REVIEW: Russell's Reviews Volume One # 9

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Fri Feb 29 23:01:19 PST 2008

Looks like the Welsh are partying.  Better stay inside
and curl up with
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/       \      /___  |/ / /___  |/\/___/     NO. 9

58.5 # 27 [FEB 22, 2008], Martins

   So, in the wake of Locked Room's death, the
remaining New Misfits and the Crime Empire decide to
attack the Evil LNH.  Luckily, the remainders of our
LNH reappear.  Parradox knew this would happen, and
Analytic becomes suspicious of this fact at issue's
   That's it, really-- the plot in brief, and it is
brief.  It's more difficult when you're only given a
small part of a story, and that's probably why I've
had some difficulty giving feedback on series like
this and Sporkman, where plot developments are doled
out piecemeal.
   Now, I'm not exactly a plot person-- I'm fine with
an issue where not much happens in terms of physical
action.  At the same time, I'm a very strong proponent
of the idea that each installment in a work of serial
literature, while forming part of the over-arching
structure, storyline, and characterization, should
stand on its own, as a piece unto itself, as much as
   And I'm not just talking about matters of clarity. 
That's tremendously important-- every issue is
someone's first issue-- but what I'm talking about are
not the qualities that make a work accessible but
rather those that make it cohesive.  I'm talking about
theme and texture, about characterization and style. 
I'm talking about the single most important question
in a work of serial literature, which is: Why is this
an episode?
   What happens, or what is revealed, or what is
explored that could not have taken place in the
episode before this one or after?  Why does this
chapter begin where it begins and end where it ends?
   I understand why the twenty-sixth issue of this
series ended where it did.  Locked Room has just
sacrificed herself to wrest the Ultimate Gnab from the
Evil LNH.  That entire issue revolved around the Gnab,
and the conflict surrounding it was resolved at the
story's conclusion.  And that's why it was an episode.
   This one begins where the other one left off, which
is perfectly fine.  But it ends with a somewhat
arbitrary cliffhanger.  I mean, sure, the cavalry's
coming, big fight next issue-- all very exciting
   But I was left wondering, why does it end here? 
Why couldn't the "we're really pissed off, let's go
kick ass" and "our LNH is here" be part of the same
issue with that big fight?  It didn't make sense to me
to end it here, and that's basically because this
episode lacks the same kind of cohesion that was
present in its predecessor.
   I mean, what is this issue, all on its lonesome,
about?  In the end, it's about reacting to last issue
and setting things up for the next issue.  And, for
me, that lacks cohesion.  The only two reasons I can
see to end it where Lalo did and the way he did are,
one, to have a cliffhanger ending of sorts, and two,
to keep the story under a certain line-count.
   And for me, neither of those reasons are
particularly compelling.

NEW EXARCHS # 11 [FEB 22, 2008], Van Domelen

   This is another issue where not much happens, but
here the _texture_ of the writing really makes up for
the sort of episode-cohesiveness I was talking about
above.  Summarizing what little plot there is doesn't
sound very convincing, but the way in which the story
unfolds makes it enjoyable.
   It all comes down to the details, my friends, and
as usual, Dvandom dutifully delivers details: Paul's
arguments against him being held in a VR environment
and Sung's counterarguments; the story of the clay
squirrels and their various observations about other
species; Jonkatta's musings about the unpleasant
stench of humans: all these things contribute mightily
to a reader's enjoyment.


   Derek's musings this time around are centered less
around ambiguous moral issues and more about
practical, pragmatic concerns.  The Derek of 2023 has
settled the philