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From The Beginning: WildStorm Universe – Voodoo/Zealot: Skin Trade

It’s back, girls and boys!

I had so much fun reading and writing about the WildStorm Universe in November that I’m not quite ready to go back to just reading it, so I’m going to file the occasional continuing readalong post on a much lesser intensity and frequency because I so do not have the time or stamina to write about 126 WildStorm comics every month.

While I’m very eager to pick up all of the books exiting WildStorm Rising to check out their new status quo, I’m going to use the next few installments to review later WildCATs solo outings that fit into pre-crossover continuity – Voodoo/Zealot: Skin Trade One-Shot, the Spartan: Warrior Spirit mini-series by Kurt Busiek, Zealot’s three-issue mini-series, and some WildCATs anthology stories.

This makes for a fantastic moment to pause and call out a really phenomenal blog: Weathering WildStorm. The author is undertaking this endeavor slightly more slowly than I have been, but he is doing it with the benefit of having read almost all of these books before. As a result, he’s got a fairly well-reasoned reading order that explains how these various side-stories fit. It’s by far the best one I’ve seen on the web in the four years I’ve been getting books together for this read!

Voodoo/Zealot: Skin Trade was published in August 1995, a hair later than WildStorm Rising, but per Weathering WildStorm’s guidance it directly follows either issue #13 or 14 (and maybe explains why the team was so ready for a break in #14-15). It follows up on Steve Gerber’s strong story in WildCATs Special #1.

The issue begins with an intriguing (and beautiful!) opening scene of all women, including Providence and Destine from Special #1 facing each other down in the remains of Yurgovia.

The next page is an ass-shot of Zealot followed by she and Voodoo fighting while dressed in their best Vampirella outfits. Those art choices are not just for the benefit of one splash page – this issue takes its “Skin Trade” name literally and gives a heavy dose of T&A whenever possible courtesy of artist Michael Lopez.

I’m tempted to write this one off as pure wish fulfillment, but there is considerable plot content tangled up with all the skin. Skin Trade turns Voodoo into a bit of a Mary Sue murder doll at points, but it gives context to her more active role in her own psyche in #18 and then on the battlefield in #19 and WildStorm Rising. It also greatly deepens Zealot’s history, if not her character, and creates a (largely unfulfilled) plot hook.

And, if you can tolerate a heaping of cheesecake, Lopez’s art is truly remarkable throughout the book save for a few pages with one bad inker on a solid team effort.

Final verdict? If you’re going all in on a sequential WildCATs read you ought to include this, but if you’re simply revisiting the high points of WildStorm you can skip it.

Continue reading for a recap of Skin Trade‘s plot. Need a copy? Check Amazon and eBay. As for what’s next, I still need a bit more of a breather to work out a schedule for my my leisurely readalong. (Continued)

Song of the Day: “Head Underwater” by Jenny Lewis

Last month I wrote about my enduring affecting for Rilo Kiley, especially their final studio album, Under The Blacklight.

It wasn’t obvious at first that Blacklight was the end of RK, but when Jenny Lewis followed it with another solo record and then forming Jenny & Johnny, I despited. Her soulful, alt-country Rabbit Fur Coat and and Acid Tongue were both solid, objectively good records, but they didn’t have the magic alchemy of Rilo Kiley for me.

I chalked up all the propulsive catchiness, killer riffs, and Fleetwood Mac overtones to Lewis’s RK co-writer Blake Sennet and kept Under The Blacklight in my heavy rotation.

Thus, I wasn’t paying all that much attention when Jenny Lewis dropped her lead single for The Voyager, “Just One of the Guys,” in 2014. It had a clever, star-studded video and still had the alt-countryish tinge. I’d buy the LP out of dedication, but it wouldn’t fill the Rilo Kiley shaped hole in my listening habits.

Then, I heard the first song on the LP, “Head Underwater” and understood that I was completely wrong about everything.

I’m not the same woman
That you were used to

I put my head underwater baby,
I threw my clothes away in the trash

Somehow “Head Underwater” does almost everything that Under the Blacklight does in a single song in a tenth of the time. It accelerates from the soulful sunny pop of “Silver Linings,” passing the wistfulness of “When The Angels Hung Around” on its way to the breezy 80s Fleetwood Mac of “Dreams.” I half expect a sweep of wind chimes every time she says “magic.”

(I particularly love this live version because you can appreciate Lewis’s uncannily perfect voice, which rings clearly and powerfully like a church bell. It’s hard to believe she is singing this live.)

“Head Underwater” gives me crazy rollercoaster feelings in my stomach every time I hear it. I swing from euphoria to nostalgia to grief and back again. I feel the low click of a ticking clock suffocating me like a lungful of water.

