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This week I review The Loners: The Secret Life of Super Heroes written by CB Cebulski with Karl Moline on art.
It’s also a spin-off book from an ongoing series called The Runaways and is an example of the shared universe approach of most comic book publishers.
For my readers who aren’t regular comic fans, the shared universe approach means the New York City that Spider-Man lives in is also the New York City that Iron Man lives in (as well as most of the rest of the Avengers, the X-Men usually, and a whole host of other men and women who punch muggers while wearing tights). As I said, The Loners demonstrates everything I love about this concept but also hits a lot of the low points along the way. Cebulski has a lot of irons in the fire with a lot of characters (five to start and adding more from there) and dangling plot threads, some of which started out in another book.
The whole piece even comes to a satisfying conclusion while leaving it open to revisit the Loners in the future. The titular Loners are a support group of people who used to be teen or child super heroes but have decided that fighting crime and using their powers has ruined their lives more than it ever enriched them.
The beauty of the shared universe lies in that none of these characters are introduced in this series but each and every one of them has a storied past (of varying glory, sure, but they still have one) in many other books as either guest stars or leads in their own titles.
Any book assumes that characters have a past before the opening pages, but in this case, you can actually read those pasts! The rub, though, is that as much as I enjoyed this book (and I truly did), I can’t suggest it to everybody. Shared universes are a double-edged sword and you have to take the good with the bad, sometimes in the same piece of work.
A special thanks to New World Comics, (405) 721-7634 - 6219 N Meridian Ave, Oklahoma City, OK, for the promotional copy of The Loners used for this review.
However, I don’t think I have even a high school diploma in Marvel Continuity, either. Court, this is a fun read and if you want to take the time to learn who folks are before or as you read it, then I recommend it. After providing the piece below to Julie and Mitch, I acquired from a used books dealer in Sydney the biography of Richard Hughes that had been published there in 1982, two years before his death in 1984 at the age of 78. First notice of a Far Eastern scion society of the BSI appeared in Vincent Starretta€™s Chicago Tribune column of September 14, 1947.
One of the cultural highlights of the Japanese Occupation, indeed, was the foundation, in 1948, of a still-flourishing Tokyo Chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars by Japanese, British, American, Australian and New Zealand students of Sherlock Holmes.
The historic founding meeting of The Baritsu Chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars was held at the Shibuya residence of Walter Simmons, Far Eastern representative of the Chicago Tribune, on 12 October 1948. It was unanimously agreed the society should be named The Baritsu Chapter, in reverent reference to the use a€” rather misuse, as later established by the Chapter a€” of that word by Holmes in The Adventure of the Empty House when, explaining his return from the dead, he credited his escape from Professor Moriarty to his knowledge of a€?baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling,a€? which enabled him to hurl the master criminal to destruction in the Reichenbach Fall. In addition to Count Makino, another notable absence from this initial meeting was Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, who pleaded urgent cabinet business and an appointment with General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander, as reasons for a last minute cancellation of his attendance.
The Chief Banto elected that night was Richard Hughes, who continued to rollick in the role until his death in 1984. But in truth, the expansive Hughes became The Baritsu Chapter, during those first years in Tokyo, and later, for the remainder of his life, in Hong Kong. Hughes swaggered across the landscape of the Far East, and his London Sunday Times editor, the novelist Ian Fleming, gave a vivid account in his 1964 book Thrilling Cities of what it was like to have Dick Hughes for a guide on a a€?businessa€? trip to Hong Kong, Macao, and Tokyo.
So it came as a surprise to many people when they learned, some years after his death, that from the 1950s on, Richard Hughes had been an agent of the Soviet KGB.
And it came as a great surprise to the KGB, no doubt, to learn that in fact Hughes had been not theirs, but a British double-agent actually working for MI6, and feeding the KGB disinformation all those years. Richard Hughes, Chief Banto of The Baritsu Chapter, Far Eastern scion society of the BSI, did so for years.
