REVIEWS: The Phippsian Reader

phippsmartin at phippsmartin at
Sat May 14 10:24:38 PDT 2005

Tom Russell wrote:
> "There are no works, only authors."
> --Giraudoux
> For some time, I've wanted to write a nice, in-depth sort of review
of a Martin Phipps >story.  As we all now, comments, compliments, and
criticism are the lifeblood of a >writer, especially a net writer: with
no sales figures to chart, it makes one feel that >you're not writing
in a void.  I've always enjoyed Martin's work, his sense of humour,
>and (since a positive in-depth review-thing is always more tolerable
than a negative >one, which at length will smack of a grudge) I've just
been waiting for the perfect >story to review, the one that's the most
archetypical Phippsian, shows the man I >consider the definitive LNH
writer at the height of his powers.

I read a review online of Sin City and the guy hated the movie.  I
thought to myself "Why does he hate Frank Miller and Robert
Rodrigues?".  Of course, he doesn't (as far as I know): he just didn't
like the movie (at all).  It is easy for anybody to wrongly equate a
negative review of anything as a personal attack on the writer or
director in question.

> First off, Martin is a very, very funny man.  I can count on no other
writer to >consistently deliver a quick, funny, and simple gag every
twenty or thirty lines of >text.  Much of his humour derives from that
staple of meta-fiction, breaking the fourth >wall.  Martin doesn't just
wink at the audience, he doesn't just chip a bit of this >brick here
and that one here.  No cutesy, subtle post-modernism.  He *breaks* it.
>Violently.  Unrelentlingly.  Joyously.

You make it sound as if I'm doing something new.  Truth is that fourth
wall breaking is extremely hard to do.  It usually falls flat.  Maybe
90% of my stuff falls flat because I break the fourth wall.  But if I
don't break the fourth wall then it is not an LNH story.

> Some might try to fault Phipps for simplistic, parallel-heavy
plotting, but then they >fail to see that the plot itself, in many
cases, *is* the joke.  Some might try to >fault him for relying on an
overly-large cast of characters whose personalities are >archetypical
at best and bland at worst.  But they fail to realize that most
super-hero >fiction, online and off, featuring overly-large casts of
characters whose personalities >are archetypical at best and bland at
worst.  And that's the joke.

Actually I try to keep the cast of characters down to about six or
seven.  Sometimes I need more though.  It's the additional characters
who are bland because they are admittedly mainly there to advance the
plot.  I like to think that the main characters are mostly fleshed out
--unless the joke is that they are not fleshed out and are mainly there
for decoration.

> Phipps, you see, is probably the only writer who has remained true to
the concept of >the LNH at its purest: parody of superheroes and the
internet at its silliest.  In >fact, his insistence on using
"net-names" for every geographical location is testement >to the man's
devotion and zeal.

Others go further to the point of changing people's names too.  Jamas
once had a character refer to the "actress" JulIO Roberts and then
pointed out that, in making the joke, he had given her a man's name.
That's devotion.  See also Saxon's Looniversal gazeteer at the website.

New readers might get lost meeting ten or fifteen characters in a
single story, not a one of them fleshed out more than a line here or
there, but that's only if they're reading for convincing characters and
dramatic plots as opposed to fun gags.

> The work of Phipps is different, though, than most serial fiction.
His stories more >resemble episodes of Saturday Night Live (only Phipps
is funny and, I'd argue, SNL >*never* was).  Not that the plots are
piecemeal or non-existent, for his stories are >plotted, but that the
plot exists, like that television show does, to provide a forum >for
the gags.  I think if you took Martin Phipps and put him on stage at
Wizard World, >he would be the first superhero-oriented stand-up

I usually don't write stories out in full.  I usually play scenes out
in my head, sometimes even act them out when nobody is watching.  As I
pointed out in my review of Dave's most recent opus, my stories consist
almost entirely of dialogue: it's like I can hear the characters in my
head like they're in a radio play.  Saxon quipped once about my
Saturday Net.Live story that he couldn't tell the difference between
their LNH and the real LNH.  Well, yeah, it's a good analogy.  To the
LNH, the audience, the reader, is watching them live and they're
constantly aware of this fact (except the villains and innocents
usually aren't).

My stories are short -- "streamlined" -- and fast, even "racing", but
when I was trained as a standup comedian (though I became a teacher
instead) I was told to keep gags short.  Every wasted word between gags
is a moment your audience isn't laughing.  If I have to pad a story
then I'll pad it with another gag and not a lengthy description.  Mind
you, the same argument applies to teaching: short concise explanations
work best, as long as they remain true.

> If you're reading for the gags, for the jokes, for the silliness and
pure level of >invention, then Phipps is really the most accessible of
LNH writers: the familiarity of >the plots and sheer number of
characters become meaningless.  And, should you start >reading and keep
reading, then you get to know the characters.  Phipps is one of those
>writers, like Proust, who require the reader to meet them half-way, at
least initially.

