Amazing Stories

SHORT BOOK & TV REVIEWS: BLACK LIGHTNING & Z-RISEN OUTBREAK!

Figure 1 – Cress Williams as Black Lightning

None of the people I know on Facebook have been discussing this program, so I wonder how many of you are watching it? It’s based on a comic I vaguely recall reading in the 1960s or 1970s by the same name. I remember it because there were only a couple of comics with African-American protagonists, as I recall: this one and Luke Cage, Power Man (which was tied to Iron Fist).

I always liked Luke’s outfit, which was a yellow shirt, open to the waist, blue pants with a chain for a belt, kinda high yellow boots and a yellow headband over an Afro. By contrast, Black Lightning’s outfit was—and here memory fails me and I have to Google it—blue, black, white with yellow lightning. Luke’s was more dramatic; Lightning’s was very comic-bookish. (I also liked Iron Fist the comic, but the TV Iron Fist sucks rocks, in my opinion. But that’s not germane here.)

I can’t remember the comic very well, but I’m enjoying the TV series—it’s a different take on a superhero. Some of the problems faced by the characters are not problems I would see in any other series—such as the lead character’s (Jefferson Pierce AKA Black Lightning, played by Cress Williams) daughter almost being sold into prostitution from being at the wrong party. From my ignorant white perspective, some of “Freeland’s” problems are unique to Black communities. (Some are very real, such as being harassed—pulled over and arrested, if not worse—by police for offenses like “DWB” [“driving while black”].) They live in a place called “Freeland.”

Pierce is a high-school principal, who has tried to inspire students to be better than their environments, and who has raised the high school to a very high position in its unnamed state. He has a wife who divorced him because he was a superhero, and she couldn’t stand the idea of him coming home dead or critically injured—he actually gave up his superhero gig for a decade, and his daughters have no idea he ever was one. “Black Lightning,” his alter ego, has the ability to harness electricity. He and his wife (Lynn Pierce, played by Jennifer Adams) are reconciling, but events—such as the one mentioned above with the daughter—are conspiring to make him don the mantle again.

His old enemy, an albino named Tobias Whale (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III), who is behind much of the criminal activity in Freeland, thinks he killed Black Lightning, but has been staying very much in the background, preferring to work through thugs like “Lala” (William Katlett). Black Lightning himself is viewed as a criminal by the police, especially the detective Bill Henderson (Damon Gupton)—and I wonder if his name is inspired by Det. Bill Henderson on the old Superman with George Reeves?

He has a mentor, a tailor named Peter Gambi (James Remar), who is also his mentor and father-figure (sort of like Alfred Pennyworth on Batman), as well as his tech whiz… Gambi made the Black Lightning suit. Remar is one of the few white people in the series to have a major role, by the way.

Pierce’s daughters, Anissa and Jennifer (Nafessa Williams and China Ann McClain) are also discovering that they have super powers. I think it’s developing well, despite the soap-opera-ish way most of these superhero series operate.

I only have a few complaints. One is the suit. It’s got big, pug-ugly electro-luminescent lightning bolts on it. A lousy design, IMO. Second, I wonder about the social aspects of having Pierce’s mentor be white—although there are developing hints that Gambi has a hidden side and may not be all he seems. And lastly, although he disguises his voice, Pierce and Black Lightning both have the exact same beard, height, etc…. how hard can it be to figure out who he is? But I’ll keep watching; I like it; I’ll give it three flibbets: ¤¤¤ so far!

Figure 2 – Z-Risen cover by Straight 8 Custom Photography

Now we come to the main event: another zombie book series. I’ve only read the first one, so I’ll discuss that one only. The book—Z-Risen, Outbreak—is by Timothy W. Long, published in 2013 (!) by, I guess, Long himself. There’s no press credited in the book itself. The cover, figure 2, is by “Straight 8 Custom Photography,” and isn’t bad—I’ve seen a lot worse, although the figure is kinda generic military; you can’t tell if he’s Army, Navy, Marine or Air Force!

