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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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07/18/2005 Archived Entry: "Book review: The Never-Ending Battle"

The Never-Ending Battle
Written by Roger Stern
Published by Pocket Star Books

Review by Jack Shaver and Kelly Taylor

It's important to note right out of the gate that reading a comic book has as much in common with sitting back and watching a movie as with reading pure prose. That comics are a visual medium has everything to do with the flamboyant appearance of the characters, and the power fantasy elements of super heroics. There's no reason that a story about a flying man CAN'T work as prose, of course, but watching a man fly has a simple immediacy that reading a description of flying rarely matches. Similarly, reading is a more intellectual activity than watching; thus, visual mediums are far more likely to portray action and spectacle- requiring an increased suspension of belief.

"The Never-Ending Battle" is a specimen of a hybridization process near as odd as that imagined by the creators of the peanut-butter/banana sandwich. It is a novel about comic book characters. When an author transfers comic book characters to the novel format there is something lost. Along with the artwork goes that special sense of immediacy; an author can write about someone getting punched but a picture of someone getting punched has effortless visceral impact that prose requires great skill to convey. However, in today's world of the $3.00 comic books that can be read in five minutes, a novelized comic certainly holds the potential for delivering more bang for the fanboy's buck.

Roger Stern, author of "Never-Ending Battle" makes the transition from comic to novel fairly well. He exploits one of the primary benefits afforded by the switch to novel format by taking advantage of the room it provides for character development. Comic books are much briefer, more concise, and more action-oriented. A comic book, for example, could never spare the space Stern took to portray the trip Superman and Flash take from Alaska after the completion of a mission, all the while reminiscing about the Justice League and their shared Midwestern roots. One of Stern's strengths is his ability to blend characterization seamlessly into action. He has a strong sense of who these heroes are, and an ability to recreate their voices. If you know these characters from the comic books, you will recognize them in this novel. Their personalities shine through with a sense of authenticity in their actions and in dialogue such as the joking byplay between Superman and Flash. Superman is consistently a descent guy with super powers. Batman is very focused on his work. The Flash is a goof, but not the caricature he is on the current cartoon. The Martian Man Hunter is… well, an alien who loves his adopted Planet, its people, and its Oreos…

Only Stern's characterization of Wonder Woman seems flat. She shows up and does her job, but Stern provides no little moments that let her unique personality shine through.

Stern's storyline also takes advantage of the more relaxed pace of novels. Stern devotes the bulk of the book to showing the heroes doing what would have to be the work-a-day grind for superheroes -- saving villages from volcanoes and other perils. The Justice League is involved in rescue operation in Alaska. The Martian Man Hunter fights a fire -- even though his weakness is fire. The Flash digs victims out of a freak blizzard. Superman tows ships safely into port out of an unnatural fog. The Green Lantern stops a tsunami. Rescue is one of the most virtuous, morally unambiguous, things a superhero can do…. and it isn't very interesting to watch. That's why comic books are almost always about people punching other people. Watching Superman plug a volcano ultimately isn't very interesting. It's a mark of Stern's skill that he is able to carry off devoting so much of his story to the "everyday" lives of his super-protagonists.

There is super villain behind all the mayhem, of course. If you have the misfortune to read the back cover blurb of this novel, fear not, the villain isn't Evil Dr. Turban Man and his gang of Islamic super-terrorists. The book is in no way the heavy-handed commentary on the current geopolitical situation its own publicity makes it out to be. Purveyors of escapist fantasies should learn from the example of the Zindi storyline that killed ENTERPRISE; if we wanted to be reminded so blatantly of nastiness going on in the real world, we wouldn't be watching space operas.

The main villain IS recognizably a terrorist, of sorts, but an established bad guy. The identify of the villains wasn't revealed until 300 pages into the book, but I, a comic book grognard, figured out who they both were some 60-odd pages in, though both characters were admittedly on the obscure side. But that's just nit-picking.

If I were to complain about the plotline -- and mind you, this is more nit-picking -- I would say that the novel missed a little in that it needed to either be more about Superman or more about the Justice League. Stern spends a lot of time exploring Superman's "downtime." There are enough scenes of Superman spending time with Lois, his parents, and going to work at the Daily Planet to disrupt the flow of the plot little, but not enough to make it a really good Superman story. The story is too big or too little. I'd rather it was a Superman story or a Justice League story -- not a "Superman starring in the Justice League" story, but again, this is a minor complaint.

Roger Stern is a workhorse writer who had already mastered the comic books format twenty years ago. His stories are always good, though not so often great. Although his stories tend to lack the level of sheer visceral impact that the very very best comic writers deliver, he consistently produces solid stories that make sense, given the limitations of the milieu, about people you can understand and like. Stern's stuff is smarter than average without being pretentious. It's representative of near top drawer mainstream comic book writing. It's pleasing that he, unlike some of his equally talented peers, (not to name names or anything, but Peter David most assuredly can write a mighty fine funny book, and ought to stick to that) is able to translate his command of these characters to novel form. Indeed, Stern's often low-key writing style is, if anything, a better fit here.

