Rogue Superheroes by Matt Cowper: Unintended Consequences Wreak All Sorts of Havoc on the Heroes’ Lives

Rogue SuperheroesRogue Superheroes

by Matt Cowper
Series: The Elites, #2

Kindle Edition, 242pg.
2019

Read: March 7- 8, 2019

When we left Nightstriker at the end of The World Savers, he was trying to apply the new convictions he’d adopted after The Elites encounter with the Giftgiver and his followers. Yes, the primary task for heroes like himself was to take on super-human threats, but other sources of injustice should be in their sights as well. Starting with corrupt politicians and government officials. Nightstriker, who seems to accumulate intelligence on everyone he stands next to in line at Starbucks, had plenty of dirt on them all — and starts releasing some of this information to the Press. Suddenly, officials are forced to resign in droves — and the stresses on the fault-lines of society increase exponentially.

Suddenly, the nation seems on the verge of civil war, and Nightstriker comes clean to the team about what he’s done. Before they can even decide how to react, their HQ is attacked and the President identifies Nightstriker (and because of him the rest of the Elites) as the source of the leaks and exposé stories. As they try to get out of the rubble that was their HQ, a new, government-controlled, team of heroes comes to arrest them. Before the Elites can really wrap their minds around what’s going on they’re on the run, hiding and licking their wounds.

So the Elites have to clean up their image, defeat the new team, and try to help fix the mess that Nightstriker inadvertently created by not thinking things through as he should have. It’s a good thing they’re super-heroes, or this could be very daunting.

That’s not the whole book — like before, a significant portion of the book is devoted to Sam (Blaze’s) continued maturing and the growth of his powers. There are heavy prices for him to pay along those likes I have to say, but especially for the reader — it’s all worth it. The rest of the team have strong storylines — and a good number of people from the previous book make appearances (some pretty significant). It’s easy (and right) to focus on his “Big Three” and what’s going on with them, but without the rest of these characters, the book wouldn’t work.

In the midst of a story where the stakes are so high — Cowper throws in a lot of smaller stories, a good number of scenes that aren’t involved in the overall story, but develop the characters well. It’s a well-balanced story, just enough of things that aren’t the overarching stories to round out things so you can take in all the details of the rest.

I cannot tell you how many times Cowper did things with these characters I didn’t see coming. Things happened to people (powered or not) and then the heroes reacted in ways that were shocking. Despite the fact that this is only the second book in a series, Cowper is clearly playing for keeps and won’t be satisfied with simply injuring some characters. More than once, I had to go back and read a couple of paragraphs again just to make sure that Cowper had the chutzpah to do what I thought he did. “I couldn’t have read that right, because that’s just . . . nope, he did do that.” It wasn’t deconstruction and shocking moves for the sake of it, there was a reason for it all and it served the story, but wow.

But that’s not to say that everything is dark and grim — yes, Cowper’s Super-Hero stories are more like a movie directed by Zack Snyder than one directed by Patty Jenkins or Jon Favreau, but there are moments of joy, of small victories, even a little romance. The moments with Blaze and Metal Girl continue to be enjoyable and are a great break from the Nightstriker drama (even when the moments with the two aren’t happy times). The character Anna, introduced late in The World Savers proved to be another source of relief from the tensions — which is odd, because things don’t really go that well for her for most of the book.

Slab and Buckshot continue (in my opinion) to be under-served, but they both had opportunities to shine here, and we saw more aspects of their character. I do understand why they don’t get the time devoted to them that Metal Girl, Blaze and Nightstriker get — I really do. Also, I’ll probably complain about Slab’s use until Cowper gives him POV chapters that make up at least a third of a novel. Still, Cowper uses the characters well and I like them a lot — he’s probably right to give them the “screen time” that he does. It’s better to leave readers wanting more, anyway, right? Rather than a “I don’t know why we spent so much time with Buckshot, when we could’ve got some more awkward flirtation from Blaze” situation.

A quick note — I thought the original cover for The World Savers was just fine. But the new cover, that matches the look of this cover, is just outstanding (as is this one). It’s a small thing, but the covers are great.

I had a blast with The World Savers, but Rogue Superheroes surpassed it on every front, and I was excited to read it. I’m not sure how Cowper continues the story from where it is — The Elites and the world around them were pushed to such extremes in these pages that topping this book might prove too much to try — but if instead of trying to climb that mountain, he goes around it just right, it could be very satisfying. I am really looking forward to seeing how he proceeds (and how wrong he proves me).

