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

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Sun Jul 29 20:19:06 PDT 2007

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.

I like my police procedurals to play by the rules.  I like to have all
the information that the detective has.  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.

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.  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.

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.

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.)  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.

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

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.

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.

Off to dig up my old Encyclopedia Browns... and maybe some Trixie


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