A Hundred Thousand Worlds by: Bob Proehl
Review by Mark Palm
One of the things that surprises people who rarely read comics, is how serious they often are. The days of long-underwear clad men saving the world from similarly clad villains is long gone, as out of date as gazogenes and spats. I am certainly not ready to say that every issue of every comic from Marvel and DC and the multitude of other companies out there churning out titles should be compared to Anna Karenina, but I will grant that there is an enormous amount of titles being published with varying degrees of intent, some being amusing fodder, and some that are deadly serious. One need only look at the box-office receipts of super-hero films to see how big the business has become, aside from artistic merit. The influence that comics have had upon other forms of artistic expression are still being felt, and will doubtless be even greater in the future.
Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl is the story of Valerie Torrey, the former star of an X Files type show, and her son Alex. Valerie is taking her son to Los Angeles to meet his father, her former co-star. The two were married, but after tragedy and betrayal Valerie fled with her son in tow. Now, obligated to share custody with Alex’s father, she reluctantly agrees to take him there. On her way west she is prolonging her journey and making some extra cash by stopping off at several Comic/Science Fiction Conventions on the way. At the first Con she befriends Gail, the only female writer for a Major Comic Company, as well as Fred and Brett, a writer and artist who produce an independent title. Also along for the ride are a group a female models who are paid to dress up as famous comic heroes, and act as a kind of Greek chorus to the scenes between Gail and Val, as two women in a field dominated by men.
The crux of the story is The relationship between Val and her son as they slowly head toward Los Angeles, where Val will lose custody of Alex, and Mr. Proehl tells their story with tenderness and power. Gail’s role, as she struggles to find her identity and create original contents brings a wonderful counterpoint to the tale. Some time is also spent on the relationship between Fred and Brett, and the ties that develop between Brett and Alex and Brett and one of the models. The poignancy and sadness of the main story is leavened by the author’s obvious love and familiarity with the worlds of the industry, the fans, and how they interact at the conventions. The dialogue is wonderful, and often hilarious, and Mr. Proehl show’s a chameleon-like ability to step inside the skin of various characters, giving each one a distinctive voice.
I particularly enjoyed Mr. Proehl’s exuberant invention in creating fictional versions of Marvel and DC characters, and creators, that mirror and also poke sly fun at their decedents. Even if you are not familiar with the real writers and artists they are based ,(loosely), upon, they are drawn with care and compassion.
If you have never been to a convention, and I urge you to go to at least one if you have not, you could just read this novel. Mr. Proehl really gets the atmosphere down to a tee, with details that show both the best and the worst that such events feature.
What made this novel resonate so much for me was the way the Mr. Proehl examines and explores the way that creative people, actors and writers and artists, interact both with each other,and with the worlds that they create, and how the dynamic of each reflects and relates with the other. So read A Hundred Thousand Worlds instead of going to see the next big comic-book movie. You’ll be glad that you did.