REVIEW: ASH #70 - Morning Star

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Sun Aug 13 22:28:24 PDT 2006


At last!

The giant monster smack-down we were waiting for has arrived!  It's
strange, folks: nothing loses my interest faster than action-heavy
writing, but I've been wringing my hands waiting for the giant monsters
to start kicking the shit out of each other.

Now, granted: the giant monsters DO NOT kick the shit out of each other
in this issue.  We've only got one monster.  So this is GODZILLA, and
not GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (and certainly not MONSTER ZERO, greatest and
cleverest of all the classic Gorija flicks).  It's people versus giant,
unstoppable monster, and with the focus on Heraclius (that's the giant
beetle monster, mind you, and not the most sensitive sexual organ of
Zeus's often-miffed spouse) during the "Manifest Destiny" arc, you
kinda expect it.

What you don't expect, of course, is the way the battle turns out.  But
before we get to that-- let me tell you why I don't like most action
scenes.  The reason is, most action scenes are filler.  You have a
contest-- let's say, Spider-Man vs. Kraven the Hunter.  (That's point
A.)  And you have an outcome: Spider-Man wins.  (Point B.)

Now, in a lot of today's comics, it doesn't really matter how you get
from point A to point B.  Spider-Man is faster than Kraven, tougher
than Kraven, et cetera.  He can withstand more of Kraven's punches and
then hits him harder, until he falls down.

And in those comics, really, the action-- the conflict-- isn't really
the focus of the story.  The focus is on the subplots in Peter's life,
it's on Kraven's character, it's on Peter's reaction to, I dunno,
jungle drugs or something.  Once that psychological aspect has been
exhausted, it's time for the fight and Peter's victory (a foregone
conclusion, of course).

But, back in the day, superhero stories were, for the most part, action
stories.  The focus of a Spidey vs. Kraven story wasn't on their
differences as human beings, or what Peter's going through; it was on,
who's going to win and how?  And in those stories, generally,
Spider-Man (or Batman, or any hero) didn't win because he could SOCK
WHAM POW better than his advesary.  Because in a story centered on
action, that kind of victory is kind of pointless.  Who wants to see
yet another donnybrook?

No, the victory usually came because the hero was *smarter* than the
villain.  Because he changed the rules of engagement, or made use of
some fantastic prop.  Example: Amazing Spider-Man # 4: Spider-Man
vacuums up the Sandman.  Example: The Thing #... 7?  8?, in which the
Thing bests Sandman by mixing him with cement.  (Poor Sandman.)

My point is, good action is clever action.  It's not just a way to get
from point A to point B, and it's not just something a writer puts in
there because it's a genre convention.  Good action is well-plotted,
well-concieved, and well-executed.  And we certainly don't get to point
B simply because the Hero was stronger than the Villain, or , for that
matter, because he's the hero.

That being said: ASH # 70 is very, very good action.  The prose style
is fun and bouyant--

> into the air!  "HOOOORAAAAAAAAH!" Essay whooped as she sailed over the
> secondary defense line that had been set up while she and the other supers
> had been, well, making the monsters mad.

-- percise and rhythmic:

> The pebbly beach combined with the
> abnormal surf to give them horrible footing, and each tripped several times
> in the mad scramble for an elusive and possibly illusive safety at the
> settlement of Falcon Bay.

The story serves not only as a climax to the six part Manifest Destiny,
but as a story in and of itself, it builds convincingly from beginning
to end.  With each attempt on the part of the Falcon Bay residents to
repell Heraclius, their predictament gets more and more hopeless.  And
while the reader is fairly certain the heroes are going to triumph (I
mean, after all, Dave's not going to have the giant beetle squoosh the
bulk of his cast to death with its stony leg, is he?), disbelief is
willingly suspended as victory seems nigh-impossible.

You see, Dave's already set up some rules: nothing's going to hurt
Heraclius.  He doesn't say this, but rather shows us with one futile
attempt after another.  If one of the heroes was to attack Heraclius
with some attack that hasn't been tried before, only to have it
succeed, it would truly suck.  It would break the rules Dave set up and
would not be satisfying dramatically.  It would, in essence, be a
cheat: like those stories where Spider-Man or Supes beats the Vulture
or Lex Luthor simply because he's a scientific genius and whips up some
miracle device.

(And I'll freely cop to such an ending in the Gorgon-Fleetfeet fight in
JOURNEY INTO... # 3.  On the one hand, I did it on purpose, because
Fleetfeet is a character, much like Supes, who can do pretty much
anything.  I was trying to write a story where a character is
effortlessly competent, and so I made that the focus of the story.
Still, it does not excuse the bad action plotting within.)

Now, granted, one could argue that the denoument is, in essence, a kind
of "miracle" ending, in that it is not set up within the action scene
itself.  And, for a new reader like myself, the ending does kind of
come out of left field.

But that's the charm of a shared universe, and I've been reading
superhero comics long enough to know that there are other stories that
happened before the one I'm reading right now.  And, had he set up the
plot twist within the story itself (or the arc), it would basically
have had ruined the surprise of it, the sense of "aha!" that no doubt
crept over longtime ASH readers, as it pays off both TerraStar and
Geode-and-Beacon-Having-Hot-Crystaline-Sex.  (Or, as Dave said in one
memorable line, "it wasn't exactly sex, but it was close enough for

And, finally, enough of the story worked on its own merits, as its own
piece, that the TerraStar-in-Geode plot twist did not carry the weight
of the entire story.  Or, to put it another way: it's pretty damn
newbie friendly, and unfamiliarity with ASH stories of years past will
not put a damper on your enjoyment of this story.

And, speaking of: I'm getting a much better handle on the interpersonal
relationships between the ASH characters.  I remember, for example,
that Scorch and Julie had broken up because Scorch didn't want to put
work into the relationship.  One thing that creeped him out was that
Julie's brother was living in Scorch's head for awhile, and, yes, that
would creep just about anyone out.

In this issue of ASH, Dave includes a little scene in which Julie
discovers her brother is battling the beetle on Venus.  Now, not only
does this further the Julie subplot, keeping it in our minds, but it
lets us new readers know who the brother is-- Beacon-- and, we soon
discover, that Beacon plays a major role in the conclusion.

Not to be stealing wReanna's fire, here, but this is just plain good
structure.  He uses the subplot to focus our attention on the player
about to take center stage, reminds old readers/tells new ones who
Julie is in relation to Beacon, _and_ furthers a subplot, all in one
scene.  Bravo.

I am a little worried about the promised homage to METROPOLIS for the
next arc; I really, really hate METROPOLIS.  It's Lang's worse.
(Interested parties should seek out the Mabuse films, the Indian Epic,
and Die Nibelungen for his best.  Despite their length, these are
terrific films that never cease to entertain, amuse, and pique
interest.  Oh, yeah, and M.  But you knew about M already, didn't you?)

Here's hoping the homage is more akin to this past arc's homage to
GODZILLA films, and less akin to some of mine. :-)


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