Nightfall by Matt Cowper: The Stunning Conclusion to the Elites Trilogy

NightfallNightfall

by Matt Cowper
Series: The Elites, #3

Kindle Edition, 412 pg.
2019
Read: July 24 – 26, 2019

With The World Savers, I pictured an ongoing series about The Elites, after Rogue Superheroes, I wondered how he could keep it going after raising the stakes so much. Nightfall answers that question (while ruining my hopes for an ongoing series). Cowper brings this trilogy to a close with a conclusion wraps up the storylines well, provides some closure and moves the characters on to the next step in their lives, all while telling an exciting super-hero story.

As we join the book, things are still influx after Rogue Superheroes, Nightstriker doesn’t trust Blaze the way he should (and the rest of his team do), Gillespie is serving as Interim President (and not liking it), and the possible romantic relationship between Gillespie and Nightstriker hasn’t gone anywhere since that initial conversation, and Blaze is still grieving and dealing with everything he did. But after the first chapter or so, progress is made along these lines and it looks like things might be cooling off for the Elites for a while. There’s still a lot of road to go, but positive and realistic steps are being taken.

Which means, of course, it’s time for their newest nemesis to show up. His name is Black Knight and he comes from the future (or so he says). His purpose in coming back in time is to stop one of the Elites before they become too powerful to be stopped, supposedly the damage he’s wrought on civilization in the future is so great that it can’t be allowed to get to the point where they aren’t bound by any kind of ethical cord. But he’s just one man, what can he do against this super team?

Quite a lot, it seems. Between power, reflexes, strategy and a kind of determination usually reserved for Batman and Nightstriker, Black Knight almost accomplishes his goal in the first battle against the team. Coming up with a way to stop him—for everyone’s sake—the team is going to have to lean on a new friend and ally and follow her to a planet light-years away. The Elites in space and on a planet no one has heard of, battling one of the greatest foes they can imagine. A great way to conclude this trilogy! There were several times when I “knew” how it all was going, and the hard choices that Cowper would have to make about some of his characters—and I was wrong every single time. There were a lot of zigs where I expected zags, and I loved every one of them.

As compelling as all that is, the core of this novel has to do with the reaction of the team to hearing that someone in their midst will become a mass murderer. It puts a strain on all relationships (platonic or otherwise) the team is involved with. There’s some horror, some rebellion, but mostly it’s a resolve to back their teammate and help them avoid the solution. There’s some great fodder for thought about choice, determinism, and morality there—Cowper deftly deals with these ideas while not losing the pace of his story.

It’s pretty exciting, and a great way to approach the book, taking these heroes on an interplanetary adventure. After things die down, The Elites return home to start again and some of the heroes are recognized for the forces of good they’d been. Then we get glimpses of where everyone is going forward to start over—some are taking a path far less traveled others are continuing along similar paths, but with renewed focus.. The emotional arcs are great and just what the fans want to read. I was really impressed with the way that Cowper resolved things and yet planted things to harvest later.

This is the third in a series, and I strongly recommend it be read after books 1 and 2, or you won’t get a lot of it. My appreciation for the series has built with each successive novel and it’s hard to find a lot to fault with this one. Some great emotional beats, great characters and a whole lot of fun and excitement as the Elites try to weed the criminals out of society. I’ve enjoyed this trilogy as a whole, but Cowper pulled out all the stops with this conclusion and really blew me away.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion about it.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

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Teen Titans: Raven by Kami Garcia, Gabriel Picolo (Illustrator): An Updated Look into the Empath’s Past

Teen Titans: RavenTeen Titans: Raven

by Kami Garcia, Gabriel Picolo (Illustrator)
Series: Teen Titans, #1
Paperback, 168 pg.
DC Ink, 2019

Read: August 2, 2019

I’ve talked here before about my love of The New Teen Titans, the 1980-96 series created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. They were my real first (and probably deepest) comic love. It informed and shaped my tastes in ways I probably can’t realize and definitely can’t articulate. It’s practically sacrosanct to me. So the idea of DC Comics hiring Kami Garcia (as much as I might like Garcia) to write modern takes on the origins of Raven (and, apparently, others)—whether or not Wolfman signed off on the idea—both repelled and attracted me. At least it had to be better than that Teen Titans Go! monstrosity.

You know what? I liked it.

