Friday, March 15, 2019


A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

"What's the difference between a vigilante and a superhero?" Questions of superhero lore have historically been the subject of comics, graphic novels and movies--full of color, spandex suits and a deluge of action through imagery. In The Reign of the Kingfisher, T.J. Martinson novelizes the superhero comics form with such a meticulous yet fluid style, readers may forget there is no artwork.

Following the death of the Kingfisher, an enigmatic, larger-than-life sentinel who dealt with bad guys outside the confines of the law, Chicago's violent crime rate steadily increased. Thirty years later, the mystery of the Kingfisher is given new life via a ransom video. Disguised as a member of the hacker protest group Liber-teens, a man threatens to kill hostages until the cops release the Kingfisher's unpublished autopsy report and admit they helped fake his death.

Retired journalist Marcus Waters is brought in to view the video since he spent his career writing about the Kingfisher. When he provides a big clue the police seem less than anxious to pursue, Marcus's reporter gut and desire to save lives spur him to investigate, aided by a brilliant Liber-teen hacker and a disgraced cop.

In portraying a gripping race against time and into history, Martinson packs the narrative with details that set the stage minutely yet organically. On its face a breakneck thriller, Kingfisher also delves into themes of morality and vigilantism, corruption and justice. Martinson's debut is compelling, artistic and, quite simply, a blast.

STREET SENSE: While comic fans should love this one, you don't have to be one to enjoy it. At its core there is a compelling mystery and nice character work. Action, conspiracy, crime, betrayal, a madman threatening to kill innocent people, what could be better? 

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  Heroes are named by history and judged by the future.

COVER NERD SAYS:  I like this cover. A lot. But this is one of those times a book synopsis is really what won me over. It sounded so different, like a graphic novel in non-graphic form, and I wanted to see if that could be pulled off. The answer is yes, and I think the "superhero-ish" theme of this cover serves the book well. Also dig the color palette.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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