I believe Wolfbane (1957), a novel by Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth,had an enormous impact on the creation of The Matrix film by the Wachowskis. Perhaps this didn’t happen directly and I’m not saying that the Wachowskis are hacks. All great ideas are built on others. Regardless, there are so many vivid images in the Pohl and Kornbluth novel that come to life in much the same way as the Wachowskis movie that I have to call it out. I plan to write more about that in the future but in my most recent reading of this novel, something else occurred to me. There is a strong connection between Wolfbane and the television show Sense8. Here is a line from the Wolfbane wikipedia page in the plot summary of the novel:
“… eight minds joined together to facilitate more complex tasks than a single human Component could manage.”
Could you summarize Sense8 any better than that? Who are the creators of Sense8? Yep, the Wachowskis. Again, not a knock on them but an opportunity to lift up a great novel that has outsized influence when compared to its popularity.
The Last Heroes is a comic book compilation of issues #1 – 4 of Edge by Steven Grant and Gil Kane. The first three issues were released by Malibu Comics in the mid-1990s. Issue #4 was not released until this compilation in 2004. It’s a gritty, dark story with a slick, bright art style. Steven Grant writes in the Afterword, “Despite the earnest trappings, I always viewed The Last Heroes as a comedy.” Sometimes contradictions like these work but not in this case. There is an adequate vision for the project (superheroes originate in a lab but the chance of creating any new superheroes is destroyed) however the execution is lacking. First of all, nearly every superhero has a cosmetic change (hair and/or costume) in a four issue series. Not cool. I am repeatedly confused as to who is doing what. Even in the last panel. Second, in a sea of fantastic super powers, the guy taking out super heroes is doing so by shooting tiny needles from his wrist. He never once uses the laser pistol or short sword that hang at his side. He just uses the needles again and again from the first issue to the last, until someone eventually comes up with a brilliant plan to put on a suit of armor the needles can’t pierce. Lame. Finally, the story simply falls flat even when the art succeeds. The speech given at the end the series is a prime example. Mr. Ultimate looks impassioned with fist clenched, mouth wide and eyes filled with madness, but it doesn’t match his ending words, “We accept nothing short of victory, but true victory requires help. We want the best for everyone. Trust us.” No crescendo. Time to move on. Rating: 386
Jack of Shadows (1971) by the much celebrated Roger Zelazny has an epic geographic and metaphysical scope but many of my favorite moments occur early in the novel before Jack discovers his world remaking ambitions. His intensely personal journey through The Dung Pits of Glyve is the highlight as Jack’s desperation, hunger, exhaustion and hatred direct his actions. These actions provide incredible insight to Jack’s character and rationale to what he’s becoming. At this point the story is much like a classic sword and sorcery tale, blade in hand, challenging mysterious forces, consumed with revenge and pining for his fair maiden. But that arc changes rapidly as Jack’s power increases. He becomes less mortal and more evil incarnate. When Jack is no longer the shadowy thief I fell in love with in the first few chapters, I find myself wishing for his turn back to himself. I find myself wanting at least one full novel of Jack the Thief. Then perhaps a novel of revenge as Jack the Avenger, a storyline which this book flies through. Then Jack the Annihilator with more about Jack’s love for Evene (Latin for “to come to pass”) as the final book of the trilogy. Am I asking too much? Yeah, well I’ll take what I can get. In Jack of Shadows the ending is beautiful and worth a bit of toil through the chapters of grand darkness. Rating: 757