Paperwork Ninja noticed that Sparkler (despite being a Hispanic dude) looks like he may have been modeled after Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton.
Given that the Force of July a) debuted around the same time that MLR was at her Olympic peak and b) was created as a strawman to beat up on Reagan-patriotism, it’s actually plausible!
All members of the Force of July were killed off in the godawful hodgepodge Checkmate/Suicide Squad crossover event, The Janus Directive. Here’s Sparkler getting killed by Dr. Light.
Mayflower was my favorite member of the Force. Her deal was that she had control over plants and talked with a cheesy Dickensian urchin accent, all “‘ello, guv’nor!” like.
She got garroted by some shmuck
Now for something to be happy about.
Halo is so chipper that Raven has a hard time being a wet blanket around her.
This panel is hella ironic, tho, given Halo’s origin story and what a train-wreck Violet Harper was before an alien consciousness inhabited her dead body.
I’m nearing the end of Batman and the Outsiders, and though overall I’ve loved it, I have enough future issues to be somewhat wary of the direction that it may go in Outsiders Vol.1.*
The tail-end of Batman and the Outsiders introduces the new character, Looker, and several of the Outsiders solo covers on early issues promise some really hammy villains (the Duke of Oil, the Nuclear Family, and the godawful Force of July**).
Even though Looker’s 4 issue origin arc was one of the best runs since Katana’s yakuza arc, there are dark clouds appearing on the horizon.
First of all, the redesign of Halo. It first showed up in Outsiders #1 the previous month, but it shows up for the first time in continuity here. Frankly, she looks awful with a pompadour.
Beyond looking awful, this feels somewhat questionable because it’s coinciding with the introduction of Looker. I guess they couldn’t have two pretty women with long hair on the Outsiders, so they gave Halo this awful do to help differentiate between them?
Emily Briggs’ introduction and the foreshadowing of the character hint at her being a much more interesting character than I’m almost certain she’ll end up being. I don’t want to prejudge too much, but it looks like they’re going to play her up as being a sex-pot despite giving her some potential for real nuance. She’s a plain-jane bank-teller who wishes her husband would notice her more, and the comic sets her up for a friendship with Tatsu, but I spoiled it for myself and find out that once she gets her powers and joins the Outsiders, she ends up being something like the “bad-mom” to Katana’s “good-mom” where Halo’s concerned.
And it’s weird that I can tell I’m going to hate this character despite the fact that she had a perfect origin story. Really, it’s because she has such a perfect origin that I feel so certain I’m going to hate her, because I know that she won’t live up to its potential.
So, Looker’s deal is that she’s a descendant of a god-blooded race of kings from the inner earth; the Abyssian royal family had been growing more and more powerful and warlike until one of them decided to throw on the brakes and preach peace–he’s exiled and stewards rule in the family’s place while searching for a descendant to put upon the throne as a puppet. Briggs turns out to be the granddaughter of the exiled king, and the warring brother and sister pretenders are fighting over her. They unlock her god-blood powers (and beauty), and each magically brainwashes her. Before Halley’s comet can destroy the earth (wait, isn’t that the sort of thing Superman is for?), Looker shakes off the conflicting magical controls and ends the bloody civil war once and for all, naming a couple mooks rulers and ushering in an egalitarian society. While Batman’s more cynical as to how Looker overcame the conflicting brainwashing, Tatsu is certain it was Briggs’ love for her husband that broke the spell (she snapped out of it and wrecked the pretender king after he broke her wedding band and demanded she be his queen). Briggs’ husband realizes he’s been taking her for granted and how much he appreciates and loves her–he spent most of the arc devastated and praying that Batman can rescue his wife (and as a mirror to Sapphire Stagg, whom Metamorpho had just married and is in the same straits); at the end of the adventure, Briggs surprises her husband as Looker happy that she can treat her husband as ‘a woman as beautiful as she thinks he deserves’.
Based on how she’s set up, Looker seems like she could go down a number of interesting paths. She could keep up her friendship with Tatsu and help her dealing with her grief over her husband and child. She could play around a lot with the ‘true beauty is on the inside’ trope, with Looker being Briggs’ “inner self brought out”, as just a really good and loving person trying her hardest. Lots of stuff. But no, she ends up being self-centered and narcissistic and even has an affair with Geo-Force (which is really not a direction I like to see him going as the team’s “Righteous Dude”).
Eventually she becomes a vampire thot or something.
Anyway, of the issues I’m missing out B&tO, it would have to be the two immediately preceding the consecutive run of nearly 20 other issues I own, so it may be a minute before I find out just how wrong or how right I turn out to be.
