Tom Russell milos_parker at
Sun Jun 4 21:16:12 PDT 2006


In the last issue of Vel, Jesse left us with the following
psuedo-cliffhanger as the pregnant Jailbait/Seductress goes into

>    Ja'Khalleem leaned down to do another test.   Suddenly he began
> floating to the ceiling.    Instruments and equipment went flying
> through the air.   He quickly dodged the overhead lamps and became
> crushed against the ceiling.
>    "I think this is just the start," Ja'Khalleem said.
>    "Can't you whip us some power dampening drug?" Jen asked.
>    "No... even if I could reach the ground, the drugs could harm the
> baby," he said.
>    Stomper walked in with his scan thingee.
>    "And if you don't administer it... you could kill them both,"
> Stomper said.
>            To Be Continued.......

... which left this reader, in particular, a little wanting.  The story
of Vel # 15 in and of itself just seemed to be getting started when it
ended very abruptly; it seemed like Willey was writing for the trade.

I understand that, as these three issues are also part of Willey's
One-Man Crossover, KILLFILE WARS, that he has to break things up
chronologically; i.e., between the last issue of Vel and this one,
Killfile Wars # 2 and 3, along with LNH vol. 2 Annual # 1, takes place.
 So I understand that and am sympathetic to his need to have # 15 end
where it does.

At the same time, the opening of # 16--

> Jen held the baby in her arms.    One could hardly tell the child had

-- reveals that the cliffhanger was really a false one.  While the
opening of # 16 *does* address the question of the cliffhanger (will
Jen and the baby make it through childbirth?), it does so in such a way
that the cliffhanger doesn't pay off.  To illustrate what I mean, let's
imagine, for a moment, that Vel # 15 & 16 were the same issue, the same
story, that the end of # 15 was joined to the beginning of # 16.  We'd
have something like this:

>    Ja'Khalleem leaned down to do another test.   Suddenly he began
> floating to the ceiling.    Instruments and equipment went flying
> through the air.   He quickly dodged the overhead lamps and became
> crushed against the ceiling.
>    "I think this is just the start," Ja'Khalleem said.
>    "Can't you whip us some power dampening drug?" Jen asked.
>    "No... even if I could reach the ground, the drugs could harm the
> baby," he said.
>    Stomper walked in with his scan thingee.
>    "And if you don't administer it... you could kill them both,"
> Stomper said.
> _______________________________________________________________
> Jen held the baby in her arms.    One could hardly tell the child had
> any dorfan blood at all.   The ridges had yet to develop and its skin
> tone was only slightly off standard human tint.   He was resting
> peacefully.   Doctor Ja'Khaleem and Vel walked into the room.   Vel
> took a seat right next to them and place his arm around Jen.

Juxtaposing the scenes this way, the crisis of # 15 is revealed as a
false one.  A big deal made of nothing.

To properly deliver on the promise of a cliffhanger (and a cliffhanger
is nothing more than a promise), Willey would have to explain what
Stomper means by his cryptic, Willeyesque statement, and stay in the
room during the childbirth, or at least the administration of the drug.
 By elliding this, any sense of suspense the cliffhanger may have
drummed up is rendered moot and the cliffhanger is ousted as an
artificial one.

I have nothing against cliffhangers per se, but rather against the sort
of cliffhanger Willey uses here.  It's a tad bit irritating and it's
bad serial story structure.

Now, to his credit, this _isn't_ the resolution of the cliffhanger.
Jen and the baby are not out of the woods just yet--

> 	"What?  What's wrong?" she asked.
> 	"Jennifer... I'm sorry.  The tests showed what we feared,"
> Ja'Khaleem said.  "The genetic sequence that creates a protective
> barrier from the use of his own powers just don't work.  Dran could
> become very ill."
> 	"So... use stem cells or nanobots or whatever," she said.
> 	"Jen, it's not that simple.   As far as history confirms, there
> has only been one other human dorf hybrid... that's me.  I don't
> have any super powers.   Without some sort of template of how these
> powers are supposed to work in such a hybrid... we can't even begin
> to make an educated guess.  We just don't have the equipment," Vel
> said.
> 	Jen stared at him showing almost no expression.
> 	"Are you trying to tell me my son is going to die?" she snarled.

And so, while the crisis of # 15 is not exactly a false one, I maintain
that the way in which it was initially presented was the bait while
this is the switch.  Which very well may have been Mr. Willey's
intention; me, I'm not so big on bait and switch, myself.

Vel does have a solution: a computer system that's capable of saving
the newborn, situated on a Dorf protectorate.