Here’s the official blurb, in the interest of time (saving my time that is):


When a tragic accident takes the life of 17-year-old Raven Roth’s foster mom–and Raven’s memory–she moves to New Orleans to recover and finish her senior year of high school.
Starting over isn’t easy. Raven remembers everyday stuff like how to solve math equations and make pasta, but she can’t remember her favorite song or who she was before the accident. And when impossible things start happening, Raven begins to think it might even be better not to know who she was before.

But as she grows closer to her new friends, her foster sister, Max, and Tommy Torres, a guy who accepts her for who she is now, Raven has to decide if she’s ready to face what’s buried in the past…and the darkness building inside her.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Kami Garcia and first-time graphic novel artist Gabriel Picolo comes this riveting tale of finding the strength to face who you are and learning to trust others–and yourself.

This retains enough of Raven’s original origin story (I have no idea what her post-New 52 origin is) to satisfy me, but tailored for a contemporary (and YA) audience. It feels fresh, as if Garcia had created Raven herself. Of course, Daddy (un)Dearest is waiting in the wings for a reunion with his daughter, providing the lingering threat that leads to the assembling of the Titans (or, bringing the Titans Together! as one might say). This is, of course, assuming that Garcia is heading in a Wolfman-esque trajectory, it seems that way.

Slade Wilson’s also around in a vaguely menacing way, but we’re going to have to read further installments in this series to get a strong handle on why. It’s gotta be nefarious, because it’s Wilson.

Picolo’s art is nice and dynamic. It pretty much screams motion and youth. Don’t ask me to elucidate that, when it comes to visuals, all I can do is give vague impressions. But I dug it. Picolo’s not Pérez, but who is? I’m glad he didn’t try.

The fact that I didn’t throw this across the room in disgust says a lot for me, that I enjoyed it and am looking forward to Beast Boy says much more. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool fan or even just someone who likes non-Avengers/Justice League superheroes, you should give it a shot.

—–

3 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge

Stumptown, vol 1: The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini) by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth: A solid noir in Rose City.

Stumptown, vol 1Stumptown, vol 1: The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini)

by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth (Artist)
Series: Stumptown, #1

Hardcover, 159 pg.
Oni Press, 2011

Read: May 31, 2019

Small confession: while I’d heard of this comic, I wasn’t in any rush to read it. But then I saw the trailer for the ABC adaptation and pretty much had to. Glad I did, I have to say.

Dex Parios is a P.I. in Portland, OR; apparently is the guardian for her developmentally delayed (I’m not sure, just guessing) brother; and a very poor gambler. The latter lands her in a great deal of debt to the Confederated Tribes of the Wind Coast. Thankfully(?) the woman who runs her favorite casino is willing to exchange her debt for some P.I. work — her granddaughter is missing. Dex is a sloppy gambler, but isn’t stupid.

But this is no ordinary missing teen/young adult. As soon as Dex starts looking for her, she’s threatened away from the case, had the biggest gangster in the state (and probably then some) try to hire her as well (not instead of Grandma, just call him first), locked in her own trunk, shot (thankfully hitting the vest she had on under her clothes), and harassed (and lied to) by said gangster’s young adult kids. The danger and the second job offer convince Dex that she need to find the girl– and fast.

It’s a great story, a pretty murky beginning gets worse due to complications and narrative time jumps. The more you learn , the more you want to understand. The solution is quickly arrived at, but it takes a long time to get things in order. Things are tricky and Dex’s trying to keep everyone involved alive and maybe even (relatively speaking) honest.

I really liked it, but it felt…slim? As this collection is primarily about introducing the characters and world as well as telling the story, I’m not that annoyed by it. But I hope the next collection is more substantial (not much, but some).

Southworth’s art was fitting. It’s not the most gorgeous book ever, but it shouldn’t be. The word “noir” is the best one I can come up with — dark colors, lots of shadows, hard lines — it fits. It’s noir. It’s also very dynamic, there’s a good sense of motion to it. I can’t imagine better art for Rucka’s story.

Great characters, a good story, art that’s a perfect complement to both. This collection nails it. I’m coming back for more Dex and Stumptown.

—–

3.5 Stars

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The Flintstones, Vol. 1. by Mark Russell, Steve Pugh: A Yabba-Dabba-Doo time awaits the reader.

The Flintstones, Vol. 1The Flintstones, Vol. 1.

by Mark Russell (Writer), Steve Pugh (Art)
Series: The Flintstones, #1


Paperback, 170 pg.
DC Comics, 2016

Read: May 27, 2019

Credit where credit’s due: If not for Paul’s Picks blog, I wouldn’t have even been aware this existed. I’m glad he blogged about it — I’d have missed out on something pretty unusual if he hadn’t.

