Terrific — Chapter One

Yes, yes, yes. I’m still working on my upcoming superhero novel, Terrific. What, you don’t believe me? Well, here’s the proof!

Below is the current draft of the first chapter. Note that it is just a draft and will undergo revisions later, but things are coming along. When you self-publish, it’s vitally important that you reject your own work to ensure you put out the best possible book. I’ve rejected two full previous versions of Terrific, as well as another half a manuscript, but I’m feeling confident about how this one is turning out.

So read it, enjoy, and bug me to get the thing finished and published.

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Copyright 2017 Daniel R. Sherrier. All Rights Reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Terrific

–a novel–

By Daniel Sherrier

1.

Miranda Thomas liked pretending to be someone else. Her true self receded behind a persona she had spent innumerable hours crafting, rehearsing, and perfecting to the greatest possible extent. And her hard work paid off as she made her regional theatre debut in The Reluctant Guest.

They enjoyed her. Several dozen strangers laughed at all the right moments. Everyone returned to their seats after intermission. They cheered when the lights went down at the play’s conclusion. And audiences never lied. Miranda loved that about them.

She had graduated from Olympus University a mere three months earlier, and she was already doing her favorite thing in the world…as a professional. Her castmates were fun, the reviews were strong, and the nonprofit company owned a charming venue. This was not a poor start.

Today’s matinee wasn’t quite finished. Miranda had one last moment on the stage, the only one as herself.

Warm light enveloping her, she crossed the polished floorboards of the Aeschylus Theater for her curtain call. The stage was smaller than most, and its house seated a mere eighty-eight on three sides. An intimate performance space, perfect for a four-person contemporary comedy. It minimized the barrier between actors and audience, filtering none of their reaction. Right now, it was Miranda’s stage. Continue reading

Today’s Super Comic — Action Comics #775 (2001)

At last, here we are. May 17, 2016, I started writing one quick, positive comic book review a day, with the goal of doing so for a full year. It was part writing exercise (get the words down fast and move on), part analytical exercise (if a book works, why does it work?), and an opportunity to focus on the positive and thank the writers and artists who have given me countless hours of enjoyment over the course of many years.

So let’s finish with one of the best single-issue Superman stories ever written. Action Comics #775 shows us why Superman will never go out of style and should never go out of style.

A new team of powerful superhumans appears. They call themselves the Elite, and to get the job done, they’ll kill the bad guys and any innocent bystanders who happen to be within range, so long as the larger threat is eliminated, permanently.

Superman’s not having that. As the public begins to wonder if maybe there’s some validity to the Elite’s approach, Superman realizes it’s up to him to show the world there’s a better way.

What makes Superman cool isn’t his powers; it’s how he uses them. He doesn’t force his will on others or try to seize more power for himself, and he leads by example, with physical force being the last resort. He always operates within clearly set parameters. It would be too easy for him to cross any number of lines, so he doesn’t. Most others would give into the temptation, but he’s strong enough to control himself.

In this issue, he’s not only trying to stop the Elite from killing people, but he’s also standing up for ideals—and he’s standing up to people who are seemingly more powerful than even he is.

“Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us. And on my soul, I swear… until my dream of a world where dignity, honor and justice becomes the reality we all share — I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.”

Ladies and gentlemen—Superman! There’s a reason he’s the greatest superhero ever created. He’s a role model for kids and adults alike, and he demonstrates values that should never go out of style, no matter how times change.

Writer: Joe Kelly

Penciler: Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo

Cover: Tim Bradstreet

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Wonder Woman #2 (2016)

Let’s hope the movie is this great.

When Wonder Woman relaunched for DC Rebirth, writer Greg Rucka utilized the even-numbered issues to retell her early days. The second issue (or part one) introduces us to a young Diana who’s curious about what lies beyond the shores of Themyscira. Scenes of her life in paradise alternate with scenes of Steve Trevor’s life in the United States, and if you know anything about Wonder Woman’s origin story, you can guess where part one ends.

Rucka isn’t reinventing the characters or the story. He’s modernizing them and selecting from the best of what came before. It’s Wonder Woman’s latest draft, and it’s a superb one.

