REVIEWS: Tom Russell Reviews Round-Up 2007

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Sat Dec 29 23:36:35 PST 2007


This may very well be the most pretentious collection
I've ever put together.  I mean, who (on RACC) gathers
up their old reviews?  Stories, yes, but reviews?

Well, I guess I do.  I'm figuring there's about an
eighty percent chance that someone is going to
nominate my reviews for a RACCie, as was done last
year.  Now, chances are, Saxon's probably going to
take it home again, and that's fine-- EOMR continues
to be an invaluable service to RACC, and is one of the
highlights of my month even when I don't have anything
of my own under review.

But I figured I might as well make a "go" for it, and
so I'm re-presenting thirteen of my better reviews.

Some of these are "gushes", some of them are a bit
acidic, and some of them are me just saying "gee, I
don't know how the heck to review this", but I think
they're all fine pieces of writing that reflect well
both on myself and (in most cases) on the person whose
work is being reviewed.

With one notable exception, all the stories reviewed
here were posted on RACC in 2007.  Again, this
collection does not include every review, nor is every
review re-presented in full.


The Haunted Man # 2 [Jamie Rosen]


Alt.stralian Yarns # 14 [Mitchell Crouch]
Limp-Asparagus Lad # 58 [Saxon Brenton]
Adventures Beyond Comprehension # 10 [Jesse Willey]


Superfreaks # 19-21 [Martin Phipps]
Silver Age Superfreaks # 1-4 [Martin Phipps]


Lady Lawful and Doctor Developer # 1 [Andrew Burton]
Derek Radner's Private Journal # 1 [Dave Van Domelen]


Bob and Charlie # 2 [Tim Munn]


Godling # 10 [Jochem Vandersteen]
Sea Monkeys II [Mitchell Crouch]
Tales from the Gutterground # 2 [Arthur Spitzer]
America's Next Top Porn Star [Martin Phipps]


THE HAUNTED MAN # 2, by Jamie Rosen

Jamie Rosen's new series, "The Haunted Man," fills a
niche on RACC that has been wanting for some time:
horror.  Now, there have been a number of eerie
stories, especially the moody/supernatural vibe of
Paul Hardy's LOH and Jennifer Whiston's Misfits.  (In
fact, most of the "serious" LNH material tends to have
at least a little bit of that magic-and-daemons
milieu, but that's a topic for another time.)

Though the Haunted Man is a host in the classic EC
tradition (spooky name, love of bad puns), one
couldn't really call these stories EC-type tales. 
While these also rely on a twist that often takes a
very visceral and imaginative form, the EC stories
always had more plot-- a progression of events that
often ended with comeuppance: O. Henry with a hatchet
and a severed head.  Everything fits together in a
sort of obscene logic; all seemingly loose ends come
back to bite someone in the ass.

The stories featured in the first two issues of the
Haunted Man remind me more of the fiction of
Lovecraft, in which atmosphere, mood, and a sort of
hallucinogenic fever take precedence over plot,
character, and logic.  Things don't fit neatly
together by the story's end, things aren't explained,
and that's what scares the merde out of me.  Or should
I say the merder?  (Ooh!  Bilingual pun!  Especially
relevant with a Canadian author under review!)


The first story in this issue is extremely
disorienting, and it gives the reader the kind of
fever to which I alluded above.  Not only does Jamie
achieve this by what information he chooses to give us
and (more importantly) not give us, but also by the
way in which he does so. Consider this sentence:

> His entire body hurt: joints ached,
> muscles cramped and stiffened from having lain in so
> awkward a
> position.

The first time I read this sentence, I subconsciously
put a slight pause between "cramped" and "and", as if
it were a list of ailments. In doing so, it was
rendered in my mind as:

joints ached,
muscles cramped,

which threw me for a moment.  Part of this is the Rule
of Threes: the human mind likes to have three examples
to support any assertion. Many of us probably remember
writing a five paragraph essay, with an opening
paragraph, a concluding paragraph, and three
supporting paragraphs in between, with each paragraph
consisting of five sentences: opening sentence,
concluding sentence, and three supporting details in
between those.

Whatever the vagaries of the five-paragraph strait
jacket, it appeals to the human mind's sense of order
and balance, and a strange infatuation with the number
three.  Many people read The Lord of the Rings
Trilogy; I've yet to meet anyone who's called it The
Hobbit Tetraology.  On the other end of the scale,
Christians are not content with God the Father and God
the Son, but must also have God the Holy Spirit (or

And I've actually just given three examples to support
my assertion that people like things that come in
threes. :-)

And by violating this "rule", Monsieur Rosen gets
under our skin.  The rhythm of the second half of the
sentence is not noun-verb, noun-verb, and noun-verb,
but rather noun-verb, noun-verb-and-verb.  The rhythm
is off-kilter and therefore does not satisfy our need
for closure and balance.

And while the story does have an ending that lets us
piece together what has befallen our "hero" and (more
importantly) why, it doesn't spell things out for us
in any obvious way.  There's no doctor at the end to
tell us that Norman Bates is pretending to be his
mother; it's like he's ending with a scary man in a
dress with a knife leaping out and screaming at us and
that's it.

And I think that's the biggest difference between an
EC-style story and the more literary/pulp horror
tradition that Rockin' Rosen is working in: he lets
the story be unsettling and does not explain it. He
lets The Other simply exist and does not help us to
understand it.


Alt.stralian Yarns # 14, by Mitchell Crouch

The thing that continues to impress me about Mitchell
is how quickly he clicked into the vibe of the classic
LNH story.  In this issue of Alt.stralian Yarns, he
keeps the gags coming quick and fresh.  Each plot
development is an extrapolation of a previous gag. 
And there are so many jaw-droppingly funny moments--
moments that at once make perfect sense and yet are
assuredly in the vein of the best nonsense.

The deaths that end the issue, the eating of the
supersteer, the licking of envelopes, the banishment
from Alt.stralia-- each of these moments is a marvel
of plotting, invention, and humour.

I generally have trouble reviewing most LNH stories
these days; it's not that I don't like them.  Quite
the contrary is true: I love the LNH, always have and
always will.  But it's difficult to _analyze_ them, to
pick them apart and review them.  In most cases,
they're just pure funny, and there's nothing really I
can say other than, hey, that's funny.

I would like to say that I've enjoyed this issue of
Alt.stralian Yarns probably the best of all, certainly
the best out of the Team Q storyline.  It's the most
tightly focused and, more importantly, the funniest.

And the great thing about it is: Mitchell's just
getting started.  Who knows what glories await when he
reaches the ripe old age of 20?

You've definitely upped the ante for AY # 15,
Mitchell.  I await it eagerly.


