LNH/META: Why Jungle Cheesecake is the Greatest LNH Story Ever Told

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Sun Jan 22 02:42:52 PST 2006

Spoilers within.

Yet Another Pretentious Essay by Tom Russell

  Just how do you pronounce "wReam"?  Is the
lower-case w silent? does the w count as one syllable
(double-you ream), two (wa-ream), or does the whole
word slur together (like "wrrreem" as opposed to
"ream", "whirl" as opposed to "hurl")?  (For that
matter, how does one pronounce wReanna?  Is it REEN-A
or RE-ANN-A?)
   The LNH FAQ says that wReam "has a chaotic effect
on everything, including classifying characters".  And
I think even his handle is indicative of that chaos;
no one ever has to ask, how do I pronounce Dvandom?
   Ray "wReam" Bingham, I think, is more responsible
for the general shape and tone of the LNH than any
other writer.  There are better authors, to be sure;
there are writers whose work broadened and deepened
the appeal and scope of the Legion, whose stories are
the shining diamonds in our crown.  If you want to
show someone that the LNH is deserving of their
attention, you show them Dvandom, Mistlock, Rawluk,
Wilcox, and Brenton.  But if you want to show them
what the LNH _is_, if you want a story that will
define it for them, wReam is your best choice. 
(Bartles and Phipps sharing a close second.)
   I will endeavor to prove this point during the
course of this incredibly pretentious and highfalutin
essay, and I will do so with the wMaster's greatest


   I should point out, first of all, that wReam gives
credit for "crossovers and special inserts" to Martin
Phipps, Daniel Falk, Dennis Towne, Joshua Dinerstein,
Charles Fitzgerald and Steve Hutchison.  So it's just
as much their masterwork as it is his.


   The plot of JUNGLE CHEESECAKE finds a crack team of
Legionnaires, led by Cheesecake Eater Lad, on a
mission to prevent Onomato Puweeha Person from
obtaining the dreaded Rung of Revamp.  In this epic
adventure, they find themselves faced with Lagneto,
the Netter Liberation Front, cannibals, hormones, and
bad jokes.
   Me?  Personally?  I love bad jokes.  I think
laughter and groaning is somehow tied together.  And a
big part of wReam, of JUNGLE CHEESECAKE, and the LNH
is bad jokes.  Like this one:

   "Wait, perhaps I can try emergency medical
procedure 1.84a" Ultimate Ninja said, as he grabbed
the delirious Contraption Man by the collar.  UN began
to slap him in the face.  "Snap out of it MAN!"

   It's silly, completely and utterly ridiculous.  It
shouldn't be funny at all, and if it is, it should
only be funny on the screen, or on the stage.  It
needs something physical, corporeal, tangible: the
slap needs to actually happen.  Slapstick should not
work when it's just words.  But, for me?  Where wReam
is concerned?
   It works.
   The only reason I can think of why is... wReam is
laughing at it, too.  He sincerely finds it funny, he
_believes_ in this joke, and because he believes in it
with all his heart, I believe in it too.  There's no
greater force in fiction than sincerity.  Sincerity,
true sincerity, can overcome bad style, bad technical
writing, bad plotting.  If you mean what you're
saying, it goes a long way.  It goes further, I think,
than something that's technically perfect and pretty
but empty.  Banal.  Insincere.  Condescending. 
   Here's another favourite moment:

RosterwReam and Ultimate Ninja gasped out in chorus,
[which] at the same time could be heard down the hall
[echoed by] the entire LNH in unison.
   [Which makes the reader wonder how they all knew
about this incredibly threatening relic and yet none
of you have NEVER heard of it til now!  As if they had
known about it all their lives... Sorta like when you
watch an episode of Star Trek TNG and Captain Picard
mentions that ancient basket weaving has ALWAYS been a
special interest to him, because it fits the episode,
even though there had never been hint of it in
previous episodes!  Oh wait a sec!  I am pulling a
MARTIN here!  Gotta go get back to the story!]

   On the one hand, he's making a point and a joke,
he's talking about Star Trek.  On the other hand, it
strikes me as very personal, as the sort of crazy
enthusiastic over-spill that most authors edit out, if
they even set it to paper at all.  It's like a ten
year old telling you the story.  And I don't mean that
as an insult, or to imply that wReam's prose, which
often lacks grace, should be misconstrued as
child-like.  I mean it as highest praise: his
enthusiasm and sincerity are strong and pure, like a
   If his prose lacks polish, it's because wReam's
stories often seem like a headlong rush, like Golden
Age comic books.  They have energy and panache, they
possess urgency in spades.  And maybe that's why his
stories still seem fresh, exciting, and fun.


