Hello, Readers! Welcome to this month’s Spotlight.
Since Action Comics #1 back in June of 1938, the world has been in love with Superheroes. Our version of the myths and legends humans have been spinning since time out of mind, they are our gladiators, gods and the stars of some of the largest, most intricately woven epics Mankind has ever created. I like to imagine archaeologists of thousands of years from now pulling out issues of Superman, The Avengers, Spawn, Shonen Jump! and Young Justice to talk about them and learn from them the same way we talk about Arthurian lore or the Iliad today. Academics comparing Post Crisis continuity with the New 52, or arguing about what Thanos’s snapping fingers signified in regards to our concerns and interests as a society. Charged discourse around futuristic college campuses about whether Superman really could have beaten Goku. It’s just a fun concept.
It’s always neat to delve into some of the smaller, indie Superhero projects that are out there. With the Internet giving creators so many more options for exposure and publication, you can find some real gems! I think as our culture moves towards smaller content creator driven media consumption, these projects have a real chance to find their audience and thrive.
One such project is Heroes Unleashed, a multi-novel Superhero universe created by Silver Empire. Today, I talk about the first book in this undertaking, Heroes Fall. These books are going to be released in phases and phase one was successfully backed on Kickstarter, see the results HERE.
So, settle into your favorite chair with a cup of tea and a blanket and let’s figure out whether Victoria Westerdale and her world will make it into our hypothetical superhero academic studies of the future. Our hero academia.
- Author: Morgon Newquist and Thomas Plutarch
Formats: Kindle, Paperback and Hardcover
Price: Free via Kindle Unlimited, regular price is $2.99 for Kindle, $12.99 for Paperback and $24.99 for Hardcover
Length: 353 pages
Number of books in the series: At the time of writing, two with more on the way.
Imagine a world of Heroes and Villains; Primes, or powered people, are a normal part of this reality and none shone brighter in the eyes of Serenity City than the Triumvirate. Achilles, a centurion themed strongman. Pendragon, a knight in shining armor. Banshee, a detective without compare. These three heroes work tirelessly to wipe clean the streets of their chosen city… until they don’t.
Something changed one day. Twenty years ago, Banshee died. Her Husband, Achilles, was the apparent murderer and the resulting fight between he and those who needed to put him down tore the city apart both physically and emotionally. The rampage was a black day marked in infamy as lives were lost and countless millions in property damage culminated in Pendragon bringing Achilles in.
Achilles served his time, sat in place and saying barely a word.
What could have caused this once strong pillar of the community to fall so low?
Twenty years later, we meet Victoria Westerdale. A young lady with super strength, she seems to have absolutely no time for the theatrics of the professional hero trade. Wearing a nondescript set of street clothes, she spends her time putting down small time drug dealers and ne’er-do-wells in the aptly named Graycoast area of Serenity City. She’s acerbic, cynical seeming and despite being on the younger side, she seems a little world-weary. Perhaps to be expected when your nights are spent bumping heads with the less desirable elements in a waterfront area known for being the last place you want to wind up after dark.
Through Victoria, we are introduced to many elements of this world. The place where troubled kids with powers go to find themselves, the way that heroism is a commodity in this world (A hero needs a fan-base and sponsors to hit it really big.) and the way that The Rampage has left deep, deep scars on this community.
A girl with the ability to become invisible crosses Victoria’s path and through a desire to help her, Victoria stumbles on to something much, much larger. A plot that could potentially destroy the society held aloft by the ideals generated by heroes… does it tie back into The Rampage?
Only one way to find out!
I read a good amount of super hero fiction. The Heroes Unleashed project was presented to me via an advertisement claiming it was the most ambitious superhero project since the MCU. So… color me intrigued. That is a downright bold claim considering even DC couldn’t quite manage that epic of an undertaking.
How does this book work towards proving that claim? Do I get the impression that these folks are writing a check that they can, at some point, cash?
In time… sure.
Heroes Fall is a good start. This is a story that takes place in a short section of timeline within a much larger narrative. The rest of the events are presented as things everyone in this world knows about and I will say, there is an impressive lack of tiresome exposition. We are shown most things that have happened as opposed to told. We can tell these storytellers went to great lengths to create a huge depth and breadth of happenings in their world and allow us to see a selection of those things through the narrative lens of these characters.
Being a new property, I think it was wise to create The Triumvirate primarily using archetypes we all know. These aren’t our main characters, but we get a sense of who they are by the way they style themselves and that gives us some narrative shorthand to gain our bearings in this place and amongst these people. And Victoria is very human and down to earth, further grounding this story. She’s easy to relate to in a way that you just don’t get with your average genius, billionaire playboy philanthropist or God of Thunder. She has a day job and rent to pay. She’s doing the best she can with the hand she’s been dealt and maybe she can’t always do it with a smile… but that’s not always the job. Sometimes the job is just tiresome and unfortunate. And that’s fine. She never crosses the thin line from cynical into mean-spirited, and I appreciate that.
I will add a slight trigger warning for talk of sexual assault. There is absolutely nothing graphic, explicit or otherwise superfluous in this book but there is mention of it, so if that’s a topic you’d sooner avoid, be aware that it’s there.
All in all, this is an extremely solid read for anyone who enjoys stories about Superheroes. I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into the second book in the first phase of Silver Empire’s shared universe, Hollow City.
A word with the Author:
Jim Newman: Tell readers who may be unfamiliar a little more about Silver Empire and the Heroes Unleashed project?
