META: Wish Fulfillment, WCs, and Mary Sues

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Sun Mar 12 10:12:02 PST 2006


   I was in Ann Arbor a few years back, spending the
afternoon with my friends, David and Stephanie, and
their friend, Shaun.  It was the first time I ever met
Shaun, and our relationship-- which never did get past
a stiff sort of friend-of-my-friends stage-- got off
to a very rocky start.
   We spent the afternoon walking around, poking our
heads into various stores.  None of us had much money,
and I quickly got irritated looking at stuff that I
couldn't purchase.  I said to Shaun, I don't
understand the point of window shopping.
   And he looked at me and sneered, That's spoken like
someone who's always had money.
   Well, I never had much money at any point in my
life.  I tried to explain to Shaun that I was speaking
out of frustration, but I didn't seem able to get the
point across.
   See what I mean?  A rocky start.

   Later that afternoon, I discovered that we both had
an intense interest in comics.  He seemed to warm up
to me initially, and asked me if ever read BLUE
MONDAY.  No, can't say that I have.
   What about SIP?
   Oh, right.  I've heard of it, but I never...
   He listed a few more titles, all of which I greeted
with a shrug.  He then asked me what I had read, what
I thought had value.  I rattled off a list of personal
favourites (and, my tastes are admittedly fairly
popular ones)-- Busiek (early THUNDERBOLTS, AVENGERS,
SURFER), Todd DeZago (SENS. SPIDER-MAN), some Alan
Moore (WATCHMEN, of course, but I also liked TOM
STRONG), IMPULSE (whether it was written by Waid or
DeZago or Bill Loebs [a Michigander who's been away
from comics for far too long!]).  And I would have
listed a few others, and expounded upon all the
reasons I cherished those stories, but Shaun wasn't
listening.  He snorted and told me that he didn't read
superhero comics.  He read serious comics.
   Like I said.  A rocky start, and it never did get
any better.

   When I tried to convince Shaun of the value of my
favourite genre, be it in comic book form or prose, he
served me with the usual grocery list of complaints:
that the world superheroes occupy is unrealistic, that
they're just made to sell toys, that the idea of a
supervillain is almost as ridiculous as some of the
origin stories (radiation doesn't give you powers,
he'd say, it only gives you cancer).  The women are
little more than eye candy.  The plotting is terrible.
 The writing stilted.
   I defended the genre as best I could, offering
explanations where I could and invoking such grandiose
terms as "suspension of disbelief" and "world
building" when I couldn't come up with a satisfactory
answer.  But, in actuality, none of my answers were
satisfactory for Shaun.  And, at the end of this
conversation, of our first day in one another's
company, he hit me with the double-whammy: it's all
just male empowerment fantasy anyway.

   How many times have you heard that?  Even the
genre's defenders, like Gerard Jones, agree with this
ugly generalization.  Jones argues, more explicitly in
his book KILLING MONSTERS (2002) and more implicitly
in MEN OF TOMORROW (2004), that empowerment fantasy
and wish fulfillment is what makes superheroes healthy
for young psyches.  (Which, actually, reaffirms the
equally irritating idea that superheroes are for kids
and adolescents.)
   People use the empowerment fantasy statement to
dismiss the genre out of hand; for a long time, I
dismissed that statement out of hand.  I mean, when I
read superhero fiction, be it in comics form or prose,
I never felt empowered.  I never put myself in the
character's shoes or wished that I was them. 
Spider-Man never empowered me; Spider-Man interested
me.  No one uses the empowerment rap when talking
about works of science fiction or high fantasy.  When
Tolkien read Beowulf, no one said he was using it
cathartically to act out his own juvenile needs for
male power.
   Because of these reasons, and many others, I often
dismissed the empowerment fantasy/wish fulfillment
criticism without a second thought.  But I was as
wrong in my blanket dismissal as Shaun was in his
blanket condemnation.  The genre-- hell, and life!--
is far more complex than that.  Wish fulfillment is
what started the genre.

