THE SIGNALVERSE VERSUS…

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I was thumbing through the DC vs. Marvel trade paperback yesterday, and because I’m a huge nerd, it got me to thinking about how the Signalverse would fare if its heroes had to square off against the heroes of the DC or Marvel universes. Honestly, I don’t think they’d do too well.

Against DC, the Signalverse’s heroes would be destroyed. Altair or Dead Ed might’ve been a match for Superman at one point, but as of 2017 there aren’t any characters in the Signalverse that come close to Superman’s power levels. Miracle Girl, Ataxal, Farmboy, Smash Hit, maybe Hollywood Gold…these are the Signalverse’s toughest heroes, in terms of sheer strength, and I can’t see any of them going toe-to-toe with Superman (I’ve always imagined Miracle Girl as being a weaker version of Supergirl; she’s gonna have trouble lifting anything more than about ten tons). I guess the Quantum Man might be able to do something to Superman — he’s got some oddball powers — but he’s not super-strong, or super-fast, and he’s not really much of a fighter. He’d have to get the drop on him or something.

As for the speedsters, well, the Flash can run at the speed of light; the Signalverse’s fastest runner, Overclocked, tops out at about twelve miles per second. Considerably slower.

So Superman and the Flash, just by themselves, are going to represent a pretty serious problem; throw in Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, and the Kon-El Superboy, and you’re looking at a blowout. Even Batman would be trouble for the Signalverse’s heroes; the closest equivalent to Batman in the Signalverse is probably the Shadower, and he’s really more of a detective than a fighter. Quarterstaff or Nightdragon might give him a pretty good fight, I guess.

Against Marvel…again, there really isn’t anyone in the Signalverse who could plausibly stand up to the Hulk, or even Thor. That said, there are plenty of Signalversers who might offer Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America, or Iron Man a run for their money: Shieldmaiden, the Ancient Greek, Ol’ Hickory, Vermillion, and Flechette would probably be decent competition.

THE SIGNAL CITY VISITOR’S GUIDE: BIGGER AND BETTER

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Finally! The new Signal City Visitor’s Guide is now available on MagCloud.

You can view/download the entire book FOR FREE on MagCloud (they’ll give you a PDF) or, if you’d like, you can buy the print edition for something like $15 bucks, plus shipping.

So what is this thing? Well, it’s a guide to the Signalverse, the superhero world I created for The Adventures of Jack and Miracle Girl book series. It includes a fourteen-page time line, some information about the setting, all of the artwork Tom Martin has done for the series, and an insane amount of character biographies: it’s got entries for close to three hundred and fifty superheroes/supervillains. The first edition of the Visitor’s Guide, which I released back in 2015, was fifty pages; this one is nearly seventy.

Please note, this thing is absolutely full of MAJOR SPOILERS. If you’re at all interested in this series, please consider reading the novels before you check it out.

WHAT I’M READING

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Here’s some thoughts on some of the books I’ve read this year.

Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920’s, by Frederick Lewis Allen. This is a short history of the 1920’s, written in the early 1930’s. Pretty good stuff. (I read this book, and several other histories of the 1920’s, for research purposes — I was planning on writing the first Sam Fortune novel this year. Unfortunately I never got around to it.)

Power-Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World An Extra Life, by Chris Kohler. A fun little history book.

Call to Adventure! by Aloha Wanderwell Baker. The autobiography of Aloha Wanderwell, who had a pretty strange life. In 1921, when she was sixteen years old, she started travelling around the world in a Model T with a nutty Polish guy and fell into all kinds of crazy adventures. I read this one partly for research purposes, too; one of my characters (from Sam Fortune) is loosely based on her.

The Sweet Science, by A.J. Liebling. Great boxing book. One of the best.

Astro City: Honor Guard and Astro City: Reflections, by Kurt Busiek, et al. Liked ’em both.

Midnight At the Well of Souls, by Jack Chalker. This was a deeply strange book, full of weird transformations, some head-scratching preachiness (I don’t really know what Chalker was trying to say here, although I did like the anti-communist bent), a plot that didn’t really amount to anything, characters I didn’t care about, a revelation near the end that made me roll my eyes, and an oddball genderbending finale that I didn’t really get. Chalker wrote something like six or seven more books in this series, but I don’t think I’m going to be reading any more. (In fact the only reason I picked up this one was because I once read, or at least started reading, a different Chalker novel — a fantasy novel — back in the 7th grade, and for nostalgia’s sake I wanted to get a sense of what this guy’s writing was all about. Well, now I know.)

