The Silver Stranger — Chapter One

The Silver Stranger is almost ready. After a little more polishing, I’ll be putting it into production, and we should see it fairly early in 2022.

In the meantime, be sure to read the first book, The Flying Woman, if you haven’t already. And if you have (thank you!), here’s the current draft of The Silver Stranger‘s first chapter …

*****

Copyright 2021 Daniel R. Sherrier. All Rights Reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

The Silver Stranger

By Daniel Sherrier

1.

All lanes on the Poseidon Bridge stopped dead, though not due to any obstructions in the road. The winged unicorns were fighting the Terrific Trio in the sky, after all, leaving drivers free to proceed. But whether entering the island of Olympus City or exiting to Santa Monica, they all rated their destination far less compelling than the spectacle taking place high above the water.

The rubberneckers were perhaps hoping for any passing glimpse of Ultra Woman overpowering a creature with her impossible strength, or Mr. Amazing repelling another with his telekinesis, or Fantastic Man blinding one with a burst of dazzling light. Several spectators poked their heads and arms out windows, or emerged from their vehicles entirely and congregated along the guardrails. Some photographed. Some filmed. Some simply watched in wonder. All enjoyed the show. It was entertainment plus a jolt of adrenaline. More than likely, the fate of the city was at stake, maybe the fate of the world, but wasn’t it spectacular?

Alyssa Henson held her gaze straight ahead, her narrow face resting in a frown. She sat in the back of a taxi cab, one piece of luggage at her side and the rest in the trunk, as she waited for forward momentum to resume and carry her into Olympus, to her new life. Right now, though, she could focus on nothing but one little girl.

The child had climbed up the concrete guardrail and was holding onto the metal bar—the only thing separating her from a hundred-foot plunge into the Pacific Ocean. The hazard did not deter her. The fearless child watched the sky as the superheroes flew higher, directing the creatures’ energy blasts upward, away from even the most imposing skyscrapers in the center of Olympus.

A few adults stood nearby. None issued a warning to get down right this second, young lady. They faced the other way, toward the battle in the distance.

The girl wobbled, then steadied herself. The momentary loss of balance failed to alert her to the reality of her own peril.

Alyssa’s heart thudded. 

The little girl leaned forward, sticking her head out over the railing. She couldn’t have been more than seven. No one paid her any attention. All they had to do was tell her to get down before she fell. If they were expecting an instant superhero rescue, they were neglecting the fact that the superheroes were preoccupied battling unicorns thousands of feet away.

The girl stood tall on the guardrail, and her hand vacated the bar to shield her eyes from the sun.

Alyssa jumped out of the cab. And stopped immediately.

A potbellied man, presumably the father, tugged the girl off the guardrail and hoisted her onto his shoulders. From this improved perch, she waved at the superheroes.

Her assistance not needed after all, Alyssa slunk back into the cab, appreciating its warmth. She wrapped her black leather jacket tightly around her bony form. The January air was a touch too cold, but still more comfortable than back home. With her fingers, she brushed her auburn hair away from her face.

“How was the view out there?” asked the cab driver, a bearded, heavyset man.

“Oh, I was just—” She decided not to get into it. “Not much better. It’s all pretty far away.”

“I met them once,” the driver said with a proud nod. “The Terrific Trio.”

Alyssa reminded herself to be polite. “That’s … nice.”

“They saved my life. I was driving my cab here, and all of a sudden—bam! This huge guy, one of those supervillains, lifts my car into the air, with me in it, and get this, he throws me.”

Alyssa got the impression the driver had told this tale a few dozen times already. His broad smile shone from beneath his abundant facial hair as his hands illustrated the trajectory of the thrown car. Becoming a supervillain’s projectile was the greatest thing that ever happened to the poor guy, judging from his exuberant tone. The story went on for a few minutes. Meanwhile, the cab’s fare meter ticked upward; the odometer did not.

“—and then Ultra Woman swoops down and clocks the big guy right on the—look! There she is!”

The driver peered up through his windshield and pointed, his finger quivering in unbridled excitement, like he had spotted Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

Ultra Woman wrapped an arm around a unicorn’s neck as they swerved over the bridge, though it was unclear which of them was doing the steering. They twirled, and Ultra Woman’s cape billowed as they tipped toward the water.

Green tights and a scarlet cape, plus a fierce bird symbol of some sort on the chest. A twenty-something adult was wearing, essentially, pajamas. Alyssa wondered how she showed her face in public dressed like that.

She didn’t. She wore a mask, as did the other two.

