May: Superheroes & Supervillains

Superheros.Supervillains

In May, on Writing to be Read, our theme is Superheroes & Supervillains in celebration of comic books and comic universes, and all that it has evolved into over the years. Comic books aren’t really in my wheelhouse. I’m more of a Saturday morning cartoon type of gal, with Underdog and Mighty Mouse as my favorite heroes, and I still watch reruns of the original Batman series with Adam West and Burt Ward on ME TV.  But I wanted to run this theme because I think there is a little bit of superhero in every protagonist we write, and a little bit of supervillain in every adversary.

Because I’m not versed in the comic universes, I’m turning to others, who know comics and superheroes much better than I. Jeff Bowels is much younger and wiser in this area, and he will be offering us his expertise and insight on the evolution of the comic and its characters this month, as well as a look at the similarities and differences between the characters of the Marvel and DC universes. In addition, my “Chatting with the Pros” author guest this month is international bestselling author, Kevin J. Anderson, who also authored the book, Enemies and Allies. My supporting interview will be with comic author and novelist, Jason Henderson, who most recently authored Young Captain Nemo. Both of these authors appeared at the recent WordCrafter 2020 Stay in Place Virtual Writing Conference and they know what it takes to create superheroes and supervillains in their own science fiction and fantasy writing. My review for The Encyclopedia of American Animated Television Shows, by David Perlmutter posted last Friday, and I will also be reviewing Echo One: Tales From the Secret Chronicles anthology from WordFire Press. And don’t miss “Mind Fields” this month, where Art Rosch will give us a piece on the character development of villains.

Comics are based on serialized art, and Famous Funnies is considered by many to be the first comic book, coming out in 1933 and publishing until 1955. DC‘s Superman got his start in a comic strip, and he was the first character to wear a cape, setting the image for many of the superheroes that have followed. He made his debut in his own comic book in 1939, the same year that Marvel launched Timely Comics. Not long after, DC came out with Batman in Detective Comics #27, the most sought after comic among collectors and fans alike, and he and Superman both celebrated their 80th birthdays last year.

Other superhero characters followed, including Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Cyborg and Aquaman, who along with Batman and and Superman, came to be known as the Big Seven of DC’s Justice League, and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four: Mister Fantastic, Invisible Girl (now Invisible Woman), Thing and Human Torch, and Marvel’s X-Men: Professor X, Cyclops, Iceman, Angel (later known as Archangel), Beast and Marvel Girl (a.k.a. Pheonix/Dark Pheonix). And let’s not forget Marvel’s Hulk, Spiderman, and Ironman, Wolverine, and DC’s Swamp Thing.

It’s interesting to see how the characters, and comics have evolved into other forms of media. While comic books remain popular, as the turnout for any Comicon can demonstrate, today we see comics and comic book characters in the form of graphic novels, and they’ve made the jump to visual media, first in television, and then in film. We’ve also seen the rise of the anti-hero, giving us characters such as Dead Pool, who are the epitome of the reluctant hero in every hero’s journey. (See my review of Dead Pool (2016) here.) Although superhero, (and anti-hero), movies had a lull in popularity during the 1980s and 90s, they’ve seen a rise during the 21st century and are big money at the box office today. Statista claims that the superhero movies of 2019 grossed 3.2 billion dollars in combined domestic revenue.

However, we can only weigh the strength and goodness of the superhero by the evilness and capabilities of the villains they face. DC wove the history behind how Batman’s first adversary came to become a supervillain, the notorious Joker. Just as superheroes evolve and change, so do supervillains, and the Joker is no exception. He has changed and evolved over the years, but not always on the same evolutionary time table as superheroes. (See Jeff Bowels’ review of  Joker from 2019.) But even with a supervillain, who is super-evil, there must always be a grain of humanity that makes them vulnerable. They weren’t just born evil. They have tragic histories that have twisted them into the super-evil, hard hearted villains that they are, and that makes them relatable on some level, even if we can’t bring ourselves to root for them and breath a sigh of relief when they meet their demise.

The heroes and villains in genre fiction may not have super powers or be invincible, but they do share certain qualities with the superheroes and supervillains of the comic book world, like altruism (for heroes), and selfishness and greed (for villains), and basic humanity (for all). They have a lot to teach us about making relatable heroes and villains we can love to hate. Please join us this month as we explore the world of comics, superheroes and supervillains, on Writing to be Read.

I shared above that my favorite comic superheroes as a kid were Mighty Mouse, Underdog and Batman. Let me know in the comments who your favorite superheroes or supervillains are, and why they are your favorite in the comments. Let’s talk superheroes and supervillains.


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“The Encyclopedia of American Animated Television Shows”: Everything you always wanted to know about the history of animation.

The Encyclopedia of American Animated Television Shows

If you are a cartoon buff or just miss Saturday morning cartoons, The Encyclopedia of American Animated Television Shows, by David Perlmutter could prove to be a valuable resource. Who created them? When did they air? Who produced them? Who played the character voice? Summaries of many of these programs are included.

This book has animated series from Abbott and Costello to Zorro. Opening the pages of this book made me feel like Saturday morning cartoons all over again. I found the histories of all of my favorite animated series within its pages; Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?; Casper the Friendly Ghost; The Jetsons; Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids; Bugs Bunny; The Flintstones; and The Smurfs. It even features School House Rock.

There is sure to be something for fans big and small, and they aren’t all from out of the distant past. Younger generations still harboring that inner child may place higher value on more recent animated series, including American Dad; King of the Hill; Southpark; The Simpsons; and Beavis and Butthead.

Of course, it features all of the super heroes from both Marvel and D.C. Comics, from Flash Gordan; Teen Titans; Spider-Man; Superman; Batman and Robin; Wolverine and the X-Men; The Fantastic Four; and even Mighty Mouse and Underdog. Although, none of them have series named for them because they are the bad guys, all our favorite super villains are in there, too.

The Encyclopedia of American Animated Television Series is an invaluable resource if comics are your thing, providing an overview which illustrates how animated series and literature hold a valuable place in the evolution of American entertainment outlets. Filled with a plethora of information on the evolution of animation and comic characters. I give it five quills.

Five Quills

Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


“Indomitable”: A Drastic Shift in Reality

Indomitable-Generic

What’s a girl to do when her boyfriend shifts the world into a comic book reality where half the population has super powers, and transforms himself into a superhero? Find out in J.B. Garner’s Indomitable.

Dr. Irene Roman finds herself in just such a situation when her boyfriend and fellow scientist, Dr. Eric Flynn decides to shape reality to his own liking with his research, (and hers). The rational Irene that she has always been knows that Eric must be stopped and she’s the only one who can stop him, but there is something pulling at another part of her that makes her want to embrace the new Irene and the new world. In fact, many around her seem to be accepting this new world blindly, and some who are “Pushed” even have newfound abilities and superhuman powers, but not all are using them for the greater good. It seems the world has gone crazy in this new reality, and Irene must find a way to put things back the way they were.

Skillfully crafted to suspend disbelief and draw readers in, sprinkled with comic book humor to lighten up this tale of world salvation gone awry. I give Indomitable five quills.

Five Quills

Buy Link: https://www.amazon.com/Indomitable-Push-Chronicles-Book-1-ebook/dp/B076G9JS93/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Indomitable+Garner&qid=1586050754&s=books&sr=1-1


Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


Announcing the WordCrafter 2020 Stay in Place Virtual Writing Conference

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We’re all tired of staying at home during this recent crisis. It seems like everyone has been affected in different ways, but no one has gone unscathed. Our world has changed in recent times. We, as authors and lovers of the written word had many of our in-person writing events – conferences, conventions, and book fairs – cancelled due to the appearance of COVID 19. To to emulate all those events we look forward to each year and are missing out on now, and to chase away some of the boredom of social distancing and isolation, WordCrafter presents the 2020 Stay in Place Virtual Writing Conference on Tuesday, April 28 from 8 am to 8 pm.

This is a unique event, the first of its kind, and one you won’t want to miss. Free presentations and author takeovers will be occurring on the Facebook event page, and interactive workshops and panel discussions will be offered for a minimal fee on the Zoom platform. Interactive panel discussions and workshop session can be accessed individually for $5, or an all access pass to all interactive sessions can be purchased for $50. Tickets can be purchased on the Facebook event page. Watch for your Facebook event invite from me or one of the many wonderful authors involved with this conference. Send me a message through my WordCrafter page or through the event page if you have further questions, or if you would like a half an hour author takeover spot to promote your own work.

This has been a huge undertaking to organize and set up an event such as this one, but I haven’t done it alone. Without my 22 talented presenters, this event couldn’t happen. We have a great line-up, with international bestselling science fiction and fantasy author Kevin J. Anderson presenting the keynote on the interactive platform.

Kevin J. Anderson

And that’s just the beginning. Take a look at the talent that has lined up for presentations, workshops and panel discussions.

Mario Acevedo

Award winning and national bestselling speculative fiction author Mario Acevedo will be offering a presentation – “The Power of Motivation: What Your Characters Do and Why”

Alatorre Bio

USA Today bestselling multi-genre author Dan Alatorre will be a member of the interactive book marketing panel discussion.

Chris Barili - B.T. Clearwater

Multi-genre author Chris Barili will be presenting “Writing in the Face of Adversity” and giving an interactive workshop on “Writing Across Genres”.

 

L.D. Colter - L. Deni Colter

Award winning fantasy author L.D. Colter will be offering a presentation on “Short Fiction”.

Candido Bio

World builder and speculative fiction author Kieth R.A. DeCandido will be offering an interactive workshop on “The Business of Writing” and he is the moderator for the media tie-in interactive panel discussion.

DeMarco Bio

Award winning novelist Guy Anthony De Marco will be a member on both the short fiction and world building interactive panel discussions.

Anthony Dobranski

Fantasy and science fiction author Anthony Dobranski will offer two presentaions, “How to Swim Upstream: Not being in the mainstream of your market/genre” and “Working with Others: How to direct others in a project”. In addition, he will offer two interactive workshops. “Business Class Tarot” and “The Savage Horror of Writing Back Cover Copy”.

Jason Henderson

Author for young readers, Jason Henderson will be presenting “Story Ideas and the Choices You Make” and moderating the interactive book marketing panel discussion.

Kevin Killiany

Media tie-in author Kevin Killiany will be a member on the interactive world building, media tie-in, and short fiction panel discussions.

L. Jagi Lamplighter

Award winning young adult fantasy author L. Jagi Lamplighter will be on the interactive panel on world building, and moderate the interactive short fiction interactive panel discussion.

Lawless Bio

Award-winning science fiction author J.R.H. Lawless will be a member of the book marketing interactive panel discussion.

Jonathan Maberry

Award winning and New York Times bestselling multi-genre author Jonathan Maberry will be a member on three interactive panel discussions: short fiction, world building and media tie-ins.

Bobby Nash

Award winning multi-genre author Bobby Nash will deliver a presentation on “The Importance of Promotion”, as well as being a member of both the media tie-in and book promotion panel discussions.

Nye Bio

Science fiction and fantasy author Jody Lynn Nye will offer a presentation on using humor in science fiction and fantasy writing, “Bringing the Funny: how to apply humor to your writing” and she will be a member of the world building interactive panel discussion.

Ellie Raine

Award winning fantasy author Ellie Raine will sit on both the short fiction and world building interactive panel discussions.

Art Rosch

Award winning multi-genre author Art Rosch will offer a presentation on “Creating Villains We Love to Hate”.

Sean Taylor

Award winning multi-genre author Sean Taylor will offer a presentation on “Visceral Story Beginnings”.

Vandenberg Bio

Science fiction author and marketing expert Alexi Vandenberg will be joining the book marketing panel.

Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

Award winning poet and author Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer offers a livestream presentation “The Gateway to the Unknown: A Poetry Thought Shop”.

Rick Wilber

Author and educator Rick Wilber will be a member of the short fiction interactive panel discussion.

Dave Wolverton - David Farland

Award winning and New York Times bestselling science fiction and fantasy author Dave Wolverton/David Farland offers a”Promoting Your Book BIG” and he is a member of the interactive book marketing panel discussion.

You can find a full schedule here. I do hope all of you will join us for this unique writing event. It’s the first of its kind and we could be making history. You can be a part of it, too. Join us.


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Jeff’s Movie Reviews – For Your Homebound Quarantine Enjoyment: Birds of Prey

Jeff's Movie Reviews

I See Your Giant Mallet and Raise You One Pet Hyena

by Jeff Bowles

As it turns out, a super-scary international virus lockdown isn’t all bad. Sure, you’ve got to muscle retirees out of the way at the grocery store to get a cheap four pack of toilet paper and some frozen peas, but on the up side, Hollywood has released some of its biggest Spring movies to enjoy from the safety and comfort of your own home.

New films like The Invisible Man, Onward, Sonic the Hedgehog, Bad Boys for Life, and Bloodshot are all available On Demand for early rental or purchase, but allow me to recommend a movie that released in theaters in February and immediately flopped. Like big time.

It’s no secret I love comics and comic book movies, but truly, Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is a cut above DC and Warner Bros. typically average-to-poor superhero romps. The title is totally silly and useless, and if they thought it’d fit on any movie marquee in the world they were crazier than The Joker himself, but Birds of Prey turns out to be a smart, funny, aggressive comic flick with a unique quality: it was almost exclusively produced by women.

Not to put too fine a point on the matter, but this arena is and always has been a boys’ club. We may never know why Birds of Prey did such dismal business at the box office. Rest assured, it’s got nothing to do with the quality of the film. Is this a matter of nerdy male resentment? Or do the story and characters simply stray too far from the mythos surrounding these dangerous leading ladies of Gotham City? Maybe the title’s too long. Ehem, DC and Warner Bros., I said MAYBE THE TITLE’S TOO LONG.

Regardless, Birds of Prey is certainly worthy of your attention if you’re into superhero stuff. Heck, it’s worthy of your attention even if you’re not and you simply have too much free time on your hands. You’re not super busy right now, are you? Yeah, thought not.

Harley Quinn as a character goes back to the early 90s. If you’re not familiar with her, she was created for Batman: The Animated Series as a kind of foil or sidekick for The Joker. She was pretty one-dimensional back then, and in the decades since, she’s more often than not been portrayed as a psychotic sex object Batman has to knock out every once in a while. A good precedent for gender equality in comic books? Not especially, but Margot Robbie, who is a legit Oscar-caliber actor, no joke about that, imbues Ms. Quinn with joy and a surprising amount of complexity.

Harley has had a nasty breakup with her beloved Mr. J. While The Joker never appears in this movie in any substantial fashion, his presence is felt in that same way you stick a picture of your ex on the wall and throw knives at it until the sun comes up. What? You’ve never had that experience? Well Harley has, and the aggressive humor and violence with which she picks apart the legacy of her former paramour is sheer genius. In truth, this is more of a Harley Quinn vehicle than an honest story about the Birds of Prey, a DC Comics staple since the mid-1990s. See, in the comics, Harley isn’t even really part of this team, which means characters like Black Canary and Huntress tend to get sidelined. Fans may have had a legitimate reason in this regard for not showing up when they had the chance.

But they really should have, because Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (do I really have to keep typing the whole thing?) is a lot of fun. Ewen McGregor plays the obligatory supervillain, Roman Sionis, the Black Mask. He’s slick, dangerous, neurotic, and that silver spoon in his mouth seems to have calcified his brain. He fills his apartment with brutal oddities from around the world and says “Eww” before he orders one of his goons to slit your throat.

And Harley, God bless her, is an almost perfectly realized, straight-from-the-comics avatar of mayhem. She prefers giant mallets and baseball bats in a fight, dresses stuffed beavers in pink tutus and names them because she’s bored, and owns an actual pet Hyena called Bruce (you know, like that hunky billionaire Wayne guy from TV). Robbie lends Harley a certain emotional fragility in scenes concerning her big breakup, and though this is an R-rated hijinks movie chock full of color and jokes, you get the sense there’s a beating heart under all that clown makeup.

