A New Broken Empire Review!

broken_empireRaven’s Reviews recently took a look at the first Assistance Unlimited: The Silver Age novel, Broken Empire. Here’s what they had to say:

Assistance Unlimited, the next generation!

Lazarus Gray is now 59, still active, but not as involved in the daily affairs of Assistance Unlimited as he used to be. These are the adventures of Emily Grace, daughter of Samantha Grace, one of the original members of Lazarus Gray’s organization. Emily is getting a new partner, Benjamin Falk. Falk was on President Kennedy’s team in Dallas and blames himself for the assassination. But Gray referred to here as “the old man” sees something in Falk.

There are two interconnected stories in this volume.

Book One: The Rise of Helios

Marvin Levin and his crew of clones endeavor to reestablish the Fourth Reich. To accomplish the madman’s goal they seek supernatural objects either under lock and key in Assistance Unlimited headquarters or being actively pursued by them. But Levin has a rival… or is it more than one…

Book Two: Roll the Bones

Otto Darling, the current leader of SIGIL (Supreme International Group for Illicit Liaisons) is after the Chalice of Madness. Allying himself with Helios from Book One, he seeks knowledge that drinking from the chalice is said to bring. Or was that insanity and chaos?

I found the book exciting. The only complaint I have is that according to information at the end of this book, it is slightly out of sequence. Things that take place here are direct results of events in Lazarus Gray volume 8 which I am reliably informed will be out later this year.

That said, it does not really affect the story all that much since the focus is on the characters. The exact events of Emily’s birth and parentage being forthcoming does not stop the reader from enjoying what a kickass character she is. The character is 100% pure smashmouth pulp hero and the action never stops. There are over-the-top villains, world-shaking weapons, Nazis, the supernatural—what’s not to love? Encore! I say!

I give the book a resounding five stars plus!

The Immortal Princess Femi

lg03_femi_smallA good villain can make all the difference.

With The Peregrine, most of his enemies were dead and buried by the end of each adventure, though he had a few (The Warlike Manchu, for instance) who made return appearances. When I created Lazarus Gray, I knew that one of the things I wanted to do with the series was to create a series of recurring villains. I wanted him to have a vibrant rogue’s gallery that could return again and again.

But which of his enemies stands above the rest? If our hero is defined by his villains, which of those foes is his dark mirror?

Obviously, Lazarus Gray has Walther Lunt, his former mentor. Lunt was a major force in Volumes One and Two but his death in 1936 (“Die Glocke”) has left him as a shadow looming over the series. He did return to battle Lazarus in a winner-returns-to-life battle but his defeat there has seemingly ended his threat forever.

And then there’s Nemesis, whose very name suggests that he should be Lazarus Gray’s arch-foe. He plays a key role in volumes 7-9.

Bur are either of them really Gray’s arch-enemy? Or should that honor go to the equally-deserving immortal known as Femi?

Continue reading → The Immortal Princess Femi

Writing Update

cfstillsnowtoastBreezing along on the 13th volume of Lazarus Gray – I’m over 25,000 words into the book and the plot is a real humdinger with multiple threats, the return of an old friend, and some new romances. I’ve heard from more of you expressing frustration at the slow releases in the Lazarus Gray series and all I can say is that the eighth volume should be out in the next couple of months and that I’ve been told we’ll have a more regular schedule after that.

The blog’s recent focus on writeups for the Icons roleplaying game have seen the site getting a lot more hits than usual – I know that if you’re not a fan of the game system, you might not have much interest in them but I’d encourage you to check out the game. It’s definitely my favorite system that I’ve come across in many years.

Recently read “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” which tells the story of President Coriolanus Snow’s rise to power as a young man. It wasn’t a book without flaws but overall it was a pleasant read with some intriguing philosophical questions. I’m not normally a fan of prequels centered around the villains (I’m looking at you, Star Wars prequels) but this one was better than most. If you were a fan of the Hunger Games series, I recommend it!

 

Broken Empire Gets Another Review!

barry reese 3 bAssistance Unlimited: The Silver Age – Broken Empire was examined over at Max Reads Comics in a special edition that’s dubbed “Max Reads Other Things.” You can click on the link to read the review in full and also check out the many wonderful columns and reviews that Max has posted. I follow his blog and always enjoy it. Here’s some of the highlights of what he had to say:

As you can see by the sub-title, this is the latest in the “Assistance Unlimited” series by the author, named after an organization founded by one of Reese‘s most iconic characters, “Lazarus Gray.”

The “Silver Age” part of that same sub-title is kind of a comic book reference, as the story takes place in the 1960s, and us comic book folks know that the 60s was prime “Silver Age” time.

