Tag Archives: superheroes

NEW REVIEW: “Girl Reporter” (2017)

Tansy Rayner Roberts

Book Smugglers Publishing (December 2017)

ISBN: 9781942302629

I have a few authors whose work leaps to the top of my reading queue whenever they bring out a new book or story. Lois Bujold, Martha Wells and JD Robb are some of them – Tansy Rayner Roberts is another. And the best thing about Roberts, much as I’ve always adored her novels, is that she is writing a lot of shorter work these days, both for her Patreon and self-publishing ventures and for publication in major local and international venues. “Girl Reporter” is the third in her Cookie Cutter Superhero-Verse series, which she started with “Cookie Cutter Superhero” back in 2014’s Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press) and continued in the standalone “Kid Dark Against the Machine” (2016, Book Smugglers Publishing). While clearly part of a connected universe, these three stories do work in isolation and you don’t necessarily have to have read any of the others to enjoy this new work. Well, you don’t HAVE to read them in order, but I would certainly recommend it! Each of the stories has a different protagonist and aspect of the larger world building to work in, but there are multiple crossover characters and definite character arcs in play throughout each title. I have a fond hope that at some point, Roberts will bring all the stories (those existing and the ones I hope are still to come) together into a mosaic collection, because it will be one heck of a book.

So, what about this particular story? From the blurb:

In a world of superheroes, supervillains, and a machine that can create them all, millennial vlogger and girl reporter Friday Valentina has no shortage of material to cover. Every lottery cycle, a new superhero is created and quite literally steps into the shoes of the hero before them–displacing the previous hero. While Fri may not be super-powered herself, she understands the power of legacy: her mother is none other than the infamous reporter Tina Valentina, renowned worldwide for her legendary interviews with the True Blue Aussie Beaut Superheroes and her tendency to go to extraordinary lengths to get her story. 

This time, Tina Valentina may have ventured too far. 

Alongside Australia’s greatest superheroes–including the powerful Astra, dazzling Solar, and The Dark in his full brooding glory–Friday will go to another dimension in the hopes of finding her mother, saving the day, maybe even getting the story of a lifetime out of the adventure. (And possibly a new girlfriend, too.)

Friday is a great character, driven and passionate about her reporting, snarky and yet goodhearted, a tad cynical about media and her mother’s role in the superhero universe, and deeply loyal to those she cares about. I love pretty much everything about this book. The pacing and action is fantastic, the links that are built on from earlier works are wonderful, and the characters are all delightful, even the evil ones. As with the earlier stories, there is also an insightful critique of the genre at play, with strong commentary (beautifully incorporated, of course) on the portrayal of women in comics, among other elements. Roberts not only talks the talk, though, she walks the walk through diverse casting and depictions of her characters, making it roundly obvious that reflecting reality through diversity is not just logical, but pretty damn easy as well.

I’m not going to tell you anything more about the book itself, because it’s not all that long and I’d hate to spoil “Girl Reporter” or its predecessors for any new reader. But if you are enjoying DC’s Supergirl or Marvel’s Runaways TV shows, or thought Catherynne M Valente’s Refrigerator Monologues was brilliant, and want a glorious combination of the teen sass of the former with the dark critique in the latter, then you really need to get your hands on “Girl Reporter”.

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New Review: Heroine Complex (2016)

Sarah Kuhn

Daw, 2016

ISBN: 9780756410841

This is the second book I’ve read by Sarah Kuhn, and she certainly has a handle on the geek aesthetic in her work. In One Con Glory, Kuhn basically unpacks the life of a die hard fangirl. In Heroine Complex, she explores superheroes (heroines) and throws in a bit of demon slaying on the side. What’s not to love?

Evie Tanaka isn’t a sidekick, merely the personal assistant for San Francisco’s only proper superhero, Aveda Jupiter. Evie and Aveda had been friends since preschool, but when a demon portal opened up eight years previously, Aveda gained a (smallish) superpower and transformed herself through strength of will and damn hard work into a kick butt superhero. Evie, on the other hand, was more than happy to ignore the unwanted gift she received that day, and after college subsumed herself in supporting Aveda’s lifestyle. Until the day when she has to take Aveda’s place and a threat means her own, unwanted, power is unleashed.