Nevertheless, as Ultra Woman tamed the aggressive creature, avoiding its horn blasts while ensuring no one got hurt, Alyssa had to admit—it was kind of impressive, in a way.

The driver certainly thought so. He pointed his cell phone at the action and snapped pictures, even though said action was drifting farther from the bridge and rising ever higher above the water. And he was hardly the only bystander angling for the perfect shot.

The unicorns herded around Ultra Woman. Each one’s hide was a different color, and a vibrant color at that, and their wings sported the entire rainbow, shifting from red on one tip all the way to violet on the opposite side. They seemed too bright to be menacing.

One unicorn tagged Ultra Woman with an energy blast from its horn, but she swiftly recovered and slammed her fist against that unicorn’s hide, moving so fast that she became a blur. One second later, four unicorns plunged toward the water.

Alyssa wondered what such power would feel like. She imagined herself flying as Ultra Woman—the rushing wind against her face, the confidence of knowing she possessed greater physical strength than any person living or dead, the lack of fear that came with such might. The speed would be the best of all. Such a practical power. A super-fast person would never need to rely on a taxi, for example.

The fare meter crept ever higher.

More unicorns flew from the city, pursued by Mr. Amazing. He had a cape, too, and his mask shrouded his entire head. Unlike Ultra Woman, he dressed almost in monochrome, clad in a dark gray up and down with the exception of a ruby letter A on his chest. His appearance was slightly less ridiculous, though the blank mask didn’t help; it looked like someone stuffed a tight bag over his face and he somehow failed to notice.

Mr. Amazing waved his arms in multiple directions, batting unicorns away without touching any, while Ultra Woman swirled around them at super-speed, hammering her opponents from all sides. The pair fought the whole relentless herd while the bridge spectators treated this as a thrilling gladiatorial contest. Alyssa wanted to know if the superheroes could hear their fans’ cheers, and whether their egos required it.

The cheering spiked when a thin beam of light streaked across the sky. But this light was no ordinary collection of photons. Sometimes, this light was a person, a guy who answered to the name Fantastic Man.

Fantastic Man’s ability to manipulate light may have had some practical uses, too, but his ability to transform his entire body into light … Alyssa found that unsettling. She watched the shimmering beam swerve around the unicorns, and she shuddered.

The light pulsed directly at several unicorns’ eyes, disorienting them while Ultra Woman and Mr. Amazing attacked.

“Aren’t they great?” the cab driver said.

Alyssa wanted to think so. She wanted to get swept up in the excitement with everyone else. She felt the tug; it threatened to lift the corners of her mouth into a smile as Ultra Woman knocked out three unicorns with a single mighty blow. But a little girl could have died today.

“What the hell even causes a unicorn attack in the first place?” Alyssa blurted out.

The driver stroked his beard, his eyes glinting as he watched the creatures. “We never really know about these things until after the fact. But my bet?” He took pride in his hunch, perhaps envisioning himself as the master sleuth puzzling out the mystery. “This whole thing screams Doctor Hades.”

He said the name as though Alyssa would obviously know it. She was slightly embarrassed that she did know the name, though not much more than that. She tried to refrain from reading fantasy stories in the news. Often, she succeeded. It helped that the bizarre occurrences seldom spread beyond Olympus.

The driver’s eyebrows jumped in the rearview mirror. “Do you not know about Doctor Hades? Been living under a rock, have you?” he added with a good-natured smile.

“I vaguely recall hearing about him. I was busy finishing up school, so I haven’t been paying much attention to anything else.”

The driver nodded. Education was, evidently, the most acceptable excuse for lack of super-heroic knowledge. “Ah, yes. Good you focus on the books. What did you study?”

She hated the question. She hated the answer more, and her volume dropped as she said it. “Dental hygiene.”

It took the driver a second to catch the response; the action was too distracting. “Oh, you’re a dental hygienist? I’ve got a cousin who’s a hygienist. She loves it—she’s coming up on twenty years in her office. It’s such a nice, stable profession. You don’t get the ups and downs that so many other industries go through. Everyone always needs clean teeth—and transportation.” He chuckled like they were sharing a joke, one Alyssa didn’t want to understand. “You and me, we’re practical people.”

Alyssa attempted a polite laugh. The effort collapsed after a second, though the driver was too busy watching the battle outside to notice.