   Jones tells us in MEN OF TOMORROW that Jerry
Siegel's father was murdered.  Superman, too, is
fatherless (in fact, he's an orphan twice-over). 
Superman, like Siegel (and co-creator Joe Shuster)
feels alienated from most of those around him (Supes
is an alien among humans; Siegel & Shuster were Jews
among Goys during a time of extreme anti-Semitism). 
Clark Kent presents himself as weak and insecure,
unable to succeed with women (as were Siegel &
Shuster).  But Superman...
   Superman is desired by the women who spurn Clark
Kent.  And that, my friends, is wish fulfillment. 
Superman, in turn, spurns Lois Lane-- punishes her, in
classic fairy tale fashion-- because she cannot
recognize the goodness in Kent.  That, my friends, is
Siegel & Shuster getting back at all the girls who
laughed at them.  It's revenge fantasy.
   In fact, a lot of the early Superman stories are
about Siegel & Shuster getting back at the world.  War
profiteering makes them angry?  Superman shows the war
profiteers who's boss.  Living conditions getting you
down?  Time to have Superman intervene.  Nazism is on
the rise, and no one's doing anything about it?  Let's
have Superman compete against a Hitler parody and show
him a thing or two about racial supremacy.

   The superhero was born just as the second World War
was getting underway, and during the war years, it
thrived.  How could it not?  Everyone wanted to see
Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito get knocked into a
garbage can.  I bet Jack Kirby personally wanted to
sock Hitler in the nose.  And so Captain America did
it, several months before the U.S. entered the war! 
That's wish fulfillment.
   Bob Kane wished he didn't have to work for a
living, so that he could be a rich playboy.  And thus
Batman was born.  (And, you know what?  He got rich
and he didn't have to work!  That's what Bill Finger
and Jerry Robinson were for.)
   Is it juvenile?  Is it silly?  Sure.  It's
child-like at best, revenge fantasy at worst.  But you
know what else it is?  It's primal.

   I never used to like the Golden Age of Comics. 
First of all, I hadn't had much exposure to them;
secondly, the stories I did read were pretty
unsatisfying.  It wasn't until after I stopped
collecting comics regularly that I took an interest in
the history of the art form in general and the
superhero genre in particular.  And it was at that
point that I got ahold of some Golden Age reprints and
read them carefully.
   To get something out of a Golden Age story, you
have to read it in a certain state of mind.  The same
thing goes for any story, really.  You can't be all
geared up for WATCHMEN and then pick up AMAZING
FANTASY # 15.  (And that's not a slant on either of
those stories; both are some of the most significant--
and, I'd argue, equally accomplished-- pieces of comic
literature in the history of the form.)
   You have to experience it on a primal level,
because that's what it operates on.  Golden Age comics
are high-energy, high-immediacy affairs.  If the
endings are unsatisfactory, it's because the only way
a head-long rush can truly end is with a sudden, jerky
stop.  If they feel unpolished, like first drafts,
that's because the Golden Age creators were the
godfathers of Kerouac.  Refinement would make it more
readable, and in many ways would make it richer,
deeper, better; at the same time, the very essential
primal nature of it would be seriously diluted.  It
would cease to be the thing that it is.

   There's only one RACC series that's gutsy enough to
operate on this very primal level, one that runs on
Golden Age fumes: Jochem Vandersteen's GOLDING.
   The first time I tried to read it, I just couldn't
get into it.  I wasn't clicking with the material, the
premise, or the tone.  The prose style didn't really
grab me, and at times, the story seemed to lack the
proper awe for what was going on.
   I mean, this is a story about ancient Greek gods
giving their power to a college mythology professor. 
When the Godling-to-be, Professor Alexander, finds
himself transported to Olympus:

<<       She moved her hands in a strange pattern. We
became enveloped by 
purple light and suddenly.... I wasn't on the campus
grounds anymore. 
Where I was it took me a while to believe. 
They had to be gods. The man with the white beard
holding the shaft of 
lighting had to be Zeus, the woman with the large
shield Athena. It was 
like they'd stepped right out of the ancient Greek
vases I'd 
studied for years. There were dozen more like them...
I glanced at 
Circe with big eyes. "Are they really...?" 
"Gods? Yes. Welcome on Olympus." 
I couldn't help but kneel, overwhelmed as I was by the
presence of 
godhood. >>