Limp-Asparagus Lad # 58, by Saxon Brenton

The earliest LNH stories were very silly and very
rough, composed of inelegant enthusiasm and all the
better for it!  Intensely personal and intensely
funny.  Deep, resonating moments were not crafted so
much as they were stumbled upon, discovered by
accident-- and they were deeply moving and powerful
because of that.

Over time, the concept has evolved from the domain of
writer-characters and chaotic add-ons to something
approaching serious fiction.  Carefully constructed
sentences, deep and weighty themes, complex
characterizations.  Often cases, these stories would
abandon the silliness inherent in the LNH concept;
they would write stories that, while great stories,
weren't really LNH stories.

And while I think the Looniverse is big enough to
contain both silly spandex-clad heroes eating
cheesecake _and_ compelling protagonists motivated by
inner demons, I think to ignore the LNHiness of the
LNH  is just plain wrong.  In my own work for the LNH
(these days, at least) I don't write as carefully as I
do for, say, 8FOLD.  I write  something that I hope is
amusing, accessible, and immediate.   Something that
approximates the rough quality of the early LNH 

But, here's the thing: the LNHiness of the LNH and the
style/aims of  Serious Fiction are _not_ mutually
exclusive.  And Saxon Brenton proves that.

He has a very definite, very literary prose style--
sentences that are a lot of fun to read and brim with
vocabularic verve-- and uses it to tell stories about
silly spandex-clad heroes eating cheesecake.  His 
work is, in a way, very serious about being very
funny.  He puts a lot  of effort and toil into writing
great LNH stories.  Stories that are wholly,
completely LNHy.

If I wanted to convince someone that the LNH is worth
their time, and  that someone was predisposed against
the rough-and-tumble charm of the early LNH-- I
wouldn't pull out MISFITS.  Now, I love MISFITS, and I
 think it was a great series, one that got greater and
darker as time went on.  But that's just the thing.

Even though MISFITS was great and, especially in the
earlier issues, definitely felt like it _fit_ in the
Looniverse-- towards the end, it got a whole lot less
LNHy, at least for me.  And if I want to convince
someone that the LNH is worth caring about and
devoting part of their  lives to, if I was to pick a
story that would help me do that, I would  pick
something by either Hubert Bartles or Saxon Brenton.

If this proverbial someone wasn't predisposed against
the rough, fast  quality of the early LNH, I would
probably pick Martin Phipps, whose  work is the most
LNHy of all; and, if that someone was predisposed to 
having their minds blown, I would pick Arthur Spitzer.

But if someone only took Literary Fiction seriously, I
think Saxon  Brenton would be the best bet, because
he's the one who has most successfully combined LNH
and Literature.  I guess I've been aware of  this,
peripherally, for some time, but it really clicked
with this  issue, sometime between this:

>     "So where did that super strength come from?" 
> asked Irony Man.
>     "I have no idea," admitted Limp-Asparagus Lad.
>     "Huh," said Irony Man. "Must have been the 
> explosion of Potentate's
> inter-dimensional gate, causing a Claremontian 
> power increase."
>     Limp-Asparagus Lad thought about this for a 
> second, then said, "I
> do not think it can be a Claremontian power 
> increase. I'm not female."


>     Somian was continuing to struggle against Irony 
> Man and Limp-Asparagus Lad. Then they heard 
> Occultism Kid yell, "Care Bear Stare!"
> They looked up to see the remaining Legionnaires 
> all linking hands (with
> Occultism Kid still holding aloft the 
> Metebe.listerve 3 crystal to
> protect all and sundry against Somian's mind 
> control).

In most LNH stories, you won't find a word like
"sundry"; in most stories which feature the word
"sundry", you won't bear witness to a Care Bear Stare.

Though I'm not saying that Saxon isn't aware of the
Literaryness (okay, okay: Englishness) of his prose. 
At times, he mocks his  vocabulary and tendencies
towards adjective excess:

> Then he'd activated a holographic screen which 
> showed a map, and on
> it was a pulsing blip marking a spot beyond the 
> suburban sprawl of
> Net.ropolis, somewhere in the swampily mountainous 
> arboreal desert
> farmland tundra to the west.

That sentence is, in fact, somewhat self-mocking, and
doesn't quite require this latter comment:

> "I know the Writer was making
> jokes about swampily mountainous arboreal desert 
> farmland tundra, but
> I don't think abandoned bowling alleys should be 
> overrun with heavy
> jungle like that."

but it's actually twice as funny the second time
around. :- )

There are some times when his mammoth, Proustian
sentences make things  a little difficult if you're
not paying attention:

>     Swordmaster nodded. He had taken the lead as 
> the ground team of
> himself, Parking Karma Kid, Pulls-Paper-Out-Of-Hats 
> Lad and the Whip
> had moved in, using his abilities to hack a path 
> through the thick
> foliage with a machete composed of cosmic rays.

Placing the "using his abilities" part of the sentence
after the list of other LNHers is a bit jarring. 
Though I suppose "hack a path through the thick
foliage with a machete composed of cosmic rays" does 
a decent enough job of telling us whose abilities are
being used. :-)

And I think some sentences could be a little more

> The simple analogy for this would be that
> their ray guns are something like television 
> antennae, and are picking
> up and amplifying signals that are being broadcast 
> from elsewhere."
> He pointed to the indicated location on the 
> holographic map. "This
> is the elsewhere that it's being broadcast from.

Wouldn't that last sentence be better-rendered and
more dramatic as "This is that elsewhere"?

But these are really piddling points.  I've often said
that each issue of Limp-Asparagus Lad is worth the
wait.  It's funny, well-paced, interesting, and it
supports multiple readings and rereadings.

Thanks for writing it, Saxon-- here's looking forward
to the next one.


Adventures Beyond Comprehension # 10, by Jesse Willey

Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.

I hate this story.

I hated it the first time Jesse Willey suggested it. 
Hated it the first time he said he wanted to revisit
the terrible Janice Kult/Teenfactor stuff, and I hated
it when he said he wanted to retcon the cause of
deaths of Carolyn's two mothers.

I hated it when he suggested that there had been a
traitor in the team, even if he was kind enough to
make that traitor _not_ Electra.

I hated it when he sent me the story for editing,
posting, and I assume approval.  Hated the way that
Carolyn Forge and Electra are both wildly out of
character-- out of character not only the way I wrote
them, but also out of character the way Jesse had been
developing them.

Hated the way the story played out.  Hate, hate, hate,
hate, hate.

I hated it so much that I refused to edit any more of
his stories, that I refused to post them, and I hated
it so much that I certainly did not give my explicit
approval of this execrable piece of shit.  And only
sheer willfulness and malice could read implicit
approval for the use of my characters in my angry,
venting, denounciation.