“Yeah, this has got to be a Doctor Hades plot,” the driver said. “Now, listen—in Olympus, you should know about Doctor Hades. So let me tell you …”

And he did. Doctor Hades—real name Warner something or something Warner, the driver couldn’t recall exactly—used to be a mediocre scientist. Frustrated by his failures, Doctor Hades developed a suit of golden armor, into which he implanted advanced weaponry and defensive capabilities. Lasers, force fields, invisibility, computers of extraordinary sophistication—all this, and perhaps more, was at his disposal. His villainous career kicked off right around the same time that the Terrific Trio formed, and they had locked horns several times over the past year and change. Doctor Hades frequently employed unusual combinations of futuristic weapons and unnatural creatures in his diabolical schemes, but the murderous madman always failed.

The reference to murders caught Alyssa off guard. Most of the super-criminals she had read about were just that—eccentric bank robbers or aggressive blowhards seeking attention. But, she was now recalling, a few were reported to have homicidal intentions. “Has he actually killed people?”

The driver lowered his head solemnly. “He has, several times. If not for the Terrific Trio, he’d have killed so many more.”

Dread tightened her gut. Alyssa hadn’t really considered to what extent she was jeopardizing her life simply by moving into this city. Several supervillains popped up after Doctor Hades, their ranks steadily growing, but the Terrific Trio never needed to update their name. She asked the driver, and he confirmed it. Not a single new superhero since Ultra Woman and Mr. Amazing joined Fantastic Man the summer before last.

“We’ll know for sure if Doctor Hades is behind this by the end of the day,” the driver said. “Fantastic Man’s pretty good about keeping the press in the loop. I like how forthright he is. Always a true sign of character.”

“What’s his real name?” The question came out ruder than Alyssa intended.

The cab driver had a ready answer. “That’s none of our business. The man’s got to protect his friends and family. All three of them do.”

Alyssa wondered why other occupations didn’t rate that same consideration, but she refrained from pressing the issue any further. She instead watched Ultra Woman and Mr. Amazing hold their own against dozens of violent unicorns—more than hold their own. Alyssa lost track of the living light, but the junior members appeared unscathed. If they were tiring, they didn’t show it. Ultra Woman even seemed to be smiling, though it was difficult to confirm at this distance.

“What’s the point of this?” Alyssa asked. “What does Doctor Hades even want, and why are weird creatures the way to go about achieving it?”

“Oh, he’s just a crazy guy who wants to spread terror.” The driver sounded certain. “If we fear him, that’ll be reward enough. Try not to think too much about it. You’ll just drive yourself crazy.”

Alyssa squinted at a sky overrun with unicorns, and she decided this looked like way too much work just to mess with people, especially if the superheroes were always able to overpower whatever Doctor Hades created. Question after question bounced around within her skull, each one seeking release: If Doctor Hades was such a failure as a scientist, how did he develop all the advanced technology in his armor? What field of science did he specialize in? What was he working on before the armor? Did anyone know? Did anyone care? 

The questions found no outlet. Instead, Alyssa muttered, “It can’t be that simple.”

“Did you see that?” The driver pointed through the windshield. “Mr. Amazing scattered a whole herd of them, and all he did was wave his arms around! Oh, I’m sorry—did you say something?”

Alyssa shook her head. “Never mind. It’s nothing.”

The battle ended in an anticlimax a few minutes and a higher cab fare later, when the unicorns collapsed all at once. Each one convulsed in the same manner, and they plunged to their deaths—to whatever extent they were alive in the first place. Mr. Amazing stretched his neck from side to side while Ultra Woman dusted off her hands. She gave a quick, wide wave to the bridge crowd, and the pair flew back into the city.

Alyssa assumed Fantastic Man dealt with the source of the unicorns after he vanished. If there was any showdown with Doctor Hades, or whoever the perpetrator was, it would likely happen out of public view, which disappointed Alyssa. But that was silly, she told herself. So she wouldn’t see childish fisticuffs between people in outlandish pajamas. This was not something that merited disappointment.

People calmly returned to their vehicles as though unicorns hadn’t imperiled their lives. Alyssa spotted the little girl climbing into her parents’ backseat, all smiles and without any sense of her own mortality.

Traffic again moved. It didn’t move fast, but it rolled in the proper direction.

Alyssa stared at the water under which dead unicorns were sinking.

“I take it that was your first time seeing the Terrific Trio?” the driver asked.

“Yeah, I guess it was.”

“You don’t seem all that excited.”

Alyssa almost asked if she was obligated to gush about the Terrific Trio, if she had committed some grave faux pas by not taking a selfie against the backdrop of lethal unicorns, if her excitement ceased to exist because it was imperceptible.

She gritted her teeth and said nothing.

The driver’s face softened, and his tone exuded empathy. “I know it seems a little scary at first, but trust me, we were never in any real danger, not with the Terrific Trio guarding us.”