Where's the awe, the majesty? I pondered the first
time I read GODLING # 1.  This was a big moment, and
it didn't feel big.
   A few months later, though, I tried it again.  I'm
glad I did.  It's one of the best series currently on
RACC, and one that I look forward to, month after
   The second time I read it, I found myself perfectly
allied with Jochem's vibe.  The first paragraph, which
I initially dismissed as a schmaltzy appeal to the
reader's emotions, gave me goose bumps the second time

<< After 9-11 the fear had gotten worse and worse. We
feared for our lives 
from the terrorists that were prepared to die to
inflict their damage 
on our society. I felt so powerless against it all. To
top it off, my 
own city had fallen into the hands of strangely
powered villains. 
Nobody knew where they came from, they just suddenly
were there. They 
were armed with futuristic blaster weapons, some could
control heat or 
cold or fire energy blasts with their fists. And where
was I? Teaching 
mythology at the University. I was too weak to fight.
But looking at 
the movie reels of the war, I could think about only
one thing. What if 
the old gods still lived. What if we had heroes like
Hercules and 
Achilles at our side? What if we were able to wield
the power of Zeus 
to strike at the enemies threatening our city? 
        And then came the day I got my chance....>>

   GODLING runs on primal emotions.  On fear, on
wonder, on desire.  On power.  The second time around,
Alexander's arrival on Olympus didn't leave me wanting
more pageantry from the prose; I got a heady feeling
similar, I think, to that of Alexander in that moment.
   If you're not reading GODLING, you should be.  It's
full of great ideas, expressed with urgency and
simplicity.  In one adventure, Godling uses his powers
to start healing the sick and dying.  The Olympians
call him in for a meeting, and show him the end result
of his actions:

<< Godling became totally surrounded by the black
mist. He started waving 
his arms, trying to make the mist dissipate. When the
mist cleared he 
was looking at all kinds of scenes that seemed to
happen in one space. 
It was like having all kinds of computer screen
standing next to each 
other, but instead of computers the image were live,
3-D. He saw humans 
shooting each other, getting up, then shooting each
other again. He saw 
men hacking into each other, blood everywhere. There
seemed to be 
hundreds of them. Building were burning down, stores
were being looted. 
An orgy was going on, dozens of people involved. There
were people of 
all kinds of ages lying on the floor, leaning against
the walls, 
shooting their arteries full of drugs. He saw no art,
no love, no 
peace, no sports, no kindness. 
"What... How... What.." Godling stuttered. 
Thanatos was right behind him. "That is what happens
if men do not 
fear Death. They have no reason not to take what they
want, because 
they do not need to fear the wraith of those they take
it from. They 
can fornicate what they want, because they cannot get
any venereal 
diseases. Because there is no Death there is no
danger, no excitement. 
They live forever and forever is too long a time for
them, so they seek 
their escape in drugs. They fight to unleash their
anger because there 
is no fear to die from their injuries.">>

    If you tried to read it before but couldn't get
into it, try it again.  (If you need extra help
getting into the mood, Wil Alambre's cover image on
Wil's Ego serves as an excellent GODLING aphrodisiac.)
 And if you're not clicking with it-- if the Golden
Age primal vibe is not your thing-- why not take a
look at GODLING # 6, which is richer, thematically
speaking, than its predecessors.  And it does this
without becoming something that it's not, without
diluting its very cool and very primal power.