Normally, the Assistance Unlimited (“AU” from here on) stories are set many years before this swingin’ decade, and this book marks a kind of experiment by Mr. Reese. Specifically, he’s decided to jump two decades into his characters’ futures, potentially “spoiling” certain things along the way. Continue reading → Broken Empire Gets Another Review!

My Favorite Spider-Man Writers (Updated!)

romita_jr_spidermanA couple of years ago I compiled a list of my favorite Spidey authors but as time has progressed I’ve had to shake up the list.

Let’s see how it currently stacks up:

10. Joseph Michael Straczynski – JMS wrote Spider-Man from 2001-2007 and he did a lot of very good things. He also did some truly awful things. But the early issues were pretty good. I quite enjoyed the Morlun storyline and there was a really good Doctor Octopus story in there. Yes, the later stuff (Sins Past and One More Day) were things that are almost unforgivable but I still include him here for the strength of the stories he wrote in the beginning.

9. Tom DeFalco – The 1980s was really “my” Spider-Man and DeFalco did some amazing stuff when paired up with Ron Frenz. I really enjoyed most of his stuff and continued to enjoy his contributions via Spider-Girl later on. An underrated Spidey writer in my opinion.

8. Kurt Busiek – This is mainly on the strength of the wonderful Untold Tales of Spider-Man series. Busiek did a pitch-perfect series that danced in and out of established continuity. Some of the new characters he introduced in there are some of my favorites in Spidey history. Loved it.

7. David Michelinie – Most of his run is remembered for two things: the artists he was paired with (McFarlane, Larsen, Bagley) and the Venom/Carnage stuff. But it was a lot of fun overall and you never knew where things were going — towards the end, this was because neither the writer nor editor knew either.

6. Dan Slott – Slott wrote the book for over ten years and there were some amazing highs (the Superior Spider-Man period in particular) but I did have some issues with a few of his storylines and the way he portrayed Peter, which wasn’t always consistent with my own personal view of the character. One day I’ll do a re-read of the entire run but for now it sticks out in my memory as some great stuff and a whole lot of “What are you thinking, Dan?”

5. Gerry Conway – I felt that the Stan Lee era had really become boring by the end and Conway injected a lot of life back into the character. His version of Spidey was actually the first I read as a kid and I still enjoy reading them today. Some of the stories are bad, sure, but some are wonderful and hold up very well. His return on Web of Spider-Man was pretty good but I wish it had featured better artwork.

4. J.M Dematteis – Yes, sometimes you run into the trademarked psychological mumbo-jumbo that Dematteis always does but he also wrote the amazing Amazing Spider-Man # 400, Kraven’s Last Hunt and the death of Harry Osborn. When he’s on, he’s very good.

3. Nick Spencer – Spencer is the book’s current writer and I’ve loved what he’s done – he’s really gotten Peter back on-track after some of the later Slott decisions that kind of took the character out of the sweet spot he usually occupies. Spencer has done wonders with Mary Jane, Fred (Boomerang), and Jameson. Plus, the Kindred mystery has been the most fun storyline of its kind since the Hobgoblin days.

2. Stan Lee – The early issues with Ditko are brilliant! I’ve always found the Romita issues to be bland and boring (though pretty to look at) so I’m ranking him so highly based upon his role as the character’s defining voice and the fact that the first 30+ issues are some of the greatest superhero comics of all time.

1. Roger Stern – My Spidey writer! Stern did some amazing stories and his Hobgoblin storyline remains one of my all-time favorites. I enjoyed it when he came back and revealed the true identity of the iconic villain, too. So many great stories and Stern was the best at handling the supporting cast. Hell, he even made Lance Bannon interesting!

What say you, Spidey fans?

Broken Empire gets reviewed!

thumbsupRay Bara has been a longtime supporter of the Reese Unlimited universe so it’s no surprise that his is the first Amazon.com review for Broken Empire. Ray gave the book 5 stars and titled his review “Loved the next wave of Assistance Unlimited” – here’s what he had to say in full:

I’ve been a big fan of Barry Reese’s Lazarus Gray series. It’s been a long time since the last novel (the publisher has inexplicably delayed publishing Reese’s already-written Gray novels), and this one is not a straight Lazarus Gray novel, but it is a great one nonetheless. Reese has skipped ahead a few years in this one, placing the story in 1964 instead of the 1930s. Assistance Unlimited, Gray’s group of heroes, has expanded and moved out of Sovereign City, Reese’s setting for his fictional universe. We see more focus on Emily Grace (the daughter of Samantha Grace) and Ezekiel Gray (Lazarus’ son). While the focus is not on Lazarus Gray, all the elements of a classic Barry Reese novel are there: lots of action, a great “pulp” feel, plenty of occult references, and great characterization. Reese also did a great job of moving Assistance Unlimited into the future; it’s great to see something “pulpy” that’s not in the 1930. I would love to see an actual new Lazarus Gray novel soon (I know they are ready to go), but Broken Empire is a wonderful way to spend the time while waiting. Go get this one!