It appeared that way, but Alyssa feared the sense of security was nothing more than a pleasant fiction. Without knowing precisely what Doctor Hades, or whoever, was up to, how could she feel safe? She thought of Cold War children hiding under their desks during bomb drills, as if ordinary wood and plastic were sufficient protection against an atomic attack, and she wondered if those kids had understood the futility of it all.

“And just think,” the driver continued, “you’ve now seen proof, with your own eyes, that life is incredible.”

Alyssa silently agreed. What she saw lacked any credibility. And yet it happened.

“Doesn’t it make you want to smile?” the driver said.

Alyssa considered humoring him, manufacturing a false grin as she had so many times in recent years. She instead pretended not to hear his last statement, and she gazed out the window for the rest of the ride, registering little.

Images from the super-battle flashed across her mind. Ultra Woman seemed like she enjoyed herself out there. If Alyssa had her power, she would have pulled that little girl off the guardrail in a blink, without giving the matter a second thought.

*****

End of excerpt.

Stay tuned for updates! The Silver Stranger is coming…

‘Lois & Clark’ and How to Avoid Jumping the Shark in Sixty-Seven Simple Steps

I’ve been rewatching Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman on and off for the past few years. The first two seasons are a lot of fun. It’s a cheesy show, absolutely, but during those first two years, it was satisfying cheese that hit the spot and got the characters exactly right—certainly far better than any recent movies have.

Then, in the third season, the cheese spoiled.

I can only assume the writers were afraid the show might jump the shark if Lois and Clark got married too early, so they contrived all sorts of ways to delay the nuptials. It started with typical TV shenanigans—he wants to get married, but she doesn’t, and then she wants to get married, but he doesn’t, like they mistook themselves for Ross and Rachel.

Such antics, alas, did not buy enough time to let the shark pass un-jumped. The prospect of marriage loomed. Unable to conceive of a marriage with dramatic tension, the writers got creative.

Right before the wedding, Lois gets replaced by a frog-eating clone, and then, thanks to a bump on the head, she loses her memory and develops an alternate personality. Now, you might expect that the amnesia would be reversed by a second bump on the head, but you’d be mistaken, because, in a stunning subversion of the trope, a second bump on the head gives her more amnesia.

But the season’s not over yet! These were the Before Streaming days of 22 episodes a season, so even as Lois’s memory returned, the dreaded shark still swam within leaping distance, and the writing staff cowered in fear of this series-devouring predator. They had to dig deep, all the way down to the bottom of the barrel.

From there, they pulled out the Krypton card. Decades earlier, Superman writers discovered that if they were ever running low on ideas, they could simply un–blow up some part of Krypton and throw that at Superman. Thus, television viewers got a bunch of inexplicably telepathic Kryptonians and the revelation that Clark is a hereditary Kryptonian lord who’s needed to help the surviving Kryptonians avoid civil war.

If there was one thing that Lois & Clark was lacking, it was Kryptonian politics, so this did fill that void, in case anyone was looking to have it filled, and it pried our title characters apart long enough to carry them into the fourth season unwed.

Then, following a couple episodes of the obligatory evil Kryptonians trying to conquer the world, the writers finally gave in and allowed Lois and Clark to get married. Superman can’t be married by just any minister, of course. Perry White attempted two failed ceremonies, but even he didn’t suffice in the end.

No, in a stroke of whimsy, the series decided that Lois and Clark should be married by their guardian angel, an actual guardian angel who’s been watching over them their whole lives.

(We’re left to infer that guardian angels do not assist in matters of frog-eating clones. The More You Know.)

Post-wedding jitters immediately afflicted the writing staff. The fourth season was still young. There might still be too many episodes of marital bliss ahead. Fortunately, there remained one last milestone to delay: the honeymoon.So, as Lois and Clark are moments away from shattering the Cherry of Steel, someone knocks on their door.

I’ll give you three guesses who shows up.

Oh, who am I kidding? Like you need more than one.

Yeah, you guessed exactly right: H.G. Wells shows up to prevent Superman and Lois Lane from sleeping together. And yes, that’s the explicit, in-story motivation.

The author of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, moonlighting as a time-traveling honeymoon crasher, warns Lois and Clark of a centuries-old curse, in the writing staff’s last-ditch effort to save the show from jumping the shark too soon.

But those first two seasons are a fun time.

A good, old-school Superman novel

I can’t remember when I got Elliot S. Maggin’s Superman: Last Son of Krypton or read it last. Probably sometime in the ’90s on both counts.

