Hello and welcome to the first installment of a new feature here on the MRC, known as…Max Reads Other Things!
Yes, I do indeed reads things other than comic books, it’s true!
However, this feature will still focus on things that are at least “adjacent” to comics, like the subject of this debut post:
The Steel Ring, by R.A. Jones!
See? That cover is all kinds of comic-book-y, right? It’s even illustrated by Tom Derenick, an honest to gosh professional comic book artist! Ol’ Max would never lead you too far astray, now, would he?
Well…you know, it’s probably best we just keep right on movin’ past that last little question, and on to the part where I summarize the book for you!
OR….I could just copy and paste the very nice and accurate summary provided on the book’s Amazon page….like so!
“Amazing Man. The Witch. Man of War. The Fantom of the Fair. The Clock. The Ferret. Iron Skull. The Eye. They are the stuff of legend. In 1939, evil forces conspire to plunge the world into war. A few beings, possessing abilities beyond those of their fellow humans, are all that stand between civilization and total ruination. These are the heroes of Centaur Publications (1938-1942), brought to life once again by R. A. Jones, writer of numerous comic book series for Eternity Comics, and PROTECTORS and FERRET, starring Centaur characters, for Malibu Comics 1992-1994.”
So! Yes, this book centers (or “Centaurs“! HA!) on a group of Public Domain comic book characters on the eve of World War II. It’s written by RA Jones, who wrote these characters in what was at the time a modern setting back in the early 1990s, which is a series that I have mentioned being quite fond of right here on this very blog!
All that being said: how did I like this book?
Quite a bit! This is a fun, fast paced, pulpy adventure story that does just enough to keep you engaged throughout its 360-odd page length. Are there some predictable tropes in here? Hoo boy, are there ever! But they’re the fun tropes that you want to see in a story like this, and they are executed well.
Jones does a pretty good job of juggling the ensemble cast of heroes, even if the focus does fall very heavily on John Aman (“Amazing Man“) far more than it does on all the others.
Given that, though, I did find it a shame that Aman’s love interest, Zora Henderson ended getting so little attention beyond her introduction. She’s *present* in the rest of the book, but that’s really about it. From the way she was brought into the book, I would have thought she’d have more meat on her fictional bones by the end of the story.
Perhaps there’s more time for Zora in the other two books in this trilogy, eh? I fully intend to read the rest of the series at this point, so I’m bound to find out!
One thing I should mention is that, yes, this is a book with superheroes in it, but you’d do well to note that these superheroes are from the late 1930s and early 1940s, and this book is set in that same era.
What I mean to say is that these particular superheroes have no qualms about killing their foes. Like, none at all. Zero Qualms, Maximum Kills. I suppose it’s WWII and all, but still: if you’re expecting a bunch of “heroes don’t kill” style superhero action, you will not find it in the pages of this book!
To be fair, the superheroes in the comics being published in this era didn’t exactly worry about sending their enemies to the great beyond, either. I may just have mentioned that behavior in my STILL ONGOING coverage of Smash Comics #18 here on the blog!
So: there’s blood. Not so much gore, but it gets pretty slippery with the sanguine stuff in this book, and a lot of bones end up wishing they’d never been written into the proceedings, either.
The characters are all likable (which is a word that never looks right to me when I spell it correctly), there’s plenty of interesting details hinted at for the entire cast along the way, not just for the more-or-less-main-character of Amazing Man.
Amazing Man, for the most part, serves as a kind of “Golden Age Superman” stand-in, with incredible strength and resistance to injury, and so on, but without the power to fly into space on his own or to push planets out of orbit or anything like that. His powers seem to increase even as this story is told, though, so it remains to be seen if he’ll be at full “Silver Age Superman” level by the time book three rolls around.
As I’ve said, this is book one in a three-book series, but it’s a satisfying read all by itself. You could stop here and not feel cheated one bit, except I don’t think you’d want to, because this is just really fun stuff. And it was a steal for only 4 bucks to read in digital format on my new Kindle Paperwhite (which is a distraction-free device that I am really digging so far)
I know I’m not stopping with this one. I’m going to read something else first, as the new book in Barry Reese’s Assistance Unlimited series just came out…..but I’ll be back!
And when I return, I will still be Max, and I will still be Reading Comics….and Other Things!