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen. Excellent. I liked it maybe a little bit more than Sense and Sensibility, but not as much as I liked Pride and Prejudice or Emma. It’s a more complex novel, I think, with more complex characters; the object of Fanny’s affections, Edmund, is much more unsteady than either Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley, and Henry Crawford didn’t seem as irredeemable to me as George Wickham (for a while I actually thought he was going to succeed with Fanny). But that extra complexity gave it a strange flavor, and a melancholy feel; the ending, especially, was a little rough. Obviously everything ends happily, but unlike in Pride and Prejudice, where the family is saved (barely) from disgrace, here the disgrace actually takes place, which makes the happy ending feel a little…off.

But whatever; it was a great book, and an absolute masterpiece of lucid and elegant writing. Austen’s prose is just wonderful.

The Sound of Waves, by Yukio Mishima. Lovely, lovely book. Highly recommended.

Promise of Blood, by Brian McClellan. A fantastic flintlock fantasy. I’m currently reading the sequel, The Crimson Campaign.

Tom Derringer in the Tunnels of Terror, by Lawrence Watt-Evans. Great stuff. For straight-up adventure, you can’t go wrong with this series.

ABOUT BLAKE HUNTER

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I keep meaning to explain who the guy in the pointy mask is (the one I’m using as my avatar on the left-hand side of this page).

The character is Blake Hunter, and he’s basically my mascot. My friend Ant and I created the character during our freshman year of high school; he began life as a goofy, trigger-happy superhero who owned his own time machine and fought bad guys like BoogerBooger and the Indestructible Turd (we were teenagers, so we thought this stuff was hilarious). We started drawing these crazy superhero comics starring him and his friends (guys like Feelerman, Bubbleman Bob, and the patriotic Freedumb), but after a while we more or less dropped the superhero stuff, and the comics turned into slice-of-life strips where we made fun of our teachers and complained about our day-to-day lives at school. Blake Hunter turned into a stand-in for me.

Although Blake Hunter was supposed to be the main character of these strips, the real star was Mr. D, a weird pointy-headed robot character based on our friend Manleys. Manleys was/is a very strange guy, who seemed to have no filter between his brain and his mouth; he was always making us laugh by saying these ridiculously crude, outrageous things. Ant made him my archenemy in the comics, probably because the two of us were always taking shots at each other.

We never really did anything with these comics, partly because they were really poorly drawn (Ant’s not bad, but I’m a terrible artist) but mainly because they were so full of inside jokes that we were the only ones capable of understanding them. This was my first attempt at creating a superhero world, though, and some of the silly characters from those strips eventually became Signalverse characters: Dead Ed, Stormchaser (originally Mr. Atmosphere), Nightdragon, and a handful of other heroes were all based on Blake Hunter characters.

A version of Blake Hunter actually exists in the Signalverse as well — he’s a member of the Time League, with Lucy Wright. I haven’t actually mentioned him in the novels yet, but maybe someday I’ll find a story for him.

Here’s some fairly recent three-panel Blake Hunter strips. Warning, some of these are a bit off-color.

THE WHITE RIBBON RUNS THE RED LIGHTS

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I’m getting ready to release the fifth Signalverse novel, The White Ribbon Runs the Red Lights. Here’s the cover, by Tom Martin:

And here’s the back-of-the-book copy:

While investigating a string of very strange robberies in Signal City, teenaged hero Kaden encounters a rookie crime-fighter working the same case: a standoffish girl calling herself the White Ribbon. The two of them don’t get along, but after accidentally discovering one another’s secret identities, the two of them reluctantly decide to join forces to solve the baffling thefts…and soon find themselves in over their heads. Haunted swords, a sinister cult, and a dark figure from Kaden’s past quickly turn their investigation into a deadly free-for-all…and leave the both of them wondering whether they’re really cut out to be heroes.

