Rereading The Defenders with the Defenders Dialogue Podcast: Issues 1-64

Monday, May 20th, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


I sometimes have trouble making my brain stop thinking. As a writer, it’s hard to read a book, story or comic or watch anything without having my “is this the way I would have done this?” or “what can I learn from this?” working in the background. This can be exhausting.

I’m in one of those periods now, so in the last couple of months, I watched the whole Logan’s Run TV series and a few episodes of the 1978 Battlestar Galactica for its kitsch, nostalgia and the mental time travel to my youth.  I blogged a bit about 70s sci-fi TV here. But I still needed something more to listen to while driving and doing dishes.

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Hither Came Conan: Bob Byrne on “Rogues in the House”

Monday, May 20th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Hither_RoguesMarvelEDITEDWhen I was pitching this series to folks, I was using the title, The Best of Conan. I didn’t come up with Hither Came Conan for about eight months, I think. Yeah, I know… The idea behind the series came from an essay in my first (and so far, only) Nero Wolfe Newsletter. The plan for 3 Good Reasons is to look at a story and list three reasons why it’s the ‘best’ Wolfe story. And I toss in one ‘bad’ reason why it’s not. And finish it off with some quotes. You’ll be reading more 3 Good Reasons here at Black Gate in 2020.

So, I’m going to take a somewhat different tack from those who have come before me (I doubt I could have measured up, anyways) and pick out two elements that make this story one of Howard’s best recountings of the mighty-thewed Cimmerian. Then, throw a curveball from the Wolfe approach and highlight a few items worthy of note.


Obviously, you need to read this story, but here’s a Cliff’s Notes version: Nabonidus, the Red Priest, is the real power in this unnamed Corinthian city. He gives a golden cask to Murilo, a young aristocrat. And inside the cask is a human ear (remind you of Sherlock Holmes? It should.). We learn a little later on that Murillo has been selling state secrets, and the ear is from a clerk he had dealings with. The jig is up!

Given the choice of running away, waiting meekly for assured death, or finding a tool to escape his predicament, he chooses the latter. And Conan is that tool. Wait: that didn’t sound right…

Conan and a Gunderman deserter had been successful thieves until a fence, a Priest of Anu, betrayed them. The priest also happened to be a spy for the police. As a result, the unnamed Gunderman (more on that below) was captured and hung. Conan then cut off the priest’s head in revenge. A ‘faithless woman’ (presumably his current main squeeze) betrayed him to the police, who captured the Cimmerian as he hid out, drunk.

Murillo visits the cell and Conan agrees to kill Nabonidus in exchange for his freedom. Things go a bit awry and Murillo goes after Nabonidus himself but faints at the sight of the red priest in his house. Meanwhile, Conan, after casually killing his ex-girlfriend’s new lover and then dumping her in a cesspool, sneaks into the pits under Nabonidus’ house, where he encounters Murillo, who had been dumped down there.

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In 500 Words or Less: Flip, Volume 1, edited by Jack Briglio

Friday, May 17th, 2019 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

Flip comic-small Flip comic-back-small

Flip: Volume 1
edited by Jack Briglio
Markosia (74 pages, $14.99 paperback, $6.99 eBook, December 21, 2018)

What’s that line from The Twilight Zone? “Imagine if you will…” or something, right?

I’ve been teaching a high school creative writing course recently, and one of the things I’ve loved is encouraging my students to explore the question of “What If?” as they’re brainstorming ideas. Once we get past the cliched stuff like “What if Germany won the Second World War?” they come up with some really powerful ideas, since “What If” can lead you in all sorts of crazy directions.

Mind you, all speculative fiction has a “What If” quality, so to say that I’ve been reading a lot of that kind of book lately is a bit redundant. For this post though, I’m thinking of the kind of story that twists things just slightly into the unknown, whether it’s Mary Robinette Kowal lobbing an asteroid into the United States in The Calculating Stars or Guy Kay turning the early Renaissance a “quarter turn to the fantastic” in A Brightness Long Ago. Sometimes it’s historical fiction, and sometimes it’s turning our world slightly askew, which is what’s intrigued me about the first volume of Flip, a new comics anthology edited by Jack Briglio.

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Hither Came Conan: Mark Finn on “The God in the Bowl”

Monday, May 13th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Hither_BowlFrazettaDarkHorseEDITEDWelcome back to the latest installment of Hither Came Conan, where a leading Robert E. Howard expert examines one of the original Conan stories each week, highlighting what’s best in it. Today, it’s Howard biographer Mark Finn looking at one of the first stories, “The God in the Bowl.” And here we go!

