones wound up as head of the agency.

This includes the original series plus several short stories from various DC special editions. While I passed it up when it originally came out, I’m happy to have Cameron’s stories in TPB.

John Le Carré’s OUR KIND OF TRAITOR has a vacationing British couple befriended by a burly Russian money launderer who offers to turn over his treasure-trove of Russian Mafia secrets to the authorities if they’ll just get him and his family to England and his son into Eton (one of the prestige private schools) This works best in the opening chapters because of the unusual structure, alternating between the encounter and the couple undergoing grilling by British intelligence. It gets more stock near the end, and particularly in the finish — given Le Carré’s 21st century cynicism, it’s no surprise pervasive British corruption wins out over justice. Overall, though, good, and maybe his only novel where a happy couple live all the way to the end without getting torn apart.

ALPHA CENTAURI OR DIE! is a space opera from Leigh Brackett, without the exotic style of her Martian books (even the hardboiled Nemesis From Terra): with Earth’s oppressive government restricting space flight to robot ships (part of a general policy on controlling everyone’s movements), a pilot leads a group of rebels into space hoping to evade the ships and reach Alpha Centauri. However, after they succeed, it turns out there’s Something Powerful on the planet awaiting them. This is extremely sexist, the colonists’ wives being sniveling and timid without the energy Brackett’s Bad Girls exude; however it’s a good, tense read otherwise and I love the secret of the alien race.

THE UNWOMANLY FACE OF WAR: An Oral History of Women in World War II by Svetlana Alexievich is a spectacular collection of anecdotes by women who fought on the Russian front for various reasons (revenge, patriotism, a desire to be near their husbands) and lived through experiences that while certainly familiar (death, friend’s death, near death, scenes of brutality, rape and harassment) comes off fresh, whether because of the female point of view, the grimness of the Russian front or Alexievich having a good eye for a killer quote. The aftermath of the war was a real mixed bag for the interviewees, including those mired in PTSD, those who say they settled down happily, those who were treated as camp followers by their hometowns; a couple who had their husbands carted off by Stalin for getting captured instead of dying. Very good and a fantastic resource if you wants scenes of violence, starvation in sieges or the sounds of combat (like the constant crack of bones when the fighting gets close enough to hear).

#SFWApro. Cover by J.H. Williams III, bottom cover uncredited. All rights to both remain with current holders.

 

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Reading, writing and viewing: It’s no longer a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad world

You heard it hear first — okay, you probably already heard it somewhere else. But it’s worth marking the imminent death of Mad Magazine. I was never really a fan of Mad, but it was so omnipresent in my teen years that it still feels like a blow. The article says part of the problem is that Mad-style satire is now common everywhere. Then again, one of my Atomic Junkshop co-bloggers said that should have made it a perfect time for Mad to take the role Cracked did as a kind of online satire and commentary central. But it never happened.

Reading Fran of the Floods got me curious about the many strips I read in my sisters’ Diana and other books. If you’re at all curious, this is a good source. New Statesman gives a historical overview; I’m a little disappointed to learn the girls’ comics market has apparently died out, though as noted at the link there’s a lot of reprinting in trade paperback going on.

Microsoft is shutting the Microsoft Bookstore. And when it does, whatever ebooks you’ve bought will cease to exist.

Isabel Cooper on why originality is over-rated.

The days when Hulu and Netflix could stream almost everything we wanted to watch are going as everyone launches streaming services. As Mighty God King says, if it takes three or more streaming services to watch everything we want, what’s the point of cutting the cord? I haven’t watched Star Trek: Discovery because it’s CBS streaming, nor have I caught Doom Patrol (though I will probably subscribe later this summer, just long enough to watch it).