For solid super-hero action, a dash of intrigue and some jaw-dropping outcomes, Rogue Superheroes will satisfy any reader, and I encourage you to go grab it.

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

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4 Stars

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Coming Attractions (I hope…)

The last three nights I’ve sat down to write my next post and have promptly fallen asleep before finishing a paragraph. Which is quite annoying, because I’m not more tired than normal (I don’t think) and I am very excited about these three books.

So in lieu of an actual post, given largely as proof of life, here’s a quick glance at what’s coming down the pike. Hopefully starting in 24 hours.

Who Killed the Fonz?Who Killed the Fonz?

by James Boice

This is funny, heartfelt, a goofy idea, and a far better book than it has any right to be.

Rogue SuperheroesRogue Superheroes

by Matt Cowper

This takes everything he did right in The World Savers and improves on it (at least a little) while continuing the story.

No Country for Old GnomesNo Country for Old Gnomes

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

Set in the same kingdom as Kill the Farmboy, and features (at least for a couple of pages) the same characters, but focuses on a new cast. I figured this was going to be almost as good as its predecessor, but it’s better in every way — better characters, better story, and more laughs. None of which I’d have thought likely.

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*

The World Savers by Matt Cowper: A Bang-Up Start to a new Super-Hero Series

The World SaversThe World Savers

by Matt Cowper
Series: The Elites, #1

Kindle Edition, 257 pg.
2018
Read: December 11 – 12, 2018

There are going to be a lot of comparisons in this to Marvel/DC characters. This isn’t saying Cowper’s being derivative — nor is he ripping any character off. These are well-known and established types — he’s not doing anything that Ben Edlund didn’t do in The Tick, or Bendis in Powers, or Kirkman in Invincible — etc. I’m just going to say something like “Slab is a Thing-like character” so I don’t have to write three sentences to describe the Thing.

Beverly Gillespie (an Amanda Waller-esque character), the Secretary for Superhuman Affairs, is re-assembling the legendary team, The Elites. Enough time has gone by since they disbanded (for very good reasons) that the government wants to start them up again — under new leadership. Nightstriker — a very Batman/CW’s Arrow -type of guy. He’s driven, he’s obsessive, he’s seemingly incorruptible, and doesn’t play well with others and is pretty paranoid. Which is what attracts Waller — she wants someone who’ll go out of his way to keep the team’s integrity.

It takes some doing, but Nightstriker relents and selects a few people to join the new group — none of them are the crème de la crème, Nightstriker considers them misfits, actually. But misfits that he thinks can work well together and be a strong Gestalt-y greater than the sum of its parts entity. No sooner have they assembled, than their home base, Z City, is under attack. I’ll leave this vague, but essentially these opponents are Occupy Wall Street with a cult-like flavor, following a would-be world conqueror, with everyone within the group possessing some sort of metahuman abilities. So The Elites have to stop this group from destroying the city (or at least the financial and governmental structures), while learning to function as a team.

The book is told through the points of view of Nightstriker and a member of his Elites, Blaze. Nightstriker’s a strong take on the type — you know him pretty well almost instantly.You get his motivation, his way of doing things and can understand his paranoia about reforming this team. He sees himself as not just Team Leader, but Mentor/Coach to his team — but he has a lot to learn about being a Team Player as well as a Leader.

Blaze is a high schooler struggling with Biology tests while he goes around fighting crime in a Human Torch-ish way (with shades of Firestorm, too). He’s eager, he’s naive, he’s a little reckless, he has a sense of fun that’s outweighed by a sense of responsibility. He’s so wet behind the ears that it threatens to put out his fire. But he’s smart (probably smarter than he realizes) and has nothing but potential. Nightstriker sees all of that (and probably more), and sees similar qualities in the other recruits. I really enjoyed his chapters — the Nightstriker point of view is what the DC movies are (at their best), Blaze’s are Marvel movies. The two together make a powerful combination.

Metal Girl doesn’t have point-of-view chapters, but we learn a lot about her — her origin story, what makes her tick, etc. She’s sort of a Vision/Red Tornado/Metamorpho cocktail. That description can only work once you’ve read the book — it’ll click when you do. I really dug her as a character and can’t wait to see what Cowper has in store for her development.

