REVIEW/ACRA: Superfreaks # 9-13

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Sat Nov 11 23:24:59 PST 2006


Review, Superfreaks # 9-13

Well, better late than never. :-)

So, I finally got around to reading last month's batch of SUPERFREAKS,
and I have a few thoughts I want to share about it.

In my first review of this series, I might have come down a little too
hard on Martin for the transparency of some of his character analogues.
 I was still smarting, also, from the way he took the behind-the-scenes
Eightfold stuff into the public sphere in a way that I thought,
personally, reflected negatively and untruthfully on Eightfold, and
Jamie and I.  So that might also explain the degree of my

I'm happy to report though that in issues nine through thirteen, the
character analogues didn't bother me because, by and large, it was
devoid of character analogues.  There were three basic storylines
covered in these five issues.

First, we get to see the wrap up of an unsolved murder (9-10), which
takes us through the steps of the investigation.  It's not as
twisty-turny as some of the cases one sees on LAW & ORDER (aka the best
damn television show on the air!), but it's certainly more-so than the
previous issues, which seemed to leap from crime scene to arrest with
hardly anything inbetween.  I'd really like to see more of that when
Superfreaks shifts back to the investigative side of things.

Now, during this, we get a personal B-plot with goofy Edward courting
the incredibly busty Mary (could she be the foxy lady that adorns the
cover image for Superfreaks on Wil's Ego?).  Some of this I liked: I
thought the two proposal scenes were touching, and they told us
something about Edward's character.

Other stuff with Mary, who is shaping up to be a spotlight character in
the series, isn't as successful: I thought the deduction of Extreme's
secret identity was kinda contrived, and just reminded us how
transparently this character resembles Superman.  I really wish Martin
had done a little more to differentiate the two.

Hell, with a secret identity like Kenneth Clark, wouldn't Extreme be a
more convincing art historian? :-)

At the same time, having done this, Martin used it well to (a)
underscore tension between the Super Soldier and the police department
and (b) later on, in the thirteenth issue, to tell us something about
Mary's character.  But more on that later.  Let me tackle point (a),
because I think here we actually have an overriding theme, one that
_does_, in fact, not only arrange these five issues into an arc, but
also provides a theme for the series as a whole.  And that's control.

The major conflict of this series is a power struggle between the
legitimate law enforcement agencies and the super law enforcement
agencies.  It's something Martin points at in his opening text for each

"...These are the men and women who are truly our last line of defense.
 But what about the capes whose cases they have to investigate?  Should
they be considered a help or a hindrance?"

And, now that Mary has deduced Extreme's secret identity, the balance
of power shifts to the side of legitimate authority.  Or, as Michael
puts it at the end of issue ten, "Now that [Super Soldier] knows who's

This changes the theme from "who's in control" to "who's in control of
whom", making it a more nuanced theme to explore.  And this brings us
to our next story, # 11-12, which takes "who's the boss of whom" as its
overt theme.

In the Superfreaks world, clones of people are prematurely aged,
programmed with a few basics, and sold to those that would use them,
often for sex.  This isn't Martin's famous-- eh-- Master Blaster-esque
tendencies coming to the fore.  I think it's actually a good
extrapolation: pornography is often at the forefront of technology,
from video to holograms to interactive cinema to, now, clones.

The hypothetical question Martin poses-- do clones have the same rights
as human beings?-- is at once a highly moral one and a facile one,
because it's one that probably will never come up.  (Kinda like time
travel ethics, which has no bearing on the real world.)

At the same time, his extrapolation is at once so true-- in a country
where you can actually patent a living thing so long as it's not a
human infant, I could see clones treated not as human beings but as
things-- and so bizarrely interesting, that it creates its own moral
space, quite free from real world concerns.

And that's because, more than the issue of "do they have rights", it's
an issue of control.  Tammy takes her case to court because she wants
control of her life.  She wants to be recognized as her own person,
yes, but more than that, she wants the responsibilities and
decision-making power that those rights entail.  To make this a little

For a little over a year now, I've been working with a autistic man
around my own age.  He doesn't speak, doesn't write, can't read.
Sometimes he laughs.  Often, he lashes out in violence, for he has no
other recourse.  He's legally designated as a "man-child".  Not a man,
but a "man-child".  He's still legally free to make his own decisions,
but at any time a judge could declare him unfit and appoint someone
(most likely his parents, whom he lives with) his guardians.

Now, not much would change there, since his parents make all decisions
for him anyway.  He's a smart man, but he simply could not survive in
the day-to-day world on his own.  And so while he has the rights of a
human being, and technically has a right of self-determination that he
in actuality cannot act upon, he is not in control of his life.  His
parents are.

And that's all I'm really going to say about him, because legally I
can't get into any more detail than that.  Which is strange.  Besides
my wife, he's the best friend I've got.  But I can't tell my other
friends about him.  It puts a wall between us, keeps the friendship
artificial.  I don't like that one bit.  But anyway.

