[REVIEW/ACRA] End of Month Reviews #41 - May 2007 [spoilers]

Saxon Brenton saxonbrenton at hotmail.com
Tue Jun 12 19:03:19 PDT 2007

[REVIEW/ACRA] End of Month Reviews #41 - May 2007 [spoilers]

Reviewed This Issue:
      Alt.stralian Yarns #11-12  [LNH]
      Bob And Charlie #2  [BP]
      Coherent Super Stories #1-2  [ASH]
      Jolt City #8  [8Fold]
      Lady Lawful And Doctor Developer #2-3  [ASH]
      Superfreaks Season 2 #11-12  [Superfreaks]

Also posted:
      Academy Of Super-Heroes #83  [ASH]

     Department of corrections: It has been pointed out to me that,
contrary to what I wrote in last issue's introduction, that Dave only
posted two issues of _Academy Of Super-Heroes_ in April and that the
third (#83) came out in early May.  Duly noted.  Martin also averred
that although he had written many of the Infinite Leadership Crisis
issues, many of them were far shorter than those of other writers.
Also, that I'd missed _Silver Age Superfreaks_ #5.  Duly noted.
    Meanwhile the third (June 2007) issue of _Cheshire Crossing_ is
out: www.cheshirecrossing.net (Captain Hook and the Wicked Witch of the
West hatch a Cunning Plan).
     Spoilers below:


Alt.stralian Yarns #11-12
'Q3 - The Path To Greatness'  and
'Q4 - Of Sidekicks, Team-Mates, And Flamingos'
A Legion Of Net.Heroes [LNH] series
by Mitchell Crouch

     Oh.  So that's how Obsessive Compulsive Boy's powers work.
Okaaayyy.  This means that the theme of Contempo Weapons Lad (and this
is emphasised in his discussion with Pelican in #12) is that he's one
of those (reasonably) sane heroes surrounded by a bunch of nut cases.
Having a sidekick who can compound this and take advantage of it is a
slight twist on the trope, of course.
     Now, normally a hero of that sort can be expected to go about his
business while boggling at the sheer weirdness or insanity of his
situation.  It's an establish method of developing humour.  To an extent
Contempo Weapons Lad does indeed do this.  He tends to get cranky,
particularly with his fellow net.heroes.  I find myself wondering if
this is how CWLad discovered his powers to use anything as a weapon in
the first place.  However, Tarq also adds an element to Contempo Weapons
Lad that he's usually a perfectly competent hero.  Usually.  On the one
hand he thinks laterally and can make the conventions of superheroing to
his own advantage.  On the other... well, I suppose it's an extrapolation
of the idea that people who dress up in luridly coloured tight fitting
costumes to fight crime cannot be considered fully sane, such that there
are times when Contempo Weapons Lad, going with the flow of superheroing,
does something incredibly stupid.  The assumption that he can survive
jumping off the top of Cent.rec.point Tower because he's a title
character is a case in point.
     This is all greatly amusing old school LNH humour.  But then Tom
Russell and myself have been saying that for ages.  The bit that had me
cackling the most was Looks-Unerringly-Like-James-Cook Lass.  But then,
later, I was drawn up short by the inclusion of the reporter Billy
Hughes.  Really?  Billy Hughes?  As in, the Australian Prime Minister
Billy Hughes?  The schismatic fruitloop Prime Minister Billy Hughes who
was successively a member of four different political parties because
he kept swapping when the one he was currently in wouldn't support him
unreservedly; and who during World War I ran no less than two
plebiscites to endorse conscription, failing both times, and most
spectacularly with the second because he thought the result he wanted
was a forgone conclusion and started making arrangements for conscription
on the day before the vote, thereby pissing off the electorate and
causing the voters to turn against him in a fit of bloodymindedness?
That Billy Hughes?  But as it turned out there where no 'Little Digger'
references in Tarq's story, so I guess it was just a name made up at
random.  Still, for a moment that had me wondering, and it kind of threw
me out of the story.