As for the rest of the team, Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Huntress, a self-trained crossbow assassin with a slight case of social disfunction, Rosie Perez is rebellious and jaded Gotham City PD detective Renee Montoya, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell plays Dinah Lance, the Black Canary, who’s singing voice is just a skoch more powerful than your average lounge lizard’s. Writer Christina Hodson and director Cathy Yann do their best to flesh out the actual Birds of Prey, but listen, this is Harley’s movie, so no unnecessary character development allowed. Insanity comes in lots of different forms, and for about an hour and forty-five minutes you’ll find yourself in a version of Gotham City that A). exists almost completely in daylight, and B). is more Loony Tunes than Dark Knight.

This is a distinctly feminine superhero movie, and it doesn’t mind making all the bad guys men. I’m sure Warner Bros. and DC questioned whether it’d be lucrative. Turns out, it wasn’t. Still, it’s a much needed shot in the arm to the preexisting DC film universe, which for the most part has grown stale. Birds of Prey doesn’t really break the mold as such. It’s still about solving problems with fists and hamming it up real 1960s Batman TV show style, but Harley Quinn stands on her own two feet and kicks ass. Fans who appreciated the morose and overly serious Joker standalone movie last year might find Birds of Prey silly and quaint, but if you’re like me and Joker rubbed you the wrong way, you could do worse than wasting a couple hours on your sofa, streaming one of the most underrated comic book movies of the last several years.

Coronavirus quarantine kinda sucks, but it doesn’t mean we can’t still have a laugh or three. Dr. Harleen Quinzel is most definitely all about the laughs. It’s just too bad the other leading ladies of Birds of Prey have to take up her sidelined, sidekick, side-character mantel.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (one last time. Phew.) a cocaine-snorting, beanbag-gun-toting 8 out of 10.

Being the Clown Prince of Gotham is all well and good, but Joker had better watch his back. Unless of course male comic nerds are threatened by strong leading women. That’s not a thing, is it? Surely not. Preparing sarcasm protocols in three, two, one … engage!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


You can keep up on what Jeff’s been watching and catch all of his great movie reviews the third Friday of each month on Writing to be Read. Subscribe to email or follow on WordPress today.


Jeff’s Movie Reviews Presents: Rise of the Comic Book Film

Jeff's Movie Reviews

Dollars, Cents, and Superpowers

by Jeff Bowles

There was a time comic book adaptations were a non-starter for the majority of moviegoers. For every generally well-liked superhero movie, like 1978’s Superman: The Movie or 1989’s Batman, there were at least a dozen examples of comic films gone wrong. For one, the Marvel Universe was bargain-basement, low-rent stuff. Old timers will tell you of an era in which Stan Lee’s greatest creations were relegated to B-movie direct-to-video time wasters, most of which were shot and funded outside the Hollywood system. Like, waaaaay outside the Hollywood system.

And DC, the former granddaddy of the genre? They tanked at least two very lucrative franchises because they forgot about pleasing fans and got cynical about their own intellectual property. Nobody, for instance, then or now, was willing to take 1997’s Batman and Robin seriously. For God’s sake, the batsuit had nipples. Holy unnecessary anatomy, Batman! You’ll poke someone’s eye out!

The 21st century, however, has seen quite the reversal in fortune for comic book adaptations. Boy, has it ever. In the year 2020, the biggest, most financially successful films in motion picture history feature superheroes, most of which are Marvel characters, because the notion of a working cinematic universe turned out to be an absolutely genius stroke. So how did this happen? What turned the silliest of nerd pastimes into a multi-billion dollar entertainment powerhouse?

In a few months, Writing to Be Read will be running some special articles in honor of national comic book month. May, by the way, is usually the time Marvel unleashes its biggest contender for the year. 2019’s Avengers: Endgame was a blockbuster of epic proportions, and over at DC, they’re cooking up a Wonder Woman sequel, a possible sequel to the Oscar nominated Joker, yet another Batman reboot, and Birds of Prey just hit theaters last week (and immediately flopped; sorry, DC).

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Two things account for the dynamic transformation comic movies have undergone in the past twenty years: the aging-up of the comic-loving, video-game-playing, anime-watching nerd population, and the success of a movie called Blade.

For those who’ve never seen it (and at this point, it’s a little bit obscure), Blade is a 1998 Marvel action-horror flick starring everyone’s favorite vampire-slaying daywalker. Wesley Snipes took the lead role and made him exceptionally cool. And since he was still a bankable star, the film overperformed. The success of Blade emboldened Marvel to take the plunge and adapt one of their most popular properties, The Uncanny X-Men. Featuring all the fan-faves like Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Gene Grey, and Professor X, 2000’s X-Men was not exactly faithful to the source material, but it was thrilling to finally watch a Marvel movie that didn’t suck. Again, the idea of an entire working cinematic universe was just a glint in the eye of current Marvel Studios chief, Kevin Feige. The success of X-Men paved the way for the Spider-Man series, halfway decent adaptations of Hulk, Daredevil, Punisher, and The Fantastic Four, and at last, the granddaddy of all franchise starters, Iron Man.