I’m hoping to release the book around mid-to-late November. The reason for the delay? Well, against my better judgement, I started working on a revised, updated version of the Signal City Visitor’s Guide a few months ago, and I’d like to release both the novel and the guide within a few days of each other. (This new Visitor’s Guide is gonna be insane. It’s got a fourteen-page time line, covering everything from 1926 to 2018, and entries for over three hundred and fifty characters. It’ll also have all of the art Tom’s done for the series and an updated map of Signal City.)

AND BACK TO THE SIGNALVERSE…

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My original plan, after finishing up Disreputable Persons, was to take a step back from the Signalverse and start work on an entirely new series — a trilogy of short pulp adventure stories set in the 1920’s, starring a Tommy gun-toting tough guy named Sam Fortune. Unfortunately I ran into some trouble plotting out the first book, and after tearing my hair out for a couple of weeks I finally decided to put it aside and jump back into the Signalverse again, with a story idea I already had pretty well worked out. I’ve been working on it ever since, and I’m hoping to finish it now by the end of the month.

It still doesn’t have a title (I’ve always been terrible at coming up with titles), but it’s about a couple of teenage superheroes who accidentally learn one another’s secret identities, and who eventually find themselves working together to solve a crazy little mystery. It’s a little darker than the previous Signalverse books — the protagonist, Kaden, is antisocial, and kind of messed up — but I think it’s a little deeper, too. We’ll see.

After I finish this one, I’ll either be giving Sam Fortune another try, or I’ll be starting work on an anthology of Signalverse stories (Signal City Adventures, Volume One). I’d also like to put out a new, updated edition of the Signal City Visitor’s Guide, because the original is a little out of date now, but that’s probably a few years away yet.

Some links: Lawrence Watt-Evans had some nice things to say about my books at his blog, and the superheronovels.com website was kind enough to review Disreputable Persons back in April.

PROLOGUE: THE CHEMICAL EMPIRE

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Just for the heck of it, here’s the prologue to the flintlock fantasy I started working on last year (I think I mentioned it here a few months ago). Not sure if I’ll ever actually finish this thing, because I’ve got a bunch of other projects I’d like to finish up first, but…well, we’ll see.

The body was lying facedown in the mud.

Drom crossed his arms over his chest and looked down, studying the dead man for a long moment. He’d been tall, probably a bit over six feet, with long, gangly arms and legs. His head, completely bald, was eggshell-white, and oddly clean; the white was stark against the brown of the mud. He’d been dragged out of the river and deposited on a swampy section of the left bank, beyond the West Bend, near the very heart of the city — the Grand Avenue Bridge was only about half a mile upriver, though the early morning fog was too thick for Drom to make it out from where he stood.

He glanced at the man standing next to him, the man who’d discovered the body. “You were the one who fished him out?”

The man made a nervous gesture, a sort of shrug. He was a small, ratty-looking fellow — probably a smith or factory worker of some kind, judging from his soot-stained clothes — and was clearly unnerved by the fact that he was speaking to one of the army’s Royal Investigators.

“Yes, sir,” he said. “He was floating down the river, just a few feet from the bank, when Mel and I spotted him. I waded out there and grabbed a boot and dragged him up there into the mud, as you can see.” He paused, then added, “I didn’t touch him elsewise.”

Drom nodded, tugging thoughtfully at his beard. “Good.”

“Mel was the one who said we should fetch the Constabulary,” the man continued, jerking a thumb at his friend, who was standing somewhere within the crowd of onlookers further up the riverbank. “We wouldn’t have bothered, you know, if we’d thought he was just some poor old drunk. We’ve seen people in the river before. But…that coat…”

He nodded again. The dead man’s coat, stained and splattered thought it was, was indeed striking: it was a heavy woolen greatcoat, blue, with yellow cuffs and a yellow collar. The yellow threads were silk.

The boots he wore were expensive as well, and there was a long, white cravat, painted now with mud, swirled around his neck. The man might have been a drunk, Drom thought idly, but he certainly hadn’t been a poor one.

“Thank you,” he said to the man. “You’ve done us a service. Lieutenant? Get down there.”

His partner, Prevyn, had already removed his boots and rolled his trouser legs up to his knees. The kid was nothing if not enthusiastic. “You got it.” And he made his way down to the river, pushing aside the tall grass, his bare feet squelching into the muck.

