For whatever reason, this has been a major short-story year for me. With today’s official release of both Zorro’s Exploits and Tales of Capes and Cowls, I now have six stories published this year, with another five planned between now and the end of 2022.
“What Do You Want from Me, I’m Old?” in The Four ???? of the Apocalypse
“The Rat’s Tail” in The Further Adventures of Grignr
“Ticonderoga Beck and the Stalwart Squad” in Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2022
“Stop Dragon My Heart Around” in Ragnarok and a Hard Place: More Tales of Cassie Zukav, Weirdness Magnet
as-yet-untitled Luminosity story in Phenomenons: Season of Darkness
Of the five remaining for this year, I’ve written “The Rat’s Tail,” I’ve outlined “Ticonderoga Beck and the Stalwart Squad,” I have a basic idea of what both “What Do You Want from Me, I’m Old?” and “Stop Dragon My Heart Around” will be, and I only have a vague idea what the Luminosity story will be, though I can say that it will involve several other characters in the Phenomenons milieu including Sarcastic Fringehead, Red Sky, and La Colosa y La Particula.
By contrast, I haven’t had a novel out this year, and may not unless we get Phoenix Precinct or Feat of Clay out by year’s end, but I’m not entirely optimistic about that. Sigh. Though I guarantee that both will be out before the end of 2023…..
(I still will have a graphic novel — Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness–The Beginning — and a short story collection — Ragnarok and a Hard Place — out this year, at least….)
However, the biggest issue with this movie is the disastrous casting of Anthony Herrera, who has absolutely no charisma whatsoever. Mandrake is supposed to be a performer, but all his magic act serves to do is put the viewer to sleep. He has no stage presence, no spark, no verve, no nothing. His “romance” with Jennifer is laughably absurd.
I never saw Bob Holiday perform the role onstage, though I’ve seen some footage of him, and I gotta wonder why they didn’t cast him in 1975. He’d done the role as recently as four years earlier in a commercial for Aqua Velva. Based on the aforesaid footage, he actually took Collyer and Reeves as his inspiration for how to portray the Man of Steel.
Wilson, by contrast, seems to be using John Travolta’s portrayal of Vinnie Barbarino on Welcome Back, Kotter as his inspiration. Seriously, his Superman sounds less like the man of tomorrow and more like a goombah from Belmont or Bensonhurst.
It’s an alternate present where the U.S. never really recovered from the economic crash of 2008 In the wake of corporate greed more and more taking over the fabric of the nation, the Phenomenons rise to prominence — heroes who fight for the ordinary citizen in a world where they are more and more forgotten and/or oppressed.
Grey Guardsman was the first. He was followed by many others. Better Angel. Black Hat. La Colosa y La Particula. Darya, Benny, Layal, and Qumadah. Lipstick Lilly. Luminosity. <null>. Penny Trouble. Professor Paracelsus. Rascal. Red Sky. Reese & Rodriguez, agents of the CED. Revek. Sarcastic Fringehead. Scopes. Syntax. Torque. Traction. Yoga. And lots more….
Support the Kickstarter and you have access to all kinds of cool rewards, including being a character in one of the stories!
The Phenomenons series isn’t the only superhero anthology I’m involved in this year (and hey, Phenomenons: Season of Darkness is still crowdfunding for another week!). I’ve also got a new Super City Cops story in Tales of Capes and Cowls, edited by C.T. Phipps, published by Crossroad Press. It’s called “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and it’s sharing the space between the covers with C.T., Matthew Davenport, Richard Roberts, Michael Suttkus, my good buddies David Niall Wilson and Aaron Rosenberg, and actor/author Michael Boatman!
It’s available for preorder from Amazon (both Kindle and trade paperback), Barnes & Noble (just Nook at the moment), and Kobo.
For a while now, Michael Jan Friedman has been teasing folks on Facebook and Twitter with images from the above artwork — it’s the unique heroes of Phenomenons, the shared-world superhero universe MJF created for last year’s anthology of that title, subtitled Every Human Creature.
