LNH: Vel #15

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Fri May 12 08:01:46 PDT 2006

Continuing my crusade to comment on just about every story I can, I now
revisit the work of the prolific Mr. Willey.  I did some
proofreading/editing for him on ADVENTURES BEYOND COMPREHENSION # 1
(and my wife assisted in that proofreading), so he's already aware of
my comments.  (I highly recommend the first few issues of ABC-- they're
essentially character-driven monologues, which is admittedly more
appealing to me as a reader than  plot-driven puppets.)

> 	        Vel #15
> 	  Like Father, Like Son Part One of Three
> 	Kicks
> 	A Killfile Wars Tie-In
> 	 By Jesse N. Willey

But in this case, the plot is fairly strong (if minimal) and moves at a
nice even clip.  I often criticize Jesse for the shortness of his
scenes, but in this case it's an asset.  And the reason is structural.
Instead of a mish-mash of subplots, Jesse uses pretty clear-cut
cross-cutting between two direct and parallel lines of action.

There's a trap when you do cross-cutting like this.  Let me explain by
way of example.  My wife wanted to see "Eight Below", the Disney movie
about the dog sled team stranded in the Antartic.  I was expecting
something sappy, and, truth be told, it was a lot better (and a lot
less sappy) than I thought it would be.  Here's the problem, though.

When it comes time for the dogs to be stranded, the movie alternates
scenes of the dogs trying to survive with scenes of their
owner/caretaker trying to find a way back to rescue them.  And it's not
that the human actors weren't giving decent performances, it was that I
just didn't care.  I wanted to see the dogs.  My wife wanted to see the
dogs.  Whenever the film cut to the people, everyone in the theater
wanted the scene to hurry up and be over so that we could all see the
dogs.  And, really, if the film was twenty minutes shorter and focused
exclusively on the dogs, it would have been a very powerful film.  The
cross-cutting diluted it.

And this is one of the pitfalls of this technique.  When you're going
to cut between two narrative lines of action, whether in film or in
prose (it never worked for me in comics; I hate it when they split the
page down the middle, telling one story on one side and another on the
other: it's beyond lame and distracting and just doesn't work for a
spatial medium), you have to make sure that both lines of action are
equally compelling.  So that instead of, oh, it's the humans again,
when are we going to get to the dogs?, the response at a shift is, oh
boy, the humans!  Oh, now we're getting to the dogs!  Oh boy, the
humans again!

It's a heady feeling, and I'm happy to say that in my estimation, both
of Jesse's lines of action-- the one following Vel and the one
following the pregnant Seductress-- are equally compelling.  The
shortness of the scenes helped in this regard, helping it race towards
the conclusion.

The conclusion itself I have a problem with:

> 	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.......

... and my problem isn't with the scene itself.  It's a fine scene,
very tight.  My problem is that, as an ending, it's a bit of a
disappointment.  I know Jesse likes cliffhangers and I don't, and so
maybe this is just my personal preferences coming to the fore.  But
here goes anyway:

Jesse does follow a sound structural instinct here.  Cross-cutting
cannot be sustained for any great length of time (Aldous Huxley more
than proved that in Brave New World) and must quickly build to a
conclusion.  And Jesse does that:  Stomper's final line is exactly the
right place to stop cross-cutting, because at this point, the
Seductress line of action becomes more compelling than Vel's.  However,
I don't think it's a proper place to end the episode _itself_, as the
sort of sudden dead-stop is somewhat jerky.

If the story had continued at this point, the focus shifting to
Seductress or the two lines of action combining into one, the resulting
storytelling would benefit greatly from the momentum of the
cross-cutting (momentum and suspense being the two main products and
reasons to cross-cut), it would push it forward.  And then the story
could build to either a conclusion, or a more satisfying cliffhanger
that side-steps the "dead stop" feeling.  But that's me.

I'd like to also say that this issue should be fairly accessible to the
average reader: everything we need to know about what's going on and
who's who is either stated or implied.  (I think the death of one of
the Ninja triplets merited a footnote, though.)  Since accessibility is
one of my major problems with Jesse's stuff, I'm happy to note one of
the occassions where it is a non-issue.


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