REVIEW: End of Month Reviews #49 - January 2008 [spoilers]

Saxon Brenton saxonbrenton at
Fri Feb 29 18:06:51 PST 2008

[REVIEW] End of Month Reviews #49 � January 2008 [spoilers]
     Academy of Super-Heroes #84  [ASH]
     Coherent Super Stories #14  [ASH]
     Doomed Romance #3  [8Fold]
     Enforcers #3  [Misc]
     Sporkman #8-12  [SG]
Also posted:
     58.5 #20-21  [LNH]
     Kinky Romance #2  [8Fold]
     New Exarchs #10  [SG/LNH]
     Superfreaks Season 3 #11-12  [Superfreaks] 
     Minor corrections from last issue.  _58.5_ #20 was published in 
Jan 2008 rather than Dec 2007.
     Let's see, what else...?  Oh yeah.  [adopts a Blowfeldian voice 
and strokes a white cat]  Since you asked Mr Russell, it was I who 
nominated Dr Fay Tarif for Best Supporting Character in the 2007 
     What, you want to know why as well?  Oh all right.  I got a vibe 
from her that she's a character who's competent, but also has a 
slightly impish sense of humour and who enjoys her work but isn't 
defined by it.  Or to put it another way, while Dr Tarif's purpose 
in the _Jolt City_ stories is to fill the role of the 'supporting cast 
scientist', she doesn't feel like that's the be-all and end-all of her 
as person.  I get the impression that she could wander off and do 
something completely unrelated to her work, or perhaps related to her 
work in a totally screwball way (perhaps by having an adventure ala 
Challengers Of The Unknown, or - Heaven forbid - getting in over her 
head and getting herself killed).
     I will also note that Tom said in his _Russell Reviews_ Vol.1 no.5
that the _End Of Month Reviews_ is a regular posting that he always 
reads as soon as he discovers that a new issue has been posted.  That 
is a very generous statement that is extremely humbling to me - as well 
as being a bit disconcerting.  I mean, it's just me rambling on about 
stuff.  I am glad that that this is keeping people entertained.  
However, at this point I have no plans for anything particularly special 
for issue 50.
     Spoilers below...
Academy of Super Heroes #84
'Coming Home Part 1 - Stormbringer'
An Academy of Super-Heroes [ASH] series
by Dave Van Domelen
     Just a very quick summary of this one, mainly to note its return.  
The ASH series has been on hiatus since mid 2007 on account of delays 
with the other parts of the projected story/crossover, post 'Timequake'.
     Solar Max and Jen Kleinvogel are still stuck in the past, and 
have just come to the conclusion that Triton and Aegis have probably 
bailed on them (to which I say again: Aegis, you're gonna get screwed).  
There's a lovely scene where the two of them try to anticipate what 
Triton may be up to, only to find that trying to think like Triton 
makes their brains hurt.  After concluding that they don't want to 
risk changing history they head for China, since to the best of their 
knowledge Chinese history is pretty stable at this point and has no 
significant events that they may inadvertently affect.  Once in China 
they are met by the Taoist wizard Seven Winds, who has been expecting 
them and offers them a place to stay.  They accept his offer, stay 
for a few years, and discover that although recorded history details 
mundane wars and politics, there are always the supernatural elements 
to take into consideration.
Coherent Super Stories #14
'The Idiot Plot'
An Academy of Super-Heroes [ASH] series
by Dave Van Domelen
     Okay.  Cute conceit.  The hero, Brightsword, is child-like enough 
(although no doubt his opponents would pillory him as childish) that he 
thinks in terms of simple, four-colour explanations of situations and 
then tends to stick with them.  He usually wins in terms of overcoming 
the overt threat (as he does in this story, by stopping the use of 
Darkshield's Mind Sifter on various scientists employed in atomic 
energy) but Darkshield is in fact a communist agent posing as a 
supervillain in order to choreograph distractions for Brightsword.
     My feelings on how this works as a story have gone all over the 
place.  Certainly on the most elemental level it has enough energy and 
faux-Ditko stylistic trapping to work as entertainment.  However, as a 
retrospective story (as in, being written in the 21st century to fit a 
style of comic set in the 1970s) I was wondering whether it would work 
as part of an ongoing published series back in the 1970s.  My initial 
assessment was that it would not.  The notion that Brightsword is such 
a tool that he is regularly fooled by a communist opponent into 
thinking that he had succeeded while actually being misled on a deeper 
agenda is a theme/running gag that I do not think would have sat well 
with a real life reading public at that time.  Perhaps as a one off, 
after which Brightsword would discover the truth and set about to have 
a final showdown with Darkshield: sure, that would work.
     Then it occurred to me that there was an observation made (I first 
encountered it while reading Peter David's collected _But I Digress_, 
but it may go back further than that) that the greatest and most popular 
villains are the classic mastermind villains, such as Doctor Doom and 
Lex Luthor, who get away with their crimes.  Or more precisely, who 
may have their immediate plans thwarted but who are above any sort of 
punishment that could permanently put a stop to their shenanigans.  
