Shared universes in literature and movies are an awesome idea, and when all creators involved are passionate about their individual projects as well as the larger universe itself, amazing things can be accomplished. Just look at what Marvel and Disney have done with their cinematic universe.
Silver Empire – a small independent publisher from husband and wife team Russell Newquist and Morgon Newquist – has set out to create such a world. Russell and Morgon have launched a Kickstarter for “Heroes Unleashed” Phase 1, the first set of novels taking place in a shared superhero world. The campaign has almost doubled its goal, now sitting at close to $2K. But there’s still 11 days to support Silver Empire’s endeavor!
I was able to have a chat with some of the creators and minds behind “Heroes Unleashed,” which you can check out below!
Along with Morgon’s Serenity City: Heroes Fall, the duo have enlisted up and coming authors for four other novels: J.D. Cowan‘s Gemini Warrior, Hugo Award and Dragon Award nominated Kai Wai Cheah‘s Hollow City, Jon Mollison‘s The Phoenix Ring, and Richard W. Watts‘ Atlantean Archons: Apprentice. Each book is set to be part of the series, with future novels released in upcoming phases alongside new authors’ works.
Geeks of Doom: Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with Geeks of Doom about “Heroes Unleashed”!
Russell Newquist: Thank you for having us, Max!
Richard W. Watts: Hi, Max. Thank you for the opportunity to geek out about the project! I’m the new kid on the block when it comes to the writing world, so I’m beyond thrilled to be a part of this team.
J.D. Cowan: Thanks for being willing to talk, Max! Superheroes are a fun subject to go on and on about.
Kai Wai Cheah: Thanks for reaching out to us!
GoD: Where did the idea for “Heroes Unleashed” come from, and how has it developed since its inception?
RN: The “Heroes Unleashed” concept grew out of Heroes Fall, the novel by my wife, Morgon Newquist. She’s been working on it for some time, and as she was approaching completion we started brainstorming ideas. What could we do to make it even more incredible?
Also, we were kind of dismayed when we looked at the Superhero genre on Amazon. There are actually rather a lot of novels there… but most of them are actually urban fantasy and have very little resemblance to anything like traditional superheroes. Now, we love urban fantasy. We at Silver Empire publish a lot of urban fantasy, and I personally write urban fantasy. But this bugged us.
Then we started thinking, “What if we did what the comics have done for years? What if we brought a bunch of authors together and all wrote in one big giant universe?” It works in the comics. And we’re huge fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where it’s working really well in movies now. So why not novels?
We put together a list of up-and-coming novelists we knew and went out to talk to them about the project, thinking we were going to have to do a hard sell. But it was exactly the opposite. Not only did we get every single author we wanted, but they were all excited to do it. That’s when we knew we had something, and we had to do it.
GoD: What drew each of you to this project?
RN: I’ve loved superheroes my whole life. When we started talking about this, I just knew it would be awesome and I wanted to read it. Honestly, I want to write in that sandbox, too, but I’m too busy with my own urban fantasy series and running a publishing company to jump into that world right now. But I’m super excited every time a new manuscript appears in my inbox!
RWW: I have been a comic book fan for nearly 30 years now. I used to speed read them in the tiny book section of our grocery store before mom realized I hadn’t returned with the milk. I borrowed them from friends and perused the shelves at Barnes & Noble for trades.
I’ve also been writing stories, just for fun, for about twenty years. At the encouragement of my wife and some of my longtime friends, I submitted a couple of short stories to two of Silver Empire’s anthologies: “Secret Stairs” and “Paragons.” The latter is a superhero-themed collection.
I guess my “Paragons” entry, The Weight of One Girl, made an impression because Morgon and Russell approached me to be one of the Phase I authors for “Heroes Unleashed.”
“Heroes Unleashed” is a chance to bring two of my favorite things together in a way I never would have come up with. The chance to help build a whole universe, full of new characters, and to rub shoulders with award-winning Indie talent while I do it? I only had one answer!
