Category: Guest Writer

My Knight in Tarnished Armor

Contributed by Christopher J. Valin

It was the end of the summer of ’86, and my eighteenth year on this earth was drawing to a close. I was shedding the cocoon of adolescence and getting my adult wings—at least according to conventional wisdom. That’s how it works, right? Once you’re eighteen, you’re suddenly an adult.

I’d just moved to Colorado to join my parents and brothers, who’d moved there a year earlier from Albuquerque. The reason I had stayed behind was that I had a full ride scholarship to the University of New Mexico. It was the greatest year of my life, socially. And by far the worst academically. With no more free ride, it was time to move back with my family and attend school close by.

In the middle of high school, I had abandoned my lifelong obsession with comic books for a life of playing in heavy metal bands, partying, and—of course—girls. But now I was in a new place where I didn’t know anyone yet. I was feeling somewhat lost and searching for something familiar. One day, after my mom had gone with me to help deal with the final details of my transfer to the Colorado Springs campus of the University of Colorado, she said she needed to stop at the mall for a few things. I went inside with her, and the first place I noticed was a comic book store. “I’ll hang out here until you’re done,” I said.

All it took was walking into that place to re-ignite the spark. I bought a few issues of some of my favorite series that I’d missed, as well as some new ones. It was a couple of weeks before I made it to another comic book store, but I could tell that my old obsession had returned. With a vengeance.

I started checking out a few other comic shops in town, and on my third or fourth visit to a shop, I started a conversation with the guy behind the counter. I told him I’d been away from comics for a few years, and asked him for recommendations.

“You like Batman?” he asked.

“I love Batman. He was my favorite character growing up.”

“Then you should check this out.” He handed me a copy of the first issue of The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller. The one with the silhouette of Batman against a dark sky, a giant bolt of lightning behind him. It blew my mind.

So did the price.

“It looks really cool, but I don’t think I can afford it.”

He pulled out the trade paperback. The first edition, released by Warner Books, with Batman standing over Gotham City. Not as cool as the lightning cover, but still pretty awesome. He told me it contained all four issues, and it was reasonably priced. I bought it.

When I got home, I read it cover-to-cover in one sitting and couldn’t believe how good it was. It had so much to love. The only time I’d seen a version of Batman even close to this was the old Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams books, but this went way beyond that. Miller brought back the

old, oval-less bat-symbol, while still explaining why Batman would go around with a target on his chest. It had Batman fighting Superman. It even had my favorite late-night TV host, whose show I watched every night: David Letterman! This was incredible.

I had always been a Batman and comic book fan, but now it was ON. Not only did it reignite my love for comics, it brought back my desire to create comics. I had always been a good artist, and had created my own comics from when I was very young. The Dark Knight Returns brought back that impulse to create, as well as my obsession with Batman. In the years since, I’ve worked professionally as a comic book inker and writer, a screenwriter, and a novelist.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t have done some or all of those things if it hadn’t been for The Dark Knight Returns. Something else may have kindled that old fire…Watchmen, perhaps, or something by Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore. But the fact is that Frank Miller’s series did kick off a creative streak in me that still hasn’t ended thirty years later. And, for that, I’m forever grateful.

Christopher J. Valin is a writer, artist, and teacher living in the Los Angeles area. His first published book was Fortune’s Favorite: Sir Charles Douglas and the Breaking of the Line, about his 5x great-grandfather. He now writes science fiction and superhero stories and books.

All of his superhero stories take place in the same universe (called the “Raptorverse” after its central character, Red Raptor), including Sidekick: The Red Raptor Files – Part 1 and Superteam: The Red Raptor Files – Part 2, and stories in the anthologies It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane!, World Domination, and Ha! Ha! Ha! You can also find his other books and short stories at his Amazon author’s page and more at his website, Finally, if you’d like to keep up with new releases, as well as giveaways and other fun stuff, please subscribe to the newsletter.


Batman: Year One

Contributed By David Neth

Okay, so call me simple, but the comic that most inspired me for the Fuse series was Batman: Year One. Especially when I was writing Fuse’s origin story in (you guessed it), Origin.

Batman is such an iconic character in not only the DC Comics universe, but in the world of all comic books. And the coolest thing about him? He doesn’t have any supernatural powers! He’s just that badass to be able to fight (and win) against people who do.