Another article (I don’t have the link) argued that this used to be the dream: instead of having everything bundled together, allow us to pick and choose what we want to watch! Why the fuss? I certainly wanted un-bundling, but I wasn’t looking to pay for CBS, NBC and ABC separately. It was more about having to take Fox News, CNN (a better channel, but I don’t do TV news), ESPN and QVC if I wanted to get Cartoon Channel, Turner Classic and a couple of others I liked. That said, plenty of people saw this development coming, so I’m not that surprised. And it does make me glad Netflix still has DVDs, which won’t be affected.

M.A. Kropp says to write what you want, not what “they” want.

John Wayne was a racist, homophobe and sexist. Should we stop watching his movies?

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The Hand-Wave Opening

The back-cover copy of Fran of the Floods (which I reviewed last weekend) refers to the flooding as caused by global warming. That’s not it, at least, not as we think of it now. In the 1970s story, it’s simply that the sun suddenly started burning hotter, disrupting the weather. And when the sun calms down by the end of the story, the rain stops.

There’s no explanation why the sun gets hotter, but there doesn’t need to be really: as the title of my post implies, it’s just a hand wave to set things in motion (a decade earlier it would have been nuclear testing; a decade later, the greenhouse effect). And I think that’s perfectly fine. The science of how Britain floods is irrelevant to the story of whether Fran can survive long enough to reach her sister.

For a different hand-wave premise, there’s the British strip Wendy the Winner. This comedy strip from the Diana weekly has young Wendy Blake constantly entering contests and winning all kinds of things: a new ultra-modern house that her family hates, a trained seal that has to move in with them … I don’t have kids myself but I’m sure that most parents, after a few incidents like this would tell their daughter Stop Entering Contests. But that would kill the fun (I read this in my sister’s comics, and I recall it being entertaining).

The hand-wave opening is a variation on the old rule that coincidence can launch your story, but it can’t resolve it. Having your protagonist discover at the start of the story that they’re the exact double of the local monarch? Implausible but workable (in Prince of Zenda and Prince and the Pauper to name two examples). Pull that at the climax (“Wait — it’s our prince! Lay down your weapons!”) without establishing it first and the story’s gonna stink.

Roger Ebert put it a different way: grant the movie its premise. Even if it’s improbable or absurd, if it launches us on a cool journey, he thought it was forgivable. I’d agree. We never learn the cause of magic declining in Sisters of the Raven, but the focus of the story is on how society reacts when men lose power and women start to gain it (the same could be said of The Power).

Of course, what constitutes a believable hand-wave depends partly on the reader. There’s a scene in the play Noises Off where one of the actors playing a double role insists there’s no way his character could be the exact double of a Middle Eastern millionaire; when the director bullshits him that the playwright has explained all this (the two characters are half brothers!) the actor’s satisfied. Some people may not grant the premise. Love at first sight is a hand-wave of sorts, but it only works if you can prove the love has something substantial to it.

It also depends on the genre. If, say, you’re writing a near-future technothriller, you’ll probably need a more plausible rationale than “the sun got hot.” You might be able to hand-wave a miracle forensic science technique in an SF story (assuming it’s not about how the technique works) but probably not in a mainstream CSI thriller.

Fantasy is open to hand-wave premises, like finding a talking head in a washing machine. Just so long as the weirdness plays off at the end. That’s why I love writing it.

#SFWApro. Cover by Phil Gascoine, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Not a dream, not a hoax, not an imaginary story: Wonder Woman marries Steve Trevor!

In Wonder Woman #300, the Amazing Amazon almost married Steve Trevor. Twenty-nine issues later, they finally tied the knot, right before she died.