Last year, when Jesse decided to use and kill off one
of my characters who was in public domain, I reserved
all my characters-- to protect them from Jesse.  All
my characters except for the ones he was using for his
Killfile Wars stories.  Because as much as I disagreed
with him, I wasn't going to basically cripple his
storyline by removing major characters from it.  But

This isn't an accident, a gaffe.  He asked, and I did
not give consent.  He sent me the story, and I did not
approve it.  And then he went and posted it anyway. 
(Or, rather, he got someone else to post it for him,
since he's too chickenshit to post on RACC himself.)

I hereby nominate Jesse Willey for a Discretionary
RACCie-- the Chris Ireland Memorial Award.  Because
that's what you've done, Jesse.

People can say what they want about our earlier
shenanigans, about the toes we stepped on.  But we
never did what Ireland did.  We never went ahead and
did something anyway after the character's owner had
said no. Not until now.  Not until _you_.

I am hereby rescinding the loan of my characters to
Jesse Willey. (Keep Onion Lad, as he's half Dane's,

And I am hereby creating a new class of character, and
placing all my LNH characters in that class: Not
Reserved, But Jesse Willey Can't Use Them Under Any

What's more, I am hereby elsewhirling this story.  In
fact, I am elsewhirling every story Jesse's ever done
with Carolyn, Electra, et al-- in fact, I'm
elsewhirling every story I ever did with them, too.
They never happened.  Teenfactor never existed.

I'm starting their entire story over from scratch.  A
revamp, a relaunch.  And don't worry-- there won't be
a single mention of any of your characters, Jesse.

Because I've gotten tired.  So tired of this back and
forth, and this fighting, and watching my characters
be ruined because I'm too nice to stop you.  It stops
now, and here.


Superfreaks # 19-21, by Martin Phipps

I love Archie comics.

They provide immediate surface pleasure and there's
absolutely nothing wrong with that.  The stories are
well-paced, the jokes are well-timed, and, for the
most part, the craftsmanship is impeccable.  But
here's the thing: with rare exceptions, there's not
much more to them than that.

And, really, there doesn't need to be.  Archie Comics
are a joy to read precisely because there isn't much
more to them.  They're completely unpretentious and
completely fun to read.

Re-reading, on the other hand...

Well, there-in lies the problem.  Once you've heard a
joke, it probably isn't funny anymore (here I'm
segregating jokes from shaggy dog stories).  Once
you've read an Archie story, it no longer holds any
surprises for you.

And, now bereft of its surprises, it is also bereft of
its pleasure.

And, again, this is in no way to denigrate the fine
stories Archie publishes.  They fill a niche and they
fill it well.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with
providing a moment's distraction, with immediate
earnest pleasure.

(And, actually, it's a very canny way to do business:
the only way to get pleasure from Archie stories after
you've read them is to buy more Archie stories you
haven't read yet.)

And this brings us to Martin.

In some of my earlier reviews/essays (particularly
"The Phippsian Reader"), I have praised and defended
Martin's work as funny par excellence.  In his LNH
stories particularly, he provides immediate earnest
surface pleasure, and there's absolutely nothing wrong
with that because he does it so very, very well.  He
is, and I gotta stress this, one of the funniest guys
writing for the LNH.

And sometimes, he provides deeper pleasure, often with
a metatextual bent (his specialty).  These deeper
pleasures (pleasures of theme and characterization and
melancholy and memory) hold up on a second reading,
even if the jokes surrounding it don't.  And sometimes
one has to wonder, is this for the best?

Martin's great gift as a giver of immediate pleasure,
and his greatest flaw as a writer of deeper pleasure,
is, of course, one and the same thing: his need for
immediate pleasure.  He needs to have it and needs to
provide it.

He doesn't spend pages describing furniture; he
doesn't waste time trying to set a scene or recap what
has gone before; his characters don't engage in
chit-chat that isn't relevant to his story.

Because all of those things do not give immediate
pleasure.  They don't pay off right now, this very

They slow down the story, they might bore the reader,
and, in the hands of a bad writer, it's just padding
anyway.  A sentence about the smell of cigar smoke is
a sentence that interrupts the pleasure given by its
ancestor and its descendent.  It's a hurdle; it's
unwelcome.  The same goes for a scene that doesn't
have a "point", an immediate reason for being.

Now, these very things are also the reason why I, as a
writer, fail to give immediate pleasure.  The pleasure
my stories give me (and, I assume, those others who
enjoy them) is culminative.  It's thematic, it's
textural, it's not something you can immediately put
your finger on.

And I'm not saying that either way is better, or
deeper, or truer.  The writer who provides immediate
pleasure has one huge advantage over highfaluting
"culminative pleasure writers" like myself, in that
his stories are more likely to be read and understood
and enjoyed by more people.

Writing for culminative pleasure requires a commitment
from the reader, and if the reader is only going to
give that writer a few paragraphs, he might just
decide not to read the story at all.  A more immediate
writer like Martin doesn't want his readers to have to
commit to a story they might not enjoy.  He wants them
to enjoy it, and does everything in his power to make
sure that they do.



Because I think with Martin, it's more than a concern
for his reader. I think, moreso than many writers,
amateur or otherwise, Martin really, really, really
loves the act of writing itself.  He enjoys it so
obviously and immensely and earnestly and, yes,
immediately.  He loves writing a story, and he loves
posting it for our perusal.

All of us RACCers presumably do this because we enjoy
it, but I don't think Martin would be able to write a
single word if he didn't enjoy every single world he
was writing.  I don't think he's capable of writing a
story he doesn't want to write, and I think that's one
of his greatest strengths.  His enthusiasm shines
through, bright and clear and lovely.  You can hear
him rubbing his hands gleefully when he devises
interesting ways to kill people in Superfreaks (and
interesting ways to solve the crimes).  I can picture
him at his computer, and in my mind's image, he
doesn't stoically and sleepily type away as I am now,
but rather bobs and weaves as he excitedly hammers at
the keys.

And that's infectious.  You can feel the author there
with you, and his stories often have the delightful
simplicity and casualness of oral storytelling.  If
LNH stories ever get recorded on audio (an excellent
idea to help persons like myself, who are slowly,
slowly, slowly going blind), I would definitely ask
Martin to record my stories, even though I've never
heard his voice.  I think he'd be fun to listen to.

It's a great thing, this enthusiasm, this desire for
immediate pleasure.  But it also poses a problem in
that Martin probably doesn't spend a whole lot of time
editing his stories.

I'm not saying he doesn't make corrections and changes
in the TEB editions.  He does.  But since the posting
of the last issue of an arc and the posting of the TEB
are often separated only by a couple days or hours,
there isn't really much time spent rethinking,
rewriting, re-editing, and retooling.