That’s an advantage of the comics medium—when you continue these characters in periodical format decade after decade, you have plenty of opportunities to refine and improve them. And yes, mistakes will be made and things will inevitably go astray here and there, but that’s what reboots are for. When you learn from previous mistakes and successes, you’re much more likely to get an excellent book like this.

This “Year One” arc for Wonder Woman is all about discovery. She’s discovering a new world. A new world is discovering her. And she’s discovering more about herself. The characterization is spot-on—she’s joyful, compassionate, fierce, heroic, and even a little fearful of this new world she’s entered.

Given how recent the book is (the trade just came out), I don’t want to delve into any greater detail, but know this—this is Wonder Woman done right. If you enjoy the movie when it comes out but never read a Wonder Woman comic, then read this one. If you don’t enjoy the movie, read it anyway.

Writer: Greg Rucka

Penciler: Nicola Scott

Cover: Scott & Fajardo Jr.

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Comixology; included in Wonder Woman vol. 2: Year One (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Flash #62-65 (1992)

Superhero comics certainly offer plenty of escapist fun for readers. But in the stories, particularly in the old-school comics of many years ago, the kid sidekicks were the ones who got to live the escapism…and the young readers could simply plug themselves into the role and imagine themselves battling crime alongside the older hero.

The Flash acquired his own sidekick early on—Kid Flash, who was actually Wally West, the nephew of Flash’s girlfriend Iris West. After Barry and Iris both died, Wally grew up and took on the Flash mantle, and he became a better developed character than Barry Allen ever was at that point.

When writer Mark Waid began his superb run on the title in issue #62, he started at the beginning, by flashing back to Kid Flash’s origins. In a four-part story, we meet 10-year-old Wally West, who’s spent his life in a small town with cold, distant parents and little to look forward to…until one summer when his super-cool aunt Iris invites him to spend a few months with her in Central City. Wally would choose his aunt over his parents any day, but he’s especially excited because Central City is the home of his hero—the Flash!

It starts as pure wish-fulfillment. Not only does Wally get to meet his hero, but a freak accident grants him the same powers. He enjoys the best summer of his life, with the problems of home too far away to matter.

But his escape will have to end eventually, and he’ll have some growing up to do.

It’s the quintessential sidekick story—wish granted, everything seems wonderful, but problems haven’t really gone away, have they?

An excellent start from Waid, and the best was yet to come. As I’ve mentioned before, this series played a huge role in hooking me on comics when I was a kid. It holds up remarkably well. Kid-me had good taste.

Writer: Mark Waid

Penciler: Greg LaRocque

Inker: Jose Marzan Jr.

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in The Flash by Mark Waid Book One (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Iron Man #1 (1998)

Every so often, a long-running comic book series just needs to get back to the basics…and Iron Man definitely needed that by the late ’90s.

Marvel killed Iron Man a few years earlier and replaced him with a teenage version of himself from an alternate timeline. Then that teen version died along with the rest of the Avengers in the “Onslaught” crossover, leading to the Heroes Reborn stunt in which popular Image Comics creators reimagined and relaunched the Fantastic Four, Avengers, Captain America, and Iron Man in a separate, new continuity. Then a year later, after that had run its course, those characters were restored to the proper Marvel Universe and relaunched with new first issues.

Seemed like as good a time as any to have the real Tony Stark return. The details are sketchy as to why and how the adult Stark returned rather than the teen version…and I’m okay with that. Why dig the hole any deeper? The creative team had an opening to efficiently get back on track, and they seized it in the relaunched Iron Man #1.

Of course, Tony Stark can’t just waltz back from the dead and reclaim his company as if he hadn’t been killed and replaced by his younger self for a while. A competitor had bought out Stark Enterprises, so the big question for the first issue is…will Tony try to reclaim his company? Or will he start something new?

The script by Kurt Busiek gets at the heart of the character. Tony Stark is always trying to build both himself and the world around him into something better. Here, he needs to figure out how best to do it.

Oh, and an unseen old foe wants to kill him. Got to have that physical peril thrown in there, too.

A fine restart all around, and a much-needed one at the time.

