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July 20, 2010

Book Notes - Lou Anders and Various Authors ("Masked")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Masked is an anthology of modern superhero tales written by a collection of the finest comics and science fiction writers (including previous Largehearted Boy Book Notes contributors Bill Willingham, Chris Roberson, and Mike Carey.

Lou Anders has expertly curated this diverse collection of fantastically told and fully realized stories.

io9 wrote of the book:

"This book could teach Hollywood to do superheroes right."

In their own words, here is a collaborative Book Notes music playlist for from the contributors to the short fiction compilation Masked:

Masked is an anthology of superhero prose fiction. It was very important to me as both the anthologist and a lifelong comic book reader that the tone of the book wasn’t one that poked fun at the comic book genre from the outside or one that took an overly ironic or glib take on superheroes. We wanted to recognize and acknowledge that the field has evolved a great deal since its four-color origins, and that it was capable of sophisticated storytelling (as is all genre fiction).

Masked was intended as a book of adult, modern superheroic adventure, written to be recognizable by today’s comic book readers. For that, we turned to some of the top talents in comic books today and some of the most respected SF&F authors. And, especially for Largehearted Boy, here is our nearly-complete Masked soundtrack, in order of the book’s table of contents:

Introduction: The Golden Age by Lou Anders
(Lou is the editorial director of Pyr books and the editor of nine anthologies, the most recent being Masked and – with Jonathan Strahan - Swords & Dark Magic.)

Although the sophisticated film The Dark Knight is my favorite cinematic depiction of the Caped Crusader, I confess a fondness for the 1960s Batman TV theme, as well as its closest descendant, the Brave and the Bold Theme from the new cartoon show. Both epitomize the kind of exuberance that reading comics gave me as a child, even if, as an adult, I’ll take Christian Bale over Adam West any day. But leaving aside actual superhero theme songs, I love “Sax Rhomer # 1” by The Mountain Goats. The song is an homage to the pulp avengers from whence costumed crimefighters sprang. John Darnielle paints such a picture when he sings, “Fog lifts from the harbor, dawn goes down today / An agent crests the shadows of the nearby alleyway / Piles of broken bricks, sign posts on the path / Every moment points towards the aftermath… yeah!”

"Cleansed and Set in Gold" by Matthew Sturges
(Matthew is the author of the novels Midwinter and The Office of Shadow, and has written such comic books as Blue Beetle, Final Crisis Aftermath: Run!, House of Mystery, Shadowpact, Justice Society of America, and – with Bill Willingham – the Eisner-award nominated Jack of Fables.)

"Nemesis" by Shriekback. If there was a movie based on "Cleansed and Set in Gold" I'd want this played over the opening credits. It's got the same schizo vibe, the same crazy intensity, the same fatalistic urgency (if such a thing is possible) as the story. I've loved this song since I was fifteen years old; maybe it imprinted itself on me. These lines would be an apt epigram: "We are not monsters, we're moral people. / If we have the strength to do this / This is the splendor of our achievement. / Call in the airstrike with a poison kiss."

"Where their Worm Dieth Not" by James Maxey
(James Maxey is the author of the Dragon Age fantasy series of Bitterwood, Dragonforge, and Dragonseed, as well as the cult-classic superhero tale Nobody Gets the Girl.)

Two songs come to mind as appropriate accompaniment for "Where Their Worm Dieth Not." The first would be "I See a Darkness" by Bonnie "Prince" Billy, as covered by Johnny Cash. I think this song captures Retaliator's inner struggle. He cares enough about truth and justice that he's willing to put on a mask and fight monsters to make the world better, while knowing, deep down, he's become an even greater monster. The second would be Bob Dylan's "Seven Curses," with its haunting, angry condemnation of a cruel judge: "Six diggers cannot bury him, and seven deaths will never kill him."  The notion that not even death can bring lasting relief is, I think, an especially appropriate commentary on superheroes after DC's Blackest Night storyline, where a whole slew of dead characters wind up resurrected.

"Secret Identity" by Paul Cornell
(The writer of such Marvel comics titles as Wisdom, Captain Britain and MI-13, Dark Reign: Young Avengers, and Black Widow; A Deadly Origin, is perhaps best known for his work on the BBC's new Doctor Who series. That may be about to change, however, as he has just taken over the writing for DC’s premiere Superman title, Action Comics.)

The Smiths: “There is a light that never goes out'.” A desperate love song from Manchester.  Cheers.

"The Non-Event" by Mike Carey
(Mike is the author of such comic book titles as DC Vertigo’s Lucifer, Hellblazer, The Sandman Presents, and The Unwritten, and Marvel's X-Men: Legacy, Ultimate X-Men, and Secret Invasion. He is also the author of the five Felix Castor novels: The Devil You Know, Vicious Circle, Dead Men's Boots, Thicker Than Water, and The Naming of the Beasts.)