Bob And Charlie #2
A Boring Productions [BP] series
by Tim Munn

     Intriguing.  With a single sentence at the start of this issue
that describes the end of the fight:
>There was no second wave, which saddened Bob deeply.
Tim manages to convey the fact that Bob isn't fully sane.  From there
almost everything in the rest of the story, which is narrated from
Bob's point of view if not by Bob directly, is thrown into doubt.
     After the fight last issue, Bob watches as a flight of helicopters
Arrives, lead by his purported nemesis General Starkey, to bring him to
Saigon.  Bob reflects that the General is not acting normally, and
wonders if this may be a sign of further deterioration into madness.
Me, I was wondering if this was a sign of Bob projecting his psychosis
onto others.  Still, at the end we get a closing shot of Charlie
fuming, and it would seem that at least part of Bob's paranoia may be
justified.  Clearly, it's going to be a game of untangling exactly where
reality and fantasy, not to mention the facts after they've been mangled
by propaganda, lie.

Coherent Super Stories #1
'Taking Flight'  and  'The View From Here'
An Academy of Super-Heroes [ASH] series
by Dave Van Domelen

     This is amusingly retro, particularly the opening sequence of #1.
Dave decides to play around with some of the super history of the Second
Heroic Age of the ASH setting (ie, before July 1998), and issue 1 shows
us the secret origin of Dragonfly and Ladyhawke.  Basically, Professor
Robert Baines is assigned a lab whose previous incumbent became a super-
villain.  Said lab contained leftover equipment, including an AI robot
which eventually decides to overthrow the tyranny of fleshlings, names
itself Antiochus V and declares war on humanity.  (Long time readers
will recognise that the latter bit is a long standing theme of Dave's,
probably stemming from his Transformers fandom.)  Then through a series
of vignettes we see Baines and his girlfriend Amy Corrigan try out
experimental flying harnesses and develop their super hero identities.
It's basically a we've-got-responsibilities-to-stop-the-bad-guy-but-
along-the-way-isn't-this-superheroing-stuff-COOL! story.
     That vibe follows through into issue 2, which is even more
pronouncedly a collection of vignettes.  Although at least we get to
see Dragonfly and Ladyhawke trounce Antiochus V with a bit of lateral
thinking cleverness, plus their superhero wedding.  You know, the usual
things that highlight that this is a superhero career.  Which got me
     I finished off Austin Grossman's superhero novel _Soon I Will Be
Invincible_ over the weekend of the 9th-10th and decided to tack these
comments onto the already completed paragraphs above.  It occurred to me
while reading SIWBI that writers establishing a new superhero setting
typically try to do so by giving it an appropriately evocative back-
history, and the main way that they do that which I've observed is to
make (often densely packed) references to past superhuman exploits.
SIWBI makes use of this method, as do things like _Astro City_.  But
these aren't the only ways.  There's also the 'show, don't tell' method
which Dvandom uses here, giving out edited highlights.  This is closer
to what traditionally happens with established settings, like the Marvel
or DC universes, where the publishers would show the stories and later
occasionally recap the past events as the situation becomes directly
relevant to what the characters are doing in this month's story.  In
short: an already established setting usually makes nowhere near as many
references to the backhistory as one being created from scratch.
     Each of these three methods has its advantages and disadvantages.
The path of summarising Dragonfly and Ladyhawke's career in vignette
form gives it more immediacy than recalling something in historical
anecdote form lacks, yet at the same time it sacrifices plot, something
that Dave has recognised.  I didn't find the skipping around of plot in
_Coherent Super Stories_ as distracting as I sometimes did the sheer
density of backhistory in SIWBI.  (And, yes, I realise that that is
highly ironic considering some of the laboured info dumps that I've
perpetrated in my own writing.)  Of course, _Soon I Will be Invincible_
is a stand alone novel that needed to add in this backhistory, whereas
ASH is an ongoing shared writer universe that can afford to hold back
in this regard.  Then again, I'm a Dvandom fanboy, so I probably
instinctively cut him more slack.  In either case, I think it's the
case that a prose novel is more intense in it's use of this type of
backhistory exposition than I'm used to from illustrated formats likes
of _Astro City_.
    However, the end comments of issue 2 indicate the Dave himself thinks
that it was a bit light on plot, and will be moving to correct it next
issue.  Given the occasional foreboding comment sprinkled through both
issues so far, I'm anticipating an 'end of the Golden Age' theme.