Is this a bad thing?  No.

Like I said above, Martin's greatest strength and
greatest weakness are one and the same.  A Martin
Phipps who obsessed over plotting and character and
rewrote and rewrote and rewrote simply wouldn't be
Martin Phipps.  The story would not have the same
enthusiasm, and would not provide that same immediate
pleasure it gives to both the reader and the writer.

I wish I could write like Martin.  I wish I could have
an idea, write it, and post it, in exactly that order,
with little interruption.  But I wouldn't be satisfied
with such a story, and I wouldn't enjoy it the second
or third time around.

But, y'know, it's like Archie.  When I'm done reading
a Martin Phipps story (and, presumably, when he's done
writing one), it's been exhausted.  The only way to
satisfy our desire for pleasure is for Martin to write
another one.

And if he spent more time plotting, rewriting,
editing, et cetera, well, then there wouldn't be a new
Martin Phipps story in time to give us that pleasure. 
Like I said: the things that make him great are the
same exact things that form his hamartia, his tragic

Which, if you look at classical tragedy, is how it
should be.  Oedipus is great because he is so god-damn
smart; Oedipus is damned because he tries to outsmart
the gods.

Not that I'm saying Martin is a tragic hero. :-)

Another drawback to Martin's desire for immediate
pleasure is that he's so caught up with the enthusiasm
for an idea that he either, (a) doesn't stop to think
whether or not the idea is good, and, (b) he doesn't
stop to think whether or not his execution of the idea
is, um, ideal.

Let's look at Superfreaks # 19-20.

You forgot this was a review of Superfreaks, didn't
you?  See, if I was providing immediate pleasure, I
would have _started_ here.  But I'm looking for a
culminative effect. :-)

These two issues of Superfreaks roughly take the form
of parodies of the "I Know What You Did Last Summer"
and "Final Destination" slasher film franchises.

Now, I don't particularly think that parodying "I Know
What You Did Last Summer" in Superfreaks, with the
added twist of a telepath, is a particularly good
idea.  Especially in the way that Martin does it.

First of all, the parody is extremely obvious, only in
this case it's called "I Know What You Did Last
Winter".  The names of the characters are extremely
obvious pastiches of current teen/twenty-something pop

And, here's the thing, the really odd thing that makes
Superfreaks so interesting and wonderful and yet
maddening: it's not _really_ a parody.  A parody, in
and of itself, is funny.  It has jokes, it points out
flaws in the original-- it makes fun of-- or, um,
y'know, PARODIES-- the original: hence, a parody.

Does anyone remember DRACULA: DEAD AND LOVING IT?  It
was a Mel Brooks film that was very faithful to the
original Bram Stoker novel.  Very, very faithful.  So
faithful, perhaps, that it is one of the most faithful
retellings of the original story.

There are jokes, sure.  But it's not really as much of
a parody as it is a retelling.

Now, Martin doesn't _exactly_ retell the story of
IKWYDLS in Superfreaks.  In the original, if I recall
correctly, a group of stupid insipid selfish kids kill
a man and throw the body off a cliff.  The man isn't
really dead and sets about cleansing them from the
gene pool.

In Martin's version, it's one of the stupid insipid
selfish kids who is the killer.  It turns out that she
is the daughter of the man they killed.  The thing
about this twist is that I didn't believe it.  It felt
like Martin was putting it there merely to say, hey, I
wasn't following the plot exactly!  It's a pastiche,
it's synthesis.

But the motivation is so out of left-field that it's
not really satisfying to this reader.  A more
interesting motivation might be that she really wasn't
that insipid-- maybe she's motivated by the guilt of
what they had done, maybe she couldn't take it and
externalized it to the others to absolve herself of
guilt, and now she has to kill them all because it's
all their fault anyway, they made her do it...

And maybe Martin would have thought of that, or maybe
that's more a Tom Russell type of twist, I dunno.  But
I think that he was so enjoying writing the story that
 he first twist that popped into his head, he decided
to use, without weighing his options or wondering if
that was the best way to do it.

I'm not saying he doesn't think his stories through;
I'm just saying he doesn't take the time to rethink.

In the same story, he uses the supernormal in the
person of a detective's telepathic daughter.  And he
has a couple of good scenes with that character, and
uses her well enough as a plot function.

But he hints at some truly delicious aspects of
without really exploring or exploiting them.  The
climactic scene, even with the
you-killed-my-father-so-I-had-to-kill-you ending,
could have really worked, could have really paid off,
if the violation-of-privacy and civil rights thing had
been better executed.

And, I know, Katherine didn't really read Britney
Hilton's mind-- which made the whole scene kind of
lame in retrospect.  It felt like another twist that
Martin maybe shoulda rethought a bit.

I enjoyed # 20 a lot more.  It takes a supernatural
premise-- death itself, through Rube Goldberg machine
style deaths, kills off those who are living on
borrowed time-- and it makes it a Dr. Strange story.
And, you know what?

That was a really good twist, and it was executed
well.  Now, there were other things in the story that
weren't executed well.  Like, y'know, the actual death

Like the original Omen, the thrill of those terrible
Final Destination movies is watching how fate
conspires to kill our insipid heroes.  One little
thing affects another until the desired result is met.
 That is, really, the whole point of the movie.

And since Martin is so good at coming up with unusual
deaths (like the force of super-sperm ejaculation
ripping a girl apart from the inside), I was hoping
he'd give us some of the same.

But all we get is a quick recap.  Because for Martin,
the point of the story isn't the deaths or the
details.  The point of the story is Dr. Strange.

And it's a nice point, but once you've read it, what
keeps you coming back for a second time?

You see, since the super-sperm death was the point of
part of the original Superfreaks arc, it existed.  But
since these deaths, these details, weren't the point
of this one, we don't get those details. They're not
the things that are exciting Martin, they're not the
reasons he wants to write the story.

And so I think in those cases, those deaths fail to
give immediate pleasure.  Or any pleasure at all, for
that matter.

Martin doesn't waste time with things he doesn't
enjoy.  Like I've said a gazillion times in this
piece: his greatest strength and pitfall all at once.

For example, I don't think Martin enjoys coming up
with names.  Which is why we get characters like
Britney Hilton and Justin Federline and Christian
Lohan.  This is also why Extreme's real name is My-Kel
and the Dr. Strange analogue is named Professor

For those of you not in the know, those last two are
the names of LNH characters.  Which brings us to
Superfreaks # 21.

Here, again, we have an unusual idea-- a man is
murdered, but can come back to life.  Can you charge
someone with that murder when there's no corpse?  It's
an interesting idea, and Martin doesn't do a bad job
executing it...