When Dan Mishkin took over as writer in 1983, the clock was ticking. DC was already working on the buildup to Crisis on Infinite Earths, in which both the Earth-1 and Earth-2 Wonder Woman would cease to exist, with a new George Perez-helmed reboot replacing them (I’ll get into the parallel-Earths aspect of WW in another post). I’m not sure if Mishkin knew Wonder Woman was living on borrowed time, but he certainly gave it his all. In his 25 issues, we got —

  • A new godly adversary, Tetzcatlipoca of the Aztecs.
  • The introduction of a tribe of Amazons living in Central America. That shocked me, as I didn’t remember any non-Paradise Island Amazons appearing before the Perez era.
  • Circe attempts to destroy Wonder Woman because of a prophecy (it’s not made clear but it appears to be Tetzcatlipoca tricked her into taking out Wonder Woman for him). Again, I didn’t remember Circe as a foe until after the Crisis.
  • New allies in the form of a gremlin (an ET techie race) and the Atomic Knight (a superhero based on the 1950s SF team the Atomic Knights). The Atomic Knight appears to die at the end of Mishkin’s run but he survived and showed up in Outsiders later.
  • Dr. Cyber returns for another battle with Wonder Woman.
  • Etta gets a boyfriend who’s convinced she’s Wonder Woman. When it turns out she isn’t, he likes her anyway. Before that, there’s a great issue involving Dr. Psycho, the Silver Swan and Etta briefly turning into Wonder Woman for almost-real.

And Diana and Steve finally learn that he’s the second Steve Trevor in her life. They don’t take Hippolyta hiding the truth about Steve and messing with their memories at all well. And Mishkin does a remarkable job working out the tangled history of Steve’s lives and deaths in an arc that involves the god Eros and fuses the memories of the first and second Steve together.

And then we got two much less interesting issues by Mindy Newell. Etta suddenly blows up at Diana (her roommates), and we get to meet several new characters who aren’t very interesting and take time away from Diana and Steve. There’s also a plotline on the Amazons rejecting Hippolyta’s rule. All of that might have paid off if Newell had more time to develop whatever her ideas were, but she started with four issues left to run. I do wonder if they hadn’t decided on the reboot yet; if she figured “screw it, I’ll just write this the way I want”; or if making it look like a new arc was starting was to make the big finish more of a twist.

And big it was. In Newell’s last issue, the Anti-Monitor’s shadow demons attack Paradise Island while the rest of the world starts to fall apart too. It’s a lot livelier. Then came the big finish #329, by Gerry Conway.

And big it was. Hades, Ares and the Anti-Monitor launch an attack on Olympus. Wonder Woman arrives on Paradise Island, where her Mom has given up hope. Diana swings her around and unites the Amazons for a final battle to defend the gods. Steve insists on going along: after everything they’ve been through, he’s not letting his “angel” go now. With Persephone (by her alternative name of Kore) convincing Hades to switch sides and Steve freeing the gods from Ares’ prison, the good guys win, though with a nasty body count (not an issue when it’s all going to be wiped away, after all). But the Anti-Monitor is still out there, so Diana has to head off to the last issue of Crisis; before she goes, though, she and Steve ask Zeus to marry them (I’d forgotten that when I wrote about Diana’s lack of a love life).

It’s a cool ending, but an ending it was. In Crisis, the Anti-Monitor’s blast transforms Diana back into the clay that formed her. Then the reshuffling of the universe into the post-Crisis reality (sometimes referred to as “New Earth”) erased her existence and that of the Earth-Two Golden Age Wonder Woman (who lived, but vanished from the ken of mortals into Earth Two’s Olympus),  In the new timeline, Diana comes to America a decade or so after Superman launched the heroic age. Unlike Superman and Batman, whose books continued without a break, Wonder Woman’s title was off the stands for a year (I always thought that was a shame). Before the Perez version debuted, we got a miniseries, Legend of Wonder Woman, which will be my next reread.

#SFWApro. Top cover by Eduardo Barreta, bottom by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. All rights remain with current holders.

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British comics, American comics and a book about comics: this week’s reading.

