Tag Archives: Books

Retro Review: The Flash: Stop Motion (Graphic Audio)

I’m not big on audiobooks, but I picked up a DC Comics-related Humble Bundle a few weeks ago and I “read” The Flash: Stop Motion by Mark Schultz. It’s kind of odd listening to a “Graphic Audio” adaptation of a prose novel based on a character who usually appears in visual media, but the full cast, sound effects, and music help to make up for the lack of actual visuals that I’ve found tends to hamper prose stories about superheroes.

I read the book when it came out in 2004, and I’d forgotten enough for it to be more-or-less “new.” It’s set during the Wally West/Keystone City era when the Flash’s identity was still public knowledge and he worked with Detectives Chyre and Morillo. A super-speed killer has been attacking people in the Keystone/Central area. Not only is it faster than the Flash, but every time it strikes, bits of other universes bleed into our own. Wally has to discover the nature of this “superluminoid,” its surprising connection to the West/Allen family, and unlock a potential beyond the speed force in order to stop it.

The familiar characters are handled well, and the concepts behind the superluminoid, quantum warriors and the Seventh Singularity are intriguing. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect from Grant Morrison or Warren Ellis as they take on super-speed, the metagene, the speed force and quantum physics. The ideas still hold up, and I think it would be fascinating to explore them further, though in the long run they would unbalance the Flash’s already over-powered abilities.

There are a few continuity issues that bugged me at the time I first read it. A lot of the story hinges on Iris and Wally being blood relatives, for instance, which they weren’t pre-Flashpoint. Those don’t bother me anymore, partly because continuity has been remixed so many times and partly because I’ve mellowed on that sort of thing. Though I still have trouble with the opening scene where the Flash is treading air to “fly” with the JLA. (And then there are oddities like the fact that the entire Justice League is in several scenes, but only Wonder Woman gets a detailed description. Hmmm…)

The audio adaptation works well. It’s got a full voice cast and sound effects in addition to the narration. Some of the voices work better than others, and some just don’t fit my head-voice for the characters. (Chyre, for instance, sounds more gravelly and world-weary in my mind than this version.) They really make use of effects and music in the battle sequences, though some of them might work better with headphones than listening in a car. I found it hard to pick out the words in the action scenes because there was so much going on. And some of the conversations that work in print go on way too long in audio.

The novel is worth reading, and the audio is worth listening to. Now I’m curious to hear how Graphic Audio adapted Infinite Crisis, 52 and Final Crisis.

I think I’ll skip Countdown, though.

Review: Soon I Will Be Invincible

Austin Grossman’s novel Soon I Will Be Invincible is a fun romp through every super-hero cliché ever invented over the history of the genre. Time-travel, cyborgs, telepaths, aliens, evil geniuses, legacy heroes, secret identities, heroes going bad, villains turning good — everything. It’s an affectionate, tongue-in-cheek parody of the tights-and-flights set.

The book is narrated in alternate chapters by Dr. Impossible, a mad scientist who has held the world in his grasp a dozen times, only to be defeated by his arch-nemesis CoreFire — whom he inadvertently created — and by Fatale (as in “Femme”), a small-time cyborg hero who has just been invited to join the world’s premiere super-team, the Champions.

The book opens with Dr. Impossible still in prison, a situation that’s taken care of within the first few chapters. The world’s greatest hero CoreFire is missing, and the Champions, disbanded for nearly a decade after the death of one of their own, have re-gathered to find him. Their number one suspect: Dr. Impossible. Once he escapes, it becomes a race between him and the heroes: will he build his next doomsday device before they capture him? And where is CoreFire?

Dr. Impossible’s megalomaniacal nature (he suffers from “Malign Hypercognition Disorder,” the clinical diagnosis given most evil geniuses) suffuses every sentence as he dwells on his tortured past and schemes to take over the world. By the end of the book, he’s monologued his entire origin, down to the day his eighth grade guidance counselor told him he was a genius, and taken us on a tour of the underworld from its greatest peak to its most pathetic.

Fatale, despite being a high-tech super-soldier who can never live a normal life, comes off as the closest the book has to an ordinary person. She’s still an outsider in the upper echelons, and her loneliness is a constant presence in her chapters. She knows her new colleagues mainly from television, from news footage of their battles and from their celebrity endorsements. (One fundraises for Amnesty International. Another has her own line of beauty products.) While much of Dr. Impossible’s narration consists of flashbacks in which he tells the reader what he already knows, Fatale is entrenched firmly in the present, learning as she goes and relaying her experiences straight to the reader.

The Champions form a sort of dysfunctional Justice League (or is that redundant these days?), with CoreFire, Damsel and Blackwolf as the Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman equivalents. Except in this version, Wonder Woman and Batman are a divorced ex-couple, trying to work together. And Superman’s a bit of a jerk. (But then again…) The team is rounded out by man-tiger Feral, ageless Faerie warrior Elphin (who still has a mission to perform for Titania), magician Mr. Mystic (mainly in the Mandrake/Zatara mold, but with elements of Dr. Strange), teen pop idol Rainbow Triumph, and two newcomers: Fatale herself and Lily, a powerhouse from a distant, blighted future who once fought on the other side of the law. (The book’s website has a database of heroes and villains that doesn’t seem particularly spoilery at first glance.)

The book has its requisite battles, but for the most part it’s about what heroes and villains do in between the fighting: the endless investigations that go nowhere. Bickering at team meetings. Rivalries and affairs. Clandestine meetings in dive bars and abandoned buildings. Hunting for the components of a doomsday weapon. The same concerns as anyone else.

One disadvantage the book has is that it points out just why super-heroes tend to work best in a visual medium: the costumes. I only had strong images of a few of the characters, and most of them were taken from other comics. I never did figure out just what Damsel was supposed to look like, so I pictured her as Payback from True Believers. Fatale was somewhat like Liri Lee, a member of the Linear Men whose name I can’t recall (Thanks, West!). CoreFire, I saw as a cross between Red Star (in his red-and-yellow outfit) and Firestorm. Without pictures, the costumes are more or less pointless, and the only reason they’re included is tradition. Small wonder that colorful tights only really came in when heroic fiction made the jump from the pulps to the comics pages.

Although Dr. Impossible does make a case for why, despite Edna Mode’s warning in The Incredibles, a villain might want a cape. It makes for a much more dramatic entrance.