Monday, April 28, 2008

Why I love Myke Phoenix

Once upon a time, about the time Neil Armstrong planted Old Glory on the moon, two adolescent boys from opposite ends of the country met through the letters column of The Amazing Spider-Man. In that era before e-mail, they became pen pals. The kid from California launched a mimeographed fanzine of imaginative fiction called Fantasy World. The youngster from New Jersey wrote a handful of stories for that zine, all of them about a superhero he christened H-Man. H-Man had a prosthetic arm that fired energy blasts. Not quite like an H-bomb, but what the hell. It was pretty darn cool.

Within a year, I’d discovered girls and stopped publishing Fantasy World. My friend Warren Bluhm had pushed H-Man aside to pursue other creative ventures. And eventually, we both lost touch, having never met face to face.

Thirty-five years later, in 2005, Warren and I became reacquainted courtesy of kismet and the Internet. Our friendship is one of the longest and most stimulating I’ve ever had. And, alas, we’ve still never met in person.

But here’s the point of this story. Warren has sent me a signed copy of his new book, his first book, called The Adventures of Myke Phoenix, along with an admission that “Myke is a direct descendant of H-Man and Fantasy World.” So I was predisposed to like Myke Phoenix before I even cracked open this volume. I was also inclined to like the book because Warren is a good buddy of mine who just so happens to be a fine writer. But even setting my biases aside, The Adventures of Myke Phoenix is a whole lot of fun, particularly if you enjoy the old pulps, comic books, and, well, superheroes who don’t take themselves too seriously.

In case you’re unaware, there are dead-serious heroes — like Batman, Daredevil, and The Shadow, for instance — and there are lighter heroes not to be taken seriously at all, like The Spirit, She-Hulk, and Hellboy. Myke Phoenix, fashioned in the tradition of the original Captain Marvel, falls into this second group. How so? Well, for one thing, among the bad guys who traipse through the five stories in this book are a half-man, half-duck named Quincey Quackenbos and a thieving philanthropist who goes by the moniker Doctor Skull. Funny, funny stuff. For another thing, Warren writes with — heck, there’s no other term for it — light whimsy. As I read Myke Phoenix, I felt Warren standing next to me, nudging my ribs, pointing out jokes he thought I might have missed, and grinning like the teen wonder he was when he wrote those stories for Fantasy World so long ago.

Yes, friends, the spirit of H-Man lives on in The Adventures of Myke Phoenix. And I can’t think of many better ways to spend a spring afternoon than with this book.

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