In truth, however, the modern comic movie owes everything to Superman and its star, Christopher Reeve. His first turn in the famous blue tights hasn’t aged exceptionally well, but it still stands out as one of finest examples of a big-screen superhero adaptation done right. Gone are the childish theatrics and abysmally small budget, the mindless plot, and for the most part, the wink-wink, nudge-nudge counter culture irreverence of something like the 1960s Batman television series. Superman: The Movie took its source material seriously. Richard Donner, the film’s director, insisted on a high level of verisimilitude, which isn’t something most Hollywood filmmakers would’ve gone for. Word has it the original screenwriter—none other than Mario Puzzo of Godfather fame—loaded his script with so many tongue-in-cheek gags the film may as well have been a super-farce. For an entire generation of fans, Christopher Reeve embodied the Man of Steel, fighting for truth and justice, making everyone believe a man could fly.

And of course, historically the franchise bombed out after four entries because, you know, DC. Same thing happened to the Batman franchise in the nineties. The folks at Warner Brothers were so shocked and sickened by Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, they snatched the option to make a third bat-sequel from his grubby, weird, Edward-scissor-like hands and passed it off to the marketing machine. Again, four movies was all that first Batman series got, but by then, the genie was out of the bottle, and it wouldn’t be long until Marvel ruled the roost. Marvel, by the way, had been in bankruptcy right until the time X-Men released in theaters. Quite a Cinderella story for the House of Ideas, one nobody could have predicted two decades ago.

In 2008, Marvel and Paramount Pictures released Iron Man, and it was off to the races. Starring the always impeccable Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man injected new life into the genre, and in so doing, completely rewrote the rules of Hollywood. Over ten years later, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is twenty-three movies strong and still growing. Two MCU movies are scheduled to hit theaters in 2020, Black Widow and The Eternals. The thing about Marvel is they’re willing to take risks, knowing that if they do their characters justice, fans will show up. And we do. In droves.

The MCU is truly a mighty thing, containing team-ups like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, more experimental and hipper entries like Thor: Ragnarok (and doubtless) the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder, politically relevant films like Black Panther, and everything in between. Yeah, they’re still just silly comic book movies, but the entire world is in love with them, and their impact on our culture cannot be overstated. Just imagine all those kids growing up with Captain America posters on their walls. That’s a lot of money in the making, and Marvel’s parent company, Disney, knows it.

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The future of this genre is wide-open, and its not hard to imagine a time Marvel and DC have become two of the most powerful and ubiquitous entertainment companies in the world. Their most popular characters are already known everywhere, and they have been for decades. Really, this is just the cherry on top for a literary form invented for children in the first half of the 20th century. Superman wasn’t just the first superhero, he was the first super media product. The chiseled face that launched a thousand ships. And that doesn’t even begin to account for all the successful and wonderful comic book movie adaptations that don’t include a single cape or superpower. Greats of the sub-sub genre include Ghost World, American Splendor, 300, Road to Perdition, and Sin City. Check any of those out for a palate cleanser. You won’t be disappointed.

It’s funny, but the comic book industry itself has only shrunk in recent years. The good news for comic readers is the movies aren’t likely to completely replace good old paper and ink any time soon. After all, where would all those mega powerful, newly wealthy studio execs get their ideas? What, Hollywood come up with something fresh? Yeah. And Captain America is a communist.

Next month we’ll get back to the movie reviews, folks. For now though, go and have yourself a Marvel movie marathon, especially if you’ve never done one before. Yeah, it’s a lot of confusing action and universe-ending doom, but hey, saving the world has never been so fun. Or so lucrative. Am I right, Disney?


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


You can keep up on what Jeff’s been watching and catch all of his great movie reviews the second Friday of each month on Writing to be Read. Subscribe to email or follow on WordPress today.


A Farewell Tribute to Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture

Last week, we lost a dear friend of mine and a member of the Writing to be Read author family, Tom Johnson. Tom was a multi-genre writer for most of his life, mostly pulp fiction in the traditions of the classics, but in recent years, he dedicated himself to children’s fiction, with the intentions of creating stories for today’s children which reflect old fashioned values and morals in the traditions of the stories his mother read to him as a child. Tom took part in Round 2 of my “Ask the Authors” blog series, (which will become a published book by WordCrafter Press soon), and I interviewed Tom about his children’s stories back in 2018. He had some great things to say about writing for children that may be relevant here, since the Writing to be Read theme for November is young adult and children’s fiction. With that in mind, I’m reprinting that interview in part here, (you can read the full interview here), as we remember our friend and fellow author. Tom may be gone, but his wisdom lives on. This is what writing for children meant to him.


Kaye: Although in the past, you’ve written and published many different genres, you are currently writing only children’s stories. So, let’s talk about that. Tell me a little about your stories.

Tom: My children stories are about 1k and meant as bedtime tales, and to be read in classroom or library settings. They are short stories with little morals to teach children something about life.

Kaye: Are they a series or stand alone?

Tom: They are a series, and published in anthologies about once a year. There have been four anthologies so far. I was invited to participate beginning in volume #3. The anthology is called Wire Dog Storybook. Here is the background. True story. A young girl, Ellen Walters, asked her father, David Walters, if she could have a dog, and he said, “No.” So she found an old wire hanger and shaped it to resemble a dog, and called it wire dog. David Walters was fascinated by her ingenuity and created the Wire Dog storybooks. So the stories usually feature Ellen and Wire Dog, but always Wire Dog. Five of my stories have been published so far, and I’ve written three more for the 2018 yearbook when it comes out at the end of the year.

Kaye: What age group are they aimed at?

Tom: I feel that we should begin reading to our children by age one. With that in mind, my stories are aimed at the age group of 1 to 5. However, older children will enjoy the stories, as do adults.

Kaye: What differences do you see between writing for children and writing adult fiction?