To those already familiar with the wonderful world of four-color comics action, it should be sufficient to say that this a Roger Stern book… but longer...without the pictures. The money you would have spent on three comics will provide hours more entertainment. For the rest, "The Never-Ending Battle" tells a straight-forward story clearly with enough exposition to give people who aren't familiar with the characters and their histories enough information to understand what is happening. It's a novel written for comic book fans, but there's no reason why anyone who can get past the fact that the protagonists their underwear outside their clothes wouldn't enjoy this book.


"The Never-Ending Battle" is a specimen of a hybridization process near as odd as that imagined by the creators of the peanut-butter/banana sandwich. It is a novel about comic book characters. When an author transfers comic book characters to the novel format something is lost. Along with the artwork goes that special sense of immediacy; an author can write about someone getting punched but a picture of someone getting punched has effortless visceral impact that prose requires great skill to convey. However, in today's world of the $3.00 comic books that can be read in five minutes, a novelized comic certainly holds the potential for delivering more bang for the fanboy's buck.

Roger Stern, author of "Never-Ending Battle" makes the transition from comic to novel look effortless. He exploits one of the primary benefits afforded by the switch to novel format by taking advantage of the room it provides for character development. Comic books are much briefer, more concise, and more action-oriented. A comic book, for example, could never spare the space Stern took to portray the run Superman and Flash take from Alaska after the completion of a mission, all the while reminiscing about the Justice League and their shared Midwestern roots. One of Stern's strengths is his ability to blend characterization seamlessly into action. He has a strong sense of who these heroes are, and an ability to recreate their voices. If you know these characters from the comic books, you will recognize them in this novel. Their personalities shine through with a sense of authenticity in their actions and in dialogue such as the joking byplay between Flash and Green Lantern. Superman is consistently a descent guy with super powers. Batman is very focused on his work. The Flash is a goof, though not the caricature he is on the current cartoon. J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter is… well, an alien who loves his adopted Planet, its people, and its Oreos…

Only Stern's characterization of Wonder Woman seems flat. She shows up and does her job, but Stern provides few moments that let her unique personality shine through.

Stern's storyline also takes advantage of the more relaxed pace of novels. Stern devotes the bulk of the book to showing the heroes doing what would have to be the work-a-day grind for superheroes -- saving towns from hurricanes, and other perils. The Justice League is involved in rescue operation in Alaska. The Martian Manhunter fights a forest fire -- though his weakness is fire. The Flash digs victims out of a freak blizzard. Superman tows ships safely into port out of an unnatural fog. The Green Lantern stops a tsunami. Rescue is one of the most virtuous, morally unambiguous, things a superhero can do…. and it isn't very interesting to watch. That's why comic books are almost always about people punching other people. It's a mark of Stern's skill that he is able to carry off devoting so much of his story to the "everyday" lives of his super-protagonists.

There is a super villain behind all the disasters, of course. If you have the misfortune to read the back cover blurb of this novel, fear not, the villain isn't Evil Dr. Turban Man and his gang of Islamic super-terrorists. The book is in no way the heavy-handed commentary on the current geopolitical situation its own publicity makes it out to be. Purveyors of escapist fantasies should learn from the example of the Zindi storyline that killed ENTERPRISE; if we wanted to be reminded so blatantly of nastiness going on in the real world, we wouldn't be watching space operas.

The main villain IS recognizably a terrorist, of sorts, but an established bad guy. The identify of the villains wasn't revealed until 300 pages into the book, but any comic book grognard should figure out who they both were some 60-odd pages in- though both characters were admittedly on the obscure side. But that's just nit-picking.

If I were to complain about the plotline -- and mind you, this is more nit-picking -- I would say that the novel missed a little in that it needed to either be more about Superman or more about the Justice League. Stern spends time exploring Superman's "downtime." There are enough scenes of Superman spending time with Lois, his parents, and going to work at the Daily Planet to disrupt the flow of the plot a bit, but not enough to make it a really satisfying Superman story. The story is too big or too little; I'd rather it was a Superman story or a Justice League story -- not a "Superman starring in the Justice League" story -- but again, this is a minor complaint.

Roger Stern is a workhorse writer who had already mastered the comic book format twenty years ago. His stories are always good, though not that often great. Although his stories tend to lack the level of sheer visceral impact that the very very best comic writers deliver, he consistently produces solid stories that make sense, given the limitations of the milieu, about people you can understand and like. Stern's stuff is smarter than average without being pretentious. It's representative of near top drawer mainstream comic book writing. It's pleasing that he, unlike some of his equally talented peers, (not to name names or anything, but Peter David most assuredly can write a mighty fine funny book, and ought to stick to that) is able to translate his command of these characters to novel form. Indeed, Stern's often low-key writing style is, if anything, a better fit here.

To those already familiar with the wonderful world of four-color comics action, it should be sufficient to say that this a Roger Stern book… but longer...without the pictures. The money you would have spent on three comics will provide hours more entertainment. For the rest, "The Never-Ending Battle" tells a straight-forward story clearly with enough exposition to give people who aren't familiar with the characters and their histories enough information to understand what is happening. It's a novel written for comic book fans, but there's no reason why anyone who can get past the fact that the protagonists wear their underwear outside their clothes wouldn't enjoy this book.

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