This is a wildly inventive telling of The Flintstones for a contemporary age. Like the original Hanna-Barbera show, it’s written with an adult audience in mind — unlike the original show, it is not written with kids in mind. That was a strength of the original, and a weakness of the comic. Fred and Barney are war vets, dealing with the atrocities they witnessed (as are some others, but not as well). Mr. Slate’s an greedy, untrustworthy sort (he was probably that way in the cartoon, but he was at least funny). Pebbles and Bam-Bam are teens, but pretty much what you remember. Wilma’s a frustrated artist, Betty’s . . . well, Betty. Same for Dino.

Really, all the markers of the show are present — punny business/location names, animals-as-appliances that talk to each other, the ridiculous clothing choices for Fred and Barney. Russell uses our Modern Stone Age Family to make all sorts of social commentary (again, like the original) while telling pretty episodic stories about religion, marriage, war, consumerism, elitism, and aliens. Russell draws on the source material, but changes it as he sees fit, without mocking much about it — and while I have giant issues with his social commentary, I think it was the right way to go with this. But man . . . he started with a fairly joy-less perspective (but there was some sense of fun, some sense of play) and he got more series as the collection went on.

I mean . . . how do you not have fun with those folks from the town of Bedrock?

The real saving grace of this collection, the highlight is Pugh’s art. I simply love it — covers, panels, everything. I couldn’t get enough of it. I don’t know if there was a drawing anywhere in it that I didn’t think was in the neighborhood of perfect. And I don’t know how much credit Russell gets for background elements (store names, etc.), but since I don’t know, I’m going to give it all to Pugh. There sense of play, the sense of fun is present in his drawings (while not betraying the feel of the script). His character design was fantastic, the art was dynamic and he simply captivated me. But man, give Bam-Bam a haircut.

I appreciated the effort — and figure many people will appreciate it more than me — and I’m glad I read it. But I can’t help but feel that Russell squandered a bit of the opportunity. Still, a Yabba-Dabba-Doo time awaits the reader.

—–

3 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge

The Killing Joke by Christa Faust, Gary Phillips: The Legendary Graphic Novel Gets the Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Treatment

The Killing JokeThe Killing Joke

by Christa Faust, Gary Phillips
Series: BatmanHardcover, 293 pg.
Titan Books, 2018

Read: May 14, 2019

Leland liked to think that she had a finely tuned bullshit detector. It went with the job and–much to the dismay of the men she dated–tended to spill over into her private life, as well. Something about the Joker, however, messed with her ability on the deepest level. Like a magnet throwing off a compass needle.

She’d dealt with more than her share of compulsive liars, narcissists, and psychotics so alienated from reality that they were unable to distinguish truth from fiction. But the Joker was different.

Her testimony in court had led to the judgment that he was not guilty by reason of insanity, and he had been remanded to her care at Arkham. Yet, in her darkest, most sleepless hours she wondered if maybe he wasn’t insane after all. Not in the clinical sense, at last. Perhaps it was all just an elaborate act. A complex joke with an unfathomable punchline they might never see coming. If it ever came at all.

I don’t think I got my hands on the original The Killing Joke in 1988, I think my friend and I waited until ’89 for financial reasons (in your early teens and unemployable, funds were tight), but maybe we were some of the early readers. The when is murky, but our reactions were not. This was a fantastic story with unbelievable art — it blew our young minds. In the years since, I’ve read it countless times, and while I still enjoy the core of the book, there are bits that make me wonder why. Bolland’s art still blows me away.

The animated movie version wasn’t bad, as I recall. I’ve only watched it once and my memory’s not crisp about it. My point is, that I know this story pretty well. When I heard that Titan books was going to be doing a series of new novels about Batman and they’d start with an adaptation of this story, I was skeptical, but at the same time — an extended version of this story? This could be really good — but how were they going to get that much material?

It turns out that the key to that is the same strategy that allowed Peter Jackson to make a smallish children’s novel into a very long movie trilogy — just make up a bunch of stuff and shove it in here and there. Obviously, any novel treatment of the graphic novel (or movie) is going to do that to some extent — but I’d be willing to wager that up to 65% of this book is new, and not even hinted at in the original. Which bothers me on one level, but intrigues me on others — also, I liked the new stuff.

