REVIEW: Superfreaks!

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Sun Sep 24 23:25:11 PDT 2006



In general, I don't make it a habit of reviewing stories I have a
history with.  For example, I've "beta-edited" (whatever that means) a
little more than half of Jesse Willey's "Adventures Beyond
Comprehension", and anything I might say in a review would be redundant
because I already voiced my concerns, at length, in private email.

It was the same case, somewhat, with "Superfreaks" and "Night Man &
Moon Boy", Martin's stories in his Superfreaks universe.  As he
explained in the notes for NM&MB, he wanted those stories to take place
in the Eightfold Universe.  Jamie and I made some comments which were
in no way carved in stone; Martin got impatient and decided to form his
own universe, which is his right.

I got a little snarky in my response to his telling of the origin of
the Superfreaks Universe, and that was basically because I thought his
comments painted Eightfold in a negative light.  Since Eightfold's
current author's roster contains only Jamie Rosen and myself, I thought
this might give potential Eightfoldians second thoughts.

We do have two or three people who have expressed interest in writing
for Eightfold, and I think this next year our ranks will swell nicely.
(Fingers crossed.)  I just want to assure everyone out there that we're
not some hardnosed perfectionist freaks.  We want the writing to be
good and unique and interesting: and I think that Martin's series
Superfreaks qualifies on all those counts.  I do have some reservations
about it, but they were reservations I was happy to set aside: we'll
just agree to disagree.

So, if I can stop filibustering, I guess it's time for me to publically
voice some of those reservations, tempered with sincere praise for what
makes the series special.

One thing Martin fumbles the ball on is pacing.  No, I'm not talking
about the pacing of the stories themselves, but the pacing of his
posting.  This might seem strange coming from the guy who writes Haiku
Gorilla and used to post ten issues of Crapfactor each month, but the
fact is if you post seven issues in seven days, it's something of a
turn-off-- especially from the whole review standpoint.  To even
possibly get caught up, I really have to review all seven issues in one
fell swoop-- which means I don't have handy blocks of text to respond

So if my review is more general and less specific than usual, it's
because I just read seven issues in a row.

On the bright side, it took me a little under two hours to read those
seven issues, skimming over lengthy descriptions of ultraviolet light.
:-)  The series is very fast and compulsively readable, moving from one
idea and story to the next quite rapidly.  Martin says that he prefers
this kind of storytelling, and compares it to MTV technique.

I find that an odd comparison; of course, he also compares Law & Order,
which is pretty straightforward and classic in its storytelling style,
to MTV technique.

For one thing, MTV never gives you a chance to catch up; it's one
barely-glimpsed navel after another.  But Martin does give you chances
to catch up: often, plot points are reiterated and re-emphasized.

For example, we have not only the scene in which Alan Russell decides
to prosecute Superman, but also the scene in which the police find out
that Alan Russell is deciding to prosecute Superman.  Granted, this
pays off later in that one of the cops testifies for the defense

A better example, in that same issue, is the scene in which Superman
and Leroy Laurel discuss his alibi.  That scene doesn't have to be
there from a plot point of view, as anything they would say would find
its way to the trial (and it does, in the cop's testimony of all
places).  But it works from a character point of view, and has earned
Leroy Laurel my vote for Favourite Supporting Weasel at the next

It's the kind of scene that MTV-style editing would ellide in a
television series, and the kind of moment that would make or break
Laurel's character.  One thing I like about Law & Order is that even in
the tightness of the plot, it often allows great character actors to
have great character moments.

Martin compares this more to CSI, which I'm not familiar with.  If it's
true that this is a super-CSI series, than the detectives in CSI must
not do a whole lot of detective work.  Though I might be incorrect in
making so sweeping of a statement, if my memory serves in *every*
_single_ case, the investigators jumped right from crime scene to
suspect.  Now, they might have to do some work to get that suspect (for
example, they go to Poison Ivy to find her daughter), but they always
know who it is seemingly right away.

For me, the interesting part of a police procedural is the procedure:
it's seeing the police find their way to the correct answer.  In Law &
Order, a lot of the false leads and grunt work is ellided in favour of
a step A, step B, step C approach-- each scene yielding a clue that
leads to the next-- but it's certainly more entertaining than step A,
step Z.