Tom: Adult fiction usually means, “no holds barred”, while writing children stories you want to stay away from violence, horror, and adult themes. Keep in mind, young children absorb what they hear quickly, and some themes could have an adverse effect on young minds. When writing for children we must keep this in mind.

Kaye: What appeals to you about writing for children?

Tom: Do you remember the old radio show for kids, Let’s Pretend ? It produced shows for children that acted out fairy tales and light adventures – nothing as harsh as today’s cartoons that are aimed at our youth. Well, I have the chance to import my love for adventure in tales easily understood by young people; children who some day may also experience that same love to pass on to their children. Stories that give our children a moral to live by, not “It’s clobbering time!” Or Pow! Bang! Boom! It’s something my mother did for me when I was little, and now I have the same opportunity, and I’m not going to pass it up.

Kaye: You have wanted to write for children since you were little and your mother used to read to you.

Tom: Oh, yes. I hope that mothers are still reading to their children. They learn at such a young age, and we’re missing an opportunity if we fail them when they’re young. They will never forget what they learn as children, it’s when their minds are growing and grasping at everything. I think one of the first words they learn is, “Why?”

Kaye: What were your favorite children’s stories?

Tom: Really, I would have to look them up in the book of fairy tales on my shelf. There were so many she read to me. Knights saving young damsels come to mind. I remember one particular fairy tale where the princess was on a glass mountain, and the young knight had to save her. She watched each day as a knight riding brown horse attempts to scale the glass mountain, then a knight on a white horse, and so on, until the final day when a knight riding a great steed scales the mountain, and we find out that he was the knight on the brown horse, the white horse, etc. It wasn’t the color of the horse, but the persistence of the knight that finally achieved the goal.

Kaye: In what ways do the stories you write emulate those favorites from your childhood?

Tom: Like the fairy tale I mentioned above, my stories will also have a similar moral – it’s not the color of the horse, or the knight’s armor, but his persistence that wins the hand of the princess. Do the right thing, for the right reason. Persevere. If you don’t succeed today, try and try again.


The stories that we hear and read in childhood often stick with us into our later years. Even though Tom wrote other fiction through the years, as he grew older, it was the stories that his mother read to him as a child that inspired him. That’s what writing children’s fiction is all about.

Tom Johnson Books

Tom’s other works included pulp, crime and science fiction stories right up there with the best, and many may be familiar with his promotions for them on Facebook. His covers seem to reach out and grab your attention.  He published over eighty books during the span of his career. In that previous interview, Tom claimed that Alien Skies was born from his most unusual inspiration and the Guns of the Black Ghost was written as a homage to Walter Gibson’s The Shadow radio drama. You can read my review of Pangaea: Eden’s Planet here.

Tom Johnson and wife Ginger

Writing was a big part of Tom’s life. It was important to him. But, Tom was more than just a talented and dedicated writer. He was also a loved life partner to his lovely wife Ginger. She was supportive of his writing, and I believe she edited some, or perhaps all of his work. With Ginger at his side, Tom lived a life doing what he loved – bringing his characters to life.

Tom, farewell. You will live on through the plethora of books and stories you’ve left us with, but you will still be greatly missed.


Are you a Tom Johnson fan? If so, feel free to leave a few words in the comments telling us what Tom meant to you, or share a memory, or just tell me which of his books is your favorite.  Thank you all for joining me in saying good-bye.

 


Jeff’s Movie Reviews – Joker

Jeff's Movie Reviews

Who’s Laughing now? Anyone? Anyone?

by Jeff Bowles

At one point in time, the Joker was the super villain you loved to hate. Introduced in the very first issue of Batman, published in 1940, the Clown Prince of Crime has spent decades as an icon of the kind of humor that kills. He’s crazy, occasionally buffoonish, almost always invested in some overly complex hair-brained scheme, and what else can be said? The guy loves to laugh.

Except the Joker has evolved in the last ten years or so, predicated by Heath Ledger’s legendary turn in 2008’s The Dark Knight. His Joker was different, more menacing, quicker to kill with a gun or a knife, as opposed to laughing gas or a rubber chicken set to explode. This was not the Joker that generations of fans had grown up with, but Ledger’s performance was outstanding, and the fact that he died before the movie came out only increased his popularity. Warner Brothers and DC Comics seemed to have decided something at that point. The Joker people really wanted to see was less Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson and more Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. Enter Jared Leto’s performance in 2016’s Suicide Squad, which, while certainly enthusiastic, was more or less utterly ridiculous and clearly manufactured to up the ante on Ledger’s Joker on every front.

And now we finally have a Joker standalone film, starring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. It’s R-rated, morose as a funeral, and seems to have misplaced the classic jolly clown that keeps hyenas as pets and shacks up with a blonde in a jester costume. Notably, even DC Comics has altered the Joker in their own source books, because, I suppose, they don’t understand what too much of a good thing is. This character has in recent years been a literal monster, a frightening urban legend, a crazed sadist, who in one famous 2009 story line, removed his own face and pinned it to a wall (though he still had time for a joke or two).

2019’s Joker film has done something with Batman’s arch nemesis that has never been attempted before. It’s taken the fun out of him. Phoenix’s portrayal is both woeful and terrifying, sympathetic and pityingly childlike. Batman isn’t in this movie, but if he were, you’d kind of hate the guy for beating the crap out of poor Arthur Fleck. In basic truth, we never love to hate this Joker. First we feel bad for him, then we want to run the hell away. He’s an unfortunate guy in a series of tremendously unfortunate events who learns the value of self-confidence once and only once he’s blown away three miscreants on the subway. The movie is more or a less a monotone depiction of a modern mass killer. It’s only got one speed: decay.

