REVIEW: Russell's Reviews Volume One # 5

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Sat Feb 2 06:35:48 PST 2008

If the groundhog sees a shadow, it's six more weeks of
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 /____________/ /__  | / / /__  |   //__    VOL. 1
/       \      /___  |/ / /___  |/\/___/     NO. 5


   To be perfectly frank, I've fallen a bit behind
when it comes to the LNH.  It's bizarre; I think I've
established myself in the past as one of the LNH's
biggest cheerleaders.  Not to toot my own horn, but
between Arthur and myself we more-or-less hammered out
the LNH Wikipedia page.  In a number of essays, I've
extolled the virtues of the LNH and some of the great
stories in its great and storied history.
   And now, here I am, faced with the daunting task of
review the twenty-first issue of a series when I've
missed the last several installments.  How did this
   Well, firstly, my attention has been diverted to
other areas.  Not only my work in the Eightfold
Universe, but also my work as a filmmaker, music
composer, video game designer, very poor chef and
adequate husband-- none of which, of course, I get
paid for.  I now hold two jobs, and engage in a little
academic dishonesty on the side, writing high school
and college lit papers.  I find this amusing because
none of these papers have ever received anything less
than an "A", and yet I have never been to college
myself.  Whether that says something positive about my
talents or something dismal about today's universities
is, I suppose, for the reader to decide.
   Another thing sapping my attention is, in a funny
way, my extremely short and resoundly unsuccessful
career in politics.  Because while that ended ten or
eleven months ago, the financial and emotional strain
put me into something of a depressive state.  It
became harder and harder to work up the will power to
write something of my own, let alone review someone
else's story, let alone read it.  My hastily-made
promise to review every story posted that year was
very quickly broken, as I was not reading every story
posted that year.
   Then came the Infinite Leadership Crisis, the
thirty-plus part LNH storyline that many, including
myself, participated in last year.  To say that it
created a sizable backlog would be something of an
extreme understatement.  It was very daunting, and
that dauntingness greatly decreased my desire to
tackle it.
   But, you know, ordinarily that wouldn't be a
problem.  The great thing about the LNH is that
continuity has always been, well, a little loose.  You
don't _need_ to read every LNH story ever written to
read any one particular LNH story, or even to write
one.  It's not a universe that has big
everything-has-changed shifts in status quo, nor is
it, in my opinion, very conducive to it.
   The problem was that the Leadership Crisis ended on
a "continuity porn" sort of note, bringing back
characters from a crossover that ended over a decade
ago and setting up a big, earth-shaking crossover
event (this year's Beige Midnight) with tie-ins,
lead-ins, and ramifications galore.  When I signed on
to ILC, I figured it'd be a fun story with a fun
premise that gets a lot of different people involved,
and that after the storyline was completed, things
would return to normal.
   But they didn't.  I wasn't the only one
dissatisfied by this turn of events.  As Jolly Jamas
Enright said,

"The month was a fun come together of different
authors. Then, suddenly, at the end, it's hijacked to
set up something for next year. In time to come, the
ILC will become remembered as 'that thing Arthur and
Rob did to set up Beige Midnight.'"

   Then the planning begun.  The LNH Authors google
group was formed, e-mails sent back and forth.  I
nominally tried to keep up with it all, but as the
storyline made it harder and harder for me to muster
up much enthusiasm, I fell behind on this aspect as
   Now, I've come up with LNH story ideas since then,
but I don't really know how they'd fit into the grand
scheme of things.  I find myself with ideas that I'm
afraid to execute.  And, though I'm not going to name
names, I know from private conversations that I'm not
the only one suffering from this kind of paralysis.
   Anyone who knows me personally understands how dear
the Legion of Net.Heroes is to my heart.  I never
thought I would utter or write this sentence, but the
LNH has, for the time being, stopped being fun for me,
and that's a very hard thing to cope with.
   Now, it's not that it isn't fun for others.  I'm
sure many people are anticipating Beige Midnight
eagerly.  And what makes the LNH the LNH is that it's
truly everyone's universe.  It doesn't matter if I
don't like something about it anymore than it mattered
if Jesse Willey thought it should be erased from
   But I do know what Dvandom felt like when the
Patrol Universe soured for him.  And in many ways the
LNH has soured for me, and it can be tied pretty much
directly to this storyline, for which I can't muster
much (if any) enthusiasm.
   Now, the LNH will certainly persevere.  After Beige
Midnight, the status quo will probably change back to
something resembling "normal" for the Looniverse.  No
more superhero registration nonsense, no more
leadership crises, no more continuity porn.  And what
I'm basically going to do is I'm going to wait it out.
 When things get back to normal, I'm certain that my
love for the Legion, both as a reader and a writer,
will return.  But that's still some ways off.

