META/POLL: The Purpose of Criticism

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Tue Feb 19 15:27:30 PST 2008

I never meant to imply that Superfreaks should be "more like" Law and
Order-- only that my own taste in police procedurals is closer to that
show than to CSI.  It was my way of explaining why, at times, I don't
enjoy Superfreaks as much as other times-- it's a difference in taste.

By "cheating", I was sticking-- perhaps somewhat stubbornly-- to the
idea of a "fair play mystery".

When I enjoy Superfreaks, what I enjoy more than anything is the
detail work, and sometimes there is a lot less detail work-- at least
it seems that way to me.  Details such as clues to a mystery or, more
commonly, details of an investigation that make it spring more fully
to life-- I love those.  And sometimes you skimp on those details.
That's your choice, and I'm not saying it's the wrong one-- just that
it's wrong for me.

> I think I did.  I didn't have to.  The question was along the lines of
> "Are you still beating your wife?" as I had at no point above referred
> in any way to your own ability to withstand criticism.

Then I misread it and I apologize accordingly.

> There's a couple of comments that stick in my mind.  First, there was
> the comment in the "Superfreaks Season 2 #6 compared to Encyclopedia
> Brown" (which is an attack right there in the title as Encyclopedia
> Brown was aimed at kids) thread about my characters being

Martin, it's not an attack.  I love Encyclopedia Brown almost as much
as I love Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden.  For me, there's no real
distinction between good children's literature and good adult
literature.  I was using the comparision not to hurt your feelings but
to explain, if I recall correctly, the kind of detail work that really
makes a mystery story "work" in my opinion.

Sometimes you have that detail work, and sometimes you don't.
Encyclopedia Brown and Law and Order generally have that kind of
detail work.

>   And more
> recently there was the comment in the otherwise positive review that
> dramatic moments in Superfreaks are "few and far between".

A quick google search fails to turn up that quote; I think you're
misremembering me saying that the _jokes_ in Superfreaks were few and
far between.  You say you're writing it as a comedy, and many times I
fail to see the punchline, or I find that punchline lacking in humour.

And, don't get me wrong: you're a very funny man.  Sometimes your
humour is just hit-and-miss, and I'm not sure if it comes off as well
in this series/setting as it has in some of your LNH material.

>  I'm not
> attacking your opinions but rather pointing out that your opinions do
> not accurately reflect what I've written.
> First of all, my characters are not interchangable and they are not
> plot puppets.  They would be plot puppets only if their actions had to
> adhere to some pre-determined plotline.  In reality, I just simply do
> not plot that far ahead and my writing depends more on how the
> characters behave in reaction to what happens around them than having
> them behave in a certain way to advance the plot.  In general, my
> characters reactions determines where the plot goes as opposed to the
> other way around.  This isn't necessarily a good thing: I find it
> impossible to plot very far in advance as a result.

That's a good defense, Martin.  Let me clarify a bit, then; sometimes
I don't get a particularly good sense of who each individual character
is.  There's not as much nuance and detail to really bring them to
life.  That's not necessarily a bad thing: you're writing plot and
idea-based stories.  Dvandom does the same thing, and sometimes-- the
most recent issues of ASH being a prime example-- I get a much, much
stronger sense of who the characters are than at other times, and
that's because of the type of stories he's telling which don't really
allow one to spend ten pages where nothing actually happens.

It's also harder to create strong characterization in a comedy if the
characterization isn't the source of that comedy.  Master Blaster is
an extremely well-drawn character, and that's because much of the
comedy in a Master Blaster story comes from his personality.  The
characterizations in Superfreaks, which I still feel are a little on
the scant side, are much more dialed down.  This would be fine for a
serious cop series, but I'm not sure if it meshes as well in a comedy.

Does that make sense?  I'm not trying to be insulting.

>  Indeed when I
> asked for clarification as to what was wrong with starting an issue of
> Superfreaks with a fight scene, you said "it would be like an episode
> of Law and Order beginning with ten minutes of gangsters fighting
> amongst themselves before the police arrived."  But I had already
> "admitted" to using CSI as an inspiration so there is no reason why
> Superfreaks has to always follow the Law and Order format, is there?