Doesn't everybody need to be met halfway?  I mean, if I am going to
read a long monologue at the beginning of a story and I'm already a few
pages into the story and nothing new has happened then it must be
because I trust the writer to deliver a payoff later on.  That, for me,
is another reason to keep stories short.  Of course, as Saxon points
out, people may think my payoffs come too soon in which case the
reaction could be "Is that it?" but if I were going to get an "Is that
it?" reaction out of somebody I would rather it be after they've read a
three page story than a fifty page story in which case they'd have
invested more of their time and would feel justifiably angry.

I am, by the way, a very lazy reader (unless I am reading technical
material which I then feel is for reasons other than entertainment).
If I read people's stuff at all it should be taken as the ultimate
compliment, the fact that I actually got through it I mean.

> My next point is best illustrated with a couple of quotes.  The first
is the opening >scene from "The Epic of Google.mesh":

Strange example.  There's no fourth wall breaking in Google.mesh.
Arthur breaks the fourth wall in LNHY.  Saxon doesn't.  In a way,
Google.mesh my most serious stuff: it's a way to reconcile Arthur's
pure sillyness (way beyond typical LNH sillyness) with Saxon's deadly
seriousness (with a villain getting chopped up for example).  Arthur's
LNHY stories (following Looniverse Y #1 where he got off on the wrong
foot), Saxon's LNHY stories and my own all deal with the same themes
though.  The quote you gave was supposed to be consistent with Arthur's
characterisation of God and Saxon's description of the origin of the
Nephalim (who historically were the diefication of Sumarian kings and

> Martin is the best RACC writer to go to, I think, for a good racy
gag.  And, even when >he's being satirical, like the second quote's
withering-John-Houseman-in-Paper-Chase->meets-Russ-Meyer wit, he is
never, in my opinion, mean.  Even his sexually-oriented >humour is
good-natured, almost fun-for-the-whole-family.  I even think he's a
little >embarrassed by it at times, that he had something of a
puritanical upbringing.  You'll >notice, for example, that when one of
his characters uses a minor curse word, it's >almost always followed by
"so-and-so swore", not "so-and-so said".  Also, his warning >at the
beginning of the Google.mesh quote-- and this one posted in his notes
for >Net.heroes... with Children:
> Actually, I'm not completely happy with the way Net.Heroes... with
> Children #'s 2-3 turned out.  Net.Heroes... with Children was
intended as a
> satire of the sitcom Married... with Children so I knew I'd have to
throw in
> some sexist jokes, fat jokes and sexual inuendo but I think I might
> gone a bit too far in #2.

Well, I did go too far.  It's a natural thing, really: the sillyness
that was Net.Heroes... with Children was immediately followed by
Lagneto Saga #'s 1-4, my most serious stuff to date.  And.  People.
Liked.  That.  Better.  I think people might have even felt betrayed
when I started breaking the fourth wall again in parts 6 and 7.  Mind
you, I think Lagneto brings out the serious side in me because he
doesn't know he is a fictional character so he CAN'T break the fourth
wall and his suffering, admittedly, feels more real because he doesn't
know it isn't.  So Lagneto Saga Part II was all serious too.  As was
Young Lagneto and Lagneto 2016 and most of 2017.  I ended up having to
do things differently: Lagneto couldn't do something because the author
had told him to directly; he had to have a dream that turned out to be
a premonition.  Same thing.

> Actually, his material here is really quite tame, and I take these
examples as a >simple proof that, even at his most satirical, Phipps is
never bitter or nasty.  Tom >Russell and Jesse Wiley might find human
suffering a joke at times, but there are some >lines Phipps will never
cross, because he is too gentle, sweet, and giving (and >forgiving).
His gags, like I said, are pure, simple, and never at the expense of a
>human being.

I never mean to be mean.  But I don't forgive easily.  I will exact
righteous retribution when I feel it is necessary.  If you come in half
way through you might think I'm a mean, vicious SOB.

> Phipps doesn't have an over-inflated opinion of himself as an author.
 You'll find no >pretentions in his work.  He is a humble artist, but,
like the great Ray Carney says, >that's the way to be: not flying above
your work, a god lording it over your little >people, but a fellow
being loving them and learning from them, letting your work teach >you
about you.

Well, research has been done into the differences between written and
spoken language.  My question is "Why is there a difference?"  Why do
we write any differently from how we speak?  Why are we so pretentious
when we write?  My writing is no different from my speaking: most of
what I write is dialogue anyway and it should sound like dialogue.