I was delighted to discover via the Blimey! blog that British comics are getting the TPB treatment. I ordered two earlier this year, which shows the diversity of the genre over there—

BLACK MAX (created by Ken Mennell and Erik Bradbury, then developed by Frank Pepper and Alfonso Font) is a WW I strip I read occasionally as a kid (my Aunt May used to send me comics after I moved to the U.S., but not consistently). While I usually skipped over war strips, this one had a great concept: Baron and air ace Maximilian von Klorr turns the bats that infest his estate into giants under his command, able to fly in darkness, smoke or fog, more maneuverable and deadly than anything else in the air. Pilot Tim Wilson discovers the reason so many planes have disappeared, but can he convince his superiors before Black Max eliminates him. A very lively series; I look forward to Vol. 2.

FRAN OF THE FLOODS by Alan Davidson and Phil Gascoine came out in the girls’ magazine Jinty (Britain had a much stronger line of girls’ comics than the US has managed). When the sun starts burning hotter, it triggers a massive rain and the U.K. floods. Cut off from her family (are they even alive?) Fran Scott sets out to the Scottish highlands where she hopes her sister is still alive. But can she make it past floods, feral dogs, slaver gangs, plague and the self-proclaimed king of Glasgow? This one’s a complete story and wraps up a little easily (the sun cools off again so the flooding ends), but it’s pretty good.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: Winter In America by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Gerry Angullan and Leinil Francis Yu ponders the question of Captain America’s role in the age of Trump? In the aftermath of Cap conquering the world as leader of Hydra, America’s falling apart, white rural folks are rebelling against the government and a scheming Russian plans to take exploit the situation. Can Cap turn things around when nobody still trusts him? Much like Coates’ Black Panther, this is hobbled by Coates having to deal with fallout from previous plotlines (the Hydra big event) which I would just as soon everyone forget happened; still enough potential I’ll read subsequent volumes (I go into more detail about it at Atomic Junkshop)

BATMAN: Bride or Burglar? by Tom King and multiple artists has Selina and Bruce struggling to keep their relationship together despite Poison Ivy taking over the world, Bruce spending years in another dimension with Wonder Woman and the couple’s commitment issues. I’m still not a fan of King’s run, but the relationship is the best thing he’s done.

THE QUALITY COMPANION by Mike Kooiman and Jim Amashis an exhaustive look at the Golden Age comics company now best known for giving us Plastic Man and the Spirit, and to a lesser extent Blackhawk and the Freedom Fighters.

Unlike some publishers, Everett “Busy” Arnold was a good businessman and had a good eye for art; Quality stood out from the pack because of artists like Jack Cole on Plastic Man, Will Eisner on the Spirit (Eisner also created a number of Quality characters), and Lou Fine and Reed Crandall on others. Rights to the characters passed to DC later (there’s some good discussion of the copyright complications) which introduced them to many fans and writers (James Robinson of Starman grew up seeing the Ray, Phantom Lady and others in Bronze Age reprint stories, which got him hooked). This includes a history of the company, a list of creators, and an encyclopedic guide to the heroes, from A-listers to the so-bad-he’s-legend Red Bee (his greatest weapon was a trained bee) and even more forgotten characters (the Ghost of Flanders, a WW I vet who fought crime from under the Unknown Soldier memorial). Like the MLJ Companion, this has several sample stories included, so you can see Crandall, Fine and Cole’s work and judge for yourself.
#SFWApro. Cover by Alfonso Font, Plastic Man by Jack Cole, all rights to images remain with current holders.

 

 

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Sherlock Holmes: “One should always look for a possible alternative and provide against it.”

Sherlock Holmes was, of course, talking about double-checking your deductions when he said that: is there another explanation besides your theory? But I think it’s another of those Holmesian lines that applies well to writing. Because the last thing we want is for our readers wishing we’d done something different.

It’s bad if they read our writing and start correcting it (“There’s a much smoother way to say that.”). It’s worse if they start questioning the plot logic: wouldn’t it make more sense if X had done Y instead of Z? And it’s really bad if they finish and think “That’s not how it should have ended!”