> 	"The base is a dorfan state secret.   You wouldn't be granted
> access under any circumstances.   If it weren't for my diplomatic
> credentials... neither would I.   But I know these people.  They're
> good Doctors.   They could save him," Vel said.
> 	"Are you saying you want to take my son away?" Jen shouted.  "I
> won't have it."
> 	Vel stood up and headed for the door.
> 	"It'd only be for a few years.   Until we were sure it worked,"
> Vel said.
> 	"No Vel... I won't let you do this..." she said.
> 	"I had a feeling you'd say that," Vel said.   "You'll be
> hearing from my lawyer."

And I've got to hand it to Willey: he's good at coming up with the last
line for any given scene, whether it's cute, humorous, or cryptic.
Now, I personally think he does this a little too often, to the point
where it becomes more a tic than a skill; people could say the same, I
suppose, regarding my use of semicolons, colons, and parenthetical
statements: to each their own (or, as a Willey character may retort, to
own their each).

This could be a very good premise for a story: Willey's also very good
at coming up with story ideas.  My major problems with him, though, are
matters of execution and focus.  Let me paint a picture.

A rift is caused between Vel and Jen.  Both want to save their baby,
but Jen doesn't want to give him up, either.  They try to talk sense
into one another, but to no avail.  Lawyers are called, specialists
consulted.  The battle becomes heated and nasty, all while the child's
life hangs in the balance.  How is this resolved?  Can Vel and Jen come
to a satisfactory conclusion for both of them?  Will they still love
each other, or will the child's death-- or de facto Dorfan exile--
become a wound that can never be healed?  This is a story about Vel and
Jen, and the focus is on the two of them, their relationship, and their
love/intentions for their newly-born child.

This is, unfortunately, not the story Willey tells.

Oh, sure, it's about Vel and it's about Jen, but other than that first
scene, they don't share another scene together.  It's about them as
separate entities, and the real meat of the story, brought up only in
this first scene, is never dissected.  He spends all his time picking
at his french fries instead.

Now, it's quite possible that # 17 will concentrate more on Jen and Vel
_together_.  But, from # 16 alone, I find it unlikely.

The big problem with this approach is that he's avoiding the actual
conflict itself.  The conflict is between Jen and Vel, essentially a
custody battle and a battle of values.  But since we never see them in
conflict, since that conflict is never dissected, its only exists at
the edges of the story.  And that, for me, makes for an unsatisfactory

(Now, one can argue in Willey's defense, that I should remove the plank
from my eye before I start complaining about his splinter: in THE GREEN
KNIGHT, the three main characters spend most of their time in their
separate head-spaces, and the actual confrontations between them are
very sparse and never foregrounded.  This is because of the
disconnection that those three characters feel, but it is still a
completely valid criticism.)

This issue of Vel didn't have the visceral sort of build that the other
one had.  The cross-cutting between the two parents in this case does
not strike me as particularly effective; of course, I was still waiting
for another Vel-Jen scene and I was a little peeved when it didn't

I did enjoy the Lagneto appearance: short, sweet, and to-the-point, it
was also another bait-and-switch tactic but in this case an appreciated

I was a bit confused by this exchange--

> 	"Marcia?" he said.
> 	"Yes?"
> 	"I need a favor..." Vel said.
> 	"If you want your old job back... I already gave it to a nice
> Canadian woman," she sighed.  "Though your other position is still
> available."
> 	Vel rolled his eyes.

-- if only because Willey never tells us what those two jobs were.  I
assume they're covered in previous issues of Vel, but it would be more
amusing if more readers were able to get the joke.

This could be accomplished by a footnote (not exactly very visceral,
but utilitarian) or by working it into the dialogue.  Granted, it can
be hard to do this sometimes and still have it sound natural; when it
comes to dialogue, I'd rather it be natural than immediately
comprehensible.  At the same time, that's only if I had to choose
between the two.  I'd rather have both cake and pie, as sexy-geek Lisa
Loeb is fond of saying.

(Ah, Lisa Loeb.  I wonder if she leaves her glasses on during
intercourse?  Because, really, the glasses is all she's got going for

Ahem.  Anyway.  To illustrate the difference between the three:


> 	"If you want your old job back... I already gave it to a nice
> Canadian woman," she sighed.  "Though your other position is still
> available."
> 	Vel rolled his eyes.

Now, for my next trick, since I have no idea what Vel's job was, I'm
going to have to make one up.  From the context, I _think_ Vel is a
former lover, and that he worked for Marcia as a diamond-hunting scuba


   "If you want your old job as my diamond-hunting scuba diver, I
already gave it to a nice Canadian woman.  Though if you want to do the
horizontal polka, I think I can pencil you in."
   Vel rolled his eyes.

It's _stilted_ and _cheesy_.  But, there is a better way.


   "If you want your old job back, I already gave it to a nice Canadian
woman.  She looks pretty good in the scuba outfit.  Though not as good
as you did out of it."
   Vel rolled his eyes.

Okay, still a bit cheesy, and it omits the diamond-hunting part.  But
it at least gives us some clue as to what she's talking about.