*:The first several issues of Outsiders vol.1 ran concurrently with Batman and the Outsiders and the post-Batman “Adventures of the Outsiders”, the solo series takes place a year after the events of the original and still ongoing (though wrapping up) title. So, yay for confusing continuity.
**:For what it’s worth, I think that in the right hands, Force of July could be a great property. If they were given their own book in which they were presented unironically as good and earnest patriots who loved and fought for America instead of just being used a cheap punching-bag to attack Reagan Republicans, they would have a ton of potential for great stories as a kind of D or C list Justice League. I love their designs, particularly Mayflower’s.
Now that I’ve click-baited you with that misleading title, I’m going to spend some time introducing you to one of The Forgotten Kick-Ass Women of PulpTM – Dark Agnes, the heroine of REH’s Sword Woman. And kick-ass she most certainly is.
According to both howardworks.com and isfdb.com, Sword Woman was not published during Howard’s lifetime, so it’s hard to date. However, C. L. Moore corresponded with him about it at the start of 1935 – she loved it – which gives us a reasonable idea. It’s been published a few times since it was rediscovered, but the version I read was in The Second Book of Robert E. Howard, edited by Glenn Lord, published by Zebra Books in 1976.
Our heroine is called Dark Agnes because of her ferocity, not because of her colouring. In fact, she is one of those redheads that fantasy writers love so much. REH even works that into the first line of the story. “Agnes! You red-haired spawn of the devil, where are you?” It was my father calling me, after his usual fashion.”
So, we are quickly introduced to Agnes de Chastillon, a fiery young woman living in a village in post-mediaeval France. The story starts on the day that she is supposed to be married off to the ‘fat pig’ Francois by her brute of a father, who thinks nothing of knocking her out and dragging her home by the hair when she refuses. In a moving early scene, Agnes’s downtrodden sister gives her a knife with which to take her own life and save herself from a life of drudgery. Of course, this being an REH story, Agnes disdains both choices proffered to her by other people – death or domestic slavery – and uses the knife for something else – to cut her way to freedom. She stabs her betrothed, flees, makes a friend on the road called Etienne Villiers, but is betrayed by him and almost sold into prostitution, beats him up in return, makes another friend, the more honourable Guiscard de Clisson, a leader of mercenaries, then fights again, is shot and so on and so forth, as you’d expect of Howard.
However, this isn’t a manic story, just fast paced. The story is told through lots of action, but the action fits the psychology of Agnes. She is a female berserker, driven with rage to fight her way out of her vulnerable position in society. Indeed, I was convinced enough by her rage and her backstory, which are given in a few vivid strokes by Howard, to overcome my disbelief about her fighting abilities. She doesn’t suddenly turn into a fighting machine, but develops by stages, first standing up to her father, then stabbing her betrothed, and progressing from there. Even so, she is not invulnerable and needs some help in becoming the independent fighting woman she wants to be to escape from the drudgery of domestic life.* Hence, she gains her own martial mentor who is then shuffled off the page, Obi-Wan Kenobi style, when he’s served his purpose. Pulp writers never let a character grow old or outlive their usefulness.
Most of the men who mistreat Agnes, she either kills or beats up herself in one of her rages, or they suffer at the hands of others. In this, she is a catalyst for chaos, but the chaos is already part of her society and she simply brings it out. Her brutal father is ‘marked with scars gotten in the service of greedy kings and avaricious dukes’. The land outside their village is a desperate place filled with criminals, vagrants, wandering mercenaries, and retainers working for unscrupulous nobles. France and the Holy Roman Empire are on the brink of war. It is a turbulent age. No wonder she is so angry all the time.
Agnes is simply someone fighting against her position in a dangerous society, and the same applies to her friend-cum-adversary Etienne Villiers. He is initially her silver tongued rescuer but is later revealed to be a blackguard; however, he does, perhaps, have more fairness buried even deeper still. Both of them are interesting characters with their own sense of honour, their own moral codes, perhaps alien to those of us living in the twenty-first century. It’s their alien codes that gives these characters life, their sparkle.
Despite all the indignities heaped on Agnes, the story isn’t a hate filled screed against men, nor is it a political tract – not that you’d expect any of that from Howard. He just produced a story with a different type of protagonist for his market – a peasant girl. He did give her the expected motivation for many a fictional character – the desire to escape a miserable life – but made sure her motivation was different in other ways – the need to escape a forced marriage to a man she despises, and the need to hide her sex from the world as she flees. That gave Howard interesting material to combine into something new, and it worked. Given Agnes’ background, you would almost think that Howard was writing the prototype of a progressive or feminist story, but in his case the ‘progressive’ elements were there in the service of the story rather than driven by a political agenda.