Thanks, Ray! I’m really glad that you enjoyed the book. When I originally came up with the idea for the novel, I thought it would be fun to see Assistance Unlimited grow into a SHIELD or UNCLE type of organization – and since we’d established that some of the old crew were becoming parents, it just seemed natural for those kids to lead the future version of Assistance Unlimited.

As for the release of the other Lazarus books, I’m hopeful that you’ll see volume 8 before too long. I’ve written books 8-12 and am currently working on number 13. I sympathize with your impatience – it’s been three years since volume 7 was released! Pro Se is a big company, though, and they sometimes have to put their focus where they think it’s best. Our time will come.

Thanks again, my friend!

The Occult Forces Project

br8smallOne of the background elements that has featured in a lot of my pulp adventure stories is the Geheimnisvolles Kraft-Projekt, also dubbed The Occult Forces Project or OFP. Founded in the late 1930s, the OFP was dedicated to utilizing super-science and magic in the name of The Reich and was a subset of The Ahnenerbe. The group had several notable successes when it came to creating larger-than-life figures who spread the Nazi ideals across the globe. Thankfully, they were defeated at every turn by heroes like The Peregrine and Lazarus Gray. A division of the OFP was known as the Department of Occult Armaments (D.O.O.M.) and was headed by Dr. Meer.

Here are some of the more notable agents of the OFP that we’ve seen thus far:

Silver Wolf – This werewolf agent of the SS named Karl Raider battled Lazarus Gray and The Darkling in 1937 during the events of “Eidolon” (The Adventures of Lazarus Gray Volume Three). He was enslaved by Princess Femi before he had a fatal encounter with The Darkling.

Geist – General Luther Strauss was a graduate of the OFP who encountered Assistance Unlimited in 1937. An accident in Tibet left him with the ability to manifest ghostly powers. Blackmailed by The Darkling, Geist worked as a double agent until his skills were no longer needed and The Darkling killed him. His story is told in “Eidolon” (The Adventures of Lazarus Gray Volume Three).

Continue reading → The Occult Forces Project

The Black Terror (Reese Unlimited Version)

BLACK TERROR_col_smallerThe Black Terror is a character that dates all the way back to Exciting Comics # 9, published in January 1941 by Nedor Comics. His secret identity was pharmacist Bob Benton, who formulated a chemical he called “formic ethers”, which gave him various superpowers. He used these powers to fight crime with his sidekick, Tim Roland, together known as the “Terror Twins”. The character proved popular enough to survive until 1949 and his distinctive costume made for some truly memorable covers. After the Golden Age, the character eventually fell into the public domain – which led to a whole host of publishers reviving him for various projects. Over the years, he’s appeared in books published by AC, Eclipse, Wild Cat, Image, Moonstone and, of course, the Reese Unlimited imprint of Pro Se Press. I first wrote the character for Wild Cat back in 2008 as part of a book called Legends of the Golden Age and later used him in a couple of stories for The Peregrine. More recently, I’ve gone further back into his continuity to incorporate him into my Lazarus Gray stuff. Because his “later” appearances were written first there are a few discrepancies in how he’s portrayed.

In my universe, we first see The Black Terror in 1934 and learn that he’s the creation of a United States military operation overseen by General Arbogast and a scientist named Kenneth Butler. The Black Terror was, in fact, a plant-human hybrid — he had literally been grown in a tube. His memories (all the “facts” from the Golden Age comics) were implants designed to create a backstory that would make him a better soldier for the United States government — Jean Starr was there to give him a woman to fight to get back to and Tim gave him a sense of family. Neither actually existed, except in his own mind. When Bob found out the truth, he broke free and went rogue — but his programming was strong enough that he decided to continue fighting as The Black Terror. In 1936, this led him to Sovereign City in search of a man named Maxwell Schmidt. The German was running Omega Solutions. In conjunction with another product of the same government program that created The Black Terror — a man named McIness that was codenamed Titan – Schmidt hoped to transform himself into an entity dubbed Prometheus. In the end, Schmidt died for his hubris and The Black Terror was forced to kill Titan, the only other entity like him in the world. When all was said and done, The Black Terror used the technology that had created him to grow versions of Jean and Tim — he implanted similar memories into their minds and gave them life. All of this was recounted in “Making of a Hero” from Lazarus Gray Volume Two.