<< What if 
the old gods still lived. What if we had heroes like
Hercules and 
Achilles at our side? What if we were able to wield
the power of Zeus 
to strike at the enemies threatening our city? 
        And then came the day I got my chance....>>

   And this brings up another kind of wish
fulfillment: character wish fulfillment.  Professor
Alexander _wants_ to be more powerful, he wants to
meet the Greek gods, and he gets what he wants. 
Jochem gives his character what he wants.  This is a
phenomenal tool for fiction writing, and not just in
the superhero genre.
   You give a character what they desire, then you see
how they deal with it.  Instant drama.  It's not a
matter of "be careful what you wish for", which, like
most axioms, is a shallow understanding of life. 
Nothing is more trite than seeing someone get what
they want and end up with their life spinning out of
control.  The moral of that story is conformity and
being content with your lot in life.  Just as that
premise farts on the human spirit, I fart on that
premise with grave contempt.
   When a character is given their greatest desire, it
should be glorious.  It shouldn't be the answer to
everything.  It should bring its own brand of
difficulties.  But the character still has achieved
their greatest desire.  That should be well worth it,
or at the very least, a small comfort.  Like I said
before, I hate it when wishes are really omens of doom
that go horribly, horribly wrong.
   Let me give an example to illustrate this
difference.  I'm going to be completely crass and
self-promoting here, so fair warning.
   In my feature length motion picture, MILOS, LIFE
AND TIMES OF A DREAMER, the titular character wants to
have friends more than anything else in the world.  He
is desperately lonely, and in his attempts to win
people over and wheedle his way into their lives, he
often pushes people away.  His behaviour is too
extreme, too needy.
   Ten minutes into the picture, Milos gets what he
wants.  He gets friends.  Almost like a gift; at
first, he's a little flabbergasted by it all.
   One of these friends, Bradley, is going slowly
insane.  Even the most well-adjusted person would have
difficulty dealing with this.  Milos is not
well-adjusted.  Bradley's descent is painful for
everyone involved, including Milos, who blames
   Now, his friendship to Bradley brings a lot of pain
into Milos's life.  But Milos is better off because of
the friendship.  He is a more mature person and a
better friend by the end of the picture.  To my mind,
this wasn't a case of be careful what you wish for,
but of his deepest desire bringing with it unforeseen
complications.  Now, the difference between this and
"be careful what you wish for"?
   Well, if his friends turned out to be serial

   Let me give you another example of a wish being
fulfilled and having unforeseen complications.
   Deja Dude, the writer character of Martin Phipps,
wanted to have a girlfriend.  And so Julie Lee was
created.  This particular case is unusual in that Deja
Dude _himself_ grants his wish for companionship; Deja
Dude _creates_ Julie Lee as a more-or-less ideal
girlfriend.  Since she exists to be in love with him,
this brings up a tricky question about free will, one
that is addressed in the big revelation/break-up scene
in Martin's classic LEGION OF NET. HEROES (Vol. 1) #