They may have lost the battle but they are still there and intend 
to win the war.  I know that Dvandom has at least cognisant of the 
principle, since Acton Lord was developed that way in the LNH, and 
sometimes it seems like the entire frickin' *setting* of ASH is built 
with that in mind.  And at first glance Darkshield seems to fits that 
     However, I keep coming back to the 'communist' part of Darkshield's 
character description and think "Noooo...".  To me that feels like an 
element that would not sit well as part of the classic master villain 
formula if used in the 1970s.  In the end I have to say that 'The 
Idiot Plot' works well as a story (and as a pastiche) in the time it 
was really written.  And that I'm probably reading to much into it by 
wondering how the story would have flown back in the day.
Doomed Romance #3
An Eightfold [8Fold] series
by Tom Russell
     [This is a repost of comments made directly to the RACC newsgroup. 
Yes, it's being used as padding.]
     Hmm.  That was intriguing.  But I'm not sure it was for the reasons 
     The 'story hook' that kept me reading was at first 'is this guy a 
total cad?'.  And then when it became clear that he was being so ruthless 
in planning his faux emotion responses because he genuinely didn't have 
any of his own, I wondered 'Is he a robot?  Is he an alien finding 
himself a girl friend in order to built a cover identity for himself?'  
(and then I thought, no, this is *doomed* romance, not *weird* romance).
     (And not having any emotional responses made the poor guy seem even 
more befuddled when she started playing what looked to me like 
BettyAndVeronica games on him.)
     Still, by the end of the story there was enough evidence that this 
was a guy who really didn't understand emotional context to convince me 
of this.  (Possibly he has a specialised version of Aspergers Sydnrome.) 
Nevertheless I had spent so much time wondering whether this fellow was 
some sort of non-human and being reassured that he wasn't, that by the 
time I got to the ironic punchline the impact had been weakened.  The 
emotional impact, at least.  I recognised straight off that it was irony, 
but the reaction of how that fitted into the context of the rest of the 
story was kind of 'Oh, okay' rather than any empathy for his situation.  
(Indeed, it's only now as I type these words and try to articulate a 
coherent reaction for how I reacted and why that I actually that there 
is a cleverly structured appropriateness to the story 'Leon' being 
published within the _Doomed Romance_ title.  The poor guy doesn't get 
it and probably never will.  But that doesn't mean I have to feel for 
Enforcers #3
'Pairs' part 1
A Miscellaneous [Misc] series
by Frumpy
     Captain Graybeard returns, intending to steal an advanced 
submarine to use as a new base of operations for his piracy.  
But before that happens the Enforcers receive a letter from Super 
Knight proposing to give the Enforcers his secret base as a form 
of restitution, which as a plot element is handled a bit too 
perfunctorily for my taste.  Perhaps some form of trap is lying in 
wait for future issues.
     Far more interesting, well developed, and creepy was Magic 
King's meeting with Lucinda, a prostitute of sorts, as well as 
vampire and grand daughter of Dracula.  I'm still not entirely sure 
why Magic King brought Worm Woman to the meeting - whether his mind 
was still somewhat clouded by Lucinda's 'programming' and he simply 
didn't think straight when she asked to tag along, or whether his 
mental resistance is such that he was able to manipulate Worm Woman 
sufficiently to demonstrate Lucinda's control over him as a way of 
setting up stratagem to free himself.  
Sporkman #8-12
'A New Show'  ;  'A New Disaster'  ;  
'A New Smackdown'  ;  'A New Threat'  and  'A New Mess'   
'Lemurs On A Dirigible' parts 3-7
A Superguy [SG] series
by Greg Fishbone
     In the Author's Notes for #8 Greg indicates that the mood he's 
been aiming for in the early part of this arc has been that of a 
horror movie. Specifically the way tension is built up early on by 
having the threat only seen briefly and incompletely.  Overall this 
mood seems to have worked but I've been having problems with Jeanette 
LeBlanc's place within it; fortunately the latter part of the story 
seems to have moved into a slightly different style of story, and 
this works better for the type of character that Jeanette seems to be.
     But before I begin to discuss the structure of the story I'm 
going to have to ramble on a bit about the structural balance between 
terror and horror.  This may take a while.  But trust me, I'm pretty 
sure I know what I'm doing.
     One tidbit of information I recall from various roleplaying games 
is how to play the difference between terror and horror.  At its 
simplest, terror tends to be based on the fear of immediate harm and 
prompts the fight-or-flight response.  Horror tends to be more of a 
visceral reaction of revulsion against something.  There are overlaps, 
of course, and the latter can certainly lead directly to the former.  
Nevertheless, for the do-it-yourself activity of gamesmastering these 
loose definitions tend to be more useful that the blanket description 
of the 'horror genre' that we get from the mainstream media.