I met Tim Long at Norwescon last week; and since we’re both ex-Navy, I told him I’d be happy to review his book, which features a Navy guy and a Marine as protagonists. It’s a fairly short book, about 221 pages, with some interior illustrations by Zach McCain. The interior illos are fairly well done, except that someone should tell McCain to read the dang book when doing illos. There’s one on page 53 that I’m assuming is of our protagonist, Machinist Mate First Class Jackson Creed—who is well over six feet and who apparently could bench-press Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson if he felt like it.

The illustration shows a Yeoman Second Class carrying a large crescent wrench dripping blood, although the text says Creed carries an “8-lb. PIPE wrench.” The Machinist Mate insignia looks like a propellor, while the Yeoman (a glorified clerk—no offense to any yeomen out there) patch is crossed quill pens. First class has three chevrons; the illo shows two. I dislike illustrations that show the illustrator didn’t follow the text. There’s another one showing a three-story house with zombies all over it and a stone chimney, plus a helicopter rescuing our protagonists, I assume. The book is mostly set in San Diego, where three-story houses with stone chimneys are about as common as hens’ teeth.

But enough about the illos. The story is written from the viewpoint of a Navy guy on a frigate, the U.S.S. McClusky, which is overrun by zombies while approaching Coronado Island, which is a big Naval base outside San Diego. In Long’s book(s), you only need to be bitten by a zombie in order to turn zombie yourself within moments due to a virus. That’s nothing new, except the speed of turning. Plus these zombies aren’t risen from the dead—they’ve just been bitten and turned; they become violent and want to eat people. (They’ll even eat their own fingers, if nothing else is available.)

Creed—the protagonist, in case you’ve forgotten, manages to escape the McClusky with a couple of Marines just before it crashes, out of control, into a Coronado pier and blows up. Marines are actually a department of the Navy (or were, when I was in the service fifty years ago), but resent it a lot—and are often stationed on larger ships.

Creed and Marine Sergeant Joel “Cruze” Kelly (along with another Marine, who dies heroically) manage to get ashore in a rubber raft before the ship blows up. The Marines are armed with various guns; Creed prefers his eight-pound pipe wrench for bashing in heads. They soon discover there is no safety—apparently there are thousands of zombies roaming the street looking for them (and finding them).

Long has invented a new kind of zombie, the crawler, which is hard to describe: they apparently use all four limbs as if they were legs and are able to move very fast and jump, as opposed to the ordinary shambler, or non-fast-moving zombie. Both kinds, however, seem to be able to find our heroes very quickly and assemble in groups of hundreds or more.

The adventures are fairly standard to all zombie books; our heroes have to find what safety and security they can; apparently even when there is nobody inside, the shamblers and crawlers will break open buildings in search of prey. I’m not sure I buy that; given that the crawlers have been shown to have more intelligence than the shamblers, I could see them being more aware of people hiding, but why break open a building—and more importantly, I don’t buy them being able to tear down a house by mere numbers. There’s a limit to the force they’d be able to apply.

There’s a bunch of profanity in this book; after all, our heroes are just ordinary armed forces people—and when I was in, there was a lot of cursing in the rank and file. There’s a lot of description of death and killing—but again, that’s pretty standard for zombie books. There’s also (typical of self-publishing) a definite need for copy-editing. I won’t go into that here, except to say that I still believe there’s no such word as “alright.” As far as I know, the standard is still two words: “all right.” Punctuation is wonky in spots, too. But as I say, that’s standard for self-publication.

If you like zombie books—and/or zombie books written by people who were in the Navy, so they have at least some idea of what they’re talking about when they talk about arms and ammunition—you could do worse than read this one. If you’re tired of zombies, then don’t bother. I had reservations about some things, but overall, I thought it was okay. I’ll give it three-minus flibbets; nothing new, but it keeps rolling along. ¤¤¤-.