The God Has a Long Neck

“The God in the Bowl” is part of the holy trinity of Conan stories. No, not “Tower of the Elephant,” “Red Nails,” and “Beyond the Black River” (though they are undoubtedly worthy of the appellation). I’m talking about the Original Trinity, the Big Three, the initial stories that Robert E. Howard wrote and submitted to Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales back in 1932.

I consider these stories to be Ground Zero for the essence of Conan the Cimmerian as he was originally introduced. In “Phoenix on the Sword,” we meet Conan the King, an established old campaigner, with a whole lifetime of stories under his furrowed brow, struggling with his new role as a king. This was borne out of Howard’s desire to write fiction in the guise of history; tales of adventure and sweeping consequences, without having to fact-check and sideline his narrative vision. Using his unpublished Kull story, “By this Axe, I Rule!” as a jumping off point, Howard clearly had an idea of what he wanted to do.

But he had to sell it to the market that was buying, and since Oriental Stories, the magazine he’d been selling his historical adventures to, had shuttered its submission window, he turned to his old standby, Weird Tales. “The Unique Magazine” under the editorial direction of Farnsworth Wright enjoyed a kind of nebulous distinction as a kind of catch-all for any kind of story, so long as it was weird. This included anything with a spicy suggestion, such as ice maidens wearing gossamer robes and taunting a battle-exhausted youth. “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” was made for Wright, who would recognize its classical mythic underpinnings, but would also not mind the implied slap-and-tickle of the naked girl laughing at young Conan.

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The Iron Teacher

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Carper

The Iron Teacher

I try to stay away from expounding on the popular cultural artifacts from other countries. Going back in time and explaining why American pop culture looks the way it does often ranges from difficult to impossible. Even the English, a culture separated from ours by a common language, has a past that is a semiotic mystery most of the time.

Take comic books. Americans invented them (depending on what you consider Italy’s Il Giornalino to be) and the English followed closely behind. The Dandy started in December 1937 and The Beano on July 30, 1938, meaning it will reach its 4000th issue this summer. (It’s been issued weekly except during WWII.) Both were part of the gigantic D. C. Thomson & Co. empire. By then Thompson already had a lock on the boys’ story paper market, those being the British equivalent of the boy’s story weeklies that proliferated in the U.S. during the late 19th century. (Those are now famed for introducing early robots like the Steam Man and the Electric Man, along with many other science-fictional inventions.) The story weeklies usually carried a complete short novel or a serialization of a longer one. The story papers also carried serializations, but those were short segments that appeared alongside complete short stories.

Thompson started Adventure in 1921 and added The Rover, The Wizard, The Skipper, and, in 1933, The Hotspur. (The internet tells me that the name comes from the noble warrior Sir Henry Percy, known as Sir Harry Hotspur, who is immortalized by an appearance in Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Exactly the sort of everybody-gets-it reference that trips me up when encountering other cultures.) These “Big Five” dominated the market and lasted for generations, eventually mostly being merged into one another as the market for story papers faded at the end of the 20th century.

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Lore Olympus: One of the 2019 Eisner Nominees

Saturday, May 4th, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


I’ve been following on my phone’s app for a while and had Lore Olympus suggested to me many times because it is one of the most highly recommended. The thumbnail didn’t do much for me, but I recently decided to try it. The first episode is here. Oh my God…. It is so good!

In Lore Olympus writer/artist Rachel Smythe retells the Persephone-Hades story in the trappings of a modern urban fantasy. It is a full-on romance story, but also fully placed in the world of the gods and the nymphs and legends of ancient Greece, with cell phones, Fatesbook, cars and glitzy parties.

Nineteen-year old, over-protected Persephone is staying with Artemis while she starts university. They go to a party at Hera’s house, and only intend to stay for one drink, because Demeter, to protect her daughter, raised her in the mortal realm and Persephone is not used to any of the gods’ vast wealth. In her family, they make things.

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Will the Real Captain Marvel Please Stand Up, or Why Can’t the World’s Mightiest Mortal Use His Own Name?

Sunday, April 28th, 2019 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Is this Captain Marvel-small (2) Or is this Captain Marvel-small

A few weeks ago my wife and I saw the new Captain Marvel movie. I thought it was a smashingly successful film, above all in its demonstration of how shockingly superhero storytelling has degenerated over the past fifteen years. But whether I liked it or not is neither here nor there; after all, the movie made a billion dollars, and as Doctor Doom himself would be the first to acknowledge, that’s the important part.

On the way to the theater, my wife wanted to know just who this Captain Marvel was – Brie Larson sure didn’t look like the hero that she thought bore that name, the grinning hunk in the bright red suit with the yellow lightning bolt on his chest. Did Captain Marvel have some sort of life crisis that required an extreme change in direction – and wardrobe? (That happens these days, even in comic books.) She was especially confused because there’s another movie out right now that features the crimson-clad character that she’s familiar with, except in this other movie, he’s called Shazam, not Captain Marvel.