Jolt City #8
'Panic In A Pretty Box'
An Eightfold [8Fold] series
by Tom Russell

     Oh dear.
     I will cheerfully admit that parts of this story got me all het
up.  It's just that they probably weren't the parts that Tom was
expecting to get people all het up about.
     You see, the story has several scenes with graphic descriptions
of sex acts, such that Tom thought it prudent to post a separate
introductory explanation about its Acraphobe-ness.  Warned by this
preliminary post, I then read through story itself with what in
retrospect may be a too analytical frame of mind.  I just didn't see
it as a big deal.  Well, that's not quite true; on an intellectual level
I can see exactly where Tom is coming from.  But on a visceral level
I found myself cruising through, wondering if there was some way to
heighten the effect - perhaps by differentiated the consensual sex scene
from the rape scene by choosing different words (a formal 'penis' as
opposed to a slangy 'cock' or euphemistic 'male member', for example).
     Then I got to the end of the story, and read something that had me
close to yelling at Green Knight "Have you taken leave of your senses,
man!?"  Which was probably at least part of the point, but we'll get to
that in a moment.
     The plot in brief.  We get a Batman Cold Start with the Green Knight
trying to stop some thieves called the Kabuki Gang, but unfortunately
they're armed with copies of the vibra-jackets that allow them to turn
intangible, so they escape.  Green Knight confers with Dani about how
the use of vibra-jackets is spreading through the criminal element, and
eventually discussion turns to their relationship.  He's still hemming
and hawing with Dani about revealing his true identity of Martin Rock,
and Dani simply turns to sex as an alternative aspect of intimacy.
Their attempt at sex counterpoints the later actions of the Clockwork
Contessa, who lures the Green Knight to her base, captures him and rapes
him with the intention of getting pregnant by him.  Unfortunately, Green
Knight was raped at gunpoint as a child, and so he does not take the
experience well.  This includes refusing to press charges after Dani
rescues him.  Then, later, he meets up with his former employer, Pam
Bierce, and has the intimate relationship of both sex and sharing his
secret identity with her that he could not share with Dani.
     Obviously the poor guy is stressed out from being captured and
used by the Clockwork Contessa.  Nevertheless.  After all the talk in
previous issues about how he's a private person, and the example of the
paranoia about secret identity security he had from his mentor, the
first Green Knight, he goes off and sleeps with his ex-boss and reveals
both his own secret ID and his relationship with his mentor and mentor's
wife (and please, tell me that he didn't mention Ray and Ree Cradle by
     Worse, this does not make for a good comparison with Green Knight's
stated intention to be a positive role model for disposed urban youth.
Here I am not so much talking about the argument of whether it would be
bad PR for him to publicly reveal that he's been raped - although Dani
makes a strong case (and I would add that even though the Contessa was
doing it for the procreation, a lot of rape is about establishing power
relationships via humiliation, so it's important to fight the oppression
- something that Green Knight should know).
     Rather, I'm talking about different ways and means of dealing with
personal problems.  I think what Tom is showing us is the one point in
Green Knight where there's a serious character flaw: trying to be a
competent, in-control person at all times, but not being competent
enough that he's capable of pulling off intimacy with other people, so
instead he keeps his feelings and problems inside, where they build
until he probably does Something Really Stupid.  Green Knight has a
heroic impulse, so if he has to work off anger or despair or whatever
he'll probably just go out and beat up crooks.  Other people mare more
likely to go on a shooting spree.  Green Knight doesn't seem to
appreciate that the problems that he's fighting against are multi-

Lady Lawful And Doctor Developer #2-3
'Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?'  and  'Best Practices'
An Academy of Super-Heroes [ASH] series
by Andrew Burton

     I like Doctor Developer as a character.  Well, okay, I like Lady
Lawful as well - both Lady Lawfuls, in fact - but that's mainly because
they both have quirky senses of humour.  Doctor Developer is quirky as
well, but more importantly from a story telling perspective he fits in
like a square peg in a round hole as he tries to a good person.  Issues
1 and 3 of this series were short vignettes, and while they hinted at
the domesticity of the situation it wasn't until issue two that I began
to get a strong vibe.  And that vibe was: superhero sitcom.
     Jennifer (Lady Lawful II) takes her fiance Cameron (Doctor Developer)
to meet her parents (including her mother who just happens to be the
first lady Lawful).  Cameron is dubious.  Jennifer thinks this is merely
because he's an ex-supervillain.  However, flashback scenes indicate
that Cameron started work of villainous minioning early (introduced to
it my his minion father when he was age five) and thanks to circumstances
that probably count as normal among superhumans got to hold Lady Lawful I
prisoner at age six.  Cue lines like: "I don't know how I could ever
tell her that, apparently, taking Lady Lawfuls hostage is something I've
been doing since I was a kid."  Ha!
     Issue 3 has a brief explanation of how supervillain tech is so
often modular, and why: there's a group of supervillains (which Doctor
Developer was part of) who do oversight on standards.  This is an
amusing conceit, but...  Well, for superhumans who can so often twist
the laws of physics to their antisocial whims, this seems a bit too
practical (ob. Narbonic webcomic: "I don't think you understand the
principle behind *mad* science.")

