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4.3 out of 5 stars
7
Gods of Manhattan (Pax Britannia)
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VINE VOICEon 19 February 2011
A little bit Philip Jose Farmer. A little bit Alan Moore. A little bit Grant Morrison. Tracking Al Ewing's influences in Gods of Manhattan would be worthy of a PhD. Set in a modern day parallel universe where history played out differently so that the world is run on steam instead of electric, Mr Ewing takes us into a version of New York that is a mashup of all the elements that define its pulp and super hero history with added kinkiness.

A vigilante called the Blood Spider, who references the Spider, Spider-man and the Shadow, visits bloody justice on Manhattan. His shoot first, don't ask questions policy is set to bring him into a collision with Doc Thunder, America's greatest hero who is equal parts Doc Savage, Flash Gordon, Superman and Captain America. Meanwhile Zorro-analogue El Sombra is searching for Nazis to kill, and his superficial resemblance to the Blood Spider draws him into a battle he may not survive.

This is a world of punkish Futureheads, of hidden Nazi criminals, of supervillains with malleable features, of jungle queens and simian reporters. And it is played with wit and panache and true love for the medium by a writer who is going to have a big impact on both comics and novels if his work to date is anything to go by.

There are a couple of story elements that feature word games that I guessed long before the story revealed the truth - I don't know if that was Al's intention, but it didn't really spoil my enjoyment of the twisty-turny plot.

It is all in all, the sort of literature that I am happy to pay good money for! More please!
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on 16 February 2011
Ewing has skillfully eschewed every traditional steampunk convention and carved out his very own take on the New World. Jon Green owns Europe (as well as the oceans and, most recently, the moon), but once you cross the Atlantic, that territory is all Ewing.

Ewing's first contribution to this series was El Sombra, in which he rewrote the Zorro myth to have a schizophrenic Mexican poet battle Nazi robot stormtroopers. El Sombra was wall-to-wall violence, with the occasional break in the bloodshed to point out how completely crazy the 'hero' of the book really was. The half-nude, all-bonkers El Sombra is the polar opposite to the dapper and well-composed Ulysses Quicksilver, Jon Green's recurring hero.

In Gods of Manhattan, Ewing's bloodthirsty creation returns, but, this time, he's merely a background character. El Sombra, on the hunt for more Nazis to carve up, hitches a ride to New York. The Big Apple of the USSA is a very different place - both from reality and from the steampunk London across the ocean. The States are still recovering from a series of violent Civil Wars, as well as from battles with overseas enemies. A vague ally of the Victorian Empire, the USSA is still sorting out most of its own problems. Still, New York is the place to be. Bohemian hedonism, artistic wildness and, of course... Doc Thunder.

See, the USSA has a superhero. Doc Thunder stop bullets, leaps buildings and battles evil - if it weren't for him, the USSA would be gone. More people wear his lightning bolt than the American flag, and, wherever he goes, he's welcome. But Thunder isn't the only super-entity in town. His own team (Monk, the gorilla reporter and Maya, the immortal goddess) are dealing with The Blood Spider (a lethal vigilante) as well as a horde of leftover bad guys from previous adventures. Then El Sombra arrives, and with him comes the spark that ignites the whole mess.

Ewing has written, in just shy of 250 pages, one of the best superhero pastiches I've ever read. From his dry take on the old pulp heroes stories to his disturbingly sinister version of Marvel's flagship hero, this is not something I ever expected to find outside of an Alan Moore graphic novel. He's used prose to describe comics (already something tricky), done so with a great deal of rewarding satire, and, most importantly, written an enjoyable book. Gods of Manhattan is a terrific, inescapable book - in which absolutely anything can happen and, quite often, does.

Ewing's books make for strange roommates to Green's, but not uncomfortable ones. Quicksilver sips brandy while El Sombra shoots rum, but both of them throw a great house party. Similarly, both authors have an infectious sense of humor and a commitment to raw, unfettered joy that make Pax Britannia one of the best ongoing series today. This is a lunatic world where the imagination runs wild - where steam-powered squid co-exist with face-changing super-villains - and the reader can delight in it all.
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on 14 August 2011
Considering this is only the second of Ewing's entries into the Pax Britannia universe, he's doing a grand job of carving out his own distinctive segment of the world. Like his first offering, the story is fast paced, violent as exciting, but here the cast and setting are richer, the plot more fully formed, and if anything the whole thing is even more fun.

We continue to follow insane killing machine and bad poet El Sombra as he pursues his quest to rid the world of the Nazis. His journey takes him to New York, where he becomes embroiled in the lives of the pulp heroes and villains of the city.

Murderous vigilantes, immortal goddesses, cursed chefs and shapeshifting terrorists are all thrown into the mix as our antihero finds himself in the middle of a struggle for the soul of the city between its brightest light, Doc Thunder, and its darest nightmare, the Blood Spider.