The explanation is simple… well, not really simple, but I’ll try to at least make it comprehensible. This Captain Marvel is not that Captain Marvel. The guy in the red suit is the first, the real Captain Marvel, with a pedigree going all the way back to the fabled Golden Age of the 1940’s, while this current version is, for all of her many virtues, a claim jumper. And yes, something indeed happened to the original hero. He was the victim of a plot more nefarious than anything the Joker or the Red Skull ever cooked up, and he suffered something more starkly evil, more life shattering, and more humiliatingly debilitating than any wound inflicted by magic talisman or sinister superweapon.

So what was it that laid Captain Marvel low?

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Girls of the Wild’s: Fantastical MMA from Korea

Saturday, April 20th, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


I try to read a bit of everything. I’ve blogged about before — it’s a massive (like thousands) webcomic hosting site in South Korea. I’ve mentioned Newman, Cyko-KOmaybe Elf and Warrior, but in the last couple of weeks I’ve burned through 190 episodes (each one is equivalent to 4-6 comic book pages) of a 260 episode series called Girls of the Wild’s


It’s basically Harry Potter goes to a Korean Hogwarts, except instead of magic, it’s mixed martial arts, and instead of wizards, it’s a girls school. And now it’s co-ed for the first time, and a poor guy called Jaegu, who gets beat up and bullied a lot, and who has to raise his two kindergarten siblings because his mother abandoned them, is the first and only male student.

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Goth Chick News: Plunging into Twisted Dark

Thursday, April 18th, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

The Traveller comic The Theory comic

In the name of full disclosure, I must admit I’m a sucker for a Brit. And if that Brit happens to write dark, twisted, steam-punky comics, then put your thumbs in your ears while I do a full on, fan-girl squee…

Okay, maybe scratch that mental image and let’s move on.

We first met British writer Neil Gibson back in early 2014 at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo. Then he was promoting volume one of Twisted Dark; the illustrated story he had written which had just been published by indie comic house TPub in the UK.

In May 2015, Twisted Dark reached number one on the UK Kindle chart. And when I was in London’s famous Foyles bookstore last year, another of Gibson’s offerings, Tortured Life was highlighted as a “staff pick” in the graphic novel section.

Six volumes of Twisted Dark and several other series later, it’s clear I’m far from being the only fan of Gibson’s unique style of storytelling. So a couple weeks ago when he emailed to let me know his newest project with TPub, The Traveler, was complete and a Kickstarter campaign had been launched to bring it to life in print, I was as happy as a cosplayer at a 2-for-1 spandex sale to get a look and tell you all about it.

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Future Treasures: Decades: Marvel in the 70s – Legion of Monsters

Thursday, April 18th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Marvel Decades Legion of Monsters-smallIf there’s a company out there that knows how to use nostalgia to shake dollars out of me, it’s Marvel. I’ve already shelled out for their deluxe hardcover Omnibus volumes, the black & white Essentials line, and more recently I’ve spent a fortune on their Epic Collections, which assemble 18 issues apiece of early core titles like Thor, Spider-Man, Avengers and Fantastic Four. Recently they’ve launched a Decades series that looks at some of the more offbeat comics from Marvel’s long history and, heaven help me, I’m reaching for my wallet again. In this case it’s for a nearly forgotten team book from the 70s which has never let go of my imagination.

Celebrate 80 years of Marvel Comics, decade by decade — together with the groovy ghoulies of the Supernatural Seventies! It was an era of black-and-white magazines filled with macabre monsters, and unsettling new titles starring horror-themed “heroes”! Now, thrill to Marvel’s greatest horror icons: The melancholy muck-monster known as the Man-Thing — whosoever knows fear burns at his touch! Morbius, the Living Vampire! Jack Russell, cursed to be a Werewolf-by-Night! And the flame-skulled spirit of vengeance, the Ghost Rider! But what happens when they are forced together to become… the Legion of Monsters? Plus stories starring Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, Manphibian, the vampire-hunter Blade… and never-before-reprinted tales of terror!


Previous titles in the Decades series include Marvel in the 60s – Spider-Man Meets the Marvel Universe, collecting 60s Spider-Man stories from Amazing, Avengers, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, and other places; Marvel in the 50s – Captain America Strikes! which gathers material from Young Men, Captain America (1954), Men’s Adventures, and other mags; Marvel in the 80s – Awesome Evolutions, which collects some of the bizarre makeovers of the 80s, including Spider-Man’s black costume, Storm’s mohawk, Thor’s battle armor and the Hulk’s return to gray.

Decades: Marvel in the 70s – Legion of Monsters will be published by Marvel on April 23, 2019. It is 248 pages, priced at $24.99 in print and $16.99 in digital formats.

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