In "Columbo", the tension arose from knowing who the suspect is but
seeing how Columbo figured it out.  We see how the crime is committed,
and we see how he solves it.  It's a very good structure, and nine
times out of ten I'm rubbing my hands in glee when Lt. Columbo catches
them in the fatal lie.

The process is interesting, because smart people are interesting.  Not
so smart that they're all knowing-- those kind of characters are
boring.  But people who are clever and worthy of empathy.

The cops in Superfreaks must all be geniuses, because they piece
together the crime almost immediately after it's occured.  For example,
they find a woman's body and they know she's been killed by retractable
claws-- just like Wolverine's.  How the hell do they know they're
retractable claws?

This is something Martin chided me for in JOLT CITY # 2, an incredible
leap in logic on the part of the Green Knight as to how someone was
killed.  And I'll concede that point, and fix it in a later repost.

I'm sure there's some way one can tell that retractable wrist-claws
were used to kill the woman, but I'd like to know what it is.
Similarly, when the former Robin follows a supervillain in time to join
the battle with the Justice League, he says that if Batman taught him
one thing, it was how to spot a villain.

Well, I'd like to know _how_.  I'd like Robin to take a moment to
explain what signals he saw, what behaviours, what mannerisms.

Because those kinds of details are interesting.  And, furthermore,
those kind of details are the entire point of a police procedural.

There are also a couple of moments that made me go, "huh?"  For
example, when Speedy/Arsenal is arrested for murder, he's considered to
be insane, unable to stand trial, unable to tell between right and
wrong.  But from the scene between him and the psychologist, I don't
get that vibe: Speedy _knows_ murder is wrong, but he felt that this
particular murder was justified, that he was _above_ it, that he has a
saviour complex.  Which is certainly insane, but _not_ legally insane.

Feeling you're above the law or that a crime is justified is _not_ the
same thing as not knowing the difference beteen right and wrong.
Really, legal insanity exists to prevent people who cannot control
their actions-- the mentally retarded or the hallucinatory/delusional--
from being prosecuted for their crimes.

Furthermore, though a judge can declare someone not fit to stand trial,
generally "not guilty by reason of insanity" is a point of law for a
jury to decide, and someone like Alan Russell would, I think, be canny
enough to put the guy on trial.  His defense attorney, to make the
insanity plea, would have to put him on the stand: surely if he relied
on only expert witnesses, Alan Russell would have plenty in his corner
as well.

The jury might see how nutso he is but they would also see his
superiority complex and, instructed on legal insanity, I don't think
they'd find him innocent.

Of course, I'm no lawyer.  I could be wrong about some of this.  But it
certainly doesn't feel quite right.

But here's another detail I _am_ familiar with-- Martin's assertion
that young men and teenagers just don't die.

Well, Martin, I've had a friend die-- a perfectly healthy one who died
of perfectly natural causes.  No foul play.  His heart just stopped.

And one of my cousins (also in good health) had a heart attack at the
age of twenty-two.  He lived, thank God.

But your assertion is just plain wrong.  Granted, the case needed
investigating or there would be no story.  I think you were probably
commenting on Anna Nicole Smith's son's mysterious death, which is
probably also of perfectly natural causes-- the same way you were
commenting on the Crocodile Hunter's death.

Granted, with the Croc Hunter, I think you were going more for laughs--
and your fourth wall break in # 7 was played more for laughs as well.
And you've said, if it helps, think of Superfreaks as a parody

And, sure, there's some funny stuff.  Willey an unrepetent
rapist-murderer?  That's funny.  Brenton killed by Super-semen?  Well,
not so funny, but smirk-worthy.

I like your dialogue and some of your banter.  I even like the slow
growth of trust between the police and Captain America.  It's a nice

It's very readable and very interesting, and I do recommend it.  I wish
there was more for the detectives to do, that there was more plot and
twists & turns.  And I really wish that your analogues weren't quite so

For example, look at Poison Ivy.  With the name you saddle her with,
there's no reason for her to have poison lipstick; plants should be her
motif.  Poison works for Poison Ivy because she's both plant-based and
toxins-based.  I think your name for her should have been something
more on the toxic side of the equation.  It makes more sense that way,
doesn't it?

But, hell, you're not pretending these characters are anyone but who
they are: the same people, just different spandex. Really, the name
changes are prefunctory at best, which is why I didn't bother with them
in writing this review.

==Sam Waterso-- I mean, Tom Russell

More information about the racc mailing list