In fact, Dark Agnes is much more interesting than the gender-neutral characters we see in a lot of stories these days – ‘there are no differences between the sexes’. Thankfully, 1 To use the jargon, she has a character arc. Howard harnessed these differences between men and women, their psychologies and their positions in their society, to produce a vivid and exciting story, much as C. L. Moore did with Black God’s Kiss. It’s no wonder the Queen of Weird Fiction liked this story so much.
My blessings! I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed ‘Sword Woman.’ It seemed such a pity to leave her just at the threshold of higher adventures. Your favorite trick of slamming the door on a burst of bugles! And leaving one to wonder what happened next and wanting so badly to know. Aren’t there any more stories about Agnes?
In fact, there were two sequels, Blades for France, which was left unpolished, and Mistress of Death, left unfinished. Howardworks.com and ISFDB list the completed 2 3 and published versions of these stories.
*To use the jargon, she has a character arc.
Paul Lucas is a writer with a story in an upcoming issue of Cirsova Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine; he can be found here on WordPress.
Torchship Captain is live on Amazon, both the ebook and paper versions. The audiobook recording is in final edits and will be out soon. Please leave a review on Amazon, good or bad. Let people know what you think.
This is the conclusion of the Torchship Trilogy.
Michigan Long blackmailed her enemies into joining the war against the AIs. Now the secret she used is leaking out and the Fusion is shattering. Caught in the middle of a civil war, she will have to use any weapon that comes to hand—her wits, her ship, her mate.
Okay, there have been lots of conversations going on that are conflating certain things and certain arguments as being one and the same, and this leads to a lot of goal-post moving, so I’m going to try to untangle stuff here.
- Dungeons & Dragons was not “Tolkien + a few other things”
- Dungeons & Dragons was “Lots of things, including some Tolkien”
- Elves in the Hobbit are substantially different from Elves in Lord of the Rings and later Tolkien Legendarium; they are not “Tolkienesque” in the way that the term is generally understood.
- “Dungeons & Dragons is a Tolkien/Middle Earth adventure game” is a false statement.
- Chainmail, however, does include significant elements from the Hobbit; saying that the fantasy portion of Chainmail is Tolkien-the Game, is not entirely ridiculous.
- The Hobbit was far more influential on Chainmail and Dungeons & Dragons than the Lord of the Rings proper.*
- Elves in Chainmail are not explicitly “Tolkien elves”; they bear little resemblance to Lord of the Rings elves, though they do resemble elves from the Hobbit or the Rankin & Bass cartoon.
- Do people consider the Rankin and Bass elves “Tolkienesque”?
- Chainmail elves are mechanically identical to Fairies and share an entry.
- Chainmail elves can turn invisible at will;
- Orcs in Chainmail ARE explicitly “Tolkien Orcs”; their tribes are described in terms of “Hand Orcs”, “Mordor Orcs”, etc.
- Elves as they appear in D&D are substantially different from Elves as they are depicted in either the Lord of the Rings or the Silmarillion. Though a case can be made that they bear similarities to the wood elves from The Hobbit, they bear a much stronger resemblance to humanoid fey races from Poul Anderson.
- PC Races in D&D do owe some to Tolkien, but only Halflings are explicitly Tolkienian
- Tolkien did not have a literary monopoly on stout and hardy dwarves who live in the mountains, mine for treasure, or craft fantastic weapons; it does not pass a reasonable-doubt check, but it’s not far-fetched to say they were, if they did not become, Tolkien dwarves.
- Shifts in D&D towards more Tolkienian/Tolkienesque/Tolkiengrotesque races and trappings are the result of Tolkien becoming the “Goto” name in fantasy from the late 70s on as Tolkien Clones and Branded Gaming Fiction began to dominate the market and public conscious and therefore the minds of the people playing and later the people developing the game; this was not by design.
Note that all of the above is completely separate from the original discussion that:
- I hypothesize that The Hobbit had little/no impact on the 1st and 2nd waves of 20th Century Fantasy, though I remain open to and will look for evidence to the contrary.
- The Lord of the Rings’ influence on fantasy in the 70s and beyond is undeniable; its influence on fantasy prior to the mid-60s highly suspect
- Questioning Tolkien’s influence on literature from periods immediately contemporary with him and the intervening years between the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings or the latter’s eventual paperback release =/= dismissing Tolkien’s work or his subsequent influence or denigrating it ala Michael Moorcock.
