REVIEW: A Comparision of Superfreaks Season 2 # 6 and Encyclopedia Brown

Martin Phipps martinphipps2 at
Mon Aug 6 20:14:01 PDT 2007

On Jul 30, 11:19 am, Tom Russell <milos_par... at> wrote:
> By Martin's own admission and choice, the Superfreaks stories have a
> closer affinity to "CSI" than, say, Columbo or Law and Order.  My
> taste is generally vice-versa, and that might be one of the reasons
> why I find the mystery angle of the series to be a tad light.

And yet in Columbo mysteries, you already know who the killer is and
how the crime was commited and the only element left is watching
Columbo solve the crime.  Law and Order similarly, by its own
admission, spends half the time dealing with points of law as opposed
to solving crimes.  These are not good examples.

> I like my police procedurals to play by the rules.

Nonsense.  Jolt City is remiscent of Beverly Hills Cop with an albiet
gifted detective working out of his jurisdiction and performing
actions that, in the real world, would do more harm than good.

> I like to have all
> the information that the detective has.

The whole point of a mystery is that the detective doesn't have all
the imformation to begin with.  The detective doesn't just solve
riddles: the detective detects.

> All the clues one needs to
> solve the puzzle need to be at one's feet-- something you can put
> together logically.  If the writer plays fair _and_ is good at what
> they do, I don't discover the solution but curse myself when I fail to
> do so.

Then curse yourself and not me.

> When the writer doesn't play fair, I curse the writer.  For the same
> reason, I found the Encyclopedia Brown series to be lacking in this
> respect.

Let's face it, Tom, all those old mysteries for kids were lacking in
the sense that criminal investigations should be left to experts.
There's a reason why police use the yellow tape that says "Crime
scene: do not cross".  Did you ever see Encyclopedia Brown testify in
court?  In the real world, the person who collects the evidence and
solves the crime needs to be ready to defend his actions in court or
all his efforts would be wasted.

> Often, the solutions to the miniature puzzles turned on a
> piece of information I didn't have access to-- for example, that all
> pizza is cut into an even number of slices, or that a blow to the
> stomach will cause someone to fall backwards but never forwards, or
> that buttons on girl's shirts rest on one side and on boy's shirts,
> the other.

There's no reason why you shouldn't have access to such information.
Again, this is the sort of information experts would be expected to
have access to.

> Not necessarily obscure tidbits, but it still didn't play fair.  But I
> was still able to remember all the bits of information on which turned
> the machinery of those plots, and that's because they were very
> interesting and memorable.  And that goes a long way to redeeming a
> mystery story that doesn't play fair; details (and, their cousin, the
> ingenious extrapolation) are a source of constant pleasure.
> Sometimes, Martin's ideas in Superfreaks-- the details, the world-
> building-- can be quite interesting and compelling.  But in the case
> of this sixth issue, there was a paucity of such pleasures.  Near as I
> can tell, the only clue pointing to the man arrested for the crime was
> the fact that he was introduced earlier in the story, and thus the
> least likely suspect.

Then you didn't read very carefully.  Mary had met Scott before.  He
and his wife were students of Doctor Javier.  That's an important
clue, assuming you didn't remember him from Superfreaks season one
(#'s 16-18) and remember what his powers were.

> Perhaps he was introduced earlier in this season or the last.  I
> honestly don't remember him.  (One problem with the literally dozens
> of characters Martin has introduced and expects us to remember without
> the benefit of a telling or compelling detail.)

Again, not true.  About a dozen characters are reintroduced in the
opening every issue and then characters are often refered to by their
full names and titles precisely so you won't forget who they are.

> And I don't remember
> what his powers were.  And so, when it was revealed that he had
> committed the crime, it reeked of being unfair.

What I smell right now is bullshit.

> Martin is frankly allergic to exposition and recapitulation.  But if
> he had taken a moment-- a sentence-- to tell us a little more about
> the character and his powers, it would have been a step towards being
> fair.