Batman and Batgirl are independently (usually) looking into the appearance and distribution of a new drug on Gotham’s scene — Giggle Sniff. It’s based on the Joker’s venom and is selling like crazy. There’s a lot of bouncing around as the Caped Crusaders tear through the underworld, looking for the sources of the drug — and interfering as much as possible with the sales and distribution. Commissioner Gordon and Detective Bullock are also nosing around, and turning up the heat on the dealers. There are some great action sequences, some interesting characters introduced.

While that’s going on, the Joker’s breaking out of Arkham and setting the stage for what he wants to do next. Then we get the adaptation of the Killing joke in the last quarter or so of the novel. Here, there’s minimal changes form the source material — some expanding of ideas, but nothing major or objectionable. If you know the graphic novel, then you know exactly what happens at this point, and if you don’t, I’m not going to spill the beans. I even liked their take on Batman’s reaction to the dumb joke told at the end — I think they made that problematic moment work.

The characters are well done, the action moves well — it’s just the execution of the idea overall that gives me any pause. There’s a little bit about the birth of the Internet as we now know it that’s really nicely pulled off.

The bits of this book that were an adaptation of the Moore/Bolland graphic novel were really well done — and the way these authors filled in some of the details and gave a very contemporary backstory to part of it worked in ways I didn’t expect. Also, the Giggle Sniff part of the book was pretty good. And if either one of them had been the core of a novel, I’d very likely be more positive about those books. But shoving the two of these together? It didn’t work that well. I liked the novel, but I can’t recommend it too highly because the two parts of the novel are just too distinct from one another to see why the authors made these choices.

—–

3 Stars

A Few Quick Questions With…Matt Cowper

Very happy to have done this Q&A with Matt Cowper, who describes himself as, “Unbranded author trying to write sentences that read good.” Back in August of 2017, I posted about his Double Lives and today (unless I messed up the scheduling), I posted about his newest book — The World Savers, the first book in his series The Elites. I hope you enjoy this, and that you’ll go back and read those posts (or skip the posts, and read his books, I guess. But first, at least click on the links to the post, so I can get the ego boost from page views),

As always, I kept this short and sweet, because I’d rather he work on his next book than take too much time with me, y’know?

Clearly, super-heroes are your niche. What is it about them that captures your imagination?
I’ve always read comic books, from way back when I was a young’un with an allowance, and could only afford one or two issues at a time!

In my grizzled old age of 33, I still enjoy cape-and-cowl adventures. They’re a break from a “normal” book, that is one with black words on a white page, with no images. I read in a variety of genres, but I can only read a “normal” book for about an hour before those endless words, all arranged in the same manner, start to blur together.

Then I open a graphic novel, and BAM – it’s like Dorothy stepping from the drab gray of her home to the dazzling colors of Oz.

It’s a refreshing experience after being a Serious Adult reading Tomes of Great Importance.

(Not that comics can’t be of Great Importance. See: Alan Moore.)

And superheroes appeal to me as a writer because, as I mentioned above, I’m familiar with the tropes. The standard writing advice is, “Write what you know.” Well, I’ve read hundreds of comics and graphic novels in my lifetime, everything from your standard “superhero battles supervillain” stories to the “deconstruction” style stories. I’m comfortable in the world of caped crusaders.

If you can without spoiling anything — talk to me about Blaze. Where did he come from and why did you pick him for your other narrator? (Nightstriker is an obvious choice — who doesn’t want to write Batman?)
What?! You think Nightstriker is a stand-in for Batman?! I thought no one would figure that out! 🙂

Blaze is the yin to Nightstriker’s yang. Blaze is young and inexperienced, Nightstriker is the grizzled veteran. Blaze’s power is potentially limitless, while Nightstriker has no powers. Blaze has a family, and he develops a love interest, while Nightstriker is a loner.

Having these two characters as POVs, rather than just sticking with one of them, allowed me to (hopefully!) create some interesting conflicts, as well as show certain aspects of the fictional world that would be missed if I only used one POV.

And I don’t think it’s a major spoiler to say that, as the novel (and the Elites series) progresses, each character will help the other change and grow. Blaze will become more adept at using his powers, while Nightstriker will soften his hard-edged approach, and so on.

As for the specific inspiration for Blaze, I don’t really have one character or idea I can point to. Readers may associate him with the Human Torch, but Blaze is far different from the confident ladies’ man, Johnny Storm.