As a schoolboy, a€?On the long walk back home, Hughes would make up stories for the other boys and tell them of the latest adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

In November 1920, when Hughes was sixteen, a€?Conan Doyle came to Australia to lecture on spiritualism and Hughesa€™ father was involved in the arrangements for the visit. In his first newspaper job, in 1936, a€?One of his chores was to review mystery stories and he assumed the by-line a€?Dr Watson, Jnra€™. In 1939, with a mysterious disappearance in New Zealand in the news, his editor, a€?in a frivolous mood, said to Hughes: a€?Dr Watson, Junior, youa€™re a great authority on crime.
In early 1944, while a war correspondent, a€?Hughes brought out his first book, a modest little volume called Dr Watsona€™s Casebook: [Studies in Australian Crime], which dealt with some of the great mysteries of the world.
After the war ended, Hughes was assigned to Tokyo, where his a€?lifelong love of Sherlock Holmes reached some sort of fulfillment in 1948 when he and other aficionados formed a Tokyo chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars.
And there is more in the book, including Hughesa€™ anger at Communist Chinese attacks upon the Sherlock Holmes stories, some back-and-forth with Adrian Conan Doyle over whether Sir Arthur was Sherlock Holmes himself or not, Sir Arthura€™s spiritualism, Sherlock Holmes as one of Hughesa€™ favorite a€?cultural disputationa€? topics over the several decades he was stationed in Hong Kong (hea€™d have loudly approved of Robert G. Hughes delightedly quoted the final few words, spoken after Sherlock Holmes had revealed himself to surprised readers as the counter-spy Altamont who had outwitted the German Von Bork a€” a€?the most astute secret service man in Europe.a€? It was one of Hughesa€™ favourite Holmes stories.
But, the biography continues, this was not an unusual accomplishment for Hughes: a€?His friends tried him on other Sherlock Holmes stories.
The Story: That a prim and plain spinster could live in complete isolation and yet produce some of the most extraordinary poetry in the English language is one of literature's most enduring mysteries.
Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars"Charyn has a perfect ear for Dickinson's ironic wit, her wicked characterizations of friends and enemies, but even allowing for a novelist's license, much is omitted here that I can't forgive. NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars"Sadly, Charyn's greatest risk, Emily's voice, resembles a clotted mosaic, pieced together from bits of Charyn and shards of Dickinson. San Francisco Chronicle 0.5 of 5 Stars"I am pushed to say that the Emily Dickinson depicted in this novel is an embarrassment. Charyn carefully adheres to the known facts of Dickinson's life, and he has a thorough knowledge of her poems and letters, the strains of which echo through his clever and elegant prose. This volume collects a series that first appeared in six monthly issues and originally titled simply The Loners.
The crazy thing is that this book simultaneously manages to represent the best and worst parts of a shared universe by doing exactly what it set out to do…and doing it well.
This was a pretty revolutionary idea when Marvel took it and ran with it in the early 60s and it has become the default mode for super hero publishers ever since.
He works in many nods toward The Breakfast Club and other John Hughes teensploitation movies in the writing and Moline backs them up in the art. But he manages the whole thing beautifully with all characters maintaining a unique voice and with each of the different strands of the characters’ interactions given the right amount of attention without ever bogging down or becoming overwhelming. He’s aided by the amazing pencil and pens of Moline, as the artist brings both energy to the action sequences and depth of feeling and emotive faces to the more dramatic scenes.
Anyone with at least an undergraduate degree in Marvel Continuity will easily recognize half of these characters and find instant story resonance in that recognition. And these were all second or third (or further down) tier characters who were given their shot at the limelight in a team book.
I probably have a PhD in Marvel Continuity (although I haven’t necessarily been keeping up with all the latest work my colleagues are doing in the area) and I loved every bit of The Loners. She loves stories like this one and enjoys super hero comics now and again, but she lacks even a high school diploma in Marvel Continuity, and researching Wikipedia to figure out who everyone is before (or, worse, while) reading the story is a surefire way to make it fall completely flat. The Loners: The Secret Lives of Super Heroes is a perfect example of this and so I recommend it…but not necessarily for everyone. Especially since you have somebody who can walk you through it easily (personal tutoring in Marvel Continuity). Falstaff reborn, a man-mountain of wit and magnanimity, of Shakespearean eloquence and Rabelaisian humour, at home in the company of the kingly and the very common. When the KGB had approached to recruit him as a spy, he had contacted Ian Fleming, who had been in MI6 during the war.