... but he doesn't do a great job, either.  I think
for Martin it's enough just to have the idea in and of
itself.  And I certainly give him credit for that and
marvel at his ingenuity.  Ingenuity born of enthusiasm
and untempered and unrefined.

In this story, many of the suspects have the names of
LNH characters, or names very similar.

Superfreaks is very much a work of synthesis, like the
films of Quentin Tarantino.  And, as a wiser man than
me once said, synthesis is a perfectly valid form of

But here's the thing.  Synthesis is taking disparate
elements and giving them new form and life, smoothing
out the edges, bringing them together in a coherent,
satisfying whole.  It's taking the work of others and
perfecting it, putting your own spin on it.

It is, in actuality, a form of editing.  Of rewriting.
 Of rethinking.

All things that are antithetical to the immediate
pleasures of writing and making it up purely as you go

Which is probably why I am ambivalent about the
series.  Sometimes, I'm madly in love with it and the
audacity of his ideas; sometimes, I wish the execution
was better because those ideas are so good; sometimes,
I'm not so fond of the ideas.

I thought his work with clones was very interesting,
psychologically. He had such a good idea and he
developed in so many different, exciting ways that I
can't really complain.  But then there's stories were
there's just one or two ideas in them, ideas he's
groping towards because he hasn't really thought it
out beforehand.  And then there's stories were the
character names are painful to look at, so painful
that I can't take them seriously-- even though I can't
laugh, because the jokes are few and far between.

And since I'd like to end this review on a high note,
with some encouragement, let me just say that I'm
really digging the character work that Martin is doing
with Edward.

Edward typifies certain male character traits so well
and so accurately that it's uncanny.  Notice I say
male character traits and not masculine.  He's not
exactly masculine or a man.  He's more of a boy.

He has a boy's enthusiasm for sex but lacks a man's
understanding of it.  He gets extremely agitated at
the mere mention of sex by some kids in a classroom,
which indicates that he's got his share of hang-ups
about it.

He often answers things with a joke, and avoids them. 
He doesn't seem to be as deep a thinker as Mary is.

He wants to have the pleasures of a man (sex, a
"wife") without the responsibilities it may entail
(children).  Sexually, he is aggressive when there are
breasts in his sight line, but he prefers to be told
what to do-- like a little boy, a child.  The breast
fixation (okay, so it was in just one scene, but I
still say it was there) might not mean anything more
to him than it does in any other man-- but, at the
same time, it could be Martin's subtle hint that
Edward is looking for a mother as much as he's looking
for a wife.

And here's the thing: Martin is _comparatively_ subtle
when it comes to characterizing Edward.  All the
information he lets us in on might not click on the
first reading.  It's only after a few issues that it

It is, then, a culminative pleasure.  I'm not sure if
it was planned. It doesn't feel planned.  But it
doesn't feel willy-nilly, either.

It feels organic.  Edward feels organic, he feels
real, he feels like flesh.  It's damn good
characterization and it all comes together: synthesis.

And Martin is fully capable of that, and of clever
plotting, and great ideas.  And I think that's why I
chide him so much, because I'd like to see more of it.

The immediate pleasure has its place, and I like to
read his breezy, funny LNH material.

But I'm not sure if the immediate pleasure is such a
great fit for this particular series.  He's trying to
do so much more with Superfreaks that when he
succeeds, it seems to be more in spite of his need to
give/ experience immediate pleasure than because of

I'd really like to see him improve his execution to
match his ambition.


Silver Age Superfreaks # 1-4, by Martin Phipps 

My relationship with Martin Phipps's Superfreaks
universe has been largely an ambivalent one: sometimes
 I love it and sometimes I don't.  And the same things
 I love with one breath I don't in the next.  It's
part  and parcel of what makes Superfreaks,
For the uninitiated, Superfreaks is centered on 
conventional law enforcement in a world of 
superheroes.  Oftentimes, the crimes being 
investigated by the detectives, forensics specialists,
 and district attorneys involve these superheroes-- or
 other genre elements-- directly.
The series is very idea driven: what would be the 
consequences of sex with Superman?, would 
commercially-created clones be considered human 
beings?, is the teen sidekick really a case of child 

The biggest idea of them all is the central and 
somewhat obvious conflict between conventional law 
enforcement and the superheroes themselves. 
Though the series has had some decent 
characterization, particularly with some of the 
detectives, it's really the ideas that take 
precedence.  So much so that Martin never tries to 
disguise the archetypes he's playing off of, going 
with generic or punny names for "his" versions.  For 
example, The Joker becomes The Kidder; Wonder Woman 
becomes Amazing Woman; Green Arrow becomes The Archer,
et cetera. 

This is something that always irked me, and probably 
always will.  Sometimes, the ideas are so good and 
entertaining that I can set this reservation aside. 
Martin himself has said more than once that the series
 is really a parody, though I find it to be strangely 
absent of jokes. 

So, like I said, I'm ambivalent.  I think the best 
stories in the series have been those that make the 
most of its premise: clever real-world extrapolations 
of crazy genre ideas, with a focus on law enforcement.
Those stories in which the extrapolations are less
clever are kind of mediocre; the stories that shift
the focus from detectives to superheroes don't seem to
have the same sparkle. 

And I think that comes down to the fact that it is 
much easier to write about superheroes than to write 
about "real" people.  The genre is so immense and 
pregnant with possibilities that even a bad superhero 
story isn't all that bad. But when you're working
exclusively with "normal" people, even in the genre,
it requires more of a writer to keep it interesting. 
I think the stories that stay true to Martin's premise
 are, therefore, inherently more interesting than
those that don't.   

Silver Age Superfreaks does not stay true to this 
premise.  The focus is split pretty evenly between the
 heroes and the detectives.  There's not really much
by way of interesting twists on genre elements. 

Granted, that's not the point of this story. This 
story is a prequel to the series proper, and so it 
serves as a sort of Phantom Menace story.  That is, it
 shows how the various elements of the fictional 
universe came to be, how these characters got where
they were, et cetera. 

I'm not a huge fan of this kind of story, if only 
because it's dependent on the unanswered questions of 
rabid fanboys.  The fact is, the Superfreaks series 
doesn't have that many unanswered questions.  There's 
no real curiosity, at least on my part, as to how Alan
 Russell got promoted to his current position or how
the Extreme Force was formed. 

Now, there is another approach to this story-- another
 reason to tell it-- and that's to set up elements for
 as-yet-untold stories.  To not only explain things
for  the series it is serving as prequel to, but to
set up  events that will come to fruition in the
stories after. 