Flaming Lips – “Waiting For Superman” (from The Soft Bulletin):  kind of an obvious choice, in a way, because it's a song about superheroes - but it's a tragic song about superheroes, with an agonizing, plangent chorus about the limits within which it's possible for anyone to save the world.  It was in my head a lot as I was writing my story for Masked.
If we're allowed more than one:
“Next” - Scott Walker (from Scott Walker Sings Jacques Brel): no direct connection here.  It's just that “Next” (a translation of Brel's Au Suivant) is a stonking, wonderful, audacious dramatic monologue, like a lot of Brel songs.  The creation of the persona behind the narrating voice is skilful, touching and darkly hilarious.  When I try to find a voice for a character like Lockjaw, it's poets like Brel and Browning who are in the back of my mind - and it doesn't matter that I won't get within a million miles of what they do with such ease.  They're still an inspiration.

"Avatar" by Mike Baron
(Best known as the creator of Nexus (with artist Steve Rude), multiple-Eisner award winning author Mike Baron is also the co-creator of Badger, Feud, and Spyke, and has written for such mainstream comics as Marvel's The Punisher and DC's The Flash and Batman.)

“Don’t Look Down” by the Shazam ( from Meteor/Not Lame.)  This power ballad from Nashville’s The Shazam is a fitting soundtrack for Hoyt Beryl’s high-wire act.  The song is achingly beautiful and the Shazam are the greatest rock band you’ve never heard.

"Message from the Bubblegum Factory" by Daryl Gregory
(Daryl is the author of the critically-acclaimed novels Pandemonium and The Devil's Alphabet, as well as the comic book Dracula: The Company of Monsters – with Kurt Busiek.)

"Highway 61 Revisited" by Bob Dylan -- My story "Message from the Bubblegum Factory" is a metafictional romp about a former sidekick who realizes that his world began to turn into an absurdist, hyper-violent comic book world the day the Superman-esque Soliton dropped out of the sky -- so of course Soliton must die. I was going for a kind of apocalyptic tale with a rollicking beat and post-modern dialogue, and for that, Dylan is the model.

"Thug" by Gail Simone
(Gail Simone is the acclaimed writer of such DC comics as Wonder Woman, Superman, Birds of Prey, Villains United, and Secret Six. She has also written Deadpool for Marvel, The Simpsons for Bongo Comics, and creator-owned project, Welcome to Tranquility, for Wildstorm, and many other titles. In the world of television, Gail penned the "Double Date" episode of the animated series Justice League Unlimited.)

My choice is "trouble" by Pink, because sometimes, you just gotta start breaking things and people before they can break you.

"Vacuum Lad" by Stephen Baxter
(A multiple award winning science fiction author, Stephen is is the author of the Destiny's Children series of Coalescent, Exultant, Transcendent, and Resplendent; the Time's Tapestry series of Emperor, Conqueror, Navigator, and Weaver, the A Time Odyssey series (written with the late Sir Arthur C. Clarke), and the environmental catastrophe duology of Flood and Ark.)

“Jarrow Song” by Alan Price (keyboard player with The Animals). A song about a bit working-class protest in the north-east of England where I live now. Local heroes.

"A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows" by Chris Roberson
(Chris Roberson is the author of fourteen novels (and counting), among them The Dragon's Nine Sons, End of the Century, and Book of Secrets, as well as X-Men: The Return. For DC Vertigo, he has written the miniseries Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love, and is the co-creator of the ongoing monthly title, I, Zombie.)

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee," as performed by Al Hirt, of course. It just seems fitting somehow...

"Head Cases" by Peter David & Kathleen David
(Peter David is an author, comic book scribe, and screen and television writer, whose resume includes over fifty novels (many of them New York Times Bestsellers), episodes of such television series as Babylon 5 and Space Cases (which he created with Bill Mumy), and a twelve-year run on The Incredible Hulk. He is the co-creator and author of the bestselling Star Trek: New Frontier series for Pocket Books, and scripted issues of such comic titles as Supergirl, Young Justice, Soulsearchers and Company, Aquaman, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2099, X-Factor, Star Trek, Wolverine, The Phantom, Sachs & Violens, and many more.)

"Smells like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana.  "Head Cases" focuses on the wide gulf between the expectations of what society has for heroes versus what the heroes expect for themselves. "Teen Spirit" is rife with internal contradictions that speak to the same struggles our reluctant superheroes have to experience, a little group that has always been and always will until the end.

"Downfall" by Joseph Mallozzi
(Joseph Mallozzi is best known as writer and executive producer of the Stargate SG-1, Stargate: Atlantis and Stargate Universe television series. Other television credits include Big Wolf of Campus, Student Bodies, and The Busy World of Richard Scarry, among many others.)

“Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys for a number of reasons. 

First, the most obvious - the story is triggered by an act of sabotage that ends up drawing our protagonist into an FBI investigation he wants no part of.

Second - it's thematically apropos given that, time and again, Marshall has allowed his past to sabotage his relationship with the woman he loves.

Third - when the movie eventually comes out, it's the song I hear playing in the trailer: a shot of a backlit Downfall striding out of the smoke and chaos he's created before segueing to quick cuts of the various kick-ass action sequences.

"By My Works You Shall Know Me" by Mark Chadbourn
(Mark Chadbourn is the critically-acclaimed author of sixteen novels and one non-fiction book, including the Age of Misrule series of World's End, Darkest Hour, and Always Forever, and the Swords of Albion series that begins with The Silver Skull. A former journalist, he is now a screenwriter for BBC television drama. In the world of comic books, Mark is the author of Hellboy: the Ice Wolves, a novel-length tale of Mike Mignolia's famous creation.)

"6 Underground" by Sneaker Pimps.  The song's lazy beat masks an underlying tone of menace which would be the perfect soundtrack for my story.  There's a hint of a death-song in there, but also a feeling of a journey 'underground' into the unconscious which was just the kind of feel I was trying to capture in the tale.  And a line like 'I fake my life like I've lived' sounds too perfect for a story about superheroes and secret identities.

"Call Her Savage" by Marjorie M. Liu
(Marjorie M. Liu is an attorney, and the New York Times bestselling author of two ongoing series: Dirk & Steele, novels of paranormal romance, and the Hunter Kiss urban fantasy series. She has also written the novel X-Men: Dark Mirror, and, in the world of comic books, is the writer of NYX: No Way Home and Dark Wolverine - with Daniel Way.)

“Endless Love,” sung by Sun Nan and Han Hong. 

From the first note to the last, this song -- to me -- is about love and longing, and sorrow.  Even if you don't understand the lyrics, there's a very epic (and mythic) quality to the melody and those voices.  When I listen to the song, I think of two people on an open plain, with mountains behind and in front of them, searching for something, journeying together, trying to stay together.  And while the heroine of “Call Her Savage'” doesn't particularly want to be on a journey with anyone at all, she is (deep down, in her heart) searching for love and peace, and people whom she can call friends.

That, and I love this line from the song (roughly translated):  "Throughout the ages only love will remain as a myth..."

"Tonight We Fly" by Ian McDonald
(Ian McDonald is the acclaimed science fiction author of such works as The Dervish House, Brasyl, River of Gods, Cyberabad Days, Desolation Road, King of Morning, Queen of Day, Out on Blue Six, Chaga, and Kirinya. He has won the Hugo Award, Philip K. Dick Award and the BSFA Award, and has been nominated for the Quill award and the Warwick Prize for Writing, and has been nominated several times for the Hugo and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.)

Of course, it's 'Tonight We Fly' by The Divine Comedy. Neil Hannon veers between being too clever for his own good to being Godlike Genius and Northern Ireland's greatest songwriter. This is the latter, in spades. It has a glorious sense of yearning and of a secret shared. It is at once life-affirming and frail. UK TV presenter Dermot O'Leary once said he wanted it played at his funeral--it's on my exit-playlist too. All that is great about the extraordinariness of being human summed up in three minutes. It's a song I turn to when I am stuck and dull as lead and feel as uncreative as a work-top wipe -- Talking Heads 'Once in a Lifetime' has the mojo too. They never fail to reconvince me that there is brilliance in the world yet. Also once used for an Airbus ad, which beautifully expresses the superhero sense of if-you-could-fly-why-would-you-ever-do-anything-else?

"A to Z in the Ultimate Big Company Superhero Universe (Villains Too)" by Bill Willingham
(Bill Willingham is the multiple award-winning author of the DC Vertigo title Fables, itself the recipient of fourteen coveted Eisner awards to date. His Jack of Fables, created with Matthew Sturges, was chosen by Time magazine as number five in their Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2007. His first Fables prose novel, Peter and Max, was released in 2009, the same year that his comic book, Fables: War and Pieces, was nominated for the first Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story.)

I am wracking my brain for a suitable song for the song list. Problem is, when I write I do it in silence. The closest I can come up with is “Strip Cartoon” by Jethro Tull, because it captures the silly whimsy of a comic book superhero universe, where the oddest types of characters can co-exist, which is something I was going for in A to Z.

Masked links:

the editor's blog

io9 review
SFRevu review

BSC Review interview with the editor
Four Eyes post about designing the book's cover
Functional Nerds interview with the author
The Mad Hatter's Bookshelf & Book Review interview with the editor
Redstone Science Fiction interview with the editor

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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