My point wasn't that it didn't follow the Law and Order format but
rather that it didn't seem "at home" with your series.  When you shift
more heavily to the superhero fight side of things and away from the
police angle, I feel the resulting story isn't as good as some of your
others.  I feel you're at your strongest when dealing with the police
work-- strongest at plotting and entertaining.

Another example would be, it would be like starting Citizen Kane with
a flashy Bubsy Berkely dance number.  It just doesn't seem to fit, in
my opinion.

> And yes, to be blunt, I do think you've been hypocritical.  I think
> your characterisation of Martin Rock has been all over the map, with
> him first of all opining in Green Knight #3 that a secret identity
> isn't all that important and then, starting with Green Knight #7,
> having his secret identity being his most guarded secret, with him
> being the "most dangerous man" in prison in Jolt City #10 and yet
> crying as he was being raped just a couple of issues earlier, with him
> describing himself as an impecably honest man in Jolt City #2 and yet
> covering up his history as the Mask with No Name when questioned by
> the FBI first in the annual and then later when he was questioned
> again after the incident in the park (which was a lie of omission)
> and, finally, with him telling Dani that "four colors don't
> swear" (which sounds a lot like breaking the fourth wall) and then
> swearing (appropriately, mind you) while having sex with Pam.
> Granted, you said the "four colors don't swear" line was a joke but
> I'm including it for completeness.

I don't want to toot my own horn here--

But in my opinion, everything you've just said is the mark of
extremely strong characterization.  I know you didn't mean it that
way-- I know you see it as a problem.  But in my opinion, it's a mark
that I'm doing things right.  And, further, I know I'm not the only
one who feels that way about his characterization.

> I also have a problem with the fact that Martin Rock has spent his
> entire life as either a sidekick, a soldier or a vigilantee and
> therefore has never had time for a formal education.

He at the very least graduated from high school-- and perhaps even
went to college while in his twenties and still a sidekick.  And he
was educated in private as well by the original Green Knight.

I guess I see your point about the head injury thing, but the idea
that he's not educated doesn't make much sense to me.

And furthermore, even if he didn't go to college, Martin Rock is very
much a self-starter.  You don't need to go to college to be smart or
to speak well.

I'm no genius.  But I can string a few sentences together.  I
generally have strong grammar and am able to make most of points
coherently and entertainingly.

I've never gone to college.  I graduated high school with a 1.275 GPA.

Does that make me stupid, Martin?  Does that mean I shouldn't know who
Proust is, that I shouldn't be able to analyze things and retain
factoids, that I should be incompetent?

I don't think I'm a genius, but damn it, I am _not_ a stupid man.

I'm not taking this personally, mind you-- but I'd like to go on
record saying that the idea that people with degrees are automatically
smarter and more capable than those who are not is a load of bunk.
They certainly can be smarter, and they're certainly more capable of
getting hired-- but credits and intelligence are two completely
different things.

> I feel that you have had characters behave in
> certain ways that didn't make a lot of sense at the time

I think we have mutually exclusive definitions of what makes for good
and interesting characterization, and I fear that just as I don't
think you'll ever convince me of your opinion I'll never be able to
convince you of mine.  So I'm not really going to go into it in any
depth, at least not today.

But I will say, in brief, that I attempt to do something a little more
fluid, nuanced, and realistic-- relishing in ambiguities and
conflicting sides of a person.  I'm trying to do so without being
schizoid in the end result.  In your opinion, I've done just that last
thing, created characters who don't make any sense to you.  Maybe
that's the case, or maybe you'd rather have a "consistent"
characterization without those ambiguities.

C'est la vie.

>  Either way, your reviews of my writing seem
> disproportionally harsh and I see that as unfair and, yes, a bit
> hypocritical.  I know for a fact based on how you've reacted in the
> past that you don't like getting reviewed like that yourself.

Again, I don't mean to be harsh or hostile.  And remember that it's
mostly just Superfreaks that I have problems with.  It's not that you
should stop writing the series or that you should write it
differently-- I just don't enjoy it as consistently as I do some of
your other writing.

So, it's not about _you_, Martin.  It's about the work and how I feel
about it.

Please read the Phippsian Reader essay again.  Granted, it's more than
two years old-- but the work I was talking about there, along with
Matthew Almighty, is some of your best and I think you'll find that I
had many positive things to say about it.


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