Batman: Year One shows Batman at the beginning of his vigilante career, meaning it shows him messing up and making mistakes that would never happen to the seasoned Batman we all know and love. It’s what inspired me to give my character Fuse flaws, especially in the beginning. Just because someone suddenly becomes a superhero doesn’t mean they have it all together.

As authors, we’re supposed to be challenging our characters. In the beginning, these heroes are basically just like us: inexperienced in the world of combat. And therein lies the conflict necessary for the story: how will a new superhero survive when he’s just starting out? When their enemy has the upper hand physically? The origin story is a part of a superhero’s career that doesn’t always take prominence (unless you’re Spider-Man and they keep remaking the same movie over and over again).

What’s funny is, I didn’t read comics growing up. (Gasp!) However, I did watch the superhero animated series, like Batman and Spider-Man. I haven’t read any Spider-Man comics (Gasp!), but the Batman comics and the animated series are pretty much identical. I guess, in a way, I was getting my superhero education without even realizing it.

After reading Batman: Year One, I followed the story arc with Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Dark Victory. All three of these comics inspired my Fuse series, especially the mafia’s influence over the grim city of Gotham. I love it how they tell Bruce Wayne’s story in the real world and then Batman’s influence in it. That balance is what I tried to create throughout the Fuse series because I didn’t want to get too caught up in the “super” part of “superhero.”

The only reason I picked up a Batman comic was to do research to write the Fuse series. I thought it’d be better to start with the basics, and I’m so glad I did.

David Neth is the author of the Fuse series, the Small Town Christmas series, and the Under the Moon series. He lives in Batavia, NY, where he dreams of a successful publishing career and opening his own bookstore.

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The Importance of Kingdom Come

Contributed by Joshua Guess

A lot of comics influenced me and the way I look at stories. Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, all the usual suspects. To have been a reader of comics within the last thirty years means a certain vein of highly acclaimed books will be at the forefront of your thoughts when someone asks which comics had the biggest impact on you.

And while I will remain a faithful acolyte of the works of Alan Moore until I draw my last breath, no comic impacted me as deeply or powerfully as Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross.

On a purely surface level, look at the visuals. Ross is a painter of staggering talent, able to render heroes into believable figures while capturing the smallest nuances of body language. His ability goes beyond human form. His battles look as if they could spring into motion. His layouts are dynamic. The visual language of his art is consistently brilliant.

Kingdom Come wouldn’t work without Mark Waid, whatever claims Ross now makes about the division of labor. The writing carries Waid’s touch heavier in some places more than others, but it’s the unique alchemy between the two men that gives the story its heft and power.

This story asks the question: How do our greatest heroes cope with a world moving past them? Whether it’s Superman quitting after a hero with less strict morals kills The Joker after he murdered Lois Lane or a Batman with the veneer of Bruce Wayne finally ripped away, now free to assert control over Gotham, Kingdom Come does what few stories are brave enough to.

It opens up our heroes and makes them truly examine the consequences of their actions. Not just on the small scale, in the daily repercussions of fighting crime, but over the course of decades. What do we become when the next generation rises up, so certain that right is automatically conferred upon them by virtue of might? It asks us how far we will go—must go—in order to maintain peace, and whether peace is worth oppression.

The central thread tying every theme in this book together is one more question: where does the blame lie when everything spins toward Armageddon?

The brilliance of the story’s structure can be found in its main character, Norman McCay, a human man given apocalyptic visions by The Spectre. God’s spirit of vengeance is itself out of touch with humanity, as are many heroes of its generation. McCay is old enough to remember being inspired by the Golden Age heroes, giving him the perspective needed to judge. Or perhaps that deserves to be capitalized—Norman is to Judge.

The power of life and death, of punishment for the sins of all heroes young and old, is given over to a single human being. Norman is us—the reader. We are being asked as we read to question the ultimate morality of even the most noble heroes. Norman is our proxy, horrified and yearning to be inspired simultaneously, all while being confronted by the horror of the brave new world growing darker around him.

Kingdom Come is a deconstruction of the superhero genre that demands we look harder at the trend toward darker, grittier heroes that began with Moore and Miller. It forces us to shine a light on why this new strain of storytelling appeals to us. It holds us accountable for its popularity.