Superfreaks Season 2 #11-12
`Genesis'  and  `Apocalypse'
A Superfreaks [Superfeaks] series
by Martin Phipps

     Superfreaks continues apace.  There are a few incidents from the
April issues that stick in my mind, such as the way that Super Soldier's
indestructible shield protected his torso from the attack by Fusion but
allowed the rest of him to be disintegrated.  <chuckle>  Not something
that you're ever likely to see happen with Super Soldier's counterpart
Captain America of course, but that simply highlights a fundamental
difference between Martin's _Superfreaks_ series and most other
superhero settings: it's science fiction to their fantasy.
     Allow to explain.  There are a number of definitions that
differentiate science fiction and fantasy.  Recently when I was browsing
the web (on the TV Tropes Wiki pages) I stumbled across this one: that
science fiction is about the social consequences of improbable new
events or technologies, while fanatasy is simply about telling a good
story.  By that definition _Superfreaks_, is science fiction - even more
so the Academy of Super-Heroes universe, which has traditionally been
RACC's front runner in that regard.  It is primarily about the
consequences, usually in legalistic terms, of superhero tropes.
     Another thing that stuck in my mind from April is that, during the
kerfuffle over the use of an extradimensional prison by Extreme Force
Six, that they could have made things so much easier for themselves if
they had just made their processes transparent.  As in, sure, lock up
the supervillains in a uber-secure prison, but make sure that justice
is not only done, but is seen to be done.  This, of course, is a been
an important Real Life concern for quite some time now, but the theme
is so obviously intrinsic to the premise of this series.
     But enough with the waffle predicated on the fact that I couldn't
get around to writing a review of _Superfreaks_ last month.  In issue 11
daemon hunter Ethan Boyle falls afoul of a frame up, as the possessing
entity that he's pursuing kills the child that it had been inhabiting.
You can imagine what sort of complications that attacks on intangible
creatures that possess people and cause changes in personality would
cause for psychiatric, religious and law enforcement agencies, but
somewhat disappointingly this conundrum is bypassed because the
Pepperton police have contact with an occult expert (Professor Stomper)
who is able to vouch for the Boyle's activities, and the story turns
into an occult chase story.
     But then in issue 12 Edward Goodhead Jr puts into motion a plan
against superheroes.  His father was killed by Arrow Boy, and with the
resources of the partially criminal organisation that he's inherited
Goodhead arranges for an experimental formula to give him powers.  After
a short fight with Extreme, Goodhead is in turn possessed by the daemon
from issue 11, and goes on another rampage before (apparently) getting
both itself and Goodhead destroyed.  Ouch.  Now that's a complicated
Origin to get bitten by.
     In any case, it's only then that we see an inquest that could pass
judgement on the plausibility of daemons and of hunting them for the
public good.  However, the legal system seems rather blase in this case,
and sticks to whether or not Goodhead was indeed possessed and thus
whether Extreme was justified in destroying the man.  This is especially
so when we compare it to the way the clone rights subject was dealt with
in the first _Superfreaks_ series.  After all, cloning was something
that society could see happening right under its nose, whereas the
existence of deamons and the people who hunt them would be expected
to be treated as a myth or urban legend or possibly even extremist
religious dogmatism.  I would have expected a bit more comment along
the lines of "You must be joking" during the inquest.

Saxon Brenton   University of Technology, city library, Sydney Australia
     saxon.brenton at uts.edu.au
The Eyrie Archives of Russ Allbery which collect the online superhero
fiction of the rec.arts.comics.creative newsgroup can be found at:

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