It turns out that Jenny Lewis was capable of all of Rilo Kiley’s many sonic references all on her own. They’re a part of the same continuum as her alt-country leanings. When she was in Rilo Kiley there was no point in her recording yet more RK-sounding songs for her solo efforts. Seven years down the line, some of those songs were looking for an outlet and found it in The Voyager.

There’s a little bit of magic
Everybody has it
There’s a little bit of sand left in the hourglass

The Voyager doesn’t have the booty-shaking elements of “Moneymaker” or “Breakin’ Up.” That’s part of the the titular voyage of the album. Blacklight was written around the time Jenny Lewis turned 30, and Voyager as she neared 40. She’s in the same reflective, cutting mood she was on Blacklight, but instead of reveling in the power of youth and sex she’s describing just how differently women (even mega-talented rock star women) are treated as they drift through the uncanny landscape of a childless middle age filled with the same ambition they had in their 20s.

That’s why “One of the Guys” – catchy, but not the best song on the LP – was the lead single. The same reason “Moneymaker” was the lead single on Blacklight.

Because it was the thesis statement.

Book Notes on Krisis, Issue #1

Even more than I enjoy Author’s Notes (and oh boy do I love a good Author’s Note), I love when authors provide behind-the-scenes commentary on their writing. If I’m going to be releasing Krisis out in into the wild, you can better believe I’m going to do a commentary track.

Perhaps three chapters is too small a denomination to dive deeply into, but the entire point of my posting this novel is to expose my process – and this is all process.

Haven’t read any of Krisis yet? No problem – here’s Chapter 1 (pt. 1 & 2), Chapter 2, and Chapter 3 (pt. 1 & 2).

on the “Issues”

The impetus for me to finally write this novel was Eric Smith and his audiobook for Textual Healing. In fact, I was originally writing quite specifically with creating a full-cast audio play in mind as my means of distribution.

That meant I was concerned with having a number of smaller chunks of rising and falling action throughout the plot that could be digested separately from the whole. As I was in the beginnings of my X-Men acquisition quest at the time, I was struck with the idea of “issues” of the novel. Each issue would consist of a trio of chapters, always setting up, rising, and then pushing the narrative forward. While I wouldn’t offer quite as much exposition for new readers as an issue of a comic book, each issue starts relatively cleanly after a point you could easily summarize in a quick “The Story So Far” recap.

krisis-chapter-01b-timothy-krause-flickrIt was as much to keep potential future audio-casts interesting as it was to give me a series of small goals to conquer in the course of my writing. I remain enamored with the issues, since that’s how I’ve been writing it this entire time. We’ll see how they stand up for you, the reader.

on first impressions

Ever since the first day of National Novel Writing Month in 2010 the first line of this book was:

“Nathan wasn’t a man of faith or of ritual, except for on April tenth.”

Then, in a fit of pique just before I posted the chapter, I changed it to:

“Everything felt different on April tenth.”

I changed it for two reasons. First, the “wasn’t a man” version was reliant on playing off of the next line being “He wouldn’t even tell you that he was a man, necessarily.” Having the first two lines of a book tell you all about what a character is not seemed like starting on the wrong foot.

That had bothered me for a while, but the other, more subtle problem was that Nathan is a man of faith or ritual on days other than April 10th! All throughout this chapter he talks about the little rituals he has with Ella. And, saying he had no faith is me being an obstinate agnostic rather than saying something useful about the character.

“Everything felt different on April tenth” is a much more fitting first line, considering everything that occurs to Nathan in the following week.

on white not being the default

It’s obvious (and will become more obvious) that Nathan is based on me and that Martina is based on Gina. The main character of Krisis was always a personal stand-in stretching back to the earliest drafts I wrote in eighth grade.

Relatively late in the editing process (three years in?) I realized that while Nathan started as me, he wasn’t me anymore. In fact, he had became equally connected to E’s little brother in the little details of his backstory that took up residence in the crannies of my brain.

Essential to that, he was no longer a white character, but a mixed-raced character. (Continued)

Children’s Book Review: Nightsong by Ari Beck & Loren Long

One of the critical stops on every one of our trips to the zoo is bats. Fruit bats. Insect-eating bats. We’ve even added adorable little vampire bats who live in a dark room and drink blood from a wee little dish.

Perhaps some parents would be slightly alarmed to have one of their toddler’s favorite animals be bats (especially the blood-drinking kind). I’m not, and not just because the first book I ever read was Dracula. No, it’s more that two of EV’s favorite books are the previously covered Stellaluna and today’s book, Nightsong.