This is not a new problem. People have hated the ending of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe for a couple of centuries (sticking with what was historically plausible, Scott has his hero marry the bland Rowena rather than the more interesting but Jewish Rebecca). Only in the 21st century, everyone can get together online to vent or Tweet their displeasure at you, which I imagine feels worse. In the Internet age, even a small group of dissatisfied fans can kick up what seems like a storm of negative criticism.

I doubt it’s possible to write a book so perfect nobody has problems. But I do think/hope it’s possible to write one good enough that the people looking for alternatives are only a minority. And that the majority is enough to make our work profitable.

At the words level, I like Kaye Gibbons’ advice: write and rewrite until the next word feels inevitable. I don’t always manage it, but I know what she means. At the plot level, it includes avoiding idiot plot: nobody should do something dumb just because that’s the only way to make the story work. They should have a very good reason for putting themselves at risk. The ending has to pay off on the story’s beginning; it has to be logical; and it has to be emotionally satisfying as well.

For an case study, let’s look at YEAR OF THE UNICORN, the fourth (others say third) book in Andre Norton’s Witch World series.

The protagonist, Gillan, is an orphan (one of her parents has Witch blood) in the Dales, across the ocean from Estcarp. The Dales have just emerged from a war with Alizon, which they won with the help of the shapeshifting Were-Riders; in return, they’ve agreed to provide the Riders with thirteen brides to take home. Frustrated with life in a monastic sisterhood, Gillan contrives to become one of the brides. She winds up paired with Herrel, as much an outsider among the Riders as she felt in the Dale. Unfortunately the unattached riders resent Herrel’s success and distrust the magic in Gillan’s blood. They replace Gillan with a magical clone and abandon the real woman to die. Can Gillan survive?

Norton made a number of surprising choices. She breaks with books one and two to give us a completely different part of the Witch World, one she wouldn’t return to for years. Year was her first story with a female protagonist. Rather than fantasy adventure, it’s a Gothic romance with a Beauty and the Beast element. As it’s first-person POV, the wording is archaic, almost stiff at times (but it does include the delicious line “He kept smiling. It was enough to make one dread all smiles.”). And in contrast to many romances, neither of the leads is stunningly good-looking — attractive, but not godlike.

These choices don’t work for everyone. The Gothic romance element when I first read the book turned me off. So did Gillan’s long quest to catch up with the Riders; it’s an interesting, eerie journey (That Which Runs the Ridges is a very ominous monster), but it’s a solo act, with no-one to talk to or interact with for chapter after chapter. And the point where Gillan recoils from Herrel’s shape-changing feels like she’s acting out of character to advance the plot. While I think most of Norton’s other choices were good, not everyone agrees.

But that’s the risk we all take when we write.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jack Gaughan, mug by the Philosophers Guild. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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A walrus, an epileptic, a witch-finder and the Suicide Squad: graphic novels

SNARKED: Forks and Hope by Roger Langridge is an oddball but entertaining riff on Alice in Wonderland. The Walrus and the Carpenter are a pair of con artists who unfortunately find themselves protectors of the new queen, pre-teen Scarlett, whose father has vanished at sea. To make matters worse, the royal council wants Scarlett out of the way so they can crown her brother and become regents. Off our cast goes in search of the missing king, but will the Bellman’s blank map really show them the way to Snark Island? Cute.

EPILEPTIC by David B. is a French graphic novel chronicling the author’s childhood coping with his epileptic brother and the weird macrobiotic communes his parents kept dragging them to in hopes of a cure. Interesting art, but the story left me cold.

WITCHFINDER: The Gates of Heaven by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson and D’Israeli has Sir Edward Grey investigating a series of occult thefts around London, This brings him into contact with the Foundry, an occult-centered Torchwood like group working for the British government, and a group of private investigators including one of Professor Bruttenholm’s ancestors. Good, but it felt like it ran out of steam near the end.

