META/POLL: The Purpose of Criticism

Martin Phipps martinphipps2 at
Wed Feb 20 22:29:29 PST 2008

On Feb 21, 12:20 pm, Tom Russell <milos_par... at> wrote:
> On Feb 20, 7:46 pm, Martin Phipps <martinphip... at> wrote:

> > On Feb 20, 11:24 pm, Tom Russell <milos_par... at> wrote:
> > > On Feb 20, 9:51 am, Martin Phipps <martinphip... at> wrote:
> > > > I thought you'd say that.  But then there'd be absolutely no reason to
> > > > present character witnesses in trial if people's behaviour were that
> > > > unpredictable.  Your point seems to be that people are unpredictable
> > > > and that's what makes them interesting.  I obviously disagree.  A
> > > > person may be interesting because you don't know exactly what they are
> > > > going to do next but if their behaviour were quite so random you'd
> > > > soon lose interest in them.
> > > I see your point there, at least as far as art goes-- in life, someone
> > > who is consistently surprising would not lose my interest.  But in
> > > art, and especially when working in prose (less so in film), one needs
> > > to have some kind of center, something that ties the threads together.
> > > Saxon's noted Martin Rock's tendency to bottle things up and then make
> > > a stupid decision when all this energy has nowhere to go-- and I think
> > > that's a big thread running through his "inconsistencies".
> > Maybe but that's more of an interpretation than something that came
> > directly from your writing.
> Well, that's something that I knew when I was writing the character
> and that I put into the writing consciously.  Did I spell it out?
> No.  There's no scene where someone says, "the problem with you,
> Martin Rock, is that you bottle things up inside and then you make bad
> decisions as a result of the building pressure and your anxieties
> about your failures to perform".  Because if I was a reader and I read
> that scene, I would feel insulted frankly.

It's also unnecessary because this is everybody's problem: we can't
always work out our frustrations against the source (usually authority
figures) and we either end up taking them out later on people who are
less threatening or find some other, more productive way to vent
them.  It doesn't explain all of Martin's behaviour, however.  To say
"he makes bad decisions" doesn't explain the thinking processes that
went towards making those decisions.

> >  When Ray's son threatens to reveal that
> > Martin was the Mask with No Name, Martin's "face went white" but we
> > didn't know what he was thinking.  In previous series such as
> > Net.Heroes on Parade or Speak or even the original Green Knight series
> > (up to that point), you were always able to get inside a person's head
> > so that everybody, including new readers, could understand why your
> > characters behaved the way they did.  In all this time, I don't think
> > we've gotten to know Martin as well as we got to know Greggory, for
> > example.  I realize now that you were laying the groundwork for
> > Martin's character with all those flashbacks in the Green Knight but,
> > at the time, they just seemed to detract from Ray Crandle's story.
> Actually, I wasn't planning on continuing the story after The Green
> Knight series, and the Green Knight was not intended to be Ray's story
> but the story of both the father (Ray) and his sons (Anders and
> Martin).  Once Ray becomes bedridden (issue 3, I think) he pretty much
> fades to the background and the focus switched to the two sons.

I know what you were trying to do.  Did you ever consider making
Anders a villain, making him Cain to Martin's Abel?  Or did you
consider that possibility too campy.

> > > There's
> > > also the fact that he's moving from solitude and self-reliance to
> > > dependence on and interaction with others.
> > Perhaps.  But I doubt if he was wearing his Mask with No Name costume
> > for fifteen years straight.  (It would have started to smell.)  Martin
> > Rock had to eat and he supposedly "got by on odd jobs" as he told the
> > FBI.  He had to have formed some relationships in those years in that
> > there had to have been people who knew him and saw him every once in a
> > while.
> Well, first of all, it was ten years and not fifteen.  But perhaps a
> lot of these questions might be cleared up if we go over the
> character's history again.  I don't mention these things every time,
> because I feel anything pertinent pretty much comes up in the text of
> the story.  I see what you were saying about the most recent issue of
> Jolt City, and perhaps I should have reminded the reader within that
> same issue about Martin's time as the mask with no name.
> But, let's look at what _has_ been established about Martin Rock
> explicitly in the actual stories.
> Okay, so he starts out as the kid sidekick to the Green Knight at the
> age of twelve or thirteen and does so until he's in his early
> thirties.  Ray gives him a job at Cradle Industries and teaches him
> all sorts of superhero stuff.
> Now, you maintain that Martin should not be intelligent or
> particularly educated because of this vocation.  Leaving out the
> question of college-- which has never been established one way or the
> other, because I didn't think it was relevant-- leaving that out,
> let's look at your assertion, which comes down to this:

I just read Green Knight #6 for the first time.  The first thing I
noticed was the disclaimer at the beginning "Heads up: this is a
looooong one."  I suddenly remembered why I didn't read it the first
time.  As it is, I had to read it in two sittings.  Luckily I had no
classes today.

My first impression upon finishing it was that, as Martin had no mask
at the end, that everybody would have known that Martin Rock had been
posing as the Green Knight.  The Psychopomp should have realized that
Martin Rock was not the original Green Knight because he had mused
earlier that the Green Knight had to be an old man.  He and the police
would all have been able to figure out that Martin Rock had been the
Acrobat and perhaps would have been able to figure out that Ray
Crandle was the original Green Knight.  This wouldn't have been a big
problem at the time though because, as you say, you hadn't been
planning to do the Jolt City story.