58.5 # 21 [JAN 27, 2008], Martins

   For right now, I have to deal with my present task,
which is this review.  While I'm not making the same
foolhardy promise to review absolutely everything
posted to RACC, I'm going to try (and I must admit
that this weekly schedule has been phenomenal for
making sure I do so).  And so while I fell behind with
58.5 fairly early in its rather prolific run, I
decided with a new issue posted in this new year to
try to jump back in.  And having read the story, I
found I could not give my thoughts on it without first
explaining why I've missed a large chunk of the
   And it's not a bad series; if you were to look up
my review of the first issue, you'll find that I
called it "very LNHy... proof positive the Classic LNH
Story still exists, and thrives."  But, like I said, I
lost track of it, not having many compelling reasons
to read much LNH material, let alone anything to do
with Beige Midnight, and so I'm coming back to it as
something akin to a new reader.
   And, you know, there are two reasons why I do these
reviews.  (Actually, there's a lot of reasons, but
these two will suffice for the current discussion.) 
One, I do it for the authors.  To encourage good
writing, point out special talents and skills, offer
suggestions about what I perceive to be shortcomings.
   And two, I do it in the capacity of a new reader's
advocate.  Partially this entails recommending stories
and series to readers who are unsure of reading them,
and partially this ties in to my first reason, in that
I try to stress the importance of accessibility in a
work of serial fiction.  As the much-vilified Jim
Shooter was fond of saying, every issue is someone's
first issue.
   The cardinal sin of fiction, to my mind, is
purposeless confusion.  (Purposeful confusion is a
whole 'nother bag of apples and a topic for another
discussion.)  Readers should generally know who most
of the characters are, where they are, and what's at
   I try to emulate this new reader mindset, but since
I am a regular reader of the vast majority of material
posted on RACC, it is generally an exercise in
futility.  This twenty-first issue of 58.5, then, puts
me in the unusual position of basically being a new
reader trying to orient himself in the midst of a
long-running series.
   And, to put it perhaps a little too bluntly, I was
extremely disoriented.  The first scene, comprised of
two sections separated by the logo and title, does not
give a clear indication of just how many people, and
whom, are present.  Rather, new characters are added
when they speak or are referenced, forming a sort of
nebulous list that never quite solidifies.  
   Now, this same problem occurs even when all those
present are actually listed, as happens often in the
work of wReam.  Telling us that Ultimate Ninja, Deja
Dude, Occultism Kid, Renegade Programmer, Theory Man,
Kid Kirby, Cliche Dude, Multitasking Man, Sig. Lad,
and  the Invisible Incendiary are present doesn't
really tell us anything at all; it's hard to hold all
those names in our head, just as hard as it is when
they're introduced the way they are in 58.5 # 21.
   One thing that can help in this instance is the use
of a number word.  Tell us that there are five heroes
present, for example, and we'll mentally fill those
five in as we meet them.  If there's a larger group--
say, seven or eight people-- it also helps to group