The tale takes dozens of entertaining twists and turns, and Ewing still finds time to explain why we find ourselves in the USSA, why the phrase UnAmerican is still frightening to some, and just what happened to the world's most dangerous man.

Madcap, brutal, funny, delirious; once again Ewing has given us a tale ripped from the pulps that's so much fun, it should be illegal.
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on 8 November 2016
El Sombra's battle with the Ultimate reich continues, although he's AWOL for much of the book & used more as an unseen presence. In Manhattan Untergang attract El Sombra's attention. They are a chaos based organisation aimed at destabilising American interests & sponsored by Hitler with plausible deniability. Killing their former head leads to El Sombra himself attracting the attention of Doc Thunder and The Blood Spider.
The Blood Spider is a ruthless and obssessed vigilante very much like a dark reading of the Green Hornet with nods to Spiderman a' plenty.

Doc Thunder the character that seems to have interested Ewing in the writing of this book, is a mixture of Superman and the long ago pulp magazine character Doc Savage (1*). Cover artist Mark Harrison who has done a terrific film poster style picture has cast Charlton Heston in the role. He is bisexual, sharing his bed with a slightly ape like sidekick and a woman inspired by She's Ayesha. He's a great character.

Both dark vigilante and true blue hero want to know who killed Untergang's Donner. Once they meet, the interaction between El Sombar and the Doc is enjoyable.

El Sombra when he does appear now begins to question the morality of his revenge agsint the Ultimate Reich e.g. should you kill broken men?

Of course there's something else going on besides these 3 avengers and an inevitable showdown beckons.

Not as violent as El Sombra, although far from gore free. I did not find it as well structured as El Sombra and if I could would have gone with 3.5 stars but you can't do halves and 3 would have been unjust.

Worth sticking wuith and nicely set up for the finale' which inlcudes Doc Thunder.

(1*) Appeared in pulp magazines & novels, Radio + later on comics and a not great film starring Ron Ely. Superhero mixed with H Rider Haggard adventurer and known as "The Man of Bronze"
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on 6 October 2013
This book is set in a very recognisable but obviously very different steampunk sort of universe. It is a good story and brilliantly executed. What I really enjoyed was Ewing's take on the various heroic types. From the disturbed zorro like Nazi hunter El Sombra to Doc Thunder (a mix between the original superman and Doc savage). My favourite though has to be Bloodspider who appears to be a wonderful mix of the Shadow and The Spider. There is a scene near the beginning where the Bloodspider takes out a few futurehead toughs in order to (seemingly) save an elderly Rabbi. It is a masterful scene and really evokes the pulp feel. It made me want to rush out, buy a slouch hat, and practice my maniacal laughter.

If the rest of the series is anything like this then I really need to read them.

Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 21 January 2011
Having read Al's first excursion into the Pax Britannica Steampunk universe (El Sombra), I was intrigued to see what he'd come up with for his next excursion to the lands of America (or the USSA as its known), especially as his Zorroesque character was a real gem of an edition to this dark twisted world.

Whilst the action has shifted to New York, the characters are just as much fun however the exception to this was Doc Thunder who whilst interesting was way too powerful in a Captain America meets Superhero type of way. Personally I'd have preferred it had he been modelled more on Doc Savage (the Ron Ely version) than Superhero as Ewing added a parody of a cross between Batman and the Shadow in the guise of the "Spider."

All in it is definitely something different to the much established Ulysses Quicksilver of Jonathan Green but it is a great romp into a different world. Personally I'm more a fan of the spirit of man aspect of titles over superpowers as things have to get a little bit too silly to present them with a real challenge. (Incidentally there is a tip of the hat to Stan Lee within these pages for you to keep an eye out for.) On a final note whilst the art work by Mark Harrison was great to enhance the readers imagination I have wondered how much of the collage was a hodgepodge of work already created as I'm sure that I recognise a lot of them from larger feature pieces rather than the amalgamation which did leave me feeling that it was more of a secondary consideration rather than an overall theme.
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on 29 January 2011
Having loved Al Ewing's previous three novels, giving them all 5 star ratings without hesitation, I awaited Gods of Manhattan eagerly. Although it is an enjoyable romp, it lacks the twisted genius of "I, Zombie" and the laugh out loud humour of "El Sombra" and "Death Got No Mercy". Well, the "Hitler has only one ball" bit had me chuckling.

Gods of Manhattan just wasn't quite what it could have been but it may well turn out to be a good springboard for some of the new characters.

It is a very enjoyable romp, don't get me wrong. Unfortunately for Mr Ewing I now hold him to extraordinarily standards and this one just scraped 4 stars for me.
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