And there it is.  Tom, you completely and utterly missed the point
here.  Mary was looking for a speedster because she assumed that a
speedster had commited the crime in question but she uncovered
evidence that the crime was, instead, commited by somebody with the
ability to stop time.  The dilemma here is, of course, that crimes
commited using superpowers can only be commited by people with
superpowers so that right there reduces the number of suspects.  It
hadn't occured to Mary earlier on that Scott's powers could have been
used to rob a bank so it didn't occur to her to question him about
it.  It's that simple.  I'm so sorry you weren't able to pick up on
that.  I honestly thought you were smarter than that.  Clearly I was

> Another reason why I enjoy the Encyclopedia Brown books is, of course,
> Sally-- Encyc's female bodyguard and the muscle of his operation.
> Bugs Meany also entertains me, and I find that it's the strong
> characterizations that keeps me reading the stories, even though I no
> longer need to flip to the back and hold the book upside down in order
> to discover the answer.  Characterization, like detail work, keeps a
> story fresh for dozens of rereadings.
> And while Martin's had some strong characterization in the past--
> particularly the relationship between Mary and Edward-- I've found
> that most of his characters are lacking in that department.  They're
> interchangeable plot-puppets.

By all means, Tom, provide an example where two characters are
completely interchangable.  Using a lot of chracters does not mean
that each character is exactly the same.  Indeed, I always pride
myself on giving each character a unique voice.  So please provide an
example of where you feel I failed to do that.

You're projecting here, Tom, and that's all there is to it.  Perhaps
you can finally explain to me why Martin Rock kept his costumed
identity secret.  He said he wanted to put Snapp in prison but all he
had to do was put out a mask statement and testify himself.  Why on
Earth did he promise to help Snapp back in Jolt City #2?  Yes, I know
it was because he wanted information about the Crocked Man but Martin
has to realise that his actions have resulted in Snapp continuing to
operate and people dying as a result.  He puts his needs ahead of
others and I don't consider that particularly heroic.

As a matter of fact, even with only a few main characters to work
with, I find your characterisation in Jolt City to be piss poor.  Not
only does Martin Rock not act the way we would hope a hero would act
but he doesn't even have a unique voice.  Indeed, to maintain a secret
identity, he should sound different as the Green Knight.  The Green
Knight may not swear but Martin Rock has been living on the street for
ten years and before that he was in the military.  His speech patterns
make no sense whatsoever under the circumstances.

Take this dialogue from Jolt City #2:

   Martin wakes up and Danielle is surrounded by
white.  "I'm in a hospital."
   Danielle nods.  "I've been with you the whole time.
 Your mask is still on.  They tried to do some tests,
but they couldn't get a clear result with the mask."
   "I'll be fine," says Martin.  "The kid?"
   She leans forwards, lowering her voice.  "Derek
Mason.  We have him in custody, somewhere safe."
   Martin nods.  "And the Crooked Man?"
   "Gone," says Danielle.  "Any leads?"
   "He's got a grudge against dealers."
   Danielle smirks, a tiny pink paste of a tongue-tip
squeezed between her lips.  "Truly, you are the
world's greatest detective."
   "He's lost someone," says Martin.  "A child.
Probably a daughter."
   "How do you know?"
   "Because he talked about daughters and sons.  Odd
to put one before the other."
   Another cynical smirk.  "Why is it odd, hero?"
   He smirks right back at here.  And even though she
can't see it through the mask, she knows that it's
there.  "Because we live in a phallocentric
patriarchal society."

Oh come on!  Who talks like that?  Who talks like that when they've
woken up in a hospital with a head injury?  What ex-sidekick ex-
soldier homeless person is going to tak like that _ever_?