   Cheesecake Eater Lad's task-force is comprised of
himself, Parking Karma Kid, Bandwagon Chick, Kid
Poetry, Cannon Fodder, Opinionated Lad, Bad Timing
Boy, Procrastination Boy, Time Waster Lad and
RosterwReam.  They are ultimately rescued by the
appearance of the cavalry: Ultimate Ninja, Deja Dude,
Occultism Kid, Renegade Programmer, Theory Man, Kid
Kirby, Cliche Dude, Multitasking Man, Sig. Lad, and
the Invisible Incendiary.  Not to mention that this
story sees the introduction of Hamster Man and
features sub-plots that have very little to do at all
with the actual, linear plot: wReamicus Maximus and
the acolytes of Dfandom, the resurrection of the
wReamed Acton Lord, and a rash of net.villain killings
by an assailant who declares that Net. Justice is
   That's a lot of characters, and a lot of time spent
on subplots.  Basically, JUNGLE CHEESECAKE is the
story Jesse Willey should have told in ROAD TO


   Onomato Puweeha Person seeks the Rung of Revamp
because, basically, her character has no depth. 
Sister State-the-Obvious sympathizes with her:

   "I could understand how she felt.  When I was
introduced I didn't have much of a personality
   "But at last you had potential," observed Deja
   "Yes, I don't mind coming across a bit slow as long
as I'm not ignored."
   "And you're saying Onomato-Puweeta [sic] Person
was?" Ultimate Ninja asked scornfully.
   Deja Dude nodded.  "Well, to be sure, she *had*
appeared in stories but she was just ... there."
   Ultimate Ninja shook his head.  "So you're saying
this whole mess is my fault because I introduced such
a dull character to the Legion."
   Deja Dude shook his head.  "Not really.  I mean,
let's face it, without all your dull characters the
Legion would be a lot smaller."

   wReam gives credit to this scene to Martin Phipps
within the story itself, so I assume it's all Martin's
dialogue.  But, it does bring up a valid point.  It is
likely that wReam holds the record for number of LNH
characters created.  His talent at coming up with
truly useless powers and sparklingly inane character
names more than makes up for, I feel, any personality
deficiencies in those creations.  If the bulk of the
wMaster's characters seem flat and just ... there, it
should be noted that most of the time, they were
created as gag characters.  Sister State-the-Obvious
states that which is obvious.  That's her gag and, to
a great extent, her personality.  Pair her with Gary
St. Lawrence's Sarcastic Lad, another somewhat flat
gag character, and you have an automatic joke:

   "I'm just a gag character," says Sister
   "Really?" says the caustic crusader.  "Personally,
I think you're one of the most complex characters in
modern literature.  Give Molly Bloom a run for her
   "You're making fun of me."
   "Who?  Me?  No, no..."
   Well, I didn't say it would be a good joke...

   ... but the point still stands.  Gag characters--
as a quick survey of any extant roster will confirm--
is what the LNH is about.  And no created better gag
characters-- or utilized gag characters better-- than
   There's a huge cast of characters in this story,
but those characters are never forgotten.  You won't
go more than a few dozen lines before Time Waster Lad
wastes time, Procrastination Boy puts something off,
Kid Poetry recites or composes.  When Multitasking Man
appears, he's doing at least four things at once.
   Ultimate Ninja shook his head.  "So you're saying
this whole mess is my fault because I introduced such
a dull character to the Legion."
   Deja Dude shook his head.  "Not really.  I mean,
let's face it, without all your dull characters the
Legion would be a lot smaller."
   "Is that so?" said Ultimate Ninja raising an
eyebrow.  After a moments [sic] thought, Sister
State-the-Obvious also became indignant.
   "Hmm... maybe I should rephrase that."

   Yes, let's.
   I don't think wReam's characters are dull at all. 
Though these characters might be one-dimensional, they
are never "just there", just taking up space, just
filling a slot so that the team appears large enough
or so that a mouth is provided to give plot-point
dialogue.  No characters are wasted.  The reader is
constantly reminded of who they are and what makes
them special... even if that special thing is only
another bad joke.
   What makes JUNGLE CHEESECAKE special is that the
story is _about_ gag characters and their
personalities (or lack thereof).  The most obvious
incarnation of this theme is, again, Onomato Puweeha
Person.  It is her quest for personality, for
notability, her intense need to count in the greater
scheme of things, that sets her mind on obtaining the
Rung of Revamp that will, by the end of the story,
transform her into VAMMO Woman.
   What's interesting about this transformation is the
circumstances: Onomato Puweeha Person, who has some
form of control/power over sound effects, is revamped
into VAMMO Woman, who has total mastery over only one
sound effect: VAMMO!
   In trying to be special, then, she sacrifices the
one thing that makes her special: her gag.  A
character who uses sound effects as physical entities,
whether for transportation or defense, has
possibilities.  In fact, there are more gag
possibilities for such a character than there are for,
say, Sister State-the-Obvious, a character who, in my
estimation, has proven much more popular and durable.
   But I think that the key to wReanna's success is
that her gag comes out of her personality, as
perfunctory and dependent on her gag as it might be. 
She's someone who states the obvious.  Sarcastic Lad
is a person who is sarcastic.  Personality equals gag.
   What kind of personality is implied by someone
whose power involves sound effects?
   So maybe, after all, Onomato Puweeha Person is a
dull character.