All the heroes in the artwork will be there. Clockwise from the left, we have Penny Trouble (created by Russ Colchamiro and Hildy Silverman), Better Angel (created by MJF), Syntax (also created by Russ & Hildy), Lipstick Lilly (created by Marie Vibbert), and Luminosity (created by me!!!!).
I’m very much looking forward to writing more stories about Luminosity, her best friend De’Andre, and their adventures defending the people of the Bronx. As I type this, we’re already at $1568 of the $8500 goal, and there’s lots of cool rewards and nifty add-ons and, if we make the funding goal, fabulous stretch goals!
Among the rewards, by the by, are Tuckerizations — you (or someone you care about) can be a character in one of the stories! I’ve got three such slots in my own tale, and they’re still available as of this writing…..
There’s also a minor bit of April Foolery about halfway through when Leigh Tyberg, Darin Bush, ToniAnn Marini & Kyle McCraw, and Denise Lhamon all show up with their super pets. (Denise then stuck around for the rest of the panel….)
Once “4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch” caught up to real time in January 2020, it went on hiatus, to be revived every six months or so to look back on the new live-action movies based on superhero comics. Here’s some highlights from the June 2020, December 2020, June 2021, and December 2021 revivals of the feature:
One reason why the revelation that Garrison’s entire background is a lie concocted by Eric is such a dud is because said revelation changes absolutely nothing. Diesel’s one-note Garrison is the same guy throughout the entire movie. It’s hard to get too arsed about a character’s crisis of identity when it does nothing to change anything about that identity in the least.
I love every element of Christina Hodson’s superlative script (Quinn giving Lance a hair-tie in the midst of the fight! The sandwich! Cain having a cast, not because her arm is broken, but so she can be a better pickpocket! The sandwich! Bertinelli hating being called the crossbow killer! The sandwich! Quinn firing bean-bag rounds full of glitter! The fucking sandwich, which is so perfect!), but the thing I love best is that she leans into Quinn’s psychotherapy background. She’s constantly psychoanalyzing the people around her just kind of randomly. I particularly love when Sionis has her tied up and she tries to get him not to do the clichéd detailing of his master plan and she sums up his psychoses in about two seconds.
At least the rest of the cast is trying. They’re still terrible, because they have to speak the words this script gives them, but you can tell they’re at least putting in the effort. Jeffrey Combs and Andrew Divoff are always eminently watchable, and have both made careers out of taking badly written roles and making them compelling, as both are extremely skilled with facial expressions and both have fantastic voices. Isabel Brook and Mónica van Campen have even worse roles, but they also do their best, with Brook in particular being at least vaguely convincing in all the many modes De Camp is required to be in (compassionate shrink, rape victim, person desperately in lust with Jaspers for no obvious reason, and M’s mind slave), and van Campen is obviously having a grand ol’ time as the slinky seductress/sadist. Kudos also to Fermí Reixach as the police commissioner, who does a wonderful job in his epic rant at M right before he dies.
Director Gina Prince-Blythewood deserves a ton of credit here, as the movie manages that perfect balance between strong character work and powerful action sequences that superhero movies rely on if they want to be any good. The fight choreography is also stellar. The four immortals fight like a well-oiled machine, and Freeman—a combat Marine—mixes in well with them. I particularly like how easy they all make it, and I particularly like how the immortals all fight with more aggression than their opponents, simply because they know they can’t be hurt permanently. (I also like that the filmmakers are aware that guns don’t have an infinite supply of ammunition and need to be regularly reloaded.)
The exception is Theron’s Andy, but not just because she becomes mortal partway through the movie—rather it’s because she’s really so much better than anyone else. It’s so effortless for her, she almost seems bored. I used to do karate with a high-ranking black belt—he’s since left our dojo to open his own dojo in a different discipline—and he is an amazing fighter. What blew me away watching him in sparring tournaments is that he barely moved and just made everything look so easy and effortless as he knocked people repeatedly to the ground and kicked them repeatedly in the head. Theron has that same style about her in her fight scenes.