characters together into smaller sub-groups; identify
two characters as being part of a couple, for example,
and a new reader is more likely to remember them and
their connection to each other.  Telling us that
certain people are "senior Legionnaires" will help
distinguish them from their younger colleagues, et
   When you dump a lot of characters in the reader's
lap, especially at the beginning of an installment,
don't be afraid to let that first scene go a little
bit long.  Have two of the characters establish
themselves through dialogue before bringing in the
third and then the fourth.  This especially helps if
the characters share similar points of view on a
certain problem; if everyone has a different point of
view, though, they are each more likely to stand out.
   As it is, the characters who really stand out in
this issue of 58.5 are Lauro and Dramatic Pause Lass,
because they are "sub-grouped" together as relatives
(cousins) and because they have different points of
view on religious matters.  Bandwagon Chick also
stands out when she's later identified as such, but
that's also because I'm familiar with the character.
   The plot was confusing as well.  The crux of it was
that the New Misfits and the U.S. government are
trying to isolate Net.ropolis to allow invaders to
take over the city-- which is the kind of dick move
that Hex Luthor would probably try to pull.  But this
only clicked for me the second time around.  I really
wish this had been spelt out more explicitly and
concisely in the text or, if that's too clumsy, that
there had been a recap box to explain what the deal
was with the evil universe, since that's the thing
that makes the whole plan make sense and it's not
really revealed until the fight scene.
   If one can't fold exposition gracefully into a text
(and Lord knows I can't), and if the text is highly
plot-based (as opposed to characterization/theme
based, which requires less exposition even during a
continuing storyline), then please, please, please put
in a recap box, please.  Not only is it absolutely
essential for new readers, but it'd also be damn
helpful to remind older readers what's going on as
   Now, I'd be remiss in my duties if I didn't point
out that there are a few really funny gags in the
story-- the LNH being a comedy universe and this,
ostensibly, a comedy series.  The way in which
Bandwagon Chick deals with the army of kiwis is a very
amusing piece of business that's executed well.
   The parody of clumsy exposition, in which the plan
itself is explained again and Howie K. identifies
himself as a very intelligent bird is cute if not
exactly as helpful as it could have been.  I think the
problem is, while it explains what they are doing--
placing the generators and ensuring the Evil LNH
doesn't take them out until they're activated-- it
doesn't really explain the stakes.  What is the Evil
LNH after?  Why is this the only option on the table? 
Perhaps this was explained in a previous issue, but
again, this is where a recap box would be handy.
   And the Evil Footnote Girl gag alluding to Evil
Procrastination Boy was a very amusing bit of
meta-silliness, the kind of thing the LNH does very
   And so, yes, there are some nice gags in this
story.  But even though a new reader would probably
enjoy those gags, the story itself would probably be a
bit bewildering.