> Now, what about his dramatic work?  His Lagneto epic, for one, or the
more >recent "Week After Next"?  Since I still have some Lagneto to
catch up on, let's look >at that LNH-Asia story for a moment.
> What starts off as a parody, of sorts, of Day After Tomorrow (which
was certainly >better than the average Emmerich film) become
something... different.  It's not so much >a gag-fest, though there are
gags, or even a story as a meditation on life, and >suffering, and art.
> There is nothing the characters can do.
> There is nothing the characters can do.
> This is the way the story feels.  Here you have characters (and their
author) >grappling with the enormity of disaster.  Just a few scenes,
the character split up >into groups, where they talk about their very

This wasn't so much padding as pacing.  And I was aware of Saxon's
criticism of my Deus Ex Machina in previous LNH Asia stories.  I came
close to referencing it directly when Eddy Tony Al said "I can't help
you".  The original line was "I can't help you.  What would Saxon say?"
 (Nothing, apparently, because he didn't review that issue. :D)  But,
alas, the joke sounded a bit mean spirited and bitter, as if I couldn't
take criticism, but that was the inspiration for the pacing of the
story.  The emotional impact you refer to was a side-effect.

> Then, Deja Dude the Elder goes to Eddy Tony Al Presence, son of
Arthur E. L. Presence, >and asks if there's anything they can do.
Well, they can't take it away, the >suffering's there, but a solution
is presented: the characters use their powers to >miminize the damage
and prevent any further disaster.  The Ice Age is averted.  It's a
>happy ending.

Actually, it was Deja Dude the Younger.  Deja Dude the Elder would have
been 67 and powerless.  Hence one reason for setting the story in the
year 2035.  (The other being to create doubt as to whether or not
civilisation would be destroyed.)

> But it doesn't ring false, because the fourth-wall "jokes"-- while
not funny or meant >to be-- are still in place.  Deja Dude-- Martin's
author character, Martin's avatar: >Martin himself-- uses art to
provide a lie that a human being can believe, one that >minimizes the
hurt.  This is one of the purposes of art.  Is it the deepest one, the
>hardest one, the one that's the most fulfilling?  No.  But it's the
one that's the most >basic, and, in times of tragedy, the most needed.

Or perhaps I was just writing a review of The Day After Tomorrow in as
entertaining a way as possible.  Does it not bother you that the
science in the movie was a bit misleading?  The original Ice Age did
not happen because cave men were burning fossil fuels: it presumably
happened the way my story describes.  Okay, see, I do have an
over-inflated ego: I'm saying my story is, in one way, better than the
Hollywood movie.  But that's what movie reviewers are usually implying
anyway when they complain about a bad movie script: they're implying
that they could do better if they had the chance.

> I think this marks "Week After Next" as the most mature work, thus
far, in his entire >body of fiction.  But it's not a betrayal of who
Martin is or what we've come to expect >from his work.  The Phippsian
themes and obsessions are still in place; an unforgiving >and
close-minded reader can take one whiff of the fourth-wall breaking and
say, it's >not serious enough.

Actually, I think the story I wrote on Wednesday, CSI: Netro.polis, was
better.  I actually don't think LNH Asia: 2 Slow 2 Serious or LNH Asia:
The Week After Next work as separate stories.  In one I introduce -or
reintroduce- a bunch of new characters but barely use them.  In the
latter, a bunch of new characters appear at the end and help save the
day, a solution that is hardly better on its own than Deus Ex Machima.
Together they work, I think, but I prefer stories that people can read
in one sitting.  As I said above, I am a lazy reader and I expect
others to be the same way.

> But it is.  There are two ways the ending could have been different,
and neither would >have worked: either, a, Ice Age comes and life
sucks, or b, the heroes achieve their >victory but without Deja Dude--
Martin-- consulting with Eddy Tony Al.  Both might have >been serious
enough, but neither would have been Phipps enough.

Speaking of Roland Emmerich, one is faced with the same conundrum
regarding the movie Independence Day: there's no way that mankind would
have been able to fight an enemy as powerful as the aliens were
established to be at the beginning of the movie.  Mankind should have
been dead at the end of the movie.  The fact that mankind not only
survived but won is nothing but a cheat, a way to salvage a happy
ending even though millions, if not billions, have died.  To a lesser
extent the Day After Tomorrow has the same problem: I mean Canada's
gone, Europe is gone, Russia, presumably, is gone... but, hey,  they
saved cancer boy!  Yay!  How can you take these movies seriously?  They
deserve to be satirized.

> What makes it such an interesting story is that it is both serious
enough and Phipps >enough.  He achieves something great without leaving
behind who he is, the primary >complaint lodged against Dickens when
the Boz of Pickwick because the Chas. of Oliver >Twist.  Phipps has
proven that the Bozs of the world have value.

I have no idea what you are talking about.

> More than any other work-- and certainly more than any "serious" work
in the imprint-- >Phipps's work is what validates the LNH as a living,
breathing, and important venture.

No.  Is it too late for you to go back and finish Net.Heroes on Patrol
without the zombies?  I know you had plans for the Nameless Ones.  I'm
not sure why you got sidetracked into doing zombie fanfic.  If you
could go back and salvage that series, maybe explain what the zombies
had to do with the overall plot then that would be a more important
venture than my pseudo movie and TV reviews.  Your stories have
elements of subtle humour that make them worth reading even when they
are mostly serious.


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