JDC: I’ve been a big fan of heroes since I was a kid. Not just superheroes, but anyone willing to fight against the encroaching darkness with justice in their fists. When I first started writing I knew I wanted to write about people like that. Being a part of “Heroes Unleashed” is a big part of allowing me to achieve what I’ve always wanted to. When I was asked to join it was a no-brainer.
KWC: Among my early childhood influences were superheroes – cartoons more than comics, actually. Through them I learned about courage, honor, self-sacrifice, duty, integrity and other virtues. It influenced the themes I explore in my own fiction.
When Silver Empire issued its call for submissions for a superhero anthology titled “Paragons,” I wrote a gritty tale titled Nightstick, featuring a former supercop forced to turn to vigilantism. The idea came to me on a lark, but the universe didn’t want to let me go. When Russell and Morgon came to me with the idea of “Heroes Unleashed”, I saw it as a chance to further expand and explore the world I’d set up (with some tweaks to suit the new universe), and a chance to do something never before seen in print media. And it was a way to give back to the genre that helped define my work.
GoD: What unique aspects of the superhero genre are explored in each of your novels?
RWW: I called dibs on the mystical superhero sub-genre. Think Dr. Fate or Steven Strange, rather than Zatana or Constantine. I’m also starting out with a passing-of-the-torch moment, which you don’t get to see too often in the comics.
JDC: My book, Gemini Warrior, comes from many different types of stories. I was big into the “Cliffhanger” line of comics when I was a teenager and always wanted to write a superhero style in more of an adventure genre. At the same time as that, I also enjoy duality. Two sides of the same coin, or two halves a broken plate. Being able to write about two heroes who have to work together to use their powers adds some fun to the mix. My biggest hero inspirations for the characters are Billy Batson, Captain Marvel, and Steve Ditko’s The Question. That’s not a combination you really ever see!
KWC: I’ve always been drawn to “realistic” superheroes. Among the many superheroes I’ve read over the years, the ones that stuck with me are ordinary humans who, through intelligence, cunning, training, and sheer grit, prevailed against extraordinary evil. Think Batman, the Punisher and Action Man.
Adam Song, the protagonist of my series, is my own twist on this. He was once an ordinary human, but he has received extraordinary training and was forged in the crucible of a shadow war. Even after he left that world behind, his training and mindset remained. Then he received his superpowers…
I think being a superhero is more than just running around with a fancy costume and socking the bad guy de jour. It’s about how you use your powers, why you use them, and the consequences of your actions and non-actions. I’d like to think that Adam uses his powers more thoughtfully and tactically than the average superhero (at least, in his universe), reflecting his values and his goals. Unlike other superheroes, he isn’t reluctant to employ deadly force when the situation calls for it – which is why he gets into trouble in Hollow City, and in future books places him in conflict with other prominent superheroes.
The second major theme is in the series title: “A Song of Karma.” Actions have consequences, and you can’t escape the fruit of your actions. In Buddhist teachings, everything you do comes back to you, whether bitter or glorious (or both). Karma, and its fruit, keeps you trapped in Samsara, the unending cycle of life and suffering and death and rebirth.
Adam’s actions are heavily influenced by ethical and religious thought (including Buddhism), and as the series progresses he must find a way to uphold the law (secular and divine) without perpetuating suffering and becoming embroiled in a spiral of self-destruction. His struggle isn’t just against the villains that populate his city; he is struggling to stop himself from becoming one of them.
GoD:Can you give us an idea of what your protagonists are like throughout each series?
RWW: My main protagonist is Hayden Lucas. He starts the series young and without full use of the sorcerous powers displayed by his mentor, Deckard Riss. He’s brave, a little brash, and quick to mouth off in some circumstances. Over the course of the series, one of the main plot lines will be Hayden stepping into the role of Archon as mystical defender for the world. This entails accepting things about himself and the legacy Deckard, the original Archon, is leaving for him.