   And so she attempts to attain depth by revamp.  Her
powers become extremely narrow.  Gag characters work
on an iconic level; icons are very broadly defined. 
The more specific a character becomes, the less funny
they are.  And the more specific a character is, the
more real they become.  They are no longer character
types, but specific personalities, specific people
with hopes and dreams.  They become complex.  And
humour should be simple and elegant.


   This thematic thread-- this meditation on gag
characters, their personalities, their worth, their
potential-- runs all through out JUNGLE CHEESECAKE. 
The team led by Cheesecake Eater Lad are all gag
characters.  Now, yes, some of them are Writer
Characters-- even Theory Man, who has the ability to
theorize something which may or may not happen, is a
Writer Character-- but they are also gag characters.
   RosterwReam sums up the prevailing feeling of these
gag characters as they find themselves stranded on a
cannibal-infested island:

   ["...]Haven't you noticed!?  No one has come to
rescue us because we are NOBODIES!  We haven't got any
great powers!![..."]

   And, when the Ultimate Ninja sends this particular
team off in the first place, he needs to reassure
himself that he's not out of his mind for doing so. 
And, it's true, this isn't exactly the all-star team
by standard superhero criterion.  Other than Cannon
Fodder, they don't even have any powers worth speaking
of.  And Cannon Fodder's power is to die!
   When the day is saved, it's with the arrival of
Ultimate Ninja, Kid Kirby, and the other
heavy-hitters.  So, in the end, what have these gag
characters accomplished?  What good were they on this
   Are they really nobodies, as RosterwReam suggests? 
Well, I don't think so.
   Though it takes the arrival of the cavalry to turn
the tide, this group of second-stringers does fight,
and win.  Cheesecake Eater Lad keeps things together
fairly well during his leadership tenure, and saves
the life of a hula-dancing grass-skirt wearing Time
Waster Lad.  CEL also makes peace with the cannibals,
by unleashing his new recipe, Jungle Cheesecake.
   And it's not like our intrepid band of so-called
second-stringers were rescued out of the blue.  It was
Cannon Fodder's suicide-- a very creative and
intelligent use of his "gag" power to die and be
resurrected in the next issue-- that brought the
cavalry in the first place.
   If anything, I see JUNGLE CHEESECAKE as an
affirmation of gag characters, as a statement that,
yes, damn it, they have value beyond that of a cheap
laugh!  I have real affection for Cheesecake Eater Lad
and, should wReam and Martin decide to kill off Sister
State-the-Obvious and make it permanent, I think I
would find myself weeping.  I love these people, and
my love and sympathy for them runs deeper for them
than for any of the complex characters I've
encountered in literature, net-based or otherwise.
   JUNGLE CHEESECAKE is about these characters
learning to feel good for themselves-- at least, those
that can.  RosterwReam-- the source of the bitter
"nobodies" quote above-- and Onomato Puweeha Person
cannot learn to be happy with who they are, and so
they hold that Rung of Revamp and are reborn,
wReamhack and VAMMO Woman.


   And isn't that what the LNH is about, after all? 
When you get right down to it, you can't say that it's
exclusively about the gag characters, the parody, the
capes-and-tights.  It's about acceptance.  Accepting
who you are, and hoping others do the same. 
Expressing yourself personally and with enthusiasm.
   The LNH, if I'm not mistaken, is the oldest
Usenet-based shared writing universe still going. 
With 119 stories posted in 2005, I'd say it's still
going strong.  And it's greatest strength is that its
arms are open.  Anyone can write an LNH story.  Now,
sometimes that's a pretty scary thing: any LNH story I
wrote before JOURNEY INTO IRRELEVANCY, for example, is
absolute crap.
   But most of the time, it's good.  RACC in general,
and the LNH in particular, is like a little community.
 We're building on the work of all who have gone
before us, and everything that's written today can be
traced to a cascading discussion thread back from May
of '92.
   The LNH is responsible for the creation of RACC. 
And I truly think that one of the main reasons the LNH
is still going strong is the large pool of public
domain characters available.  Many, many, many of
which were created or brilliantly utilized by wReam.
   I truly and unequivocally think his stories are
terrific.  You might not agree with me on that point,
but I think you'll have to agree...

   ... without all his terrific characters, the Legion
would be a lot smaller.


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