REVIEWS: Russell's Reviews Volume One # 14
milos_parker at yahoo.com
Sat Apr 12 21:32:30 PDT 2008
I'm running out of clever openers for
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/____________/ /__ | / / /__ | //__ VOL. 1
/ \ /___ |/ / /___ |/\/___/ NO. 14
SERIES' # 1 [APR 3], Rinehart
Regular readers will note that I often blather on
about how episodes in serial literature should, to
some degree, stand on their own. This means not only
that they should be reasonably accessible-- i.e., that
a new reader can more-or-less get the gist of what's
going on-- but that they also provide satisfaction--
i.e., that the reader (new or otherwise) can come away
from that installment with the sense that the story
they just read was in some way complete, that there is
more to say about it than, "a bunch of stuff happened,
just like in the last issue, and I bet a bunch of
stuff will happen in the next issue too". As I've
taken some pains to express, this completeness need
not necessarily mean that there is a tightly-plotted
three-act structure in evidence, only that something
hold it all together.
This all-important sense of cohesiveness-- more
important, in fact, when working with a sub-plot heavy
series-- can be conjured up in many different ways.
The easiest way is to have one character's arc-- large
or small in scope-- develop over the course of the
issue; perhaps he reaches a major decision, or the
reader comes to understand some facet of his
character. Intercutting this with the various
sub-plots, which can then proceed at an incremental
pace, and you're able to develop several threads while
still providing a sense of cohesion.
It's trickier to provide cohesion along stylistic
or thematic lines, and so I'm very thankful to James
Rinehart for SERIES' # 1, which provides an
interesting example of thematic unity.
The storyline fractured, both temporally and
spatially, with each of this issue's six scenes taking
place in a different time period and centered on
different people. In a response to the latest issue
of Russell's Reviews (this review being a carry-over
from late last week), Mr. Rinehart said that
"The jumping around probably can't be helped for
another ep or two, but I intend to try to streamline
as soon as I possibly can. Despite the dates, the
plots are somewhat in parallel at the moment."
And I have to say that I don't really mind the jumping
around, exactly-- only that it required a more careful
reading than the time available to me allowed. In
fact, I think it's quite ambitious, and I fully
support and advocate ambition when an author has
proven himself capable.
The first scene depicts the birth of a child into a
super-powered (or guyed?) family in 2000; the second,
taking place in 1999, finds a powerful child leaving a
presumably criminal father to learn about doing good
from a woman living in a mirror; an episode in 2015
revolves around the parentage and future of a young
Superguy-to-be; 1997 finds us in a bar, eavesdropping
on two shady individuals as one of them proposes that
he impregnate the other; 1998 immerses us in the
deliciously nerdy and relatively low-tech era of
text-based MUDs before they gave way to the MMORPG,
and details the accidental creation of an android; the
issue wraps up with an appearance by Dustin Estranger,
who we met in the zeroth issue.
And I know that, in the best serial fashion, all
these disparate threads and timelines will come
crashing together, but I'm currently less interested
in the connections that will become evident in the
future than I am in the connections present right
now-- namely, the thematic ones. Each of these scenes
center upon birth, upon children and their parents,
upon legacies and futures. This theme is echoed by
the title, "Beginnings", and by the Journey lyrics
that headline the issue-- and so I think this was a
conscious decision on Mr. Rinehart's part and not just
me reading into things. (If that's not the case
though, James, feel free to correct me.)
In the end, is the issue "satisfying" and
"accessible"? Does it stand on its own?
Well, yes and no. Reading carefully, and going in
with the mindset that one thing isn't going to link up
to another-- at least plot-wise-- one can more or less
figure out what's going on. A few times I noticed
that he dropped a word in a sentence, which made that
sentence harder to follow. I know that I do the same
thing myself, with basically the same results.
Generally, though, I would say that it's accessible
and coherent, and that the thematic glue does provide
some satisfaction on a cohesive level. It's a theme,
perhaps, that warrants a deeper exploration-- while
it's present here, and noticeable, I still wish there
was more of it-- and I have a feeling we'll be getting
just that as SERIES' continues.
WHAT'S IN A NAME DEPARTMENT
Most titles on RACC tend to be pretty
straightforward. LIMP-ASPARAGUS LAD is about
Limp-Asparagus Lad and his friends; JOLT CITY takes
place in that locale; SUPERFREAKS details the
adventures of several very kinky girls (the kind you
don't bring home to mother).
But I'm not sure what, exactly, SERIES' is about,
as a title, and I'm dying to find out why. Well, not
dying. My desire to know this isn't cancerous or
anything. But I'd still like to know what
significance-- if any-- the title has.
CONCLAVE OF SUPER-VILLAINS ANNUAL # 2 [APR 7], Van
Domelen, Pi, and Burton
Why did Derek "Triton" Radner win favourite
villain/antagonist at this year's RACCies? The short
answer is that the majority of people vote for him,
but this 1,274 line opus might very well serve as the
long answer. True, this story didn't appear until
just a few days ago, but everything that makes Triton
an interesting and fun character is on display here.
Derek is good at manipulating people while letting
them know they're being manipulated, and that's a
skill even Shakespeare's Richard would envy (the
third, of course; Shakespeare's second was what we
would nowadays politely term a fucktard). His ability
to plan, to not only see things in long-term but also
to bide his time accordingly, his brazenness, his
intellect, and above all else, his ability to get away
with it-- all these things make him a joy to spend
time with, on the page if not, perhaps, in person.
And these qualities are thrown into rather sharp
relief by the focus he's been given as of late. The
ASH universe, as I understand it as a still relatively
new reader, is very much an ensemble place, a place of
various factions, characters, and politics. And while
certain personalities certainly stand out, it's much
easier to do so when the focus is somewhat narrowed.
In the other parts of the "Coming Home" arc over in
the flagship ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES title, the
presence of only two main characters (and fairly
linear plots) allowed insights into those two
characters that may have been missed among the
hurly-burly of other plot threads and characters.
In DEREK RADNER'S PRIVATE JOURNAL, the essential
Tritonness of Triton is very much on display, as it is
here and, to a lesser degree, as it was in the other
parts of "Coming Home"-- for even though he was absent
from those pages, he was still very much the focus of
every worry and many conversations between JakZak and
Perhaps more importantly, in this storyline, even
if he didn't initiate the timeline troubles created by
the Impossible Five, Triton's is still the personality
that drives the plot; the character all the others
talk about and are reacting to, the one who takes the
various threads at play here and uses them to his own
ends and comes out on top.
That's why he won favourite antagonist, and that's
why I'm looking at the ASH universe with renewed
UNBEATABLE [APR 8], Burton
Cute. Very cute.
WHAT? YOU WANT MORE?
It was very, very, very cute. Very funny, highly
entertaining-- comedy coming out of characterization,
comedy that's never mean but loves its characters.
All strong points you can find if you read Mr.
Burton's LADY LAWFUL AND DOCTOR DEVELOPER, which I
DEREK RADNER'S PRIVATE JOURNAL # 5 [APR 9], Van
This particular installment was probably the
funniest and the freshest yet. There's always been
some dark comedy present in Derek's monologues on
various aspects of morality and time travel. But
here, with a less weighty subject-- a codename--
there's more opportunity for his wit: at times caustic
(his dislike of the name "JakZak", which, I gotta say,
is a name that bugs me too) and at times silly (the
described Zeus cartoon in the margin).
It's very entertaining, and like the Evil Overlord
list that Dave mentions in his author's notes, I think
it's required reading for those trying to come up with
SPEAKING OF "KAPITAN KIELBASA" DEPARTMENT
A cursory google search does not reveal any
appearances of this character previously in the ASH
Please. Please. Please.
Somebody write this series. Please.
Dave? Andy? ... Tony? Please?
SPEAKING OF "SPROINGER" DEPARTMENT
Reminds me of my character Sproing. I probably
should finish writing THE NOSTALGICS sometime this
SPEAKING OF "SLOWPOKE" DEPARTMENT
Saxon mentions the character of Slowpoke in his
response to DRPJ # 5. In case anyone is wondering who
Slowpoke is, he's a character in Saxon's series for
the Eightfold Universe.
Saxon's first issue will probably be done sometime
before I finish THE NOSTALGICS. :-)
SPORKMAN # 20 [APR 10], Fishbone
If "Lemurs on a Dirigible" was mostly about
Mickey's future, "Dillweed City Blues", of which this
was the sixth chapter, is very much about his past.
Flashbacks abound from Fishbone's earlier Superguy
series, PRETEEN PATROL, as well as anxieties regarding
his father's opinion of him.
This particular issue gives us a little insight
into cousin Astatine-- a cause of angst for Mickey--
but the picture is still a bit fuzzy for this new
reader. We are told, for example, that she has
powers-- deus ex machina level powers-- but I don't
believe we've been told precisely what those powers
DEPARTMENT OF NERFING
"Why? What are we going to do tomorrow night,
Brain? Give hickory-smoked sausages to malnourished
children in Africa?"
"No, Pinkie. The same thing we do every night:
NO, NOT NARF. I SAID NERF! NERF!
In his author's notes for this issue, Greg notes
that he misses have Astatine in the story; "her deus
ex machina qualities made it hard to put other
characters around her into plausible danger." And he
hits upon one of the central problems facing any
writer working in a superhero universe-- namely, what
to do with a character who is too powerful.