- Morgon Newquist: Silver Empire is an independent book publisher, and Heroes Unleashed is our shared superhero universe. It’s like Marvel but with books. Each hero has their own city to operate in, their own story-lines, though they all exist in the same world with the same shared history.
Jim: Victoria is a character who is extremely easy to relate to; what was the driving inspiration behind her character?
- Morgon: I’m glad she is. She’s the character I worked the hardest on, actually. I liked the idea of a woman with super strength but who is also vulnerable. It is the person behind the power that matters, not necessarily the power itself. Being super strong doesn’t automatically erase who she is or cancel out the life she’s led. A character has to grow and change over a story, and I wanted her to build up her inner strength, to be able to put her foot down and be emotionally strong, to choose to move beyond being the person the universe made her and become the person she chose to be instead. No one in the real world can lift cars, but they can choose to have the inner strength to change their life.
Jim: I loved the Triumvirate; the idea of them in any case, even though there’s some obvious character flaws individually (Never meet your heroes, am I right?) What made you opt for more classic hero archetypes over classic superhero archetypes?
- Morgon: Heroes, whether of the cape wearing kind or not, are still people. And that’s really how I wanted to write them in this book. The archetypes ended up growing organically out of the characters I created. I didn’t intentionally choose to do it that way. I’m a character based writer, so everything I write flows out from the characters themselves. I knew who Jameson, Rhiannon and Michael were long before I knew their hero names, and each of their characters ended up fitting hero personas that were more mythological than traditional superhero when I finally figured it out. But I also think superheros are our modern take on the Greek heroes, on King Arthur and Lancelot, and so on, so the archetypes still work in a modern setting with superpowers.
Jim: Was there a primary reason that Silver Empire opted for novels over a more traditional comic format?
- Morgon: The primary reason was resources. It takes a lot of work and deep pockets to get a comic off the ground, and we’re still a small publisher. We have plans in the future to turn the Heroes Unleashed novels into graphic novels, though. We also thought it would be cool to bring the shared superhero universe concept into novels, where it isn’t the norm.
Jim: Any collaborative project comes with its own challenges, and considering the scale of this project, were there any storytelling challenges you faced in regards to making sure all your entries will tie together seamlessly in terms of continuity?
- Morgon: We have our own internal wiki that I’m always hopelessly behind on updating because there is so much going on. We established an in-universe timeline pretty early on to keep everything consistent. Most of the problems have been trying to make sure everything fits and doesn’t feel forced. But it’s actually one of the best part of the projects – seeing other authors borrow your characters, figuring out how to fit in references to other books, etc.
Jim: The books coming out in phases is very reminiscent of Marvel’s phase strategy for their movies…. does that mean at some point we will see a coming together of these diverse stories ala The Avengers?
- Morgon: We’ve definitely got plans for it! But we’re doing it the right way like Marvel did. First everyone’s got to get established, and then we can move into joint stories with them. The Avengers worked because we knew the characters. Put too many of them together too fast, and there’s no connection between the reader and the heroes. I’m very excited for that part, and I think the ideas we’re already brainstorming are going to be awesome.
Jim: Being that Kickstarter was used to gain funding for phase one, is it likely we will see a campaign for phase two as well?
- Morgon: Yes! It is actually coming down the line soon. We’ve got four new authors joining the project, along with sequels to the Phase One books.
Jim: Are there any plans to expand this novel based universe into other media? Merch, animation, that kind of thing?
- Morgon: As I mentioned earlier, we are planning to expand it into graphic novels eventually. We’re also looking at getting audiobooks done. And we’ve got some merchandise! We have Heroes Unleashed t-shirts for sale right now HERE. I’m particularly excited about getting a Banshee shirt for myself. Hats, posters, and artwork are all also in the works.
Jim: Obviously you’ve probably consumed a fair bit of Superhero media, maybe in preparation for writing this series or maybe just because you enjoy it. What are some of your favorites and do you have any recommendations you want to share?
- Morgon: I have, for both reasons! I like to work out on the couch sometimes, watching television while I write, so I always try to match up what I’m watching with what I’m writing. I’m currently binging Batman: The Animated Series. I still have a number of the Marvel Netflix shows to work my way through. There are all the obvious answers – the MCU, the Nolan Batman movies, etc. I’ve watched and loved them all. But I’ll bring up three other superhero media items: the first one is Rising Stars by J. Michael Straczynski, the second is the Mutants and Masterminds RpG, and the third is the (sadly now defunct) City of Heroes MMO. Rising Stars is the first comic I ever read, and it definitely influenced my mindset when working on Heroes Fall. If you haven’t read it, it’s a great one to pick up. The other two, Mutants and Masterminds and City of Heroes are where the original ideas for two of the characters in the book came from, Victoria and Pendragon. Victoria was my character in City of Heroes, and a game power from Mutants and Masterminds directly inspired Pendragon’s superpower. I won’t name it now for spoilers, but without that, there wouldn’t be Heroes Fall.
Jim: Do you have any advice for aspiring indie authors related to getting their own projects up and running?
- Morgon: Just do it! This is the best time in history for being an author. There’s nothing holding you back from getting your work out there. It can be scary, but it’s worth it. I do have more specific advice: Just sit down and write. It sounds so easy but it can be so hard. You can’t do anything until you just write. It doesn’t matter how good or bad it is, first you’ve got to get the story on paper, and then you can go from there. Second, make friends with other indies, find groups for indie authors, etc. Many indies are extremely generous with their time and knowledge. You don’t have to go at it alone, or figure out everything the hard way. Learning from people who have already been there is so much better than making all the mistakes others already have.