As I read it, I thought how much better the story would have been had
it have been the Annual.  It was a better story than the annual you
did later so I'm sorry I didn't read it sooner: it's just that I was
so annoyed at you for writing such a flashback heavy story so soon
after Green Knight #4 which was, in fact, more flashbacks than
anything else.

But having read it now, I'm still confused about what you say has been
"established" above.  You say "Ray [gave] him a job at Cradle
Industries (actually Cradle _Enterprizes_) and [taught] him all sorts
of superhero stuff".  Well, if I now go back to Green Knight #4 (the
only issue of the original Green Knight series that I haven't read
from beginning to end) it still seems as though Martin never had any
formal eduaction and that Cradle Enterprises was simply serving as a
base of operations for the Green Knight / Acro-Bat team.  Indeed, #6
made it clear that the Green Knight and Acro-Bat did regular "patrols"
of the city, presumably every night.  So I stand by my assertion that
Martin's intelligence would be of the form of "street smarts" and that
he never had any formal education, or even spent much time in a
library for
that matter, and that his lack of formal education should have been
something that you could have used as a limitation.  If a character
has a lack of formal education, it doesn't make him stupid but it
would be a valid disadvantage that you could have explored.

> Spending most of one's time for twenty years being mentored by a self-
> made billionaire and technological genius, Martin Rock wouldn't have
> picked up any kind of meaningful knowledge?  Because Ray Cradle would
> have *nothing* to teach him about science, economics, history, and
> superheroing-- superheroing being comprised not only of combat but of
> psychology, detection, and undercover work?  And the same Ray that
> ensured that Martin was fluent in several different languages didn't
> give him any kind of education or training at all?

Ray Cradle may have been a genius but people do not learn through
osmosis.  And as for Martin being "fluent in several different
languages", when did you ever mention this?  And how did Martin learn
these languages?  Really, Tom, learning a second language takes
_years_ of practice.  Martin would not have had time to be a sidekick,
a soldier and a vigilante and also learn foreign languages.  It just
isn't possible.  And, no, that doesn't make him stupid: I think most
Americans would be in the same situation, only being fluent in

I think you are taking things to personally, that because you don't
have a university degree either that I am implying that you are
stupid.  First of all, I did not equate uneducated with stupid.
Second of all, you are obviously self-taught.  But, at the same time,
I could feel obliged to take offense at the suggestion that I wasted
ten years of my life going to university when I could have just spent
it reading books: a formal education at a good university presents a
student with challenges that one does not face when one is self-taught
or tutored.

> In his late twenties he served in the Iraq War.  Afterwards, he went
> back to being the sidekick until 1994 or 1995, when he becomes the
> mask with no name.  He lives in a number of abandoned supervillain
> hideouts, which would of course never have any kind of television or
> internet connection.  He would never have access to a newspaper
> either, and despite preferring to read nonfiction, he would of course
> never read.  Is that what you're saying?
> He uses his disguise training to infiltrate gangs and squeeze
> information from informants that he uses in his one-man ten-year war
> on crime; his odd jobs were _just_ this side of legal and always under
> an alias.  That's pretty much his only real "social" contact.  He is a
> social dropout, and probably would not keep up on cultural things.
> But to suggest that he'd have no idea what's going in the world, or
> that he would somehow be less intelligent-- I just don't see where
> you're coming from with this.

You're putting words in my mouth.  I think I've been clear: those ten
years of isolation would have had more of an affect on him than simply
hampering his social skills.  I suppose he could have kept up with
current events by reading discarded newspapers but that's not
something you ever established.  It might have been interesting if,
after ten years of living on the street, he didn't even know who Snapp
was, or at least that his knowledge of Snapp should have been limited
to what he had heard while he was living on the street.  He should
have seemed a bit out of touch.  This isn't a question of making his
character stupid but rather a question of fleshing out his character.

I think you got it right with Green Knight #6 itself: his lifetime of
experiences came back to haunt him when the Psychopomp used the fear
ray on him.  I just don't feel that you did anywhere near as good a
job with the character in the series that followed.

> >  if the reader is confused about
> > why a character behaves the way he does then it is going to take him
> > out of the story.
> To be frank?  I think it's explained in the stories themselves.  I
> mean, when he waffles on these issues, he does actually waffle on them
> and take them apart.  If you don't see it, you don't see it, and I'm
> not saying that's necessarily your fault.  People have been telling me
> for years that Ulysses is a great and funny book, that Joyce is
> wonderful-- but, y'know, I still don't see it.

He waffled about other things, such as the whole question of whether
he should tell Pam about who he really is, and yet all that time I was
wondering why he kept a secret identity AT ALL when he had no friends
(other than the priest) or family (Anders?) to protect.  In Jolt City
#11, Martin claims that he murdered people when he was the Mask with
No Name, but now that I've read Green Knight #6, I see that when he
killed his fourth "victim" that it was a man who was pointing a gun at
a helpless woman.  His own personal feelings of guilt aside, he was
actually justified at the time to believe that he had done "what was
necessary".  It's not as though he had shot the guy or stabbed him: he
had overpowered him and snapped his neck.  When attacking an armed man
from behind, this is probably the better approach, in all fairness,
than trying to disarm him and risk having anybody else get killed.


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