Occasionally, Boone remembers that he’s doing a movie about teens, like when Illyana spikes Reyes’s tea so they can play, or when they sneak up to the attic. But mostly it’s a horror piece, and to drive it home, Boone and Lee have changed every character’s origin just enough to add murder to it. Sam didn’t just blast out of a coal mine, he killed his father and several other miners while doing it. Roberto didn’t just manifest his powers (which now include extreme heat, unlike his comics counterpart) in front of a bunch of people, he killed his girlfriend while doing so. Rahne wasn’t just condemned by her priest, but she killed the priest, too. And the demon bear is apparently a manifestation of Dani’s fear, and it destroyed her home.
But then we have the fact that Steve Trevor’s ghost takes over some random dude’s body and life and nobody ever comments on it! Diana’s wish has, for all intents and purposes ended this guy—who never even gets a name—and she never once expresses a micron of concern for him. This is, frankly, despicable behavior, especially given that Diana and Trevor sleep together, so she’s now also raped this person. The actions are appalling enough on their own terms, but to have it be this character in particular is a disastrous misreading of who Diana/Wonder Woman is not just in her previous movie, but in the rest of this one.
First off, there is absolutely no reason, none, why this movie had to be four hours. Every scene took about twice as long as it needed to, several scenes were utterly pointless and/or repetitive, and the movie is chock-full of unnecessary slow-motion scenes, usually accompanied by some dirge-y rock song or other. Mind you, there are also necessary slow-motion scenes, those being when the Flash is moving very fast, so the rest of the world is in slo-mo to show his perceptions. But the effect of that is severely diluted because half the fucking movie has been in slo-mo up to the point that Barry Allen first shows up.
In many ways, this is the perfect Black Widow movie. Most of the MCU movies have been superheroic twists on existing movie subgenres, and the only way to go with the Widow would be to do a spy thriller, à la James Bond or Jason Bourne.
And we very much get that in Black Widow, from the globe-hopping to the car chase in Budapest to the multiple scenes of hand-to-hand combat to the fancy-ass gadgets to the ridiculous bad-guy headquarters. We get a Black Widow Greatest Hits, with her feigning helplessness to get information (Avengers), kicking ass during a car chase (Age of Ultron), disguising herself with a face mask (Winter Soldier), and coming up with clever strategies to solve problems (Endgame). Oh, and her mad computer skillz (Iron Man 2).
Plus, we get a full accounting of her background, after all the hints dropped in Avengers, Age of Ultron, and Winter Soldier.
As with the last movie, the performances are superb. Margot Robbie is perfection itself as Quinn, and her every scene is gold. The high point of the film is her post-coital murder of Presidente Luna, especially with her lengthy monologue on the subject of her complicated love life while Luna is bleeding out on the floor. Just an epic moment, the perfect Harley Quinn scene. Her escape from captivity, complete with explosions of rose petals behind her, is a close second.
Viola Davis remains great casting as Waller, even though she’s once again written as a psychopath and an incompetent, neither of which she should be portrayed as. This is a woman who got one over on Batman, for crying out loud (in Suicide Squad #10, one of my favorite Batman moments). One of the few women of color in comics, and one of the most complex and interesting characters as originally conceived and written by John Ostrander in the 1980s is reduced to a cardboard villain once again. It’s more misreading of the source material, as is killing off Captain Boomerang. While Jai Courtney is pretty nowhere in the role (Nick Taraby was so much better as Digger Harkness in Arrow), Boomerbutt has been one of the mainstays of this version of the Squad snice 1987, and to kill him off in the first fifteen minutes of the film is like doing an X-Men movie and killing off Wolverine, or a Fantastic Four movie and killing off the Thing.