   There was one simile that I found particularly
memorable in 58.5 # 21, and that was the following:

"Moving like a wuxia movie on acid, he took down 13
red kiwis before he could finish the sentence."

   Now, we're all familiar with wuxia-- the popular
martial arts hero genre in which noble men (usually
orphans) and evil-doers (usually bearded) wage battle
through the use of super-human kung-fu and qing gong,
or the ability to scale buildings and fly through the
air (usually with wires).  But many of us are not as
familiar with acid-- also known as LSD-- a type of
hallucinogenic drug.
   And so I got to thinking, what _would_ a wuxia
movie be like on acid?  Not being personally
acquainted with the effects of the drug, I sought the
assistance of two people with whom I was acquainted
who are acquainted with its effects so that I might
become better acquainted with it.  My two friends--
J.D. and Big Mike-- are my usual source of information
when it comes to topics that I am too hopeless square
to know anything about.  I met with them on Tuesday
and asked them what acid was like.
   "It's shitty," said Big Mike.  "Every time we ever
had it, we got ripped off."
   "The first time was nice," said J.D.
   "The first time was nice," conceded Big Mike.  "Why
do you want to know?"
   And so I explained that I had read a story which
compared someone's fighting prowess to a wuxia movie
on acid.  "I'm trying to get a better grasp on the
metaphor."  (Okay, so technically it was a simile.) 
"So, what's it like?"
   Neither could really give me a good description of
what it was like, either in general or specific terms.
 They could not express what the drug _felt_ like in
any way; they could only explain its effects.
   "Our friend Jayhoo took it once," said Big Mike,
"and he argued with the moon for six hours."
   Another friend thought there was an alligator going
around eating people, and then he mistook a heavy-set
woman in a green sweater for said alligator.  That got
him thrown out of the Detroit Institute of Arts for
the second time.
   Big Mike went on to say that he never heard the
stars described more beautifully than the time when
one of his friends had done so while on acid.
   Big Mike and J.D. explained that the first time
they took the drug, J.D. drove home shirtless during a
particularly bad Michigan winter with his windows
rolled down.
   "Are you sure you don't want a shirt?" Big Mike had
   "No, man," J.D. had assured him. "I'm cool.  It's
so cool to be cold.  I love it."
   I said that it sounded like a very mellow sort of
drug, getting thrown out of the DIA not-withstanding.
   "It depends," said Big Mike, appearing a bit
impatient at the way I tried to simplify something
that I knew nothing about.  "I've seen a lot of people
get real twitchy on it and agitated."
   "But I'm saying, what would a kung-fu movie be like
on acid?"
   J.D. asked me to clarify: "Is the audience on acid,
or the guy doing the kung-fu, or the movie itself?"
   I said that I wasn't sure, but more likely than not
it was either the audience or the film itself.
   "And what's the context, exactly?" Big Mike asked.
   "It's really, really good kung-fu," I said.  "He
knocks out a dozen kiwis in one fell swoop."  (Okay,
so it was thirteen, but I was doing this from memory.)
   Neither seemed disturbed by the fact that it was
kiwis being attacked, nor did I explain that that the
person doing the kung-fu was a kiwi or, for that
matter, the fact that he was probably not literally
doing any kind of kung-fu, only that his speed was
comparable to the sort one would see in "a wuxia movie
on acid".
   Big Mike expressed the opinion that wuxia on acid
would be slow and dream-like, whereas J.D. felt that
it was a very apt description of really kick-ass
kung-fu.  In the end, no consensus was reached.

SPORKMAN # 12 [JAN 29, 2008], Fishbone

   There's some amusing comedy here re: drunken party
girl back-up dirigible pilots, piranha pin-ups, and a
pleasing bit of alliteration/tongue-twisterdom. 
They're all good gags, executed efficiently.
   As I've said, in one form or another, many times
before, comedy is hard to write about, especially
comedy of the Just Plain Damn Funny school.  It's much
easier to write about other kinds of comedy-- comedy
that's bittersweet and gentle, or gleefully acerbic,
or metatextual, or frankly insane.  But comedy that's
just plain damn funny is just plain damn funny, and
all a reviewer can do is list punchlines, which takes
some of the punch out of it.
   The other kind of comedy that's easy to write about
is bad comedy-- jokes that fail or bizarre ideas that
fall flat.  Taking this into consideration, the fact
that I can't think of much to say about the SPORKMAN
series should be taken as a sign of its high punchline
accuracy rate.
   Or, to put it in other words, it's just plain damn

NEW EXARCHS # 10 [JAN 30, 2008], Van Domelen

   There's some amusing comedy here re: domesticated
coincidences and the conciseness of the squirrel
language, among other things.  They're all good gags,
executed efficiently.
   As I've said, in one form or another, many times
before, comedy is hard to write about, especially
comedy of the Just Plain Damn Funny school.  It's much
easier to write about other kinds of comedy-- comedy
that's bittersweet and gentle, or gleefully acerbic,
or metatextual, or frankly insane.  But comedy that's
just plain damn funny is just plain damn funny, and
all a reviewer can do is list punchlines, which takes
some of the punch out of it.
   The other kind of comedy that's easy to write about
is bad comedy-- jokes that fail or bizarre ideas that
fall flat.  Taking this into consideration, the fact
that I can't think of much to say about the NEW
EXARCHS series should be taken as a sign of its high
punchline accuracy rate.
   Or, to put it in other words, it's just plain damn

