Monthly Archives: March 2014



I mentioned in my previous post how comic books influence my writing to this day. The tropes of metamorphosis and super humans possessing extraordinary powers have always been favorites of mine.

Growing up in the fifties and sixties, there were a ton of comic books available to eager, adventure-seeking geeks like me – just like today. A couple of short-lived, relatively unknown, comic books that I enjoyed as a kid were Brain Boy and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.

Brain Boy, published by Dell Comics in the early 1960s, only lasted six issues (although Dark Horse Comics recently rebooted the series). I’m not sure if its early demise was due to not being very good or what. I remember liking it a lot because it was somewhat unusual in that the hero didn’t wear a costume or mask to conceal his identity (much like the Fantastic Four in their first two or three issues).

Teenager Matt Price had been endowed with amazing mental abilities due to a horrible accident. Still in his mother’s womb, his family is struck by lightning which leaves his father dead and his still-to-be-born self changed forever. He can read minds, levitate objects and fly.

Recruited by a secret telepath organization dedicated to fighting evil, Matt becomes Brain Boy and battles international crime and, in one issue, reanimated dinosaurs. Ha!

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was published by the defunct Tower Comics from 1965 to 1969 (it too has been brought back several times over the years) and some it was illustrated by the late, great Wally Wood. Taking cues from the popular spy dramas of the time like the James Bond movies and the television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents followed the adventures of a group of United Nations-sponsored super heroes.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. was an acronym for The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves (of course!) and originally featured the heroes Dynamo (whose super strength came from wearing the Thunder Belt; NoMan, who was an android with a brilliant professor’s brain uploaded into him and who wore a cloak of indivisibility; Menthor, who wore a special helmet which increased his mental abilities to be much like those of Brain Boy’s; and the Thunder Squad, made up of the agents Guy, Dynamite, Kitten, Weed and Egghead. What a hoot! They all battled the evil Warlord and his minions, Demo and the Iron Maiden (a woman in very form-fitting armor).

Though not nearly as well written as the Marvel and DC comics at the time, these two series appealed to me just because they were so fantastic and action-packed. Their super-hero exploits were simply what they did on their day jobs. The interesting thing about Menthor, however, was he was, in fact, an agent of the Warlord but when he put on the helmet, he became a good guy. That was cool and had a little more depth and conflice then a lot of comic book heroes at the time.

In bringing my own characters to life, I often rely on the crazy stuff that inspired me as a kid, updated to an adult world. I’ve been told THE SIXTH PRECEPT would make a good graphic novel and that’s something I do think about. In the meantime, I’ll use my own super-power, which all of us possess–imagination. That really is the best.

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I’ve always been an avid reader. As a child, I haunted the local library, checking out the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Andre Norton and Ray Bradbury. I read the Doctor Doolittle series, the Black Stallion and Island Stallion series by Walter Farley. The Hardy Boys series? You bet! I was a nerdy, geeky little kid, not good at sports or talking to girls. You know, kind of like the characters on The Big Bang Theory. So I immersed myself in imaginary worlds.

All these authors and their ideas influenced my own writing in various ways. Andre Norton, particularly in her later fantasies, wrote characters who possessed powerful mental abilities–telepathy, communication with animals as in the Beast Master novels. Her Witch World series are still some of my favorite genre books–magic is key in these stories, giving the characters amazing powers. I’ve always thought Norton’s characters in most of her books all talked and acted the same. There was very little difference from one to the other. But her imagination, action, and depiction of truly alien and magical worlds are unsurpassed.

Sometimes, a blip on the SF radar screen emerges with something unexpected. For instance, did you know Walter Farley’s third Island Stallion book, The Island Stallion Races, included a large science fiction element? As bizarre as it sounds, it’s true. Alien shape-shifters from a far galaxy land on the island where Flame, the Island Stallion, rules his herd. Fascinated with horse racing, one of the aliens gets Flame and his young master, Steve Duncan, to enter a prestigious international race in Cuba. What a hoot! I figure if Farley can do it, well then, so can I!  J

As an adult, I realized another big writing influence for me is comic books. I devoured the adventures of Batman, Superman, The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Justice League of America and on and on. I still, on occasion, pick up a comic book to see how my childhood heroes are faring (the 21st Century is very different in comic book land these days as well). As a result, I became fascinated with the SF trope of metamorphosis, of change, either physical or mental. That trope permeates a lot of my writing.

A lot of my characters, either in my novels, novellas or short stories, change in some fashion over the course of the story or possess a power of some sort. It’s usually not something I think about much beforehand–I create a character and the power or change is just part of that character’s makeup. The action of the story follows from there.

My novel, The Sixth Precept, has several such characters, one, in particular, being based on one of my comic book super heroes of old. I describe my novella, Reunion at Olan, as the “X-Men Meet Die-Hard.” One of my short stories, “About Face”, published in the genre anthology, Raw Terror, is about a young woman with Prosopagnosia or Face Blindness, a real neurological disorder. She can’t recognize people’s facial features. Until, after taking an experimental drug for the disorder, she can suddenly see things no one else can. Very bad things. As a result, she becomes a “super hero.”

I guess you can say I’m one of those of people who never really grew up. In the case of my writing influences, that’s a good thing.



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I’ve been lucky to have seen two of the Twentieth Century’s great magician/illusionists, one of them twice. Mark Henning and David Copperfield pretty much ruled the magic superstar roost back in the Nineteen Seventies to the Nineties.

They couldn’t have been more different in look and presentation. Henning was the geeky, long-haired nerdy guy in a gold lame suit with his beautiful wife performing as his assistant. He came across as the genuine article, a guy who seemed to honor and do homages to the magicians he’d been influenced by such as Harry Houdini.

Copperfield was more the rock-star–very flashy, handsome and tuxedoed with super-model types as his assistants. Copperfield went for the big illusions. And I mean big like making the Statue of Liberty or an elephant disappear. And he did that on stage –in the middle of his act, he showed a film of him performing those illusions. Now he did do smaller versions of that illusion live but paying to see a film was kind of disappointing.

Don’t get me wrong, Copperfield was great but Henning was more personable with the audience, intimate. He did a sleight-of-hand performance with members of the audience coming up on stage to observe the card tricks he was doing with all that being projected on a big screen for the rest of the crowd. You couldn’t tell how he was doing those tricks. It was like seeing real magic. Very cool. He’s the one I saw twice.

One of Henning’s most impressive illusions was one originally done by Harry Houdini called ‘Metamorphosis’. I’ve included a link below to a video of him and his wife performing that. Pretty incredible and probably accomplished with amazing speed, timing and agility, all of which, done right, are magical in their own right.

Henning’s wife’s wrists are handcuffed. She’s placed in a large sack which is tied at the top. She’s then put in a large wooden chest which is also latched and chained up. Henning stands atop the chest and pulls a rectangular screen/curtain which is lying on the floor around the chest up to his neck, completely concealing the chest and all of his body except for his face. He counts to three, pulls the curtain up to hide his face, the curtain falls and his wife is standing atop the chest, free of all her bonds.

The chest, still chained, is unlocked and the person in the bag is now Henning, wearing different clothes! Simply amazing. And he did it faster than Houdini had done it!

Sadly, Doug Henning died of cancer several years ago and David Copperfield was a suspect in some kind of sexual assault case. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Chris Angel seems to be the most visible magician/illusionist around these days and he’s good too.

The magic in my books is real, at least as it applies to the stories and milieus I’ve created. But watching true masters at their art, even when you know it’s a trick, is something really remarkable.

Doug Henning’s Metamorphosis

Larry Ivkovich’s website ~

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