And, perhaps, Silver Age Superfreaks sets up some 
material that will be explored in Martin's new series,
Superfreaks Season 2.  But I can't see any loose 
threads in this miniseries; everything seems to tie in
pretty nicely with Superfreaks proper.
I was not only disappointed to see that the promise of
 the premise was not delivered on, but that the
promise  of the title was squandered as well: there
wasn't  really much that was Silver Agey about Silver
Age Superfreaks. 

Still, it has its moments.  I did enjoy the formation 
of the Extreme Force Six, even if I wasn't
particularly interested in how it was formed in the 
first place.  I thought it was funny how Extreme,
Martin's Superman analogue, kept saying the very idea
of him serving on such a team was ridiculous. 

I wish there had been more extrapolation like that,
and I wish it had been centered on the police.  Ah

The story moves quickly enough, as Martin's often do, 
and people who are more enamored with the universe 
than I am will probably find it to be a bit of 
fan-service, so to speak.  Kind of like those episodes
 of Transformers where we got flashbacks to life on
I was going to say something about Martin's overuse of
 colons and semicolons, especially in the first couple
 of issues, but I am fully aware that I have no room
to talk. :- ) 


Lady Lawful and Doctor Developer # 1, Andrew Burton

A good vignette is hard to write, and the form is
often overlooked in favour of its longer, plot-based
cousin.  I think this stems from the fact that a
badly-written plot-based story is generally more
enjoyable than a badly-written vignette, if only
because even the worst plot- based story still has,
well, a plot; plot being the thing that, ideally, a
vignette by its very definition lacks.

But that doesn't mean a vignette lacks structure; the
best vignettes are marvels of economy and construction
that best exemplify Strunk's rule that, just as a
machine has no unnecessary parts and a drawing no
unnecessary lines, a sentence has no unnecessary
words.  Every word counts, every gesture tells.

And one of the best vignettes I've come across in a
long time is the first issue of LADY LAWFUL AND DOCTOR
DEVELOPER by Andrew Burton.  At first glance, it's
just a conversation between the two characters-- a
superheroine and a "quasi-reformed supervillain"-- a
form that vignettes often take.  But Burton does not
fall for the two common mistakes of "two characters
talking vignettes".

One common mistake is to have the characters talking
about nothing at all-- or, worse, talking about pop
culture (shudder).  Generally, when writers are faced
with the challenge of a "plotless" story, of capturing
a moment, they go for the most mundane thing
possible-- and generally, the end result is boring and
pointless, usually telling us nothing about the

The other extreme (and the second common mistake) is
to have the characters talking about something big and
huge.  This is extremely popular among "serious"
students in high school creative writing classes-- the
big revelation, for example, that Josie cheated on Sam
or that Sam has AIDS.  Really, all this is is a
plotted story with the first two acts lopped off.  It
usually feels unfinished and, to be blunt, more than a
little "emo".

The perfect balance, then, is to have the characters
talk about something that's mundane enough to qualify
as "plotless" and yet different enough to be
interesting.  Or, to put it better, to have the
characters talk about something that is indicative of
the characters.

Doctor Developer hates going to the Uberstore with
Lady Lawful because every time he sees the swing sets,
he think of ways to use them to create death traps. 
This is a memorable detail, and also remarkable
because it reveals--

1) that he feels guilt/embarrassment at the whole
deathtrap thing(especially in light of his romantic
2) that he's turned on by it (there's a sexual subtext
to the deathtrap)
3) that he's obsessive (creating an entire CD-rom full
of trap designs solely from swing sets)

-- within the space of a few lines of dialogue and a
couple of narrative asides.  This also comes out of a
structural device-- L.L. asking him to tell her
something about himself.  This structural device comes
back when he asks her to do the same.  But rather than
simply have her say some random thing, Burton ties it
back to Doctor Developer's revelation:

>      "I'm not sure if this counts, but okay."  She 
> looks away, but not before
> I can see a slight blush in her cheeks.  "I've been
> thinking, since mom and
> dad moved, and I've got an entire house now, I 
>should really start acting
> like a homeowner.  Fix it up a bit, you know."
>      "What did you have in mind?"
>      She turns back to look at me.  The twinkle in 
> her eye is still there,
> but there's something else about her look.  I had 
> seen that look before.
> "Just normal homey stuff.  Maybe a swing in the 
> back yard.  What do you
> think?"
>      What do I think?  I think I'm an as much a bad 
> influence on Jenny as she
> is a good influence on me.

Which reveals, in its way, that she's as into it as he
is.  It's a nice glimpse not only into their
relationship, but also into her personality.  She does
not hit him with a "fact" but rather an invitation--
and thus what she says is, in its own way, more
revelatory than his answer.

It's also a nice "pip", or twist, or zinger, or
whatever you crazy kids call it these days.  It gives
the structure an ending and contains within it a
shifting sense of sexiness, humour, and, in a strange
way, domestic bliss.  What more can one ask for in
less than a hundred lines?

The key here is that Andrew not only understands his
characters, but also structure-- and that you really
need to have a firm grasp of both in order to pull off
the vignette form.  More-so, perhaps, than in a
plot-based story-- for here the plot must appear to
not be a plot, the structure must appear to not be a

And with this issue, on the whole, he succeeds in
taming this most elusive of forms.


Derek Radner's Private Journal # 1, by Dave Van

Dvandom did it again," I said more than once while I
was reading this. 

To give that line a bit of context, you have to
understand that  Dvandom has a history of coming up
with really great ideas at about  the same time that I
come up with the same idea.  The difference is,  of
course, that he posts the stories resulting from his
ideas when  I've barely started to write mine. 

When I was younger and more petulant, I used to throw
a public fit  when this happened.  Not because I was
_angry_ about it, exactly-- but  because I just
couldn't believe he had beat me to it.  I think what
it  really was, though, was a understanding that what
he had done with the  idea was far beyond anything I
would have thought to attempt.  It wasn't that he had
done it first, but that he had done it *better*, and
so there wasn't any real reason for me to try. :-) 

And I find the circumstances are repeating themselves
here, and I have never been more overjoyed.  DEREK
RADNER'S PRIVATE JOURNAL is wonderful and compelling,
equally rich in both philosophy and characterization. 
Notations of margin scrawl and underlined words  add a
great deal of emphasis and complexity to what might
have been a rather staid formal conceit. 

It's very interesting to see the beginnings of the
trains of thought  and ideas by which a rationale and
intelligent person becomes a  villain-- eventually
calling themselves a villain by name and without 
shame but with a sort of pride.  And that was also the
basic thesis  for a Eightfold series called DINGHAM,
which is to be the sequel to  SPEAK!, which I have
been looking forward to writing-- and thinking about--
for several months. 

But, like I said above, Dvandom has done it again:
he's taken that idea, and he's done more with it in
his initial outing than I had ever  aspired to do with
my entire series.  And, like I said above, I have 
never been more overjoyed.  Because this means I've
got to work ten times as hard if I want DINGHAM to
stand out. 