LAST WORDS: In relation to people having to scrounge in zombie movies, books and TV for food and ammunition, I don’t buy it. If 90% of the population is turned that quickly, there will still be enough for the survivors for decades if not longer. I read somewhere that there’s enough non-perishable food stored in the US to feed its current population for about five years. That means if you drop the population by 90%, even with hoarding the survivors won’t have to fight for supplies. And guns and ammunition? Please—in 2013 it was reported that DHS (the Department of Homeland Security) alone issued a purchase order for 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition. And has also been giving armoured personnel carriers and the like, repurposed from overseas operations, to various police forces around the U.S. I’d like to see a zombie movie, TV show, or book reflect that!

I like comments on my column. You can comment here or on my Facebook page, or in the Facebook groups where I link to it. All comments, pro and con, are welcome! (And don’t feel you have to agree with me to post a comment, either.) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other columnists. See you next week!

8 thoughts on "SHORT BOOK & TV REVIEWS: BLACK LIGHTNING & Z-RISEN OUTBREAK!"

  1. Kevin Tipple says:

    Enjoy Black Lightning, but the lack of a real mask makes him fairly identifiable to me. Same issue occurs with his enhance daughter. I think the suit design could be way better. But, overall, the deal is way better than I expected so i will keep watching.

  2. darlinggj says:

    “I read somewhere that there’s enough non-perishable food stored in the US to feed its current population for about five years.” Do you have five years worth of food in your house? If not, where is this stockpile supposed to be?

    Or maybe you were thinking of a famous seven years reserve–but that was in Egypt of four thousand years ago (Genesis 41)–surely we’ve progressed since then?

    In fact, the USA’s 2012 maize reserve–none of it government-held–was only 6.5% of its annual consumption (i.e. 24 days worth) [1,2], well below the UN-recommended “safety line” of 17% (62 days); China, with more experience in catastrophic food shortages and their political consequences, does much better, but even then only has enough for about 6 months [2]; worldwide for 2017, on average, is 74 days [1].

    The zombie apocalypse is a trope and a joke. But famine–from a supervolcano eruption like Tambora’s in 1815 or those in the 13th century that caused the Little Ice Age, or some other cause or complex of causes of harvest failure–famine is real.

    [1] https://www.infowars.com/did-you-know-that-the-u-s-no-longer-has-any-strategic-grain-reserves-at-all/
    [2] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2012/oct/14/un-global-food-crisis-warning
    [3] https://www.marketwatch.com/story/chinas-big-grain-reserves-come-with-equally-big-problems-2015-04-20
    [4] https://www.riskope.com/2017/09/27/world-food-reserves-worldwide-would-last-74-days/

    1. I suggest you watch the movie The Omega Man, lol.
      Being an afficianado of post-apocalyptic tales for fifty years (come this December), I can tell you that I keep a running catalog of places to raid, resources to utilize, tricks & etc.; Safe, potable water is likely to be the biggest issue (more than food, so long as whatever happens doesn’t affect much more than people), but I know where to get purifiers, know some “wilderness tricks” &c; can make a fire sans matcnes, lighters and magnifying glasses (bow method), can identify flint…and have back-up plan after back-up plan.
      Of course the reason there are so few people around will greatly affect those plans, but I’m confident that if I survive the initial whatever, I can get by. Don’t know about anyone else 🙂 (and of course in that kind of an environment, anything other than “me and mine come first” is just plain non-survival thinking).
      You don’t have to worry about the scenarios that blast everything – the yosemite super volcano going off pretty much takes out the entirety of the US (where I live), so surviving in Europe or Africa or New Zealand is a problem for those that live there. And of course, in the real world, we don’t get to choose our apocalypses, but there are survival skills that can give you an edge.
      I’m not a survivalist – I don’t stockpile (though I know some places where people do – another one of the not-so moralistic “tricks”) though I did at one point have approximately a 3 year supply of MREs owing to government generosity during a hurricane…those were stored in my storage unit….

      You’re right of course; it’s very quickly going to devolve into a really bad starvation situation, but then, the longer you can last, the greater your chances of getting through to a time when things become more stabilized. I generally try to play the odds and any chance of survival is better than no chance of survival.