So, curiosity drove me to reread it. The novel is a fun, quick read. Even though it’s got Christopher Reeve on the cover and movie photos inside, it’s based on 1970s Superman comics, not the movie series.

This Clark Kent has moved on from the Daily Planet and is a TV reporter. This Superman has extra powers, including super-memory and the ever-useful super-ventriloquism. This Lex Luthor spent some of his childhood in Smallville and knew young Clark and Superboy (and lost his hair in a lab accident, because in old-school comics, even something as commonplace as baldness requires a special origin story).

The book’s cast also includes the Guardians from Green Lantern — and none other than Albert Einstein, who’s retconned into Superman’s origin story (which is unnecessary generally but works for the book).

Elliot S. Maggin’s novel reads like a fleshed-out version of a ’70s comic book, and he plays it straight, as though the strange, colorful world of old Superman comics is the most natural thing ever. It’s nice to find such a superhero story *without* any self-aware, self-deprecating meta humor. Instead, we just have Superman being Superman, with a very well-written Lex Luthor threatening to steal the show.

Maggin had a second Superman novel, Miracle Monday, which I’ve never read, but now I’m curious.

What worked and what didn’t work in the Star Trek: The Next Generation movies

I recently rewatched Star Trek: The Next Generation for the first time in a long time, and I concluded with a rewatch of the four TNG movies. Two of these movies hold up very well; two do not.

Star Trek: Generations has a solid theme about “the road not taken” and how that relates to time. The forward march of time devours the road we have taken, making it increasingly difficult to backtrack and course-correct as we get older, something both Kirk and Picard must come to terms with during the course of the movie.

Early on in the movie, Picard learns his brother and nephew died in a fire, and he’s now the last of his line. He struggles to keep his grief in check, and he questions his long-ago decision to not start a family. (As a nice contrast, this is at the same time Data is opening up a whole new world of emotions within himself, thanks to an emotion chip.)

The movie’s villain doesn’t accept any road not taken. He craves access to a Nexus where time is meaningless and all his desires will be granted. As the name implies, it’s all roads at once. In this place, both Kirk and Picard realize how it’s pointless to dwell on alternate paths. What matters is what they do now.

A lot of people don’t seem to like this one. It’s got only a 6.6 rating on IMDb at the moment. It’s not perfect (the Enterprise-B is a disgrace—heads must have rolled at Starfleet after that debacle), but I still like it a lot.

Star Trek: First Contact remains the best of the bunch, and it succeeds by balancing darkness and hope. Picard once again begins the movie in pain, as he’s still traumatized by his experience being assimilated by the Borg several years earlier. This wound has festered into a desire for vengeance, and he eventually must confront the fact that something so base and ugly lurks within him.

This is all juxtaposed with humanity’s advancement to the stars, as the crew time-travels back to just before the first warp-speed flight and first contact with aliens.

Just before that historic event, the world seems pretty bleak and perhaps headed deeper into a new Dark Age. Zefram Cochrane, the man whom history has recorded as ushering in a wondrous new era, is just a self-centered drunk who doesn’t nearly live up to his historical reputation. But once he sees the Earth from a vast distance for the first time, the seeds are planted for him to possibly become the great man future generations believe him to be.

Star Trek has always depicted a better future, but in First Contact, we’re shown what’s needed to maybe get there someday—how we have to wrestle with the worst aspects of ourselves and then aspire for something greater.

Star Trek: Insurrection is basically the cast and crew going, “Let’s just have fun with this one.” It is fun at times, but it all feels flat.

Picard does not start this movie in any pain. He’s actually in quite a good mood, and he continues to feel great throughout most of the movie. He even finds love and parts on amicable terms.

The main plot involves a Starfleet admiral teaming up with a group of aliens to forcibly relocate another group of aliens. They want to steal this planet’s regenerative properties for the supposedly greater good, but they’re so obviously in the wrong that it winds up just lowering the stakes.

If the Enterprise crew is going to defy Starfleet, it should feel brave and risky, with some uncertainty as to whether they’re really doing the right thing. But instead, it’s just, “Yeah, I would certainly hope they rebel against that.”

Generally, Star Trek—or any fiction—excels when it shows us how good, reasonable people can stumble down the wrong path. Deep Space Nine was especially great at this, such as when the Dominion War challenged the Federation’s values.

But there’s no complex morality in Insurrection. We don’t see a variety of sympathetic characters displaying multiple points of view and struggling to figure out what’s actually right.