JDC: Matthew and Jason are nearly twins in appearance, despite no relation and having little in common. Their powers are even the opposite! Matthew can transform his body to mist or water, and Jason has super strength and endurance. However, they both start out as little more than normal people thrown into an incredible situation which allows them to reassess what is important and become the heroes they need to be. It’s quite the experience seeing these two change in the heat of the moment to become the heroes they need to be. Their powers develop, as do their different outlooks on life: Matthew becomes less cynical, and Jason less naive, but never lose the core of who they are. By the end of the series you will see why the series is called the “Gemini Man.”
KWC: Once a Marine Raider, Adam Song now serves on the elite STAR team of the Halo City Police Department. He has the power to amplify his physical traits and abilities, including strength, reflexes, senses and more. He doesn’t, however, use his powers the way most people expect him to use them. Other heroes may prefer sticks or superpowers or their bare hands, but Adam’s tool of choice is the gun. He is also a highly proficient martial artist, specializing in the Filipino art of kali, and has adapted his art to his unique powers and circumstances. But that’s not all: he has a very special set of skills, skills cultivated over a career of doing things he can’t talk about, skills he continues to keep current in and will unleash as the series progresses.
Personality-wise, he is a man torn between East and West. As a third culture kid, he doesn’t quite fit in anywhere. He tries his best, certainly, but sometimes it’s not nearly enough. He’s a nowhere man, floating between identities as a cop, a Prime, a son, a Chinese, an American, and others. After the events of Hollow City, he needs to rebuild his identity, and become the (in)famous Prime known as Karma.
I’ve been told that Adam Song is Daredevil meets the Punisher, and I think it’s an apt description.
GoD: On the website for Silver Empire – your independent press – it’s noted that a major focus of your publications is a step away from the gritty realism found in much of today’s genre fiction, and a step closer to “heroes who are actually, well, heroic.” How does this concept manifest itself in the first phase of “Heroes Unleashed”?
RN: So, we don’t necessarily have a huge problem with realism. But we do find some of the modern takes on superheroes a bit disappointing and dull.
Look, superheroes are supposed to be super and heroic. It’s right there in the word, ya know? So our guidance to the authors was pretty simple: it’s OK to explore dark themes, it’s OK to incorporate realism. It’s even OK to have a hero who’s not always heroic. But when he’s not heroic, that should be noted as disappointing and a letdown. The idea is to love the genre – love heroes, love the “super” over the top aspects of it.
And absolutely no “Captain America was secretly Hydra all along!” Yes, I actually put that explicit instruction out to our authors, and I think it’s part of what brought them to the project. That’s not just a total misunderstanding of the character, it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the entire genre.
Interestingly enough, several of the Phase I stories do actually examine some fairly dark stories. But they all also manage to avoid coming out of that totally nihilistic. Heroes Fall, for instance, deals with some pretty rough stuff. But it ends on a note of real hope, and takes off in a direction that I think pretty much everyone will find very unexpected. Morgon’s going to have a lot of fun writing the sequel to that one.
RWW: I think you could sum it up in one word: hope. It can’t be nihilistic. It can be dark, but the dawn has to break sometime.
JDC: It’s about showing there is a reason to hope even when times are at their worst. A hero always has to get up and throw the next punch, or magic fireball, even if he’s about to drop dead. This is a world worth protecting, and heroes will always do what they can to do their job. No deconstruction or sneering: just good old fashion good and evil battling it out. And good is always the preferable option.
KWC: In my case, my own series does touch on gritty subjects – corruption, scapegoating cops, terrorism, and others. Many characters who are intimately familiar with the dark world and deadly violence populate my series, and visit heinous acts upon each other and their prey. Adam Song’s legal and social status drives him to break the law and run up against the edge of his code of ethics. Nonetheless, in this universe, the heroes will still do their best to fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way; repentant villains can earn redemption; and the wicked will receive their just rewards.
Check out the video below, then head on over to the “Heroes Unleashed” Kickstarter page and get in on the action!