     In 'Lemurs On A Dirigible' we have two main threads of action.  
One is focused on Mickey and his allies, and conforms pretty much to 
the 'terror' aspect of the genre.  The protagonists encounter something 
scary, scream 'Arghh!' and retreat/run away.  (It is also a good 
example of the way that terror plots can very easily be turned into 
action/adventure plots, since you only need to add the next steps of: 
regroup, rearm and return to fight - which is what happens in the 
latter half of the story arc.)
     Meanwhile, on the other side of the ledger we have the contest 
between Serially Numbered Underling Number Thirteen and the zombie 
Bill O'Reilly, using the lemur-gnawed bones of recently deceased 
passengers as tokens, which better suits the mood of horror.  
It is grisly and macabre.  Perhaps not so grisly and macabre as it 
would be if the events were not taking place in a (semi)comedic 
superhero series, but that's a limitation of the setting rather than 
of story structure.
     Then we come to Jeanette.  Now, I rather like Jeanette.  Indeed, 
if I'm going to confirm that that I nominated Dr Fay Tarif for the 
RACCies, then I should also state that I nominated Jeanette and 
Serially Numbered Underling Number Twenty-Two for Best Supporting 
Character as well.  (But I didn't nominate the Serially Numbered 
Underlings as a group for Best Antagonist; you'll have to look to 
someone else to pin the blame for that one.)  For someone who isn't a 
superhero and knows her limitations on this front, she is nevertheless 
an active protagonist who tries to assist people in her own way and 
to the best of her ability.  And her angst about the ramifications 
of her powers is an interesting twist on her otherwise chipper 
personality.  However, her personality and powers seems to be at odds 
with the type of story role that she's called on to perform in the 
early part of the arc.  Her hunches give her a confidence, calm and 
poise that makes her, paradoxically, emotionally passive even at the 
same time that we know she has been active in manipulating events and 
shaping the story's direction.
    On the one hand, she isn't fitting into the terror/action mode of 
the story: she isn't doing any of the physical running around, because 
by her nature she isn't a (combat) active character.  On the other 
hand, she's only barely fitting into the horror mode as she is held 
captive by Number Thirteen and zombie Bill O'Reilly.  Fortunately she 
has had some small moments of doubt about her hunches - about both 
their ramifications as well as the way that they work - that she 
isn't totally emotionally passive (the bit of backhistory she gave in 
issue 3 about how she may have caused Docteur de la Mort to become as 
supervillain could be considered foreshadowing for her doubts in 
issue 12).  Overall Jeanette seems to come across as someone who would 
fit better in some sort of thriller adventure where, after having set 
up the situation, she has to wait tensely to see if the pieces will 
fall the way she wants them to after all the yelling and screaming 
and running around has been done.  How lucky for her that this seems 
to be exactly the style that the story morphs into in the latter half 
of the arc.  
     To make it clear that I'm not just ragging on, here is a small 
sample of text of how Jeanette's disquiet could be added to, which 
struck me while I was off doing long walks over my vacation in 
mid Feb.  It does not play on her doubts about her interpretation of 
her hunches, but rather on her two captors.
| Jeanette felt uncomfortable waiting like this with only Number 
| Thirteen and zombie O'Reilly for company.  The promise that her 
| efforts would eventually... probably... pay off for the best was 
| cold comfort when faced with their ghoulish presence.  She still 
| had no idea what Number Thirteen's agenda was, and his indifference 
| to human respect only compounded her distrust of him.  O'Reilly was, 
| if anything, even worse.  He was a creature of horror.  He seemed to 
| know very well what respect for others - or at least their remains - 
| entailed, and delighted in violating that respect for no other 
| reason than to put people ill at ease.  It was all that Jeanette 
| could do to keep from fidgeting, but that would probably only 
| attract their attention.
     On Mickey himself I'd just like to add that I particularly liked 
the moment in issue 10 where he and Samuel L. Jackson first discover 
the victims of the lemurs, and Mickey identifies the cause of deaths 
with almost forensic accuracy.  Mickey's so down on himself that 
although he correctly says that his associate (Spoonstryke, nee 
Spoongirl) would have done better than him, he overlooks the obvious 
points that (a) Spoonstryke isn't there at the moment, and (b) he 
nevertheless still has the wherewithal to be a competent crime-
fighter.  In one stroke Mickey is presented as both awesome and 
pathetic.  It seems to be a thematic summary of his situation at the 
low point of his career, right before the upswing forced on him by 
circumstances to get off his mopey butt and actually save people.
Saxon Brenton   University of Technology, city library, Sydney Australia
     saxon.brenton at 
The Eyrie Archives of Russ Allbery which collect the online superhero 
fiction of the rec.arts.comics.creative newsgroup and its sibling group 
Superguy can be found at:       or   or

Overpaid or Underpaid? Check our comprehensive Salary Centre

More information about the racc mailing list