This book reminded me a little of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ “Cookie Cutter Superhero” and “Kid Dark Against the Machine” stories, in that it goes some way to interrogating the genre of superheroes – in this case, Kuhn makes a clear case for representation of non-white characters. Both her female leads are Asian-American (of different backgrounds, gasp!) and the point is made about them being inspired by a movie they loved in their youth, which had three Asian female leads kicking butt. I don’t think the importance of this can be underestimated – I love the quote from Whoopi Goldberg about seeing Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek and deciding that she could be whatever she wanted to be (and oh my, what goes around comes around – Ghostbusters‘ Leslie Jones gushes about Whoopie Goldberg being the reason she knew she could do comedy). In Heroine Complex, I think Kuhn both makes the same point (representation is essential) but also progresses the cause by offering protagonists who are not the generic white urban fantasy heroines we so often see.

If I have one complaint about the book, it’s that the worldbuilding was a little fuzzy for me, but to be honest, it didn’t really matter – the pacing was great, the story rollicked along at a good pace, and the characters were well-drawn and distinct from one another. Quite a big cast of characters but I never got lost in who they all were, although I would have liked more “screen time” for some (Rose the cop was fab!). And the sex scenes, while not prolific, were nicely steamy! I understand this is the start of a series and while it stands alone beautifully, (so don’t be put off!), I will definitely pick up the next instalment and would love to see more like it!

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New Review: Double Down (2016)

Gwenda Bond

Switch Press (2016)

ISBN: 9781630790387

Lois Lane #2

Teen Lois Lane is settling into school, her baby-journalist job, and a new, somewhat unexpected friendship group, all of which is a bit new for her. But Lois wouldn’t be Lois if she didn’t have a nose for disorder, and between that and her loyalty to those she cares about, the scene is set for mystery, adventure and imminent danger. When her friend Maddy’s twin sister starts experiencing odd turns, Lois is drawn into investigating the source of the problem. Uncovering some weird science and a link to their other friend James’s father’s past disgrace, the situation quickly escalates. On top of everything else, Lois’s online confidant, who she knows only as SmallvilleGuy, has concerns too – and what concerns him, naturally concerns her. It’s a recipe for trouble, and Lois is in the thick of it, where she likes it best.

My favourite part of this book is the sweet unfolding relationship between Lois and SmallvilleGuy (who, duh, is clearly Clark/Superman) – I like the way Lois approaches the friendship and her maturity in discussing it with him. It’s nice that they look out for and support each other, even if it’s isn’t in the real world, as such. I also enjoyed Lois’s friendship with her sister, which is far more believable than the one she has with her parents…

Believability is my biggest issue with this book, and indeed, the series so far. Possibly it’s because I’m not really the target audience. This is definitely a young adult novel – it’s written that way and it hits the beats for it. YA is usually my thing but these ones don’t have the usual appeal – I’m hoping it isn’t because I’m ageing out of the field, because YA is where most of the interesting stuff is! I think that more likely, it’s to do with the medium. What can work in a graphic form, in comics, doesn’t always translate into fiction. While these are written as original novels, the source material is comics. Teenage heroes (be they super or otherwise) are generally unlikely, in any shape. The way Lois interacts with the adult authority figures in her life is bordering on bizarre. She is sixteen but thinks nothing of the way she wrangles her parents, her boss (Perry White), her principal, and in this book, the mayor and plenty of others. It strains my credulity too far, and just doesn’t work. And I don’t think the worldbuilding of the book quite supports the extent of the suspension of disbelief we need – the “science” of this story, while feeling quite natural in the comics, doesn’t quite gel for me within the context of the otherwise fairly realistic setting of the story.

Having said that, the mechanics of the story are fine, although I think it perhaps takes a little long to get to the point. There’s lovely character development among Lois’s merry band of teen journos, and enough action to keep things going. While I didn’t love it, I’m on board to find out where Bond takes Lois and SmallvilleGuy in this iteration, and I’ll happily pick up the next book.

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