In the TNG episode “The Drumhead,” for example, Worf fell for Space McCarthyism. It completely made sense for him to make that error, and it was all the more satisfying when he realized his error. “I, Borg” presented an interesting ethical conundrum when the crew brought a lone Borg drone on board and realized he still possessed some humanity, and characters changed their minds as the episode progressed. “Preemptive Strike” showed us Ensign Ro torn between her loyalty to Picard and her sympathy to the Maquis terrorists.

There’s no nuance in Insurrection, though. But it does have the best use of Gilbert & Sullivan in a Star Trek film, so that’s certainly a point in its favor.

Star Trek: Nemesis is basically the dumb action movie version of Star Trek. It starts to have an interesting idea about mirror-image versions of ourselves, with Picard confronting a younger clone of himself on an alien world, and Data discovering an android who’s an earlier prototype of himself. But neither Picard nor Data learns much of anything about themselves while confronting these doppelgängers.

There are some nice moments, but also so many missed opportunities, making the whole thing feel pointless.

Also, this is the second time Troi takes the helm, and the second time she crashes into something. But at least this time she crashes on purpose, so that’s progress.

Picard is in pretty good spirits for most of this movie, too, beginning the film as the proud best man at Riker and Troi’s wedding. He also gets to have some fun driving around an alien planet, plus additional fun piloting a shuttle through a ship during a daring escape. Except for at the end, he’s not especially troubled by much.

So, the formula seems to be:

Picard in pain = good Star Trek movie

Happy Picard = not a good Star Trek movie

Exploring history through books

I pretended it’s 2005 and started a blog. Or another blog, I suppose.

Meet Don’t Be Doomed, in which I learn about history through reading a whole bunch of books.

The “About” page and “Welcome” post lay out the scope and rationale, but basically, I’ve been reading a lot of history nonfiction over the past several years, and I realized I needed to improve my retention. So I set this up to share and think about what I’m learning and steer people toward good history books.

I’ll aim for about one post a week over there. So if, for example, you’ve ever found yourself wondering “What was the deal with Chester Arthur?” (and who hasn’t?), I can help you out with that.

Super Substitutes and Super Successors

The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s new Captain America got me thinking about superhero legacies, how some superheroes can have multiple incarnations while others work primarily or only as their original incarnation.

And since this is the internet, let me get this out of the way: I am NOT the slightest bit outraged about Sam Wilson becoming Captain America. You will not find any inflamed hot takes here, just a sober look at the situation.

But we’ll get to the captains later. Let’s start with the kids. 

Kid Sidekicks

No offense to the youth, but sidekicks are the most replaceable category of superheroes. Naturally, they should grow up and move on at some point, like how the original Robin became Nightwing.

Sidekick roles are like apprenticeships—training, not a permanent identity. A kid can assist until he or she grows up into their own identity, and then a new kid comes along and becomes the new Robin or whoever.

Green Lantern(s)

Green Lantern is built for multiple incarnations. There’s an entire corps of Green Lanterns, after all, so numerous Green Lanterns already existed from the get-go.

It is weird that there’s now a disproportionate number of Green Lanterns from Earth, but there are harder pills to swallow in the realm of superhero comics. 

As far as popular culture is concerned, Hal Jordan has the advantage of being Earth’s first Green Lantern (of the intergalactic space cop variety, that is), but John Stewart is just as valid (especially thanks to the excellent Justice League cartoon), as are the newer ones like Jessica Cruz.

Spider-Man (-Men?)

Establishing a non-Peter Parker Spider-Man was something I didn’t think possible, but Marvel pulled it off with Miles Morales.

Part of why this works is because Miles never fully replaced Peter. As far as I can recall, at no point was Miles Morales the only available Spider-Man appearing in Marvel Comics. Readers could choose one or the other or both.

The difference between Peter Parker and Miles Morales is essentially the difference between Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. The latter keeps the spirit and core concept of the original but modernizes it for a new era with an all-new cast. Neither takes anything away from the other.

Flash: The Fastest Men Alive

When I read Flash comics in the ’90s, the Flash wasn’t Barry Allen; he was Wally West—the former Kid Flash all grown up and succeeding his deceased mentor.

That worked because Barry Allen at that point had always been a likable but fairly bland character, and Wally wound up receiving much greater development through more modern storytelling. 

Throughout the course of his series, while struggling to live up to the example of his uncle, Wally grew up from a self-centered 20-year-old to a respected hero in his own right and ultimately a responsible family man. He had such a great arc that it reached a solid conclusion and feels like a complete story told over twenty years of comics. Even with the success of the Flash TV show, I still tend to think of the Wally West version before any other.