Whereas Stellaluna is a story EV loves, Nightsong’s little Chiro the Bat became a persistent character for EV. He is absolutely adorable. She loves fussing over his cheeks and his chubby belly while we read the book. After a few reads, she began to talk about what Chiro was doing randomly throughout the day. In turn, she became even more engrossed in the book, to the point that she could easily recite it for us with the pages for reference.

This forced my hand on allowing the first licensed character into our home, as we discovered there is in fact stuffed Chiro doll that one can acquire. Every day when EV takes a nap he flies up to a perch on the wall and hangs upside down, and each night he flights down to keep EV company while she goes to sleep.

Nightsong, written by Ari Beck and illustrated by Loren Long Amazon Logo

nightsong-berk-longCK Says:  – Buy it!

Reading Time: 7-10 minutes

Gender Diversity: Male protagonist (easily gender-flipped) and mother.

Ethnic Diversity: Not applicable

Challenging Language: frightened, girths, gleefully, threatened, errands, strand, kin, textures, blanketing, sheltering

Themes to Discuss: being afraid of the dark, sound waves and echolocation, independence, self-confidence and mastery of skills, predators and insectivores, testing boundaries

Nightsong is a book about discovery and boundaries that is beautiful in every way – from its flowing prose to high-contrast, nearly-3D illustrations to its supple, glossy paper. The warmth and trust between Chiro the bat and his mother provides an awesome opportunity to explain boundaries and when it’s the right time to test and push past them.

Chiro the bat awakens folded in his mother’s wings in their cave home. She explains that tonight is the night he will fly out alone and use his “good sense” to find his way – only to the pond, unless his song is sure. nightsong-loren-long-chiro-excerptAt first Chiro feels scared and disoriented, but when he begins to use his echolocation it lights up the details of the world for him as clear as day. After enjoying a breakfast of bugs, Chiro feels confident enough to keep flying. He explores as far as the ocean when he sees the glimmer of the rising sun and knows it’s time to return home to his mother’s warm embrace.

Of all the wonderful elements of this 2012 picture book, Loren Long’s illustrations are the most noticeable. He draws an animated, three-dimensional Chiro who pops off of the black backgrounds of the pages. The efffect is so uncanny that I was convinced that the book contained some computer-generated graphics until I read up a bit on Long, a mega best-selling illustrator. The flecks of acrylic paint that define Chiro’s face at times suggest the detail of blown up pointilist painting in their minute size and deliberate placement.

Other books I’ve read from Loren Long range from fine to great, but the beautiful prose in Nightsong is truly remarkable. That’s the work of Ari Beck, a YA author, folklorist, and doctor of Comparative Literature and Culture. Beck’s writing is easy to read but not simplified, descriptive but never florid. It possesses a natural rhythm that makes me smile to read it. I never get tired of reading this book – it’s a rare one that I can read daily without complaint.

“Sense is the song you sing out into the world, and the song the world sings back to you. Sing, and the world will answer. That is how you’ll see.”

Out went this song over dark water then, again and again, each wave on the ocean rising up to greet him, each splash of sea foam becoming kin to him.

I am always cautious of books with adorable protagonists who like to misbehave. Even when a powerful moral ensues, it can take a while for it to sink in for a toddler even as they begin to emulate the silly or even dangerous behavior of the character they love.

Nightsong gracefully avoids this problem, although it’s so subtle that on my first few reads I was disappointed when Chiro extended his flight past the boundary of the pond that serves as his insect breakfast bar. nightsong-loren-long-interiorIt begin with Chiro’s mother explaining exactly when he ought to push the boundaries she’s set for him – only when his song feels sure. We never get a moment of Chiro thinking to himself, “my song is sure,” but we do have the sureness threaded into the language throughout the book as Chiro’s self-confidence grows. As a result, his boundary-pushing is not only with permission, but it feels entirely organic for the character.

There are few books in our collection that have been read as often as Nightsong, and none of them are in quite as pristine condition. This is simply a beautifully-built book, from the matte soft-touch cover to the weight, glossy pages. It’s especially impressive considering just how soaked in black ink the entire work is. I’d usually expect a book like that to fray and fade, but Nightsong remains just as inky and beautiful as the day we brought it home.

That darkness means these illustrations aren’t particularly bright, although they are high contrast and cheerful. Some kids simply may not warm up to all the black-backgrounded pages. Also, the charm of the book is very much in the richness of the language rather than any particular cleverness of plot, so if you’re not going to give it a spirited read I could imagine it falling a bit flat.

Ari Beck and Loren Long have created a flawless, timeless classic in Nightsong that is so enduring that my child talks about Chiro even when the book is safely shelved away. It is one of my go-to gifts for babies and toddlers.