And while Kingdom Come does all that, layering questions and themes together, it also manages to beautifully tell two stories at once. Threads of classic Golden Age heroics are woven together with the better angels of Modern Age characters and stories instead of only presenting them as the villains. It doesn’t paint a picture of pure right and wrong as so many other stories might. It instead lays out the many shades of gray and begs us to pause and consider them.

Kingdom Come is, in my opinion, a vastly underrated piece of fiction. That it can be enjoyed on many levels is a powerful endorsement on its own, but that it challenges us to question the larger shifts in storytelling in comics without explicitly condemning and pointing fingers is easily the most overlooked aspect of its impact.

The story came at a time when I needed something to remind me what made me fall in love with superheroes to begin with. In a world where the trend spiraled toward anti-heroes, Kingdom Come not only rekindled that wonder about watching a man fly, but made me appreciate the complexity of the more gritty and violent modern heroes who didn’t fall into the stereotype of being nothing but ruthless killers.

I read the trade paperback at least once a year. Anyone who loves heroes should do the same.



TMNT: Return to New York

Contributed by Eddie Jakes

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Few can argue that the 80’s was a comic renaissance. Comic artists were coming off the heels of legends like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The artwork was at its peak and with it came even better stories. During this time, I found myself pulling away from DC comics and entering a love affair with black and white independent comics. I would read as many as I could get my hands on. I was drawn in by the more relaxed interpretation of the comic code. I was seduced by the foul language and even sex (gasp!) oozing from every issue. Cry for Dawn, The Crow, and Sin City to name a few.

There was a series of comics that I had been following since I was old enough to acquire them. A little-known franchise you may or may not have heard of. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT).

While everyone today knowns about TMNT through the animated shows or the new Michael Bay-produced action schlock (Jaded, I know), few remember the classic comic books that created the phenomena that have become an iconic part of the 80’s. This was a unique and edgy kind of hero comic that had a tragedy, some humor, and intense action like no other I was reading at the time.

Now there were a lot of great stories in all those comics, but the one that always grabbed me was the “Return to New York” series. This was a story arc so good that it’s been recreated in almost every incarnation of TMNT cartoon and the very first live-action motion picture.

Before you can dive into this three-comic arc, it’s important to reference the arc that came before it as it deals with the return of the Foot Clan, and its leader the Shredder, who was killed in issue 1 of the TMNT series. He had proven to be such a favorite villain that Eastman and Laird had no choice but to bring him back, and it pays off in spades. The whole story begins with Leonardo #1 micro series where Leo is attacked by the foot clan to near death, and the Shredder is revealed to be alive. The turtles fight their way out and escape with April O’Neil who ends up losing everything because of the Foot. While always an ally to the turtles, the character was never truly vested in their fight until these issues, which is one of many reasons these story arcs are so crucial to the development of the comics. It’s also the issues where the Casey Jones character is really allowed to shine having only been introduced in the Raphael #1 micro series up to this point.

Most of this will be familiar to most of you. The turtles escape to a farm, Leonardo is healed back to health and each one the characters deals with the defeat in their own personal way.

The first issue deals with leadership and a breakdown in the turtle’s bond. Raphael wants to return to the city to get revenge, but Leonardo isn’t convinced that they are ready. There is a vicious fight between the two before Raphael decides to leave on his own. Soon after the others relent and go after him.

The second issue deals with the bothers regrouping and cleaning house in NYC which has become a violent cesspool of crime. They are joined by a Triceraton who helps the ninja’s find the hideout of the Foot Clan, and that’s where the real action begins.

Issue three is an all-out war from the start, and it’s handled brilliantly. Without too many spoilers, the turtles become separated during the fight with the Foot, and at one point, each of them fights a version of the Shredder with Leonardo engaging in a duel with the original. The writers managed to combine a perfect action piece with a story of self-discovery that ends with the turtles defeating their enemies while retaining honor.

In summary, I have been in love with this story arc since I first read it back in 1989 and after refreshing myself with the story for this piece, I can still say that I enjoy these characters and this writing more than anything else I’ve read since. With some possible exceptions to The Walking Dead comics which have some fantastic storytelling in their own right. However, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is still my favorite comic book superhero group on par with the Avengers and Justice League in my opinion and the Return to New York is a timeless classic that continues to be embraced today.


Sharing the Experiences of Superheroes

Contributed By Errick A. Nunnally

There were two comics, for me. I know: lame, but it’s true. One from the past and one from the not too distant past—and both, in a stunning coincidence, are connected.