I look at it as a sort of challenge, and that's one of
the reasons why  I've always been a Dvandom fan since
I joined RACC.  It's not his style of writing per se,
or his plotting, or even his characterization or his
ideas-- it's the overall _quality_ of his writing, the
 intangible "good"-ness of it.  By being a damn good
writer, Dvandom  challenges the rest of us to be damn
good writers as well.  And I have  a feeling that
Dvandom's going to be doing that again, too. 


Bob and Charlie # 2, by Tim Munn

I'm not particularly fond of Nietzsche, and even less
fond of quoting him, but there's something he said
that I feel might be appropriate in a discussion,
however brief, of the second BOB AND CHARLIE-- and,
perhaps (though it is too soon to tell) the series as
a whole-- and that's this:

"That for which we find words is something already
dead in our hearts.  There is always a kind of
contempt in the act of speaking."

I think this quotation has less to do with the act of
speaking or even writing than it does with an act of
criticism: once you've dissected a work of art, once
you've figured it out and named it-- once you've found
the words-- there's no life left in it.  I'm not
saying that an act of criticism is inherently
articidal, or that it should be avoided.  Truly great
works support multivariate interpretations.  They can
serve as an impetus for hours of discussions and reams
of doctoral dissertations without exhausting the work
itself.  Because they are such wellsprings for
critical thought, The Greats are strangely rendered
immune to evisceration; the _experience_ remains
unmolested. You'll never talk Proust or Shakespeare to
death.  Ditto for Lee & Ditko, Lee & Kirby, and
Kirby's Fourth World, for that matter.

But there's another kind of work-- another standard,
if you will-- that does not so much support
multivariate interpretations as it rejects all
interpretations and, in fact, even the idea of
interpretation.  I'm talking about Zippy the Pinhead,
or the Angriest Dog In the World; I'm talking about
Girls on Beach Blankets and Tales from the
Gutterground, about a Journey Through the Mind of the
Seemingly Unstable, and about Bob and Charlie.

Or rather, I'm not talking about them, because they
exist to defy such paltry things as essays and
explorations of theme and style.  No matter how much
one hems and haws and guffaws, one really can't say
anything meaningful about the ineffable.  Any words I
have are dead already, while these stories-- existing
not so much as plot or characters or even sentences
but rather experiences, as forces of nature with their
teeth bared-- are still very much alive.

And that's what makes them remarkable: they get under
our skin and nestle in our hearts like insidious
little worms and they stay there, they stay there and
they twist inside us like the most loving knives
possible, and no matter how much we try to explain
them away, they remain, haunting and pure and

I'm not saying that this makes the work "good" or
"bad" and, in truth, those labels don't really matter.
 Value judgments imply a set of values, and they
really don't apply in this surreal type of fiction. If
you were to judge a film like A Hard Day's Night by
the standards of conventional filmmaking-- by the
"values" of quality cinema-- it would be found
lacking.  That's not because the film is anything less
than remarkable; it's because it's a whole 'nother
kind of film.

Reviewing a story like this is kind of like being an
orange expert being called in to evaluate a polar
bear.  Comparing it to one's area of expertise--
oranges-- would be silly and futile.  At best, our
orange expert can be succinct-- "That is a polar
bear".  Or one could talk around it, never actually
addressing the polar bear but rather discussing the
difficulty an orange expert faces in polar bear

That being said, this orange expert is glad that polar
bears exist, and encourages those authors specializing
in polar bears to keep making them.  The fact that I
have nothing to say means that I've yet to find a flaw
in the work.  That could be because the work is
flawless, or it could be because I'm still trying to
squeeze the polar bear to check for ripeness.


Golding # 10, by Jochem Vandersteen

One question I've often debated with my friends is, is
it fair to criticize something for being the thing
that it is?

For example, John Carpenter's Halloween is a
horror/thriller/slasher film.  Is it fair to criticize
it for its underdeveloped characters? Is it fair to
criticize a superhero story for having capes and
tights and villains and secret identities?

Depending really on which specific example we're
discussing and the mood I'm in, my answer varies.  And
so, as you can see, I'm kinda ambivalent about it.

Which brings us to this issue of Godling.  Not that
I'm ambivalent about the story itself, per se-- I love
it, as I've loved every issue of Godling.

I love Godling because it's the only series on RACC
that really taps into the Golden Age of Comics, into
wish fulfillment and icons.  It's very appealing at
that primitive level, as forceful and strong and heady
as the most feverish fever dreams of my childhood. 
The stories move at a clipped, fast pace, rushing
along with enthusiasm and glee.

There's not much grace to them, but grace is not
required or really wanted.  Godling is whatever
precisely because it is what it is, and I love it for
the same qualities that might turn others off.

At the same time, a couple things in this issue kinda
stuck out and bothered me.

The first one stuck out, I think, because it was right
at the beginning of the story.

> Godling stared into the black hole of the 9mm 
> pistol raised at him.
> Although with his powers he had no real reason to 
> fear it, he did
> respect it.

Okay, but why does he respect it?  The end of that
sentence, "he did respect it", implies that the next
will provide the answer.

> He'd witnessed three thugs ready to set flame to 
> one of
> their enemies and had already taken out one of 
> them.

Is that the answer?  I'm not really sure.  It's a
little too vague.

The thing is, if this passage happened in the middle
of the story, I'd probably overlook it; once I'm in a
Golden Age kind of mind-set, I'm completely gelling
with Golding and his world.

Let me try to explain what I'm talking about.

There's a Captain America story from the forties, one
of the original Simon-Kirby Cap & Bucky stories, where
Cap and Bucky leave Camp LeHigh to go fight the
villains that reside in a German encampment.  Now,
here's the thing:

Camp LeHigh is in America.  Apparently, there is a
German enemy camp within walking distance of an
American base, in 1941, during World War II.

But here's the thing: when I'm in Golden-Age Mode, I
don't care about the geography of it.  I just enjoy
seeing Cap kick some ass.

And that's the thing.  The Golden Age, like Beowulf or
other works of early literature (almost Ur literature,
in a way), doesn't give two shits about believability,
structure, character development, and realism.  It
just wants to entertain you, it just wants to drive
you wild with excitement.

And, if you're responsive to it, it does.  At least
for me.

Godling is like a Golden Age comic in that way, and I
mean that as the highest of compliments.

But, when you're faced with a discrepancy right at the
beginning of the story, before you've clicked with it,
it calls attention to itself.

But, again, I'm not sure if it's fair to criticize
Godling for being what it is.  The very thing that
bothers me about that first sentence is tied,
inexorably, to the very things that turn me on about
the series.