Krisis, Issue #1, Chapter Three: Dissemblers (pt. 2)

From last week…

He mounted the stairs, taking them two by two to catch up. “It’s just,” he huffed, “her way.” He rounded the first landing, cradling the bag in both hands. “She just,” he glimpsed Valerie turning the corner to the second flight, “does what she,” again, he came up short for air, “does.”

This is not attractive. Nathan stopped talking and focused on climbing.

He caught up with her on the last half flight before the stairs terminated in the third floor hallway. The front-facing apartment had a door directly adjacent to the stairwell. Nathan knew it was empty because he had helped its former tenants carry their kitchen table down the stairs a few weeks ago. The other side of the hallway terminated at the chipped wooden door to Ella’s apartment.

Nathan gestured to the door at end of the hall. He and Valerie advanced on it as one until they were facing its peephole, standing shoulder-to-shoulder.

He knocked firmly.


Krisis, Book 1

Issue #1: Girl Disappearing
Chapter Three: Dissemblers (pt. 1)


“Ella, it’s Nate,” he said in what he thought was a booming, masculine voice, though he wasn’t entirely sure for whose benefit. Possibly his own. “Just stopping by with my friend before dinner.”

There was no sound from within the apartment.

krisis-chapter-01aNathan again withdrew the ring of keys from his pocket with one hand, plucking one of a pair of smaller keys to open the first of two locks on the door, and then the other smaller key for the deadbolt.

He pocketed the keys and spoke again in his chesty voice, “Ella, I’m coming in now.”

He considered for a moment, and then added, “Don’t be naked.”

Nathan pushed the door open.

The lights in the living room were off, and he reached out blindly for the switch on the wall to his left. He caught the edge of it with his fingertips and the ceiling light winked on, bathing the room in light.

Nathan set down the bag of pie and yarn as he glanced around the room.

Something strange…

The green couch was clear of all the debris that surrounded Ella when he visited, and her textbooks were neatly piled on the end table, next to her half-melted candles. The sink in Ella’s tiny kitchen was clear of the plates and dishes from their dinner together. Martina’s old guitar sat on its stand, a capo clipped across the third fret.

It’s too tidy.

a breath of fresh air

I woke up this morning feeling warm and comfortable after staying up until 4am editing the last of my work from November’s “Blog of Tomorrow.”

Not like sweaty and sick warm. More like waking up with the sun beating down on you through a window warm. Except, our bedroom windows are blanketed in blackout curtains. It wasn’t the sun.

Maybe the warmth and comfort was the feeling of a job well done?

No, E informed me, it was actually the feeling of our boiler completely ceasing its communication with our thermostat overnight and deciding to heat the inside of the house to 78° Fahrenheit. It just so happens that my side of the bed is an arm’s reach away from the radiator, so I was probably considerably warmer than 78° by the time I awoke.

(For reference, with the heat off for over 12hrs right now it is a comfortably cool 66° inside while it’s more like 40° outside.)

I was alarmed by this information, but not surprised. I am not a science denier, but as far as I am concerned the thermostat is a work of sorcery. I don’t understand how a little box with mercury in it on the dining room wall (which we replaced with a digital touch screen version) could possible dictate the actions of the boiler in the basement. The internet tells me such a thing was possible as far back as the 18th century.

In response, I will again refer you to: work of sorcery.

After some tinkering and turning the boiler on and off we determined that the problem was somewhere between it and the thermostat. E had to leave for work and, as we’ve established, I am not the handy person in this relationship, so our agreed-upon strategy to avoid manually turning the boiler on and off all day was that I would let the heat pump up to a slightly too-warm level and then coast on that through the evening.

Of course, a house-wide “too warm” equates to “nearing spontaneous combustion” when standing next to a radiator working overtime.

As a result of this plan, at one point earlier today I found myself sitting in our front hall (which contains a radiator) in a t-shirt and pajama bottoms staring out of our open door while EV drew on our walk with chalk just eight feet away, bundled up for Autumn.

It only lasted for a few minutes, but it was one of those memories. There was just something about the picture compared with the inherent comedy of our heating situation.

(We also watched the second half of The Wiz today, which made EV cry and make the saddest face I’ve ever seen on a human being. More on that later, maybe.)

I swear, I did not sabotage our thermostat purely to create this analogy, but today on CK feels a lot like our front hall. On one side I have a month so full of content that it would constitute a quarter or a year depending on you measure, and on the other side I have a vast expanse of open air.

I’m going to take a couple of days to relax and begin to cook up what comes next for CK. Rest assured, you’re safe from multiple posts a day for the time being. I’ll also be reshuffling some of the daily themes (e.g., no live streams this month, while I get some gear repaired), but before I do that I’ll be back tomorrow to finish up Issue #1 of my novel, Krisis.