Because he’s Batman

But compare that to Batman. Batman is such a distinct character that he can only be Bruce Wayne. Dick Grayson is a valid substitute on occasion, but he’s never more than a substitute. 

During the Knightfall storyline from the ’90s, Bruce tapped the wrong substitute, Jean Paul Valley, also known as Azrael, which was essentially a way of showing how terrible it would be to have a darker, more violent Batman without the ethical restraints of Bruce Wayne. (The Punisher as Batman, essentially.) The replacement validated the original, reminding us how great he is.

It’s Superman!

Superman had a contingent of substitutes after he died in the early ’90s, and like with Batman, the point of the story was to show that only Superman (Clark Kent) can be Superman. 

Three of the four substitutes were outright horrible. One, derived from his Kryptonian heritage (a “Last Son of Krypton,” if you will), was very cold and alien and didn’t mind killing criminals. And seeing any type of Superman kill is highly unsettling.

Then there was a cyborg version of Superman (a “Man of Tomorrow”), who represented the excesses of early ’90s comics—all style, no soul. This Superman was never a hero, and he indeed wound up being a villain in disguise.

We also had a Superboy, but this kid wasn’t raised by the Kents and therefore was a selfish, arrogant brat (though he matured in later stories). 

The fourth fill-in Superman was most obviously not like the original Superman on the outside but most like him on the inside. John Henry Irons was a steelworker whose life Superman saved, so when Superman died, Irons felt an obligation to pay it forward. He built himself a suit of armor (becoming a “Man of Steel”) and sought to help people in Superman’s memory. Unlike the other three, this character was actually heroic. But he never claimed to be Superman. He was the only one who didn’t call himself Superman, and the only one who evoked the authentic spirit of Superman.

Captains America

And this brings us to Captain America. The character was created as a propaganda symbol in the ’40s, but after his revival in the ’60s, he became a character in his own right. And that character was man-out-of-time Steve Rogers.

John Walker, like in the recent TV show, was used to show us how Cap should not behave (again, just like Azrael-Batman and the ill-behaved substitute Supermen).

Bucky and Falcon are both valid substitutes—the only valid substitutes, I would say. They both had their stints as Captain America in the comics (fairly recent comics, all in this century). Bucky’s Cap story was part of his redemption arc, and it was part of a Death of Captain America story not all that different in spirit from the Death of Superman story, though it took a different route. 

The main reason Bucky ultimately agreed to step into the Captain America role was because he knew no one could live up to it, least of all himself, but out of respect for his best friend, he would give it his all. Pretty much everyone reading the storyline understood that the “real” Captain America would inevitably return within a few years or so.

I’m less familiar with Falcon’s Cap story, as it happened during a time when I was reading fewer comics. I read some Avengers comics where Sam Wilson operated in the Captain America role, and I had no problem with the concept. It reminded me of Dick Grayson filling in for Batman—it was interesting to see, and he was legit, but we all knew the original would return before long and the substitute needed to return to his own superhero identity, which he had spent years of hard work establishing.

Comic books, however, don’t have to worry about casting. Chris Evans has moved on from playing Captain America, and Anthony Mackie will likely carry the torch until the MCU runs its course. Therefore, out of necessity, cinematic Sam Wilson needs to be less “Dick Grayson as Batman” and more “Wally West as the Flash.”

Granted, it also would have been perfectly fine to simply retire MCU Captain America and launch a series of solo Falcon movies, giving Marvel Comics’ first African American superhero his time in the spotlight in his original role. But “Captain America” is the bigger brand, so naturally the producers would want to keep using the name for as long as possible. And Sam Wilson is indeed a fine choice to fill the role.

The Flying Woman: Back on Apple and Barnes & Noble

Where would superheroes be without a good crossover? Why limit ourselves to the Amazon Universe when we can team up with the Apple Universe and the B&N Universe?

The Flying Woman ebook is officially back on Apple and Barnes & Noble. Of course, it remains on Amazon (where you can also find the paperback version).

Kindles, NOOKs, and Apple Books — unite!

So, enjoy reading The Flying Woman on the above platform of your choice. Meanwhile, I’ll continue working on the upcoming sequel, The Silver Stranger.

Superheroes and cynicism don’t mix

I watched the first three episodes of The Boys on Amazon Prime. While it looks like a high-quality TV show, I found it very off-putting. (That may be by design, to some extent.)