END OF MONTH REVIEWS # 48 [JAN 30, 2008], Brenton

   This is the one title I absolutely read every
single issue of, each and every month, pretty much the
same day it is posted.  Even when I couldn't motivate
myself to read much of anything, I never, ever miss an
installment of END OF MONTH REVIEWS.  Even when one of
my own stories is not under scrutiny, I derive a great
deal of pleasure from the concise analyses Saxon
Brenton has been offering up for our judgment for four
straight years.
   (Which reminds me: next Saturday is my four-year
wedding anniversary.  I should probably stop writing
this and go buy my wife something.  Hang on.
    Okay, I'm back.)
   After the standard list of stories reviewed and
stories skipped over, Saxon gets down to business by
complaining of his lateness and sharing a personal
anecdote.  First, a comment on that supposed lateness:
this might actually be the first time that END OF
MONTH REVIEWS was posted near the end of a month, thus
rendering all previous editions early rather than
prompt and therefore certainly not late.
   I agree with Saxon's decision to nominate our Rob
Rogers for the "Also Crapping on Garth Ennis From a
Great Height" Award.  I think the two things that
separate Rob's special brand of satire from the work
of Ennis and the like is that (1) Rob's work is not
mean-spirited, and (2) Rob's work is funny.  And while
satire can be used to unleash some hate, it's not
funny unless the thing being satirized is deserving of
that hate.  Let me give you a few examples.
   Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge killed millions of
people, and are thus deserving of hate.  Mean satire
in this case would be funny unless the satirist was
conducting his satire at a memorial for Khmer Rouge
   Newborn puppies who have lost their mother?  Not so
deserving of hate.  Mean satire in this case would be,
well, mean.
   George W. Bush failed the people of New York City
and the people of New Orleans.  He pissed off the
entire world and lied my country into a war.  He
denies basic tenets of science and democratic
government.  All-in-all, he's fairly deserving of
hatred.  Mean satire is okay.
   Gerald Ford, on the other hand, fell over a lot of
stuff, failed to be assassinated twice, and didn't do
much good against stagflation.  Plus, he's from
Michigan.  Come on, can you really hate this guy? 
Mean satire in this case would be mean-spirited.
   Okay, just two more examples and then we'll move
   The superhero genre-- the best genre in the history
of genres-- the only genre that's really and truly
inherently optimistic and that believes that good
people do exist and they can make a difference, that
people can use power responsibly and inspire others. 
Hating it would be like hating newborn puppies. 
Gentle satire, loving satire-- yes.  But tearing it
apart, ripping it to shreds?  What's the use in that? 
What points have you scored?  Can you honestly say
that there are no targets more deserving of your
   Now, people like Garth Ennis who hate newborn
puppies who have lost their mother, on the other hand,
deserve to be crapped on now and again.
   So, moving on...
   I've also done quite a bit of thinking about the
character of Possum-Man, partially at Mitchell's
behest, and like Mitchell I find myself coming up
short.  It's not that something is necessarily wrong
with the character; it's just that I don't find him
particularly compelling.  He doesn't hold my interest
the way that Been-Out-Bush-For-Way-Too-Long Man and
Contempo Weapons Lad have.
    It might be because, while he is certainly
slightly deranged/whacky, he doesn't have the same of
broadly-defined (yet nuanced) personality that BOBFWTL
and many of the best Legionnaires do.
   Master Blaster, for example, is a very easy
character to grab ahold of.  And while he's actually a
quite complex character, as evidenced by the
multivariate yet complimentary way many writers have
utilized him, there's still a strong core that serves
as the basis for most of the comedic shenanigans that
encircle him.
   With Possum-Man, I don't get the same strong
feeling that the comedy is truly arising out of his
character or in response to his character the way I
did with BOBFWTL and the Team Q stories, or his
excellent use of PC Person in ILC # 11.
   All-in-all, I do have to say that this issue of END
OF MONTH REVIEWS still suffered from the same
unevenness that marked the forty-seven issues
previous.  Brenton jumps from one storyline to the
next without in many cases establishing any linkages
between them save a vague chronological organizing
principle: i.e., that they all took place within the
same month.  For some reason, though, this doesn't bug
me as much as it did with Jesse Willey's work, and I'm
eager to see if all the various strands tie together
in the 50th anniversary issue this April.
   I just hope it's not a Beige Midnight tie-in.

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