      1. darlinggj says:

        I did see the original Omega Man (1971) featuring Charlton Heston, and The Last Man on Earth (1964) with Vincent Price, and I’ve also read Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954) that was the original germ-induced zombie apocalypse and the inspiration for them all.

        If 90% of the population dies, from my figures above, that would extend US reserves (assuming everyone has access) from 27 days to 270: still less than a year.

        I do medieval re-enactment and wilderness camping myself, and even with modern tools (which quickly become useless as gasoline & bullets run out), hunting-gathering in nearby forests can only sustain a small fraction of the current population–even supposing that all edible animals are not hunted to extinction within a few weeks. This is why tribes with this lifestyle have been traditionally so defensive of their territories.

        As to “getting through to a time when things become more stabilized”–that’s not going to happen unless people come out of their bunkers to get some kind of agriculture going again (whoever does so first will control these means of production, and hold them against “bandit” latecomers), especially since important modern crops like maize can’t seed themselves. Which means harder work than many readers here have ever known; there will be no “cosy catastrophe” for anyone.

        Not to mention, when food gets low, gangs will form based on family and other ties, who’ll fight each other for what’s left. The “zombies” we kill will simply be other poor desperate people outside our own group.

        I recommend Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” (2005) for a survey of how such scenarios have played out again and again throughout history. And John Varley’s “The Manhattan Phone Book (Abridged)” (1984) for a more realistic and humane perspective on what disaster really means.

        Supervolcanoes quickly kill only those downwind of them, and forced to breathe their clouds of razor ash. For the one in Yosemite, that won’t include California and the Pacific northwest.

        By the way, congrats on the successful Kickstarter funding of Amazing Stories! Now we can all look forward to more of your columns to come (until the next plague or supervolcano, anyway).

        1. I don’t disagree, but you’re responding to my general comments with far more detail than was intended by the whole thing. That’s fine, all well and good, but I’m a little pressed for time and can’t devote myself to the specificity required to respond appropriately at this point. So I’ll summ up with this: I have a book of notes titled “Inappropriate Solutions to the Worlds Problems”. dog for dinner is in there….

        2. …btw. of the three movies so far devoted to Matheson’s seminal novel, I think Last Man on Earth the most faithful, Omega Man the most exciting and I Am Legend the suckiest.

  3. I have ALWAYS been of the opinion that if something dropped the population to 10% of current, the survivors would be living on “easy” street.

    Find a local power house and wire yourself in; figure out how to drive a forklift (not that hard at all) and stock up on freezers.

    grab as much perishables as you can, hit the camping aisles for MREs, build a giant can pyramid, raid the gun stores, pick up a collection of cars, trucks, boats…

    I’m living about a half hour outside of concord, keene and manchester, the biggest cities in the state. concord alone has a dozen supermarkets, not counting sams club or walmart of indie food places…there’s even a schwans hq, and i bet they’ve got power backup for their freezers.

    id be doing two things first: securing a location and making sure I was well armed (there;’s a guard armory right down the road and I know where several others are; i’ve taken apart and re-assembled 50 caliber machine guns, know how to use an anti-tank rocket laucnher and have driven an M60-A5 tank (abrams are a bit more complicated, but I’m sure I can find the engine start button…)

    then, a truck with a trailer and probably about a month on the road gathering supplies…hit the hospitals for anti-biotics and basics…the food storage places with walk in freezer; pump a lot of gas and kerosene (or siphon as the case may be), periodically returning to my secure location to offload.

    then, the libraries and the homes of other collectors I know about. (how many people left are going to be scrounging for a complete run of Amazing Stories?)…dvds, recording and playing equipment, generators….

    don’t shoot at me, I won’t shoot at you, we’ll meet at the monthly swap meet and talk about the good old days when you had to pay for everything….

    1. Rose Hogue says:

      Not a fan of Black Panther. Find it implausible and unrealistic…but then guess the whole premise of superhero is such. Wish young black people had a better rolemodel. Also wish Black Panther were a shape shifter who turned into an actual Big Cat…black of course.
      In any appocalytical event, i’d be the first to die and glad to do so. Rather not witness man in survival mode, and with one leg my chances of survival are nil.

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