“Turn him over,” Drom called out, when Prevyn had reached him.

The lieutenant did as he was told, grabbing the dead man by his impressive coat and twisting him right side up. It took a bit of struggling.

The man’s face was covered in mud, obscuring his features. “How old, do you think?” Drom asked.

“Hard to say. Fifties? Maybe sixties? Say, this is a nice coat.”

“Drag him up here.”

Prevyn took hold of one of the dead man’s ankles and began hauling him up the slope. After a moment, however, he stopped, having apparently spotted something lying in the mud. “Oh,” he said, startled. “Oh. This is interesting.”

“What is it?” Drom demanded impatiently.

The younger man reached down and plucked an object out of the mud, holding it up for Drom to see. “Pistol,” he said, grinning. “Must’ve had it on him.”

Drom frowned. “Contacter?”

Prevyn shook some of the mud off, then snapped the barrel down and had a look in the chamber. “Yeah. Still there.”

“Well, bring it up here, too.”

He complied. When he had finally hauled the body onto dry land, Drom ventured down the slope to examine the corpse himself.

“What do you think?” Prevyn asked. He was trying look professional, but his excitement was getting the better of him; he was still wearing that big grin.

“I think he’s dead,” Drom deadpanned. He felt the man’s fingers, which were cold and stiff. “He’s been in the river for a while. Four, five hours.”

“He was rich,” Prevyn opined. “Nobility, maybe.”

The front of the man’s coat was covered in mud, brown and black, but there was another color mixed in there as well: a dark red. Drom, frowning again, unbuttoned the coat and opened it up.

The man’s chest was stained with blood.

“He’s been shot,” Prevyn remarked, surprised. “Someone shot him.”

Drom used his knife to cut the dead man’s shirt down the front. “Twice,” he said, finding the bullet holes. “Twice in the chest.” It was a grisly sight, but Drom, a Royal Investigator for fifteen years, was more than accustomed to grisly sights. “And that pistol you found wasn’t the one that killed him. Look at the size of these wounds. Rifle, most likely.”

“We could check his pockets,” Prevyn suggested.

“I’ll take care of that,” Drom told him. He glanced up at the crowd of onlookers, which seemed to be growing. “You get rid of those gawkers.”

“What about the man who fished him out? You want to keep him around, question him further?”

“No. We got what we needed out of him. Get rid of those gawkers, then run back to Stonebridge and get a carriage we can haul this guy away in.”

“Right, right.” He made his way up the slope and began waving the people away, while Drom checked the deep pockets of the man’s greatcoat.

He had a second contacter in his right pocket. He’d also had a pair of silver coins in that pocket, which, jostling around, had come into contact with the aurichalcum contacter; both silvers were unnaturally heavy now, at least five pounds each. He put them back, then tried the other pocket.

There was a small piece of parchment inside. It was wet and waterlogged, the ink running off the paper, but was still mostly readable. It appeared to be a list of books: The Legacy of Sayowail and Rassaseel, The Monuments of the Rahomme, and Western Curiosities, among others. The handwriting was exquisite.

There was one more item in that pocket — a golden sinecure badge, with the royal sigil engraved on one side and an open book engraved on the other.

“Hmm. Hmm.”

He was still studying the badge when Prevyn returned with a carriage. “Find anything?” the lieutenant asked.

“Help me drag him up to the street,” Drom said. “We’re taking him back to Stonebridge.”

“And then what?”

“And then we’re having breakfast. And then we’re heading out again, to West Bend. To the Library.”

“We are?”

He nodded, turning the sinecure badge over and over with his fingers. “We’ve got work to do. Eleutrinia’s one and only Royal Historian was running around with a pistol last night — Esule knows why — and someone armed with a chemical rifle killed him and dumped his body in the Eleuniath.” He put the sinecure badge in his own pocket. “We’re going to find out who, and we’re going to find out why.”

Prevyn grinned an enormous grin. “Ooh. This sounds like fun.”

DISREPUTABLE PERSONS!

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My latest novel, Disreputable Persons, is now available on Amazon, in both print and Kindle editions. You can buy it here. The “Look Inside” feature doesn’t seem to have kicked in yet, unfortunately, but if you’d like to read a sample, you can check out the first chapter here.

I think it turned out okay.