Continue reading → The Black Terror (Reese Unlimited Version)

Spending Time in Sovereign

aidra_fox2Spent much of the past week in Sovereign City, revising and adding to the twelfth volume of Lazarus Gray. I know that some of you have gotten mighty impatient waiting for these books to be released (the seventh book was released three years ago) but I think they will be on the way relatively soon. Until then you do have Broken Empire to tide you over – it’s an Assistance Unlimited book set in 1964.

Once all twelve of the Lazarus books are out, I think I’ll be able to sit back and feel pretty proud of them. While it may not get too much (read: any) attention from the Pulp Factory Awards and it’s not considered as groundbreaking as Derrick Ferguson’s rightfully-beloved Dillon series, I think there’s a place for Lazarus and his friends in the New Pulp landscape. Besides, not many series in the New Pulp landscape reach 12 books (plus spinoffs!).

Whenever I’m feeling down, I always end up starting a new Lazarus story – so it’s unlikely that I’ll stop at 12 books. I was worried that selling the property (along with the rest of the Reese Unlimited catalog) might result in less enthusiasm but whatever doubts I had were lifted when I wrote the Lilith novel, which was the most fun I’d had writing in a couple of years. When I returned to the twelfth Lazarus book, I found that I was able to add about 3,000 words to it and really thought they were good ones.

Our Icons writeups continue to get major traffic for the site, which is an unexpected pleasure. Hopefully some of our visitors will check out my writing, as well! I’ve had a few requests to do stats for Lazarus, Gravedigger, etc. and I’m sure I’ll get around to that eventually.

Nightman (Icons Writeup)

Nightman
aka Johnny Domino (original name: Johnny Domingo)nightman

Prowess 6
Coordination 5
Strength 5
Intellect 5
Awareness 6
Willpower 6

Stamina 11

Powers
*Life Support 1 (Nightman does not need to sleep)
*Telepathy 6 (Limit: Nightman can only read “evil” thoughts. Limit: Power is uncontrollable.)
*Night Vision 3
*Body Armor (Damage Resistance 4)
*Taser 3
*Eye Lenses 4 (Provides Resistance against vision-based Dazzle attacks. Also provides Extended Vision via the left eye lens. Limit: Without some sort of protective lens to shield his permanently-dilated eyes from bright lights, subtract 2 from all visual-based actions)
* Swinging 2

Specialties
Performance (Saxophone Expert + 2 bonus), Athletics (Expert + 2 bonus), Drive (+ 1 bonus), Investigation (+ 1 bonus), Martial Arts – Akido (Expert + 2 bonus), Stealth (Expert + 2 bonus)

Qualities
“Life or jazz, I can play!”
“I feel it! The Evil!”
“Passion for life? That I’ve got!”

Background

Johnny Domino (he shortened his name from Domingo in order to appear less ethnic) had two great passions in his early life – jazz music and akido. Both were introduced to him by his father Eddie, who learned the martial arts during his stint in Vietnam and who refined it during his years on the San Francisco police force. Johnny grew up to become a talented and popular jazz musician, one whose future seemed paved with success. That changed when a freak accident left a piece of metal lodged in his brain. Waking from a coma, Johnny found that the portion of his brain that controlled sleep functions had been badly damaged. Awake 24 hours a day now, Johnny felt his passions surge whenever night fell. Those passions grew even stronger when he learned that he could hear evil thoughts in others. Driven by a need to stop these crimes before they were committed, Johnny put together a costume and adopted the identity of Nightman — the hero would take back the night from those who preyed on the innocent.

As Nightman, Johnny found himself fighting alongside San Francisco’s other heroes, the Strangers, against the likes of Mangle, the Werewolf and the ageless Rhiannon. During a bizarre encounter with an artifact known as an Infinity Gem, the Nightman was split into two beings — the original Nightman, who found himself trapped in an alternate universe, and a second Nightman, held in thrall by Rhiannon and blessed with supernatural abilities. This second Nightman has all the same abilities as the original with a few changes: Detect 4 instead of Telepathy (Nightman II does not sense evil thoughts — he sees auras, which tell him if someone is “good” or “evil”); Darkness Control 3; Telekinesis 4; Celtic Dagger 3 (Extra: once it strikes, the dagger cannot be removed by anyone except Nightman II; Nightman II is able to sense the dagger’s location with the equivalent of Detect 8); Electricity Control 2; Immortality 3 (Nightman II achieves this by organ replacement and the digestion of humans).

Though we have not seen Nightman in years, it can be assumed that he would have eventually found his way home to the Ultraverse (his home universe, as it was known to comics fans) and reinstated his role as San Francisco’s nighttime avenger.

My favorite Ultraverse character, the Nightman has many similarities to Valiant’s Shadowman, thanks in large part to the fact that Steve Englehart (who wrote the early issues of Shadowman’s book) created Nightman. Both heroes were a bit manic in personality, both felt more at home in the dark, and both were jazz musicians.