Writer: Kurt Busiek

Penciler: Sean Chen

Inker: Eric Cannon

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comics — The Golden Age #1-4 (1993-94)

The Golden Age has a reputation as being Watchmen-lite, but I have to disagree. The two miniseries share some surface similarities. They both examine old-school mystery men through a more adult lens, and Cold War paranoia factors into the plots. But whereas Watchmen deconstructed the genre, The Golden Age also reconstructs it.

After World War II, the members of the Justice Society of America, as well as most other masked heroes, go their separate ways to lead normal lives, with varying degrees of success. Writer James Robinson puts the focus squarely on the people behind the masks, fleshing out characters who had received little development previously.

It’s a large cast, mixing recognizable characters such as the original Green Lantern and Hawkman with obscure ones such as Captain Triumph and the Tarantula. Prominent roles also go to Johnny Quick, Liberty Belle, Hourman, Starman, the original Atom, Robotman, Johnny Thunder…and so many more. In all cases, the miniseries humanizes them and makes each character its own. This isn’t some company-wide crossover with a million guest stars shoehorned in; rather, it’s a complete story that designs each character to serve the larger arc.

The former Mr. America turns to politics, becoming a senator and spearheading a new program of government-backed superheroes with open identities. The new age requires a new type of hero, one without masks or secrets, and answerable to his country. But, of course, the people claiming to have no secrets are the ones with the most to hide.

The climactic action pulls the superheroes and mystery men of yesteryear out of their retirements or semi-retirements. They leap into action, functioning as individuals but showing no regard for their individual well-being.

And the action is incredibly well-choreographed, with lots of characters having specific, important beats to play out. Artist Paul Smith draws it all fluidly, incorporating the best elements of 1940s comic book art—particularly the rough-hewn, innocent purity of amazing super-feats—and tempering it with modern layouts and expressive faces.

The story breaks down these classic characters, but then builds them back up into heroes, showing how they’ll always be needed, no matter how times change. It strips away their innocence, reveals their flaws, and makes their heroic actions all the more meaningful.

Writer: James Robinson

Artist: Paul Smith

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; JSA: The Golden Age (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Batman #232 (1971)

How to introduce a new Batman villain? Hide him in plain sight.

Ra’s al Ghul gets a distinctive introduction in Batman #232, an issue Batman: The Animated Series adapted over twenty years later.

Robin the Boy Hostage is kidnapped. Then a mysterious man moseys on into the Batcave, claiming that his daughter Talia—whom Batman had recently met—has apparently been kidnapped by the same people.

It opens up a unique Bat-villain dynamic from the start. In a (by comic book standards) subdued bit of macho posturing, this guy has deduced Batman’s secret identity before ever meeting him and immediately brandishes this knowledge as his “hello.” And then he proceeds to lead him around the globe so Batman can find a kidnapper who’s standing right next to him the whole time. But Batman’s one step ahead of him…because he’s Batman.

The whole thing is a test, which brings us to the next reason Ra’s isn’t like all the other bad guys. Batman isn’t just a potential enemy—he’s a potential son-in-law and successor.

We don’t learn everything about Ra’s in his debut issue, but we don’t need to be inundated with all details at once. Slow introductions are often better; we can appreciate the various facets as they slowly emerge. So much more interesting than an info-dump, and it saves surprises for future issues.

For now, we get a clear sense that Ra’s is cunning, resourceful, and used to getting his way. A successful hook. Objectively successful in hindsight, given that he’s been a major foe ever since and Liam Neeson played him in a movie11.

Also, this issue is written by Dennis O’Neil and drawn by Neal Adams—two of the people responsible for rescuing Batman from his campy phase. That was one trap he couldn’t escape on his own.

Writer: Dennis O’Neil

Penciler: Neal Adams

Inker: Dick Giordano

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batman: Tales of the Demon (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Uncanny X-Men #201 (1986)

Many superheroes have lost their powers in various storylines, and that includes many X-Men. Usually, it’s presented as an obstacle interfering with an immediate goal, and it’s a solid trope—it shows the hero is more than his or her powers. But the best examples of the trope have also used it to further develop characters, to provide consequences beyond the immediate short story.