<< Julie sighed.  "Deja, we've been living here
together for almost a 
year now."  Deja Dude nodded in reply.  "Now, don't
get me wrong, it's 
been great... it's just that... seeing as how Pocket
Man and Organic 
Lass are getting married I thought... I _wondered_ why
we couldn't 
do the same."  She looked him directly in the eye. 
  "Ah."  Deja Dude looked down and away from her. 
  Julie frowned.  "What's wrong?" 
  "I guess I'm going to have to tell you then," he
said looking back 
up at her. 
  "Tell me what?" 
  Deja Dude let out a big sigh and grasped her by the
shoulders.  "I 
wanted our relationship to seem real to you.  You see,
that'd make it 
all the more real for me."  Julie sensed she wasn't
going to like what 
Deja Dude was going to tell her.  "It wouldn't just be
role playing 
for you... your feelings... they'd be just like those
of a real woman." 
  Julie pulled herself free from his grasp and stepped
back.  "Are 
you saying my feelings aren't real?" 
  Deja Dude shook his head.  "No.  It's _you_, you
yourself who isn't 
  "What are you talking about?" 
  Deja Dude reached out his left hand.  "Take my
hand."  Julie hesitated. 
"Please!"  She grabbed his hand. 
  Deja Dude pulled her closer and placed her hand and
his over his watch 
and activated the button on the back that transported
them out of 
  "Where are we?" 
  "This... is the space between newsgroups.  See:
every newsgroup is 
arranged in hierarchies; alt.comics.lnh, the newsgroup
we just came 
from, it's right there."  Deja Dude held Julie
securely with his 
left arm and pointed with is right.  "See?  Right
there between 
alt.comics.elfquest and alt.comics.superman." 
  Julie shook her head.  "This doesn't mean anything
to me." 
  Deja Dude nodded.  "Now, 'lnh'... that stands for
'Legion of 
Net.Heroes'.  You see, the Legion of Net.Heroes: Rebel
Yell, Continuity 
Champ, Ultimate Ninja, it's because of them... _for_
them that 
alt.comics.lnh was created."  He looked at Julie. 
"And then when I 
came along I wanted a girlfriend: that's why I created
  "You _created_ me?" 
  Deja Dude nodded.  "That's right." 
  Julie closed her eyes.  "Take me back... NOW!" 
  Deja Dude pressed a button on the back of his watch
and they returned 
to their quarters in LNH Headquarters. 
  Julie went to sit down.  "Alright: I want the whole
truth from the 
  "'From the beginning'?"  Deja Dude mused for a bit. 
"It's like I 
said: this newsgroup... this world that you call the
is actually a newsgroup called 'alt.comics.lnh'.  It's
only been in 
existance [sic] for about a year and a half." 
  "Excuse me?  I'm _twenty_ years old!  My
grandparents are in their 
  Deja Dude shook his head.  "You and your entire
family have existed 
for little more than a year." 
  "Bull!  I have _memories_!" 
  "Do you really?  Do you remember how we first met? 
Do you remember 
moving your stuff into here?  Or does it seem to you
that certain 
things just came to be?" 
  Julie thought for a moment.  "So you're saying that
the memories I 
_do_ have are just the ones that you've planted in my
  Deja Dude nodded.  "You only existed a few months
before you moved 
in with me." 
  Julie was horrified.  "So... you're telling me that
I was created to 
be your plaything?" 
  Deja Dude shook his head.  "No." 
  "I think so!  You created me, you manipulated me...
you _lied_ to me." 
  "NO!"  Deja Dude sighed.  "It's true: you've never
had much choice 
in life; ultimately, yes, you've always acted as I
would imagine you 
acting... but don't you see that that's why I'm
telling you all this 
now... that if you were to stay here now it'd truly be
because you 
_want_ to stay here." 
  Julie's eyes welled with tears.  "What makes you
think I'm going to 
want to stay here now that I know the truth?" 
  Deja Dude shook his head.  "I know you don't... but
maybe, someday, 
you'll want to come back." 
  "Don't count on it!" 
  Deja Dude nodded.  "Do you want me to help you
  "No."  She didn't even want to look at him.  "Go to
your friends. 
I'll be gone when you get back."  Deja Dude did as she
hurrying along, hoping that the joviality of the party
would help 
him to forget his own situation.>>
   LNH # 81 is a very poignant little story, and to
get that kind of emotional resonance from breaking the
fourth wall is no easy feat.  Martin is intelligent
and canny enough to dissect the relationship in this
scene between his author surrogate and that
surrogate's imaginary girlfriend.
   Not all authors are.  Let's look at another example
from my own work, but one that's not nearly as
shameless and self-promoting.  Let's look...
::shudder:: ... at TEENFACTOR.

   I created Carolyn Forge in much the same way Deja
Dude created Julie Lee: as the woman I wanted to love
and be loved by.  She was a genius with a knock-out
body.  She was a confident, capable leader who was
personally shy and vulnerable.  She could be fiery in
an argument but always listened to reason.
   In short, she was a person who didn't exist.  A
"perfect woman".  (Remember that I was fifteen or
sixteen at the time.)

   It wasn't until three months and... twenty-eight
issues later (what the fuck?)... that I introduced
"myself": Terrence Coffee, aka Useless Powers Lad.  He
was immature, incompetent, unquestionably silly. 
(Which, at the time, was a pretty accurate depiction
of myself.)  He also harbored a dark and secret
painful past that more-or-less excused his silliness. 
(An excuse that I lacked.)  He was immortal (what?),
had the ability to grant immortality to others
(Useless Powers Lad??  useless?? what??), and won the
heart of said perfect woman (what the fuck?).
   Despite the fact that he was a ridiculous ignoramus
with the maturity and attention span of a gnat.
   In short, it was a severely desperate and
embarrassing case of wish fulfillment.  The kind of
thing that gives superhero fiction, internet fiction,
and writer surrogates a bad name.  And, it should be
painfully obvious, Terrence Coffee was a Mary Sue.