The codename he chose for himself in this double-agent work on behalf of Her Majestya€™s Government was ALTAMONT. His father had started him on Conan Doylea€™s hero and his love for the sardonic Holmes was to grow stronger over the years. To his intense delight, Hughes was entrusted to pick up Conan Doyle from his hotel and take him in the family Oakland to the theatre where the great man was to lecture. When there was a dearth of mystery stories he would make them up and review imaginary books, much to the bewilderment of Sydney booksellers. Why dona€™t you go over to New Zealand and solve this mystery for us?a€™ Hughes replied: a€?Certainly.
The pseudonym was Dr Watson Jnr and he dedicated it a€?in reverent and humble tribute to the master, Sherlock Holmes, the greatest and the wisest man I have ever known.a€™a€? (p. Charyn provides his own inventive solution by reimagining the life of the beloved "Nun of Amherst." As a student at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, young Emily Dickinson explores her blossoming sexual yearnings with Tom, the school's handsome handyman and "blond assassin" of her soul. This layering of pop cultural reference enriches the cultural resonance of this sorta-coming-of-age-but-also-wanting-to-hang-on-to-our-childhoods narrative that the book works with. Moline knows how to draw a face in anguish just as well as a face reveling in good fortune and this book calls for both.
He was an Australian whoa€™d become virtually the dean of the foreign correspondent corps in East Asia, based in Hong Kong and before that in Tokyo. But The Baritsu Chapter continued to grow, and lives on today at least in the hearts of some, for Hughes over the years made many deserving individuals (even some undeserving, such as this seriesa€™s editor) members of the society. Watson, Jnr.a€? to sign mystery book reviews for the Australian press, and a 1944 collection of Australian true-crime accounts, Dr. In Macao, Hughes introduced Fleming to the syndicate that ran the vice there, took him to the a€?very besta€? brothel in town, and there taught him how to lose at fan-tan, while telling the girlsa€™ fortunes. In a short time, Hughes had received instructions to accept the KGBa€™s offer (but to demand double, so it would take him seriously), and pass along the data that MI6 would provide from time to time.
Young Hughes told the author how he used to tell his school mates some of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
Ia€™d be delighted.a€™a€? He did so, and came to conclusions contrary to those of the police, and wrote the news story a€?in true Sherlock Holmes stylea€? a€” and was soon proven correct. They collectively took issue with his characterization of Emily as fickle, unstable, and promiscuous--hardly the makings of a perceptive and profound writer.
I had originally gotten in touch with him when I saw an essay of his in 1974, in the Far Eastern Economic Review, entitled a€?Confucius, Lin Piao a€” and Sherlock Holmes,a€? in order to reprint it in Baker Street Miscellanea.
Watsona€™s Case Book: Studies in Mystery and Crime (dedicated a€?in reverent and humble tribute to The Master, Sherlock Holmesa€?). Disappointed, Emily embarks on one passionate fling after another, slowly reconciling herself to the gilded cage her father has designed for her and finding expression in her writing. He readily gave permission for that, and in the correspondence that followed, made me a member of The Baritsu Chapter, the BSI scion society (really a society of its own) that he had co-founded in Tokyo in 1948. Decades of covering war and peace in the Far East made him acquainted with the great men and villains of many nations. He had sparred with all of them without ever giving an inch, while living life to the fullest.
Walter Simmons, the Far Eastern representative of the Chicago Tribune, and one of Hughesa€™ greatest friends, hosted the first historic lunch,a€? and so on about The Baritsu Chaptera€™s adventures, drawn from the chapter about it in Hughesa€™ 1972 book Foreign Devil: Thirty Years of Reporting from the Far East.

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