Lastly, if I’d remembered that this was the 80th Anniversary of the Hobbit, I probably would’ve avoided the topic entirely.
*:This one definitely needs citation, and I am looking for it, but it came from an interview with Gary where he pretty much comes out and says something along these lines.
Inspired by J. Manfred Weichsel’s remark describing Fritz Leiber’s “Swords and Deviltry” as “a mix of Dunsany, Tolkien, and Piers Anthony.”
Tolkien is often heralded as the lord and father of Fantasy, but consider the following:
The Sword & Sorcery genre predates the Lord of the Rings by decades.
All of the classic first wave Sword & Sorcery had been written and was already old news when Lord of the Rings came out. Lord of the Rings was published at the very tail end of the Pulp Era, and would’ve likely had very little immediate influence on those writers.
Robert E Howard’s, C.L. Moore’s, and many of Fritz Leiber’s Sword and Sorcery stories predate the Lord of the Rings. Even relative late-comer and Edgar Rice Burroughs fan-boy Philip Jose Farmer had already won a Hugo Award a year before the Lord of the Rings was published.
It would be interesting to see how much, if any, influence the Hobbit had; compared to much of the fantasy contemporary with it, this debut is relatively straight-forward: a guy goes on a long walk with strangers who press-gang him and gets some treasure from a dragon. The Ring is just a plot device, and the encounter with Gollum part in a series of episodic encounters on the way to said dragon. Given the corpus of fantasy fiction upon which the 1920s and 1930s Sword & Sorcery genre was building, it’s hard to imagine The Hobbit making a significant splash or being regarded as any kind of “serious seminal work” by the writers hard at work crafting the foundations of the modern fantasy genre.
I really don’t think there is a smoking gun; you probably are not going to find any of the important and influential fantasy writers from the pulp-era saying in the 1930s or 1940s “Man, that Tolkien guy is gonna change the way people read and write Fantasy forever!” If there is, though, I’d love to see it!
Something that didn’t quite register until after yesterday’s post: Fafhrd & Gray Mouser underwent a reboot. This is not the sort of reboot that most people think of today with movies, where a property undergoes a remake and, if it’s a success, it becomes ongoing. Think more of like when Futurama got a reboot via a season of direct to video movies after its cancellation.
Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser was a pulp property whose creator gave it a grim-dark (grimmer-darker?) reboot following the release of the anthology “Two Sought Adventure”.
When people are “reading it in order”, they’re reading prequels first. It’s starting with Phantom Menace.
After other anthologies were released in the late 60s, Two Sought Adventure (1957), which anthologized all but one of the duo’s pulp-era adventures, was rebranded and re-released as “[Volume 2:] Swords Against Death” with additional stories and continuity material, making it something of a “Special Edition Re-release”. Never mind that it was re-released a couple years after what retroactively became volumes 3 through 5.
That’s right, the publication order of Fafhrd & Gray Mouser books is pseudo-II, III, IV, V, with I and II published around the same time, then VI and VII several years later.
The first Fafhrd & Gray Mouser stuff I read was Swords Against Death, which is pretty consistent, though the later stories do stick out like sore thumbs a bit. Yet I heard a lot of gripes from people starting with Swords and Deviltry. So I recommended folks check out the earlier stuff in volume 2 first. But now, reading some of the later stuff myself, I can definitely see where the gripes come from, especially from people who go into it looking for pulpy sword and sorcery adventure.
There were six years between the last pulp-era Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser story and Lean Times in Lankhmar. There had been some lapses earlier (5 between The Sunken Land and Adept’s Gambit and 4 between Adept’s Gambit and Claws from the Night). The first several stories, however, were one after another from 1939 through 1943; and as I’ve noted in my reviews of pulps at Castalia House, a major tonal shift in SFF started taking place in the early 50s. The shift is even more dramatic in the 60s and 70s, the period during which the vast bulk of the Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser canon was written.
I’m not saying “Don’t read the later Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser stories”– not at all. But I am saying I may be closing in WHY those stories feel so different and readers who’ve seen my praise for the pulpy goodness of Swords Against Death feel confused and let down when they jump into the franchise elsewhere.
While the duo have their origins in the pulps, the majority of Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser stories come from the much later New Wave of science fiction and the Sword & Sorcery Renaissance which was in many ways a grotesque of the genre which had birthed those characters.
So, when I’m recommending that people should read Swords Against Death first, “even though it’s the second volume”, think of me like the guy saying “If you want to get into Star Wars, maybe you should watch A New Hope first, even if it is the Special Edition* and the box says Episode IV.”
*:Except really, Bazaar of the Bizarre is a lot better than CGI Jabba the Hutt