Power is one of the things that drives the genre,
not only in the pure Wish Fulfillment sense that
started it all in the Golden Age, but also in the
sense that it drives the imagination. Imagination,
and the accompanying creation of new and perhaps at
times bizarre ideas (The Black Racer! Matter-Eater
Lad! Superman!), and new and bizarre spins on those
ideas, are one of the main attractions of the
The appeal of Superman, for example, lies in his
vast array of powers, skills, and abilities. Less
than his personality, which has been to some degree
more mutable than that of, say, Batman, Superman is
defined by those abilities.
(I will say that I think he's actually defined more
by the Superman Universe: the Fortress of Solitude
with the giant yellow key, the Bottle City of Kandor,
and luscious ladies such as Lois Lane, Lori Lemaris,
Lyla Lerrol and Sally Selwyn-- the sweetheart that
Superman forgot!-- but that's a discussion for a whole
Superman can fly and he has invulnerable skin and
he has X-Ray vision and heat vision-- sure, we all
know those standards. But he's also super-fast: so
fast he can appear to be in two places at once. He's
a super-hypnotist as well as a super-ventriloquist.
He can travel through time.
(The one moment I can really remember from any of
the old Superfriends cartoons was when, for some
reason, our heroes had to travel backwards in time.
And the narrator just says, "Each using their various
means of time travel..." And while it didn't show
each method used, in the end that means that not only
Superman and the Flash can travel in time, but also
Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. Aquaman!
Crazy. Today's heroes are lucky if they just get sent
back in time accidentally.)
The problem, of course, is that with such
tremendous powers, Superman is basically unbeatable,
and he basically has a power for any contingency.
There is, then, no real peril in a Superman story.
But it's just this level of power that makes
Superman who he is. Nerfing him down would create
more peril, but then he would cease to actually be
Superman-- as the disastrous Electro-Supes storyline
more than proved.
And while, again, I'm unfamiliar with Astatine's
powers, I have the sinking suspicion that a nerfed
Astatine would be much less fun to write.
There are two ways Superman dealt with the powers
problem during the Silver Age, one of which was more
successful than the others. The least successful of
the two was, in and of itself, another kind of nerf--
the preponderance of kryptonite. With a chunk of this
surprisingly common radioactive rock in hand, any
crook could reduce Superman to wriggling around on the
floor, unable to use his powers. And so, basically,
for a short period of time, Superman was unable to be
Superman: hardly a compelling solution to the problem.
(Though-- aren't you getting tired of these
asides?-- I have to admit that Red Kryptonite was a
stunning addition to the super-mythos.)
The other solution to the lack-of-peril problem was
to move the emphasis away from physical peril. Lois
tries to suss out Superman's secret identity, and
Superman-- more often than not-- had to think his way
out of his predicament. Puzzle stories abounded-- is
it any wonder that Superman's arch-nemesis is Lex
Luthor, an enemy not of brawn but of brain?
More importantly, there were many stories-- often
focused on transformation-- that created a kind of
psychological peril. Superman found himself
transformed into a lion, and had to deal with his
feelings of freakishness. Superman loses all his
powers and gains a new one-- the ability to create a
tiny miniature Superman with all his old powers; the
tiny Superman gets all the press and Superman finds
himself coiled up with anger and jealousy.
It's not that he's lost his powers; it's that his
powers are irrelevant to the type of story being told.
Now, I'm certainly not saying that that's the
approach Greg should be taking; I'm just using his
author's notes as a springboard for discussion on this
NERFING IN THE EIGHTFOLD UNIVERSE
I am at times attracted to powerful characters, or
rather, to characters with powerful potential for
their powers-- powers that can be used in a variety of
ways. While there's only so much you can do with the
ability to stick to walls and spin webs (regardless of
size), the possibilities for a Green Lantern ring, for
example, are endless-- limited only by the character's
imagination, a deeper and more profound kind of nerf
than the colour yellow.
There are actually a few characters within the
Eightfold Universe who have this type of power.
Template, created by Jamie Rosen, wields a belt that
allows him to use the abilities of literary
characters. While there's the slight nerf that he can
only do things that a human being could conceivably
accomplish, this very interesting premise still has
lots of possibilities, and foregrounds the power of
imagination and of reading.
My own character, Gregory Dingham, has the ability
to make things happen just by speaking them out loud.
Just think about that-- he can literally do just about
anything. He can (or could, at any rate) kill a
person with a single word ("Die!"), he can change a
movie's ending. The only thing that limits him is the
fact that he doesn't really use his head. As Jamas
Enright pointed out, all Dingham has to do is walk up
to an ATM and say, "give me money", and he has no
money problems. But the character doesn't even think
I think that dynamic was interesting enough, at
least to me, to do it a second time: the supervillain
Gallery, whose magic paint allows him to create
anything he wants to. It's not until he meets Martin
Rock in prison that he-- and one of his
partners-in-crime, Whistler-- realizes that those
powers can be used for so much more than creating a
living deck of cards.
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