This is tonally different than your Johnny Wagner books — was that a conscious choice before you started, or something that developed as you got into the characters/story? How did the difference in tone affect your writing?
Yes, writing “The World Savers” in this manner was a conscious choice.

The Johnny Wagner novels are much wackier, and Johnny is the typical anti-authority PI. He’s suspicious of superheroes, and for good reason; the version of the Elites that appear in these novels don’t do themselves any favors.

And Dak, Johnny’s God Arm…well, he’s in a class of his own!

By contrast, the new Elites in “The World Savers” aren’t meant to be satirical. They’re legitimate superheroes, though they still have plenty of flaws.

There is some humor and wackiness in “The World Savers,” but overall the novel has a serious tone.

I don’t think the tonal differences affected my writing efficiency or satisfaction. If you establish at least a rough plan beforehand, the novel’s proper tone should develop just fine.

What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
“Metabarons.”

It’s a massive graphic novel created by two raving lunatics. No, seriously – no one could come up with this unless their minds existed in a different dimension than us normal schlubs.

It takes every sci-fi trope in the history of mankind, boils them all in a giant intergalactic pot, then spills them out onto the starways for the unworthy to gawk at.

In sum: it’s really good and you should read it.

It’s on my list! Thanks.

I’ve often heard that writers (or artists in general) will forget hundreds of positive reviews but always remember the negative — what’s the worst thing that someone’s said about one of your books, and has it altered your approach to future books?

My debut novel, “The Clerk” was one of those “small” literary works, as opposed to a comic book-style tale featuring copious explosions and giant floating fortresses.

Several reviewers disliked the novel’s “excessive” sexuality. This baffled me, because I thought I’d glossed over most of the sexy sex!

I learned that a writer has to be mindful of his audience. Some readers don’t care if there’s sex on every page, with the characters swearing like sailors, while others will stop reading if they encounter a single “F” word.

Some writers have created their own content rating systems, or placed disclaimers in their book descriptions, to help readers ascertain if the novels fit their sensibilities.

I’ve considered implementing one or both of these options, but haven’t moved forward with anything yet.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these, and I hope that The World Savers finds all sorts of success!
Thanks, bub! *snikt*

Batman: Nightwalker (Audiobook) by Marie Lu, Will Damron: aka Gotham Season 9, just didn’t work for me. DNF’d.

 Batman: NightwalkerBatman: Nightwalker

by Marie Lu, Will Damron (Narrator)
Series: DC Icons, #2

Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs, 39 min.
Listening Library, 2018
Read: April 27 – 30, 2018

Let me get the Audiobook portion out of the way quickly — Damron does a capable job. He didn’t particularly wow me, but I had no complaints about his work. I could see myself really getting into a book he narrated.

This is essentially Gotham, season 9. Bruce is on the eve of graduation, turning 18 (yet his guardian, Alfred, is still treated as if he has any standing in his life), and finds himself on the wrong end of the law and serving probation by doing community service at Arkham Asylum. While there, he becomes fascinated by an accused murderer — she’s part of a criminal/political (technically a terrorist group, but the label was never used) group targeting Gotham’s one percenters.

The line between the Bruce Wayne of this book and the Dark Knight we all know is pretty weak. You’ve got Alfred, Lucius Fox, Bruce’s dead parents, Gotham City — sure — but there’s nothing that distinctively Batman about them (as used here). Even when you throw in Harvey Dent as a troubled youth with a strong trust in the legal system as one of Bruce’s best friend and numerous references to bats, and you’re supposed to thing that you’ve got yourself the building blocks of the Caped Crusader. But it’d have been incredibly easy for this to be any other rich youth with a knack for electronics. This doesn’t have to be a Batman story, it could be almost any generic YA hero.

If you want to read an inexperienced, fallible, Batman (as seems to be the case here), read Miller’s Batman: Year One or Barr’s Batman: Year Two — they treat the character the way he should be treated. This book just wasn’t. I got about halfway through (maybe a little over halfway) before I just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to move on.

I liked the Wonder Woman installment in this series just fine — why didn’t this one work for me? Well, while Diana wasn’t the hero we all know — she was still clear in her purpose, driven to do right and capable. Bruce is none of those things — which is odd, because he’s typically been depicted as driven and single-minded since childhood. That’s the Bruce we all know, and should’ve seen here.

I can see why some people will enjoy this, but I just can’t bother to finish.