Storm lost her powers for a few years’ worth of X-Men comics. She took the bullet for Rogue and then had to figure out how to reinvent herself without the abilities that had defined her for so long. More than most X-Men, her powers affect her personality; in earlier days, she would often repress her emotions because of how her feelings affected the weather around her. She was already beginning to loosen up before this event (see the mohawk), but this pushed her further into new territory.

By Uncanny X-Men #201, she was ready to return to the X-Men, despite the continued absence of her powers. Meanwhile, new father Cyclops isn’t quite ready to leave the team. He obviously should leave to concentrate on his young family, but Professor Xavier’s recent departure and Magneto’s recent arrival as the New Mutants’ new headmaster give him an excuse to try to cling.

But Storm knows Cyclops is in no shape to lead the team at the moment, so she challenges him to a Danger Room duel, with the stakes being leadership of the X-Men. And she prevails, demonstrating the better wisdom, temperament, and physical fitness for the job, even without the aid of powers, and she reminds us why she’s perhaps the X-Men’s most formidable leader.

Storm’s power loss did prove her skills beyond controlling the weather, but it also humanized her. She could no longer be the aloof goddess of her earlier appearances, and her disconnection from the weather put her more in tune with the people around her. And when her powers inevitably did return, those lessons remained in effect.

The X-Men’s success isn’t hard to figure out. The characters grew over time, and their growth kept things interesting and fresh. The Storm and Cyclops facing off in issue #201 aren’t exactly the same people who first met ten years earlier in Giant-Size X-Men #1, but they’re10 consistent with everything that’s come before.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler: Rick Leonardi

Inker: Whilce Portacio

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Essential X-Men Vol. 6 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Fantastic Four #67-70, 500 (2003)

Doctor Doom finally figures out how to one-up Reed Richards in Fantastic Four #67-70 and 500. And yes, those numbers are correct. Marvel likes to have it both ways with numbering—reboot for a new #1 to designate a jumping-on point, then revert to the original numbering for anniversary issues.

Anyway, there’s one subject area where Reed is in over his head. He can’t comprehend magic. The world’s smartest man is an idiot when it comes to sorcery. But Doom understands the fundamentals, and as the son of a gypsy, it’s an established part of his heritage. So in his ongoing quest to humble Mr. Fantastic, Doom rejects science in favor of magic and strikes at the Fantastic Four through their children.

There are no higher stakes than imperiled children. Not even saving the whole world or universe reaches that level, because the scale is too grand to remain relatable. But your kids are in trouble? We can all understand that terror.

The script by Mark Waid nails the characterization of both Doom and Reed, particularly how arrogant they can both be. The storyline shows how they’re perfect antagonists for each other. They reflect each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and their conflict has always been personal. Appropriately for an anniversary issue, there’s history here, and the feud escalates to the next level.

Marvel has published many superb Fantastic Four stories over the decades, and this is in the top tier. And it begs the question—why isn’t Marvel currently publishing Fantastic Four comics?

Writer: Mark Waid

Penciler: Mike Wieringo

Inker: Karl Kesel

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Fantastic Four by Waid & Wieringo Ultimate Collection, Book 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Avengers #144 (1976)

A former romance comic protagonist becomes a superhero in Avengers #144. Or she gets the super-powered costume, at least.

The Avengers, with tagalong Patsy Walker, had been captured by the Squadron Supreme (Marvel’s stand-ins for the Justice League, but evil). This issue sees them trying to escape the Brand Corporation complex—and being a fictional corporation, you can safely assume it’s up to no good.

The fun comes from the interplay between the characters, with the highlight being the casual camaraderie between Captain America and Iron Man. But the big development arrives when longtime superhero fan Patsy gets a chance to become one herself, despite the objections of her protectors. It’s a wish-fulfillment moment free of angst or melodrama, and it introduces an upbeat heroine to the Marvel Universe. You know right away that Hellcat will add something fresh to the mix. (And yes, Patsy is the comics version of the character we saw in Jessica Jones on Netflix.)

Meanwhile, other Avengers wrap up a storyline set in the Wild West. All sorts of craziness can peacefully coexist in Marvel Comics.

The issue is an excellent reminder about how innocently fun comics can be.

Writer: Steve Englehart

Penciler: George Perez

Inker: Mike Esposito

Cover: Gil Kane

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Essential Avengers vol. 7 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 8 and up