SUICIDE SQUAD: The Nightshade Odyssey by John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell is less satisfying than V1, mostly because this collection includes too many crossovers with other books, breaking the flow (the worst is an encounter with the Doom Patrol in one of its least interesting incarnations). The title story involving a quest to Nightshade’s home dimension is solid, though a little continuity heavy. The Batman crossover is good (he does not like Task Force X cutting deals with all these crooks), but I can’t buy the resolution (Batman risks exposure because he let himself get fingerprinted).

What does work is the character bits. Waller and top-kick Rick Flagg really struggle, both with the losses the team faces, and the effort not to cross too many lines. It’s way more interesting than most post-Ostrander writers, who make Waller a bad-ass with zero qualms about dirty work.

#SFWApro. Top image by Tenniel, cover by Jerry Bingham, all rights to images remain with current holder.

 

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Blood will tell, but sometimes I wish it didn’t

A lot of people dislike the Chosen One trope, the idea that one individual is marked by destiny to do whatever has to be done: defeat Voldemort, blow up the Death Star, free humanity from the Matrix. Some people object that it implies nobody else can do anything, or that a male Chosen One is innately superior to a much more capable woman.

While I’m not hugely anti- the trope, I’m beginning to be annoyed at one particular variation on it: the hero was born great because it’s in their blood, an ancestry that makes them far more than an ordinary human.

I’m not at all bothered by characters like Supergirl, J’Onn J’Onzz or Marvel’s mutants. It’s established from the first that the hero’s genes make them more than human. But I don’t get the benefits of retconning a character to reveal the power was inside them all along. Case in point: Captain Britain.

As introduced by Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe in the first issue of Captain Britain (collected in the Birth of a Legend hardback) Brian Braddock was an ordinary guy until the Reaver attacked a research facility where he was interning. Fleeing the chaos, he met visions of a mysterious old man and a woman who offered him a chance to fight back, by choosing either a sword or an amulet. Not being a warrior, Brian chose the amulet (later stories established this was the right choice) and became transformed into Captain Britain.

I enjoyed much later relaunch of Captain Britain (after appearing as a backup strip in other books) but there’s a point where they lost me: Roma (the woman from Brian’s vision) reveals that twins Brian and Betsy Braddock are no mere humans and Brian’s powers don’t come from his costume or his battle stave. Their father was actually one of Roma’s other-dimensional guardsmen; the power was always in him, Roma and her father Merlin just had to bring it out.

I found that oddly disappointing. An ordinary guy who rises to the occasion when danger threatens is one thing (“greatness thrust upon him” in the words of a previous post). I can sort of imagine myself doing the same thing in the same boat. But if his greatness comes from his bloodline? Much less interesting or inspiring.

Comments on The Mary Sue make the same point about a Marvel Comics retcon that reveals Carol Danvers is half-Kree by birth. If Carol’s exceptional because she was born that way, what sort of role model does she make (by the way, the speculation about the then-unreleased Captain Marvel movie is hysterical in hindsight)?

Or the reboot of Wonder Woman to reveal that instead of being shaped by a woman out of clay and brought to life by a goddess (which is, admittedly, another form of Born Great), she’s awesome because she’s the child of Zeus?

It’s one reason so many people (myself included) were pleased The Last Jedi revealed Rey comes from nobody and was born nothing special. Luke and Leia descended from greatness (albeit greatness that turned to the dark side); Rey proves even an ordinary person can become a great Jedi (hopefully the final chapter won’t retcon that back). I had the same reaction to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Fighting Man of Mars, the only book that doesn’t involve either John Carter, his family or another transplanted Earthmen. It’s just cooler that even an ordinary Martian swordsman of no special lineage can find excitement and adventure under the moons of Mars.

I can understand wanting to make your characters exceptional and special, but I don’t think a bloodline retcon is the way to go.

#SFWApro. Cover by Ron Wilson and John Kalisz, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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