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More than this, it feeds into the stereotype that people with severe mental illness are dangerous and scary. I hate to break the movie reviewer fourth wall here, but as someone who suffers from schizoaffective disorder, it’s a little demoralizing. As I write this, the guns vs. mental illness debate rages here in America. Phoenix’s portrayal of an alienated, unstable, abused, and traumatized individual who one day decides to take his pain out on the world hits a bit too close to home. We live that reality. Do we also want to watch it on the big screen?

The rest of the cast includes Brett Cullen as Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas, Robert DeNiro as a late night talk show host (completing DeNiro’s King of Comedy destiny), Francis Conroy as Arthur Fleck’s frail mother, and Zazie Beetz, a kind of romantic interest who turns into a Fight-Club-like twist that goes nowhere. A talented cast, not improperly used, but still, to quote the clown himself, why so serious?

And the truly insane thing about it is we’re talking about the Joker! Beloved cultural icon since 1940. Yes, it’s a more realistic version of the character, and yes, the guy has been shown in so many different ways, there’s almost certainly a financially viable infinite multiverse of Jokers who could range from saccharine sweet to, well, Joaquin Phoenix depressing. But for crying out loud, I laughed once and snickered once during the entire running length, and in both those instances, not a single exploding chicken!

I kid of course. Someone ought to.

Ultimately, the real sin of this movie is a cinematic one. It’s a bit of a slog. It’s the equivalent of painting a jolly portrait using only grey. There are no highs, no true delirium, nothing of the brilliance it yearns to express. Joker isn’t exactly a bad movie. It’s probably ill-timed, and it’s debatably irresponsible, but for true Batman fans, it’s gratifying to see a favorite character shown so much respect. Or is that disrespect? Mileage may vary.

If only they’d remembered to invite Batman to the party. Does it say something about 2019 that we’d rather watch a movie about the villain than the hero? Joker is a downward plunge that never comes back up. It never relents, never provides us a single ray of light or shred of hope. That would normally be, you know, Batman’s job to provide. Speaking of which, if the guy dressing up like a giant bat is saner than you are, it’s entirely possible you’re not as funny as you think you are. Which explains… everything, really.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Joker a 6 out of 10.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

GB Cover

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


You can keep up on what Jeff’s been watching and catch all of his great movie reviews the third Friday of each month on Writing to be Read. Subscribe to email or follow on WordPress today.


“God’s Body”: A post-apocalyptic tale with a new kind of hero.

GB Cover

God’s Body, by Jeff Bowles has one of the most masterfully crafted openings that I have read in a long time. By the beginning of the second paragraph, he had placed me in the setting, I knew this was like no other story I had ever read, and I was hooked, which is what a great opening should do. It impressed me so, that I asked the author’s permission to reprint it here.

“The toe was an ungodly mountain of flesh. As massive as it was inexplicable. It clung to the Earth like a bulbous pink tumor. Enormous, all-encompassing, the height of a skyscraper, the breadth of Niagara Falls. Rain water washed through its thick patchwork of crevasses and cracks. Long vertical rivers lapped at skin-cell canyon walls. There were flesh creeks and tidal waves. The toenail itself was the hanging shelf of the world.

Then Harold looked higher and saw the rest. Lord God Almighty…”

FB_IMG_1561221566724 You just can’t read this and not want to know more. It’s obvious this isn’t going to be your average, everyday story, and you must read on in anticipation of what will come next. It’s clear this will be a story of epic proportions, and Bowels does not disappoint. God’s Body is an Armageddon story like no other; a post apocalyptic tale of good vs. evil in the best of pulp fantasy traditions, if such traditions existed. Bowles pulls out all the stops, using humor, irony and contemplation of the human condition to tell his tale with skill and craftsmanship. Everything about this story is of epic scale.

I’m not going to give you a rundown of this story line because the whole thing was such an entertaining read that I wouldn’t want to give out any spoilers, but what I will tell you is that in addition to the wonderful writing talent of Bowles, the artistic craftsmanship of Writer’s of the Future illustrator Pat R. Steiner accompanies this story with some truly awesome illustrations like the one seen here.

A truly original story that puts a new twist to an age-old theme. Written with skill and talent in a literary work of true craftsmanship, God’s Body is like nothing else you’ve ever read. I give it five epic quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.

 


Jeff’s Movie Reviews – Shazam!

Jeff's Movie Reviews

Just say the word.

by Jeff Bowles

(Be sure to check out my video review of Shazam! on YouTube’s Jeff Bowles Central.)

Shazam! is the kind of movie just about anyone can get behind. Film audiences segment into a multitude of groups, but when it comes to comic flicks, you’re either on board for the ridiculousness or you aren’t. Younger audiences tend to take a movie like this more seriously, whereas more mature viewers are often left scratching their heads. When science fiction and fantasy work best, they indulge in a certain real-world approach to emotionality, family, romance, regret, passion, and they do so at high enough levels that any and all nerdy accoutrements go down a little bit smoother, in that for many people out there, they’re extraordinarily hard to swallow.