I’m not sure if I’ll watch any more, and I’m not reviewing it since I haven’t seen it all, but I think it’s worthwhile to examine why it repulsed me so quickly. If you enjoy the show, please keep enjoying it. In terms of writing, acting, directing, production values, etc., it seems to have all the ingredients of a compelling series. Its hard-R rating isn’t even the real dealbreaker.

The problem, for me, is more philosophical. The series’ pessimistic worldview is what ultimately prevents me from wanting to spend further time in this particular superhero universe, despite the numerous technical strengths of the show.

The Boys features a cynical take on superheroes. They’re all physically super, but (in what I watched) only one might actually be at all heroic. The vast majority are portrayed as self-serving, self-absorbed celebrities who are content to let a large corporation package them and tell them what to do.

They demonstrate no moral compass, no compassion, no altruism. This could work as part of a redemption arc, but it doesn’t look like the show is going in that direction. (I’d be happy to be wrong, though.)

I read, watch, and write superhero stories because they show people becoming something better.

This could be a character like Superman who always does the right thing because that’s how he was raised, or it could be a character like Spider-Man who has to work at it harder, and who screws up from time to time but usually figures out the right thing to do in the end. Even more violent characters like Wolverine can adhere to a strict code of honor.

The corporate-superhero aspect of The Boys reminds of an earlier corporate, for-profit superhero: Booster Gold. Booster had a short-lived DC Comics series in the late ’80s, and throughout it, he grew from a self-serving glory hound to a bona fide (but still very flawed) superhero.

That growth was key to my enjoyment of Booster Gold. Same goes for ’90s Marvel series The Thunderbolts. That book starred a group of supervillains pretending to be superheroes as part of a scheme, but some of these villains discovered that they actually liked being heroes, which created all sorts of drama and tension and gave the book its heart.

The Boys may indeed portray a “realistic” version of superheroes, but that’s precisely why I don’t want to watch any more of it. I want aspirational superheroes. I want to see how we can be better, not how we’d be worse.

But if I’m completely wrong about the show, please let me know!

Neither a bird nor a plane — it’s a great Superman novel

I read the novel It’s Superman! by Tom De Haven not long after it came out, probably 15 or so years ago now. It’s, in part, Superman as historical fiction, placing the character in his original 1930s setting. Though I liked it the first time around, I figured I’d appreciate it more now, having read several nonfiction books about the period since then.

And I did, and not just for the historical detail.

The parts in Smallville feel like a cross between a Superman story and a John Steinbeck novel, which gradually transitions into old-school sci-fi, with a lower-powered, more vulnerable Superman battling robots.

This Clark Kent is young and awkward, feeling like the alien he is as he tries to figure out his place in the world. The novel repeatedly makes the point that while Clark isn’t stupid by any means, he’s not especially intelligent either.

That seemed to diminish him at first, but it does enhance the awkwardness and uncertainty the author is going for. This Superman hasn’t developed his confidence yet, and giving him a normal mind allows the character to retain plenty of vulnerability.

One criticism I keep seeing about Superman is that he’s too powerful—if nothing can hurt him, then why should we care? This overlooks the fact that there are many ways to hurt a character, and not all of them are physical. Plus, the aspirational appeal of Superman is that you’ve got this guy who can do virtually whatever he wants with his life … and he still chooses to help people.

Lex Luthor, by contrast, is highly intelligent and supremely confident, and he uses his skills for his own personal gain. While Clark tries to find his place among humanity, Lex prefers to distinguish himself from all of humanity.

Compare this description of Clark: “Finding people who are like him, even in the smallest ways, is always a comfort. It’s stupid, he knows, but it’s always some comfort.”

And this line of dialogue from Lex: “ ‘I don’t discriminate, Carl. All human beings are the same to me.’ ”

There have been various takes on Superman over the past 80+ years. In some, he’s Superman first and foremost while Clark Kent is little more than a disguise. In others, he’s Clark Kent first and foremost while Superman is simply the way he chooses to use his gifts to serve the world. I prefer the latter approach, which is the approach It’s Superman! takes.

This novel would fit in well in DC’s Elseworlds line. It should not be seen as the definitive take on the character. But as a way of fleshing out the version that appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938 and giving that Superman a detailed backstory, it’s excellent.

A writer’s warning system

Writer’s block is often just our instincts warning us that we’re headed down the wrong path.

When I get stuck on a particular scene, I can usually backtrack a little bit and find something that needs fixing. It might be that the entire scene is misguided and needs to be scrapped in favor of an alternative approach, or maybe some details need to be added earlier to solidify the scene and give it life.

But one way or another, I’m struggling with the scene because I’m realizing something isn’t quite right. Once I figure that out, everything starts flowing again.