Let's look at another example from Jolt City #7

   "Let's talk, okay?  Let's sit down on your nice
couch and let's talk things out.  Come on."  He
reaches his arms out, grabs her by the shoulders, and
leads her back into the living room.  They come to an
entrance-way: guarded by Dickens on one end and
Thurber on another.  Martin takes the lead, guiding
her by the hand.
   "Careful," he says.  "This canyon is in Injun
territory.  Might slaughter us at the pass."
   "Very PC," says Danielle.  "But I thought they only
scalped whites."
   "You want to take a chance?"
   Having reached the cushioned outpost safely, Martin
sets the towel on the couch and sits down.  Danielle
sits beside him.

What the Hell was that all about?  Who are Dickens and Thurber and why
is Martin Rock going on about "Injuns"?  Is this supposed to be
funny?  It would have made more sense if Danielle didn't get it.  Or
perhaps this is a case where one has to be there.

Finally, look at Jolt City #9:

 "You remember how the Vibra-Jacket operates?" says
   "It vibrates the person wearing it out of synch
with reality," says Martin.  "Same principal as
speedsters like Darkhorse."
   "Or like Dr. Metronome?" says Dani.
   "No," says Fay.  "Dr. Costello looked into the
metronome belt in the early stages of development.
The way that works is, your body is made up of
molecules and the molecules of atoms."
   "I know that," snips Dani.
   "And there's spaces between the atoms-- tiny, tiny
spaces.  The metronome belt vibrates the atoms in your
body so that it can slide between those spaces."
   "And how is the Vibra-Jacket different?"
   "Well, the metronome belt is actually pulling the
body of its wearer apart.  If there is a malfunction,
one risks scattering yourself to the winds.  Dr.
Costello-- and the army-- felt that was too big a
   "Two objects-- two atoms-- cannot occupy the same
space, right?"
   "That's basic physics," says Dani.
   "But an infinite number of atoms occupy the same
space all the time," says Fay.  "Parallel worlds.
They exist in the same exact space-- just on different
frequencies.  What the Vibra-Jacket does is 'tune' its
wearer slightly out of synch with our reality and in
with another.  Much less danger."
   "Yeah," says Martin.  "Now you only have to worry
about ending up in another reality."

I'm sorry, Tom, but this is nonsense.  First of all, the idea that you
can vibrate and end up in a parallel world is not real world physics
but comic book physics so it's annoying to have Dani claim that this
is "basic physics" but, worse, neither Dani nor Martin are physicists
so even if what they were saying did make sense then there's the
question of how they would know about it.  Basically, Tom, your
problem is that your stories only feature a few main characters so you
need to make your characters say things completely contrary to their
established character in order to advance the plot.  I'm sorry, Tom,
but having been a superhero sidekick, a soldier and a vigilantee,
Martin should not be a particularly well educated person and should
even be a bit confused about pop culture references.  I lived here in
the Philippines (where I am currently on vacation) for seven months
without TV, newspapers and magazines so I know how a person can end up
feeling left out; I can only imagine what ten years would have been

This then brings up the question of how Martin can function as a
detective.  Really they shouldn't let him anywhere near a crime scene
unless he is willing to provide a mask statement and testify, but
that's beside the point because Martin hasn't had any opportunity in
all the years he was a soldier or a vigilantee to solve actual crimes
(ie present evidence to the police for the purpose of convicting a
criminal).  Basically the only reason he goes to crime scenes and
finds evidence is because the plot requires him to.

> And so, in general, the main reasons why I read Superfreaks-- mystery,
> details, and character work-- reasons that, admittedly, are often
> lacking in some combination in this largely uneven body of work-- are
> nonexistent in this sixth issue.  And that's disappointing.  I hope
> the rest of the season fares better.

Don't you know?  Didn't you say a month ago that you had already read
up to #17?  I thought you had already posted a review of issues 4-17
in which you said they were lacking?  Were you lying about having read
them?  Say it isn't so, Tom!

Instead of going to all the trouble of trying to pass off your
opinions as professional literary criticism, perhaps you should pay
more attention to your own writing and it wouldn't suffer so much.


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