We’ll start with the four-issue mini-series “The Falcon” by James Owsley and Paul Smith. I tended to go after comics with artists I liked—damn the writers—and I liked Smith’s work. Plus, hey, The Falcon, yo. Here’s a guy who’s only got a pair of gifted wings and a pet falcon, Redwing, to work with. You have to admire that. This particular mini-series saw The Falcon (Sam Wilson) back in Harlem foiling a plot against the president. Sort of. Because this is Sam Wilson, the story gets convoluted inside and outside the book. As I understand it, Marvel only intended to do a one-shot, so the first two issues are fairly self-contained. The last two are a connected adventure, which is nice, but doesn’t do much to let our hero have an arc. Regardless, since this is Sam Wilson, there’s always some evolution of his origins or his abilities.

Wilson has at least three origin stories that I’m aware of, but all of them involve The Red Skull and the Cosmic Cube. At the time, prevailing continuity held that Wilson gained a psychic connection with his bird, Redwing. In this particular mini-series, however, he was unmasked as a mutant! Which explains the Sentinel clutching Wilson in issue #2. He also has a sort of “open secret” secret identity. By day, he’s a social worker and by whenever else he’s trying to stop crime and set would-be criminals on the right path. This is what I found fascinating. I don’t think I’d seen much of that sort of story-telling at the time and I certainly didn’t see any black heroes struggling against the sorts of crime Falcon dealt with. (Along with giant robots, Electro and shit, because, hey, it’s still a comic book.)

The final act finds President Reagan kidnapped during an outreach visit to Harlem. He’s taken by a “gang” who only want their voices to be heard. They outsmart the Secret Service because they know the neighborhood best. I guess. When Falcon tracks them down, he finds the culprits having a civilized discussion with non-facist, competent, fictional Reagan. Rather than a psycho holding a gun to the POTUS’ head making unreasonable demands, they’re getting through to fictional Reagan with words. Falcon has a chat with the guys and they all agree to turn themselves in! BOOM! POW!

The second comic series that really got me was Christopher Priest’s run on Black Panther. Initially, it was pencilled by Mark Texeira—once again, an artist I dig. They’d revamped Panther to be not only super-cool, they also inserted him in a place he hadn’t spent much time in as a character. He was always a monarch, sure, but there’s a socio-political and economic aspect to that role which had gone well and good unexplored. Priest went all-in for several issues, featuring plenty of political intrigue as well as action. Panther interfaced with other world leaders and monarchs such as Victor von Doom and Namor the Sub-Mariner. He wasn’t afraid to maim or kill as needed to protect his country. Panther also foiled international plots against Wakanda (and the world) while maintaining diplomatic ties with the United States via Everett K. Ross. Priest introduced the Dora Milaje and several other aspects of the Panther mythos that proved popular (and logical) enough to have survived as part of the movies being produced today. His run on Black Panther changed the character forever and for the better by thinking of Panther as less a super-hero and more a Wakandan cultural creation. Huzzah!

Both of these comics reminded me to take as much advantage of the world around me as possible, to mix in situations that were both relatable and interesting to me. Having someone with unusual abilities or in situations beyond the norm didn’t mean they needed to be set in worlds that I’d never experienced.

That connection, by the way? James Owsley is Christopher Priest’s birth name. He changed it in 1993. WHUT?

Born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, Errick Nunnally served one tour in the Marine Corps before deciding art school would be a safer—and more natural—pursuit. He strives to develop his strengths in storytelling and remains permanently distracted by art, comics, science fiction, history, and horror. Trained as a graphic designer, he has earned a black belt in Krav Maga with Muay Thai kickboxing after dark. Errick’s successes include: the novel, Blood For The Sun; an upcoming novel with ChiZine Publications; a comic strip collection, Lost in Transition; and first prize in one hamburger contest. The following are short stories and their respective anthologies: Welcome to the D.I.V. (Wicked Witches); Harold At The Halfcourt (Inner Demons Out); The Last Apology (A Dark World of Spirits and The Fey); You Call This An Apocalypse? (After The Fall); Recovery (Winter Animals: stories to benefit PROTECT.ORG); A Hundred Pearls: PROTECTORS 2 (stories to benefit PROTECT.ORG) and The Elevation of Oliver Black (Distant Dying Ember). He also has two lovely children and one beautiful wife.

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