   (I'm so glad Jesse Willey killed the bastard. 
Thank you, Willey.)

   In fact, many of my own writer characters had a
tendency towards Mary Sueism, something I find
extremely embarrassing now when I'm (supposedly,
anyway) older and wiser.
   Tyler Bridge, for example, was an idealized version
of my own personality.  He appropriates my mannerisms
when speaking-- such as calling people by both their
first and last names-- and my love of puns, my
attempts at wit.  That's all well-and-good.
   But Tyler Bridge is also loved and admired by
nearly all his teammates.  He is always right about
everything, he deciphers the important clues, makes
the most important decisions, and basically shows up
everyone else.
   That's a textbook case of Mary Sue.  When I began
re-editing NET.HEROES ON PARADE for TEB republication,
this was one of the many problems I had with the
series.  As I think the first volume will show, I've
greatly reduced Tyler's Christ-like competency,
allowing other characters to appear as intelligent as
I meant them to be.  In these new editions, Tyler
Bridge is less a Mary Sue and more of an author
surrogate, a writer character.

   The original LNH WCs were, at their heart,
reductive.  The writer took one of their personality
traits and amplified it, creating a character who was
more or less defined by that trait.  Super Apathy Lad,
for example, is defined by that apathy; I'd like to
assume that creator Jacob Lesgold had more going on in
his life at the time than being apathetic towards
   I don't think that the more reductive WCs can be
taken as author surrogates in the strictest sense. 
It's not a matter of wish fulfillment or
self-insertion; it's them having fun, goofing around.
   Some of the WCs, in fact, don't even seem to
reflect their authors at all, in whole or in part.  I
have a hard time believing that anyone could act like
the Ultimate Ninja, and an even harder time believing
that Ray Bingham could.  In cases like that, it seemed
more like a type of role-playing.

   As time went on, the writing in the LNH got more
complex, and so did the characterizations, WCs
included.  It's easy to pin down the personality of
Super Apathy Lad; it's much harder to "get" Pocket
Man, one of the Saint's three (!) writer characters. 
In order to get a firm grip on Pocket Man, one has to
read the stories carefully.  Let's try an experiment. 
When I say Pocket Man, what do you think of?  What
personality traits come to mind?
   Well, we all know he's weak-kneed around Organic
Lass and absolutely adores the Maid of Molecules. 
Otherwise, he's a fairly confident and capable leader.
 He's able to keep Sarcastic Lad in line.
   The picture in my head is somewhat vague.  He's
just there.  And so, when I write him, I tend to write
him as a straight man, someone for the silly
characters to play off of and keep the plot advancing.
  But I wasn't reading carefully enough.  A careful
reading of Pocket Man's appearances reveals a
personality trait that's often ignored: he's really,
really horny.  And what's more, he's proud of it.
   Look at the aforementioned LNH # 81.

<<  "Hey, Pok, it's about time you got here!" 
  Pocket Man took a look around to see who was there. 
"Where's Deja 
  "Probably doing with Julie what you were doing with
Ori," Sarcastic 
Lad suggested.  "So what made you decide to finally
come here?  Did 
you wear her out?" 
  Pocket Man smiled.  "Hey!  I'm the guest of honour! 
I'm entitled 
to get here late.">>

   Too subtle?  It's much more explicit in
PASSIONFISHING (though not nearly explicit enough to
merit wReam's comment that it might be more
appropriate for  Pocket Man takes an
obvious, swelling pride in his sexual combustibility. 
It's a trait he shares with Gary's more popular writer
character, Sarcastic Lad.
   Often times, Sarcastic Lad is treated like Super
Apathy Lad: as a one-trait character, in this case, as
snarkiness and sarcasm incarnate.  But there's more to
Sarc than that.  Sarcasm does not play as much a role
in PIGS IN SPACE (Gary St. Lawrence's masterpiece) as
bravado and swagger.  One will often find the caustic
crusader just as ready as Master Blaster when it comes
to flirting (and bedding) the opposite sex.