But, as I've said before, Jesse's never too big on giving the audience
much to go on.  He doesn't stop for a stylistic flourish or to dwell on
exposition or character moments.  This kind of ruthlessness is good, in
theory; Jamas Enright, as I noted in THE PLEASURES OF PLOT, writes
high-quality air-tight plot and idea based stories.  The difference
between Jesse and Jamas, besides hemispherical ones, of course, is that
Jamas's execution is better.  He manages to work in character moments
and heighten suspense within the virginially tight prose, and upon a
second reading, one can see how each and every sentence works towards
an aim and how each and every detail is a telling and purposeful one.

When Jesse does use details, they seem kind of haphazardly written, as
if they are after-thoughts:

> 	Vel dialed his cellphone. The evening breeze blew thru his hair.
> It kept ringing and ringing.   After staying on the line for more than
> five rings the phone someone on the other end finally picked up.

"The evening breeze blew thru his hair", besides containing an
infuriatingly lazy abbreviation of "through", disrupts the paragraph.
Sentence one is about Vel and his cell-phone; sentence three is about
the cell-phone; so is sentence four.  Every sentence except "the
evening breeze" is about the same thing; what is that sentence doing

It _might_ work if it was a parenthetical statement or marked off by a
colon, a sort of haiku-esque bit of poetry--

   Vel dialed his cellphone: the evening breeze blew through his hair.

-- but I think the paragraph is much better axing the sentence all
together.  It's not a particularly beautiful paragraph, but it serves a
purpose, which is: Vel makes a phone call.  As is, the sentence is a
spanner in the works.  A reader could argue, somewhat facetiously, that
the sentence is confusing: after all, since it comes immediately before
the third sentence, Willey might be saying that the evening breeze kept
ringing and ringing.

While I seriously doubt most readers would be confused by it on a
conscious level, it's a disrupting detail that confuses on a
subconsious level.

And this is something that happens so often in Jesse's work that I
wonder if it's not intentional: if he's not trying to be deliberately
confusing, perplexing, disruptive and disturbing on a sub-conscious
level.  People chided Hubert Selby, for example, for his strange
writing style, and perhaps these things are not faults of Willey, but
rather the things that make him interesting and worth reading.

And, it's true, many of the "great" authors have certain formal
idiosyncracies.  And their apologists argue that to make a complaint
about these is to miss the point of the work altogether.  That's
possible: for example, I miss the point of James Joyce and ULYSSES

For me, the litmus test is always a matter of a percieved why: if I can
see why an author breaks the rules of "good writing" and
comprehensibility, then I can accept it as an intentional and
worth-while decision on their part.  Now, as to whether this work is
good or not, the litmus test is more visceral: do I enjoy it?

And in this case, I have to say, no, not really.  It was all right, and
there were parts that I enjoyed.  But two things kept nagging at me.
One was the aspects that I found formally disturbing on that
subsconscious level.  The other was the story I hoped it would be, the
story promised by the first scene.  And, much like the promise of the
preceeding issue's cliffhanger, this one disappointed.

> Seductress and Pizza Girl created by Phartin Mipps.  Ja'Khaleem, Vel
> and Marcia created Jesse N. Willey.   Weiner Boy created by Dane
> Martin.  Lagneto created by unknown and  Reserved by Phartin Mipps.

Dude, it's Martin Phipps.  It wasn't funny last time and it's not funny
this time. :-{

> Doctor Stomper and Frat Boy are public domain.

... and were created by T. M. Neeck and uplink, respectively.

Speaking of Jailbait/Seductress, there's a story that Namedropper Lad
wants me to tell, even though I can't remember the name to be dropped.

I don't know if you all remember a terrible comic book called GEN 13
that was published by Image during the nineties (I know I did:
boob-obsessed fan-boy that I was, I bought every issue I could get my
hands on!).  Well, Martin's character Jailbait got her start in a
parody of GEN 13 called GEN 14; like some of Martin's lesser parodies,
it's a little _too_ obvious.

Parodies should be obvious, yes, but they work better with a pun--
TEN-13 doesn't make much more sense, but fits the bill-- or through
exaggeration-- GEN 1,324.  But I digress.

Anyway, in the GEN 13 comic book, they were going to introduce the next
generation of evil-government-experimented-upon metahumans, GEN 14.

Tongue placed mostly in cheek, I sent an email to Image informing them
that a GEN 14 already existed, in the LNH universe.  The next day, I
got an exceedingly nasty email back, full of legal threats,
name-calling, and colourful terms mostly beginning with "f".  I wish I
had saved that e-mail, because it was either from Jim Lee or J. Scott
Campbell.  Not because I particulary care about an email from either
one of them, nor was it particularly amusing in its vulgarity; it's
because that, for the life of me, I can't remember which one it was.

 Namedropper Lad would be ashamed.


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