At the same time, Jochem expands on his format, style,
and tone, with each and every issue.  He pushes it to
its limits, in new and interesting ways, ways that are
perhaps not apparent at first.  But, y'know, that's
the Golden Age too.

If the Silver Age was a time of synthesis, the Golden
Age was a time of discovery.  The Silver Age merely
looked at the experiments of the Golden Age, at what
worked and what didn't, and brought it together into
an easily-digestible and very commercial whole.

On the one hand, this made for "better" stories, in
the traditional, literary sense of the word; on the
other hand, it kinda stamped out the individuality
that marked the best early comics.  And so I can say
that Godling is one of the most individualistic works
on RACC.


Sea Monkeys II, by Mitchell Crouch

Randomness and spontaneity can be potent tools for the
comedic writer.  If Edward de Bono is correct is his
assertion that laughter occurs when patterns are
broken, then surreal, random humour is closer  to
"pure" funny than more predictable fare.

Young Mitchell Crouch, who is exceedingly talented
(especially for someone just starting out!), has
written a fair number of stories in  this vein.  The
first Sea Monkeys story, I think, worked rather well. 
It had a lot of charm to spare and was very amusing. 
I'm not sure if this second one works so well-- as a

Because there's two kinds of randomness, of
spontaneity.  To illustrate the difference between the
two, imagine that you are  present at a children's
birthday party.  The clown is late, and may not make
it all.  The mother of the child asks you to try and
entertain the children.

And so, you try your best, telling jokes as they occur
to you, working  your way through the crowd, and
pulling coins out from behind people's ears.  The
children are delighted.  They're not sure what you're
going  to do next and, true, neither do you, but
you're adapting fairly  well.  The afternoon is full
of surprises and joy.  That's good random, good

Then the clown shows up.

He's very, very drunk.  The things he says are
nonsensical and a little frightening.  He punches
children in the face and gropes their parents.  Then
he falls asleep on the table.

And then he farts.

That's not good random.  One, because it is
unpleasant, and two, because the clown has no idea
what he's doing.

And that's the difference.  Good random is, the
writer's making this up as he goes along, isn't he
clever?, I wasn't expecting that!

And then bad random is, the writer has no idea what
he's doing.

And, I'm not saying that Mitchell doesn't know what
he's doing-- only that randomness for its own sake is
not necessarily charming or entertaining.

I feel that much of the second Sea Monkeys is less
about Mitchell writing by the seat of his pants and
taking us a voyage of discovery, to see what's next,
and more about Mitchell not quite knowing where he's
going with it.  And then he kills off his characters,
a sure sign that the story has overstayed its welcome
in its author's eyes.

There were a couple moments that were pretty terrific;
the origin of Marvin the Kid Macaw is absolutely
_wonderful_, very cleverly executed, and completely
good random and LNHy.  And the sprouting of wings by
the two apes is equally amusing.  But by the time they
start falling, I got the feeling that Mitchell was
growing tired of it.  I think on a whole the ending
was unsatisfactory.

And perhaps that's another secret of Good Randomness:
it usually doesn't result in death (at least for the
main characters; children murdered by Girls on Beach
Blankets are a-okay).  Good Randomness is about
discovery, and adventure, and all sorts of positive,
"up" emotions.

And, for me, the end of this story, and much of the
story as a whole, wasn't very "up" or as funny.


Tales from the Gutterground # 2, by Arthur Spitzer

Wow.  Huh.

I really want to say something intelligent; this story
is exactly the kind of story that cries out for
discussion.  The rhythmic use of words, the way the
creepy sexual subtext is suggested, the pure visceral
wonked-out impact of this-- it's like poetry or film. 
It's exactly the kind of thing I like to prat on

But in this case there's just too much of it, and I
think Arthur has created in this issue what his
villain had attempted to create: a perfect story.  A
story that you want to talk about, but that you can't,
because to talk about it would ruin it, would destroy
that special intangible quality.  A story that
operates not on an intellectual, detached level, but
rather on an instinctual one.  This is not a story
that should be torn apart, but rather one that just
must be experienced.

After experiencing it, I'm left to ponder not an
intellectual or thematic issue, but rather an
emotional one: I'm left to figure out an emotional
state that I don't have an easy name for, that can't
be sorted out.  It's exhilarating and terrifying at
the same time. Exactly the thing that every writer or
filmmaker hopes to one day achieve, and is most often
achieved when working within the language of dreams
and hallucinations.  Emotion freed from logic.  Terror
freed from flesh.

I've always liked Arthur's work, and I've especially
enjoyed his more recent surreal phase.  But perhaps
I've always overlooked him, because it never occurred
to me before now that he might, perhaps-- and I say
this without hyperbole-- be the closest thing to a
genius that RACC has ever seen.


America's Next Top Porn Star, by Martin Phipps

This is at once the oddest and yet the most typical
work in the Phipps oeuvre.  It's odd because it's in a
genre-- pornography-- that, as far as I'm aware,
Phipps has not worked in before; however, it shares
many of the same qualities that one has come to
associate with his work in the LNH and Superfreaks

Primary among these is a very stream-lined approach to
narrative and the use of character types: both very
vital to the comedic work that makes up the bulk of
Phipps's writing.  And though there are certainly some
satirical elements within "America's Next Top Porn
Star", on a whole it can be classified unabashedly as
a pornographic work, and the synthesis between style
and genre leaves us to discover exactly what kind of
pornography it is.

I would say that it is very similar, on a structural
level, to the works of De Sade, particularly the 120
Days of Sodom; in both works, there are a large number
of largely interchangeable protagonists.  More
tellingly, both works could be classified as a
"pornography of novelty".  Rather than spend time on
any one scene and position, developing the emotional
and psychosexual responses of the protagonists until
climax, both works are concerned instead with
orchestration, design, and architecture: a concrete
image of these bodies connected in this way with those
bodies.  Once the basic image, and the novelty of that
image, is exhausted, it's time to move on to the next

The problem in such a case is, of course, what to do
with the climax; how to build this multitude of erotic
incidents to its apex.  Without the conventional modes
for ratcheting up suspense-- character, theme, or
heightened stakes-- it becomes difficult to find a
true structure.

It is here that the similarities between De Sade and
Phipps end; De Sade not only was a master
structuralist, working out a complex series of
debaucheries, but also possessed of a devilish
imagination. Thankfully, Phipps's story does not end
in the orgy of terror and bloodshed that is the
logical and grotesque extrapolation of De Sade's

However, it still leaves the story wanting of a
climax, and is unsatisfying as a masturbatory aid
insomuch as no scene is really allowed to develop
beyond a brief image: one must remember that the
pornography of novelty is also that of the short
attention span.


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