   From reading Gary's stories, I think he has a
proclivity towards bawdy humour.  His work would often
qualify as being in cheerfully bad taste, and I think
a juxtaposition of these two writer characters (I
think the third, Elvis Man, falls under the
"role-playing" category) provides an interesting
exploration of Gary's bawdy side.
   In PIGS IN SPACE, Sarcastic Lad (along with Master
Blaster) participates in a marathon orgy with the Moon
Amazons.  He is extremely virile and provides great
satisfaction to his partners.  He then recounts his
adventure to Mainstream Man.

<< "So you actually had sex with several hundred
Amazon women on the Moon?!?" asked a dazzled and
disbelieving Mainstream Man.  "The two of you and
*all* of them?!?"
   "You know it, bunkie," said a preening and
chest-swelled Sarcastic Lad.  "They never knew what
hit them.">>

   It really has the tone of a locker room story, and
the entire piece plays as a cheerfully phallocentric
male empowerment fantasy.  As, well, wish fulfillment.
 It still remains one of my favourite early LNH
stories, and one of the jewels in the Collected Works
of Gary St. Lawrence.
   Pocket Man is equally virile, and equally
enthusiastic.  He doesn't delve into graphic detail
about his encounters with Ori, and this seems about
right: he loves her and respects her.  He doesn't
reduce her to a conquest.  He just hints around,
subtle and sly, probably smirking while raising a
self-satisfied eyebrow.
   These are two different approaches to the same
subject matter, and, I think, two different aspects of
every male.  Gary uses wish fulfillment/empowerment
fantasy to *explore* these two different approaches to
male sexuality.
   This is a major difference, I think, between good
wish fulfillment driven stories and bad ones; between
writer characters and Mary Sues.  A bad writer uses
wish fulfillment to appease themselves.  I conjured
myself up a perfect girlfriend.  I conjured up a world
where everyone liked me.  I took people who gave me a
hard time and made them look ridiculous in one
embarrassingly juvenile revenge fiction after another.
 Bad writer!  Bad Tom!  Bad!
   But Gary, like Martin Phipps, uses that wish
fulfillment impulse as a starting point.  As a way to
dig deeper.  Martin explores the psychological
mechanisms underneath girlfriend-conjuring, whereas I
just denied them.  In fact, of all the writers on
RACC, Martin has used wish-fulfillment and writer
characters to the deepest and richest effect,
exploring and exploiting the relationship between
character and author.  Usually, this kind of
meta-fictional approach leaves me kind of wanting. 
But Phipps is one of the few who does it well.

   I talked about this (wish fulfillment, the uses of
fiction, and Phipps's approach to meta-themes) a
little bit in my essay of last year, THE PHIPPSIAN
READER, especially in discussing his story, LNH ASIA:
THE WEEK AFTER NEXT.  So I'll spare you a reprise of
that discussion and instead talk about some of his
more recent work-- and another way in which he uses
his writer character (and his fiction).

   Martin and I had a sort of playful psuedo-feud over
the course of this last year.  And it was waged
through stories.  It all began with HOUSE OF FICTION #
4, the "narrator's pornography addiction" episode. 
alter-ego weigh in.  The first speaker is Master

<<"Dude, you need to try downloading porn instead." 
  "Um... well..." 
  "I knew it!  You're downloading porn!" 
  "Yeah.  Okay.  But don't tell Tom Russell!  The last

thing he wants to hear is that everybody else is still

looking at porn behind his wife's back and that he's 
just whipped!">>

   My rebuttal was in LEGION OF NET.HEROES Vol. 2 #
11, the WikiBoy story:

<<   It was shortly after Master Blaster decided that 
CyberWikiBoy was a hardcore nudist who loved to fondle

his own breasts all day long that the ScarletWiki 
peered into the back seat via the rear mirror and 
asked him what his wife would think of his actions. 
   "I'm not touching," said Master Blaster.  "I'm only

looking.  That's not cheating, is it?  What do you 
think I am, man, whipped?" 
   "It does show a tremendous amount of bad faith in 
the sanctity of your marriage vows," said the 

And his response came in DEJA DUDE/MASTER BLASTER

<<"And we're back!  I'm Deja Dude!" 
  "Yeah.  And I'm Master Blaster." 
  "Hey, Rob, what's wrong?  You look a little down." 
  "It's nothing." 
  "No, come on, tell me, what's wrong?" 
  "It's just something WikiBoy said." 
  "He's the latest in a long line of Tom Russell 
creations that Tom Russell will later forget he ever 
created when somebody gives him his own limited 

<<"Oh.  I see.  So what did he say?" 
  "He said that my fascination with large breasts 
showed -- and I quote -- 'a tremendous amount of bad 
faith in the sanctity of your marriage vows'." 
  "I see.  And did you then pull out a very large gun 
and blow him away?" 
  "Okay.  So, Rob, has it occured [SIC] to you that
might not be the real Master Blaster but a robot 
  "No no no.  We already played out that scenario in 
the last add-on cascade, remember?" 
  "But the Master Blaster I know wouldn't have stood 
for such an insult." 
  "Well, I did give him large breasts." 
  "Aha!  What did he say to that?" 
  "I just told you.  It was the fact that I gave him 
large breasts that inspired the comment.  So I figured

he might have had a point with regard to the 
implication that I was overly obsessed with breasts." 
  "Yeah, okay, but still... is this Wikiboy [SIC]
  "Not that I know." 
  "So where does he get off...?" 
  "My guess is that he was channeling the opinion of 
the writer of said issue, namely Tom Russell." 
  "Ah.  It all makes sense now." 
  "How so?" 
  Deja Dude smiled.  "To Tom, his wife may represent 
the ideal woman that he wishes his mother could have 
  "You mean he's whipped?">>

I thought that was funny, and I responded in kind with
 And I think I went a little overboard.  In the story,
Master Blaster visits the Philippines and decides that
it is, quote, frickin' lame, end quote.
   Martin's response came in DEJA DUDE/MASTER BLASTER
# 9.  I'm not going to quote it because the bulk of
the issue _is_ his thoughts on his adopted homeland. 
He provides us with a few scenes, more or less taken
directly from his life.  They're very funny, very
touching, and they deftly demonstrate his ability to
provide a satisfying story just by sketching out a few

   In short, Martin Phipps at times uses his fiction
as a form of personal essay.  He uses his author
surrogate to express his own opinions and he makes no
bones about it.  At the same time, they still work as
stories and gags.  I think of all the "silly" LNH
writers, Martin's work strikes me as the most


   Wish fulfillment can be a very powerful thing.  I
wish, for example, that this essay could have been
shorter, more concise, that it rambled less.  But to
me, all these ideas are inter-connected and
inter-related.  Writer characters and Mary Sues exist
as the result of wish fulfillment, and the difference
between the two is really a matter of how the author
uses that wish fulfillment impulse.
   And, when it's the characters themselves whose
wishes are fulfilled, it is, again, how that wish
fulfillment impulse is utilized that divides good
stories from bad ones.  The common theme in both these
situations, whether it is the writer whose wishes are
being granted or the character, is exploration and

   If I had to have that conversation with Shaun all
over again, I would say that, yes, wish fulfillment
and empowerment fantasy have a great deal to do with
superhero fiction-- hell, with all fiction in general.
 And I don't think that's a bad thing.  I think it's
perfectly healthy-- and not, as Jones suggests,
because it allows children to blow off steam and
channel aggression.  It's healthy because it
encourages introspection.  Because it helps us explore
our own selves. By using wish fulfillment to explore a
character or a theme, an author is telling us about
our deepest desires and the power those desires hold
over us.

(C) 2006 Tom Russell.

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