There are two members of The Elites that are under-served — which isn’t too much of a complaint, there’s a lot of plates spinning in these pages and to try to fit in more of these two probably would be counter-productive. First is Buckshot — think the Green Arrow or Hawkeye, but with guns (it’s been too long since I’ve read anything with him in it, but maybe that makes him Arsenal-like) with a Western-motif about him and a talk-radio conservative world-view — I like him, but think Cowper overplayed some of his characteristics (just a little bit). The other one is Slab — he’s a Thing-type character, who really isn’t that much like Ben Grimm — although they’re similar. There’s something about this guy — as much as I enjoyed the rest of the cast, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Slab becomes the heart and soul of the team — and maybe the guy who really comes through at the very end to land the coup de grâce in the finale. Maybe it’s just me, but I like Slab enough that if you told me that Cowper was releasing a novella starring him today, you’d be reading my review about it tomorrow.

There’s plenty of solid super-hero action with a much larger cast of characters than you expect going in — much larger than I’ve told you about, too. The best thing about the opponents of The Elites (I hesitate to call them villains — although it’s appropriate for at least some of them) is that there’s some merit to their cause, enough that at least some of the super-heroes fighting them have to consider their actions. The world seems awfully black-and-white at the beginning, but by the end there’s a lot of gray.

This takes place in the same world as Cowper’s Johnny Wagner, Godlike PI books, but it feels rather different. And it should — one’s a PI novel with super-hero overtones, the other’s a straight-forward super-hero book. I enjoyed the first of those books (and really should’ve read the second by now), but Double Lives took awhile to win me over. The World Savers had me by the end of the first chapter. Don’t ask me what the difference was, I couldn’t tell you. But it’s there.

Great action, great characters (with room to develop and signs that they will), a world teeming with possibilities, this is a strong intro to a series that could turn out to be great (it could also turn out to be simply really good — I’d be okay with that, too). This is a planned trilogy, and I’d pony up the cash for the next two installments right now if I could, I’m eager to see where Cowper takes these characters next (I have a small wish list, but I expect he has better plans).

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my post and my honest opinions.

Double Lives by Matt Cowper

Double LivesDouble Lives

by Matt Cowper
Series: Johnny Wagner, Godlike PI, #1

Kindle Edition, 380 pg.
2017

Read: August 23 – 26, 2017


Double Lives takes place in a world as overloaded with super-heroes and super-villains as The Tick (comic or cartoon), Powers (comic) or Powerless (TV). But our protagonist isn’t a super-hero, at least not any more. Now, he’s a P. I. — with a twist. A minor deity (whose name I will not try to type), nicknamed Dak has been merged with him and acts as his right arm.

Dak is a god of destruction, and will use power beams, super-strength and the like to achieve this destruction, as often as possible — even when it works against his host, Johnny Wagner, professionally or personally. He will also, at whim, start an argument with Johnny or anyone nearby, threaten them, or just sound off about whatever he wants to — again, even when it works against his host. Dak is really annoying, but will (mostly) grow on you. I did enjoy his origin story, I should add.

Johnny’s a typical down-on-his-luck P.I., there’s really nothing about him early on that will make you think hes anything but a comic book version of Marlowe-clone. Which is fine to start with, and thankfully Cowper doesn’t leave him that way. He is interesting enough to keep the reader engaged and interested.

The hero Captain Neptune has recently been killed by a laughable member of his rogues gallery, Gray Squirrel. The killing was very public, very definite, and very, very filmed. As such, Gray Squirrel is going away for a very long time. Until Neptune’s widow hires Johnny to investigate. She just doesn’t think that Gray Squirrel intended to kill him, and wants Johnny to uncover the truth about what happened.

Sadly, Johnny just doesn’t uncover that, but he unearths many things that people’d prefer were kept under wraps. There’s a decent bit of investigation that goes on, punctuated with some very well-written comic book fight scenes. I was less than impressed with the dialogue, which was frequently problematic, and the romantic storyline. The rest worked, in a heightened-comic book reality way. Which is not a slam, it’s a description — I’m a comic fan, I wish I could read more. I enjoyed the other characters — minor, allies, villains of various degrees of power, heroes (most of whom come across as real jerks), too.

The climactic battles were really well-executed, and even if I hadn’t been won over by the book by this time, I’d probably recommend the books just for them. Thankfully, I can say that there’s a lot more going for Double Lives than those two battles. It’s a lot of fun, and super-hero fans should find plenty to reward their time if they read this.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this post. I appreciate the opportunity.

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3 Stars