Shazam! is a big, fun, friendly superhero movie with more heart and humor than just about any other DC Comics offering made in the last twenty years. During a time in which Superman is angst-ridden and Batman is a violent rage-freak, Shazam! understands home is where the heart is. Ask any comic movie fan the difference between the two behemoth companies, Marvel and DC, and you’re likely to hear Marvel is fun and DC is morose. Such is the genius of David F. Sandberg’s new movie. It feels Marvel-fun but engages the kind of deep archetypes and mythic dynamics DC Comics has been famous for since the 1930s.

Billy Batson is an orphan looking for a place to finally call home. He thinks finding his birth mother is the answer, but the truth is, if she’d wanted to be found, he wouldn’t have to break into cop cars and hack suspect ID computers for her deets. Enter the Vazquez family, genuinely supportive parental figures Victor and Rosa, and a full house of five other kids, all of them orphans. The dynamics at play in the Vazquez household expound in wonderful ways when Billy expects disaffection and dysfunction and finds hardcore familial love. And the other kids are all great to watch onscreen, always eager with another funny quip or charming character quirk.

To wit, Billy’s roommate, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), perhaps the best personification of a sympathetic sidekick you’re likely to see all year. He’s disabled, hilarious, and he’s got a keen geek obsession. Superheroes, after all, exist in this world in spades. In fact, one of Batman’s famous baterangs is a star narrative prop, and Freddy’s knowledge of said-comic-isms comes in pretty handy when Billy gets his powers and then has to figure out what the hell to do with them.

Off world or in another realm, or wherever/whenever else you prefer, the ancient god of right-makes-might, Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), searches for a suitable replacement after millennia of tireless service. Unfortunately, the forces of evil are on the hunt for a successor, too. The clock’s seriously ticking, so in a spray of CG pyrotechnics and unexpected altruism on Billy’s part, Shazam summons our would-be hero to his mysterious throne room and endows the kid with strength, speed, flight, and of course, killer lightning powers. All Billy has to do is say his name, and he’ll transform into a musclebound adult version of himself in a red suit and sparkly white cape. Zachary Levi plays the god-like, full-grown superhero with all the adolescent joy, immaturity, and zany recklessness we’d expect from a teenager stuck in a man’s body. This is the where the movie kicks into full Tom Hanks’ Big mode, and Levi is the perfect choice. You get the sense this kind of thing is a walk in the park for him. It’s almost criminal how much fun he appears to be having.

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Just as Billy begins to feel confident in his new dual identity, the evil Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong)—similarly endowed with incredible power, but by monstrous avatars of the seven deadly sins—arrives to threaten his heroic dominance, his life, and all the wonderful new people he’s come to love. The real joy of Shazam! is that it takes for granted how crucial it is to have people who care about and support you. So when Mom and Dad and all the other kids are in danger, we really feel the urgency. The filmmakers value them and what they mean to Billy, and we can’t help but do the same.

Billy Batson may not be a groundbreaking addition to the world of comic movies, but he does offer us a glimpse at a different kind of pop superhero psychology. There’s not much tragedy, horrific scarring, or trauma in his makeup, no more or less than in you or me. It’s almost a relief that the film only sparingly engages in world-ending theatrics. An interesting paradigm emerged in March and April, 2019 when Marvel Studios released Captain Marvel, and Warner Bros./DC released Shazam! As any fan will tell you, Shazam was also originally called Captain Marvel, and years ago, the two companies settled the branding dispute out of court. Apparently, Marvel was dead set on maintaining a character that carried their moniker and DC, well, maybe they realized Shazam is a better name for a boy-in-man combo that literally cannot do anything cool unless he, as the advertising declares, says the word.

But whereas Captain Marvel was a movie about finally realizing the power that always dwelt inside, Shazam! is about a sudden overwhelming change of fortune. Sometimes the thing you need most is right there in front of you. It is also admittedly the ultimate adolescent boyhood fantasy to wake up one day and find out you’ve got super powers. Shazam! won’t win any awards for exploring gender, sexuality, or race, but its heart is in the right place, and lest we forget, we could still be watching scowling Superman beating the crap out of growling Batman for no discernible reason other than MUSLCES! ANGER! KA-POW!

Billy Batson is enormously relatable, the perennial loner and outsider who has so much more to offer people than he knows. Who hasn’t felt unloved? Who’s never been lonely? Yet isn’t there always just a bit of hope in all the neglectful crap we have to put up with? Someday an amazing person will recognize me, and I’ll finally come home. It’s the emotional psychology of a movie like this that makes it so effective. Yes, the world is a terrible place sometimes, but when we take off our costumes and put away our utility belts, all we really want to do is laugh and dream.

On the surface, Shazam! is just another silly superhero movie in a sea of nearly identical offerings. But it’s also a fine example of comic book storytelling done right, supremely enjoyable, heartwarming, surprising, in fact more than enough to redeem the brooding misanthropy of other recent DC films. It rivals the very best of Marvel, and what’s more, it recognizes when a cape is just a cape. You don’t need to wipe out half of humanity or destroy the globe to bring out the hero in people. When the chips are down, all you have to do is say the word.

Shazam!

Am I … am I still here? Still just a slightly overweight yet lovable, handsome, and humble author/movie reviewer? I’ll work on that. We’ll get there, folks.

The new Shazam! movie gets 9 sparkling red tights out of 10


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The first Wednesday of every month, you can find him dispensing writerly wisdom in Jeff’s Pep Talk, right here on Writing to be Read. The best of Jeff’s outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – Short Stories – So Much More!


You can keep up on what Jeff’s been watching and catch all of his great movie reviews the third Friday of each month. Subscribe to email or follow on WordPress today!