I haven’t even mentioned the title character, and it’s kind of too bad that Simu Liu stands out so little from his own movie, but that’s mostly because they surrounded him with so many great actors in Awkwafina, Leung, Zhang, Yeoh, and Kingsley. But Liu provides Shang-Chi with a very straightforward heroism that fits with the character he’s based on perfectly. The original comics character was trying to redeem the sins of his father, as well as those he committed himself in his service, and I like the way Liu plays a person who’s trying very hard to run away from a life he doesn’t want. He’s in a boring job that nonetheless pays the bills, he has a good, fun life. But when he’s attacked on the bus, his first thoughts are to keep the other people on the bus safe, and when it’s over, his next thought is of his sister’s safety. When it matters, he antes up and kicks in, which is what heroes are supposed to do.
Kelly Marcel’s script is full of some great lines, most of them Venom’s (Kasady’s are mostly pretty bog-standard oh-look-how-cool-I-am serial killer nonsense, but Harrelson delivers them well). And there are so many great bits, from Venom making a disastrous breakfast while singing, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” to Venom at a rave, to Brock mentioning ice cream and Venom complaining that he gets brain-freeze, to Kasady’s plaintive, “That’s bad journalism!” while bitching about how Brock didn’t tell his side of the story.
It’s funny, there are a lot of ways that this movie reminds me of Watchmen. The death of one of the main characters drives the plot, we get multiple flashbacks, one of the main characters turns out to be a bad guy, and there are way too may characters to fit in one movie.
Indeed, one of my issues with the Zack Snyder adaptation of Watchmen was that the story was badly served by whittling it down to a feature film’s running time, and the same holds true for this. For this to truly achieve the scope it needs to succeed, for the characters to actually have the space to be characters instead of plot movers, for the breadth and depth of the storyline to really get a chance to shine, this needed to be a six-episode series on Disney+.
There are just too many characters here, and very few of them are well served. Most of the actors are doing the best they can, but there just isn’t space to give them room to breathe. The only characters who really work are Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos and Angelina Jolie’s Thena. The former’s eagerness to aid humanity in the flashbacks and his complete burnout in the present day is beautifully played by Henry, while Jolie invests you fully in Thena’s disturbed state.
Almost all the rest of them are either underused or are too busy serving plot functions to actually be interesting characters. Or both.
Conceived by New York Times best-selling author Michael Jan Friedman, this is a superhero universe not quite like anything you’ve ever seen.
Here’s the table of contents:
“Salvaged” by Michael Jan Friedman
“Salt for Gold” by Mary Fan
“The Light Shines in the Darkness” by Keith R.A. DeCandido
“Red Sky in Mourning” by Michael A. Burstein
“Stealing Home” by Aaron Rosenberg
“First Op” by Robert Greenberger
“<null>” by Glenn Hauman
“The Primacy of Gravity” by Paul Kupperberg
“Taking Charge” by Heather E. Hutsell
“Tiny Lives Writ Large” by Dan Hernandez
“The Jungle” by Ron Marz
“Going for the Gold” by Peter David
“Lipstick Lilly versus Electric Lady in the ‘Land” by Marie Vibbert
“Dheeb” by Ilsa J. Bick
“ROI, Part 1: Pigs in a Blanket” by Russ Colchamiro & Hildy Silverman
“ROI, Part 2: Feint of Heart” by Russ Colchamiro & Hildy Silverman
“The Last Rambler” by Geoffrey Thorne
“The Return” by Michael Jan Friedman
The stories feature lots of cool heroes: Black Hat, Colosa & Particula, the Grey Guardsman, Lipstick Lilly, Luminosity, null, Professor Paracelsus, the Ramblers, Sarcastic Fringehead, Syntax, Torque, Zig Zag, and lots more!
My story is about Luminosity, a Bronx-based superhero who used to be an assistant district attorney, and now defends the people of the Boogie-Down. When members of the Bronx Bruisers, a super-powered gang, start trashing small businesses on St. Ann’s Avenue, Luminosity — who can manipulate the entire light spectrum — must stop them while her best friend De’Andra Jones must figure out who’s behind the Bruisers’ attacks.
My story also ties into the stories before and after it, as well. It was fun coordinating stuff with Mary and Michael…..