The point is, he's not in control of his life.  And this issue of
control-- whether it's a spouse controlling a spouse, a parent a child,
or a caretaker their charge-- is something that's very interesting to
me as a reader and in life.  Because when someone is controlled by
someone else, it makes them subordinate to their controller's

And that's really what these particular stories are about.  And, to
tell you the truth, that's what sexual fantasies are about-- control,
dominance, submission.  It's certainly possible to have nice, clean
vanilla sex without any D/s overtones, but, y'know, in actuality--
someone's still got to be on top. ;-)

And so I think the fact that most of these clones are of porn stars
isn't just a case of Martin's imagination getting, y'know, all
Master-Blastery.  I think it's a way to underline that theme, and to
remind us that they are under another person's control.  That, since
they are treated like sexual commodities, they are stripped of any kind
of personality.  And this echoes that larger theme of human rights.

And in the thirteenth issue, "Dreams", different notions of control
(and, yes, sexuality) are explored.  Not only do we get a couple
restatements of the larger cops vs. supers theme, but we also get a
glimpse at people (or rather, ninja) being controlled by a clan (a
society, a group, a religion, an ideology)-- a control that results in
their deaths.

We also get Mary's wet dream about the hero Extreme, which at once
makes her guilty and ready to consumate her relationship with Edward.
The actual sex scene between Edward and Mary is very sweet and sexy:

  "What do you think is going on?" Mary asked as she removed her bra.
  "I didn't bring protection," Edward admitted.  "If I did it might
have implied that I was expecting something."
  "It's okay," she said as she removed her bra. QUOTE

Not to interrupt the sweet/sexyness here, Martin, but I find it odd
that she has two bras on. :-)

QUOTE "Really?" he asked.
  "Of course," she said.  "I mean, we are getting married, right?"
  "Right," he said as he lunged forward and grabbed her ample breasts.
  "Aren't you forgetting something?"
  "Your shirt.  I'm half naked and you're fully clothed."
  "Sorry," he said as he went to unbottom his shirt.
  "Wait," she said.  "Allow me."  She unbottoned his shirt and slipped
it off of him.  "Now your pants."
  "Okay," he said, slipping his pants down to reveal his boxer shorts.
"What about your pants?"
  "Do you want to take them off of me?"
  "Oh yeah," he said.  He unbottoned them and pulled down the zipper.
He reflected for a moment about how the white panties matched her bra
and decided that next time she should do a striptease for him.  He then
pulled down her pants.
  "Now the panties."
  This was it.  The holy grail.  "Oh my God," he said. "You shaved."
  "Just for tonight," she said.
  "Wow." QUOTE

Here and above in the scene, Martin's setting up the power balance.
Mary initiates the sex, Mary tells him to undress, Mary shaves her
pubic hair.  In this last case, I don't think Mary's doing it _for_ her
man so much as she's doing it _to_ her man: that is, she knows the
effect it's going to have on him.  This was all _planned_.  Mary's in
charge and she knows exactly what she's doing...

  "As long as you are in that position, why don't you do something?"

... and what she wants.

And she also knows what Edward wants-- that he is excited by the sight
of her hairless groin.  Which just goes to show you exactly how well
Mary knows Edward, how well she can deduce someone's weaknesses.  Which
is actually something the next paragraph of the story underlines.

But let me take a moment, first, to make the following public service

Ladies-- it is very, very, very dangerous to shave your pubic hair.  If
you must do it, do it with the utmost of caution and care.  Men-- don't
ask your ladies to shave down there unless you're willing to shave down
there.  The thought makes you wince, right?  That's because it's
dangerous!  And for what?  Because you're afraid of getting a few hairs
stuck between your teeth?  Honestly, you just got to keep one hand free
to keep the hair away from your mouth.  And you really should be
licking from bottom to top anyway, and there's no reason to be licking
any higher than the clitoris.

Jesus.  Amateurs!

  "Alright," Edward said and he started licking her. Truth be told, he
actually liked having her tell him what to do.  He did manage to
suppress the urge to say something stupid and awkward like "You're the
boss." QUOTE

And that is where the entire thing is underlined.  Not only does this
echo Michael's statement in issue ten (and thus the larger theme of
cops vs. supers), but it tells us something about Edward, that he likes
being controlled, and this only throws Mary's dominant nature into
sharp relief.

And I really like how Martin uses dreams and sexuality to explore
character in this issue-- Mary is very dominant.  She's exactly the
kind of person, now that I think about it, who would march into a
newspaper office and practically blurt out Extreme's identity.  Was it
the smartest thing for her to do?  No.  Did it feel convincing at the
time?  No. But, looking back?  It makes perfect sense.

I doubt I'd say the same if it wasn't for this scene.

  Minutes later she was moaning and Edward got a bitter taste in his
mouth.  "Take me," she said as she lay back on the bed.QUOTE

Y'know, I heard the taste was bitter, but I've never come across it in
my travels.  Either way, it inspires me to give another public service

Guys!  The taste is nice!  (Even if you consider it to be bitter!)  The
smell is nice!  No complaining!  There's a reason why the Good Lord (or
Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Evolution) gave you a tongue.  No more
excuses, damn it!

Oh, and a little blood won't hurt you, either. ;-)


In closing, I'd like to say that I enjoyed these five issues much more
than the previous eight-- which I also enjoyed, with certain
reservations.  In this case, though, those reservations didn't come up,
since there was less of a focus on heroes and "plot" and more on themes
and characters.  It's a nice direction for Martin and, with a little
bit more time spent in the editing stage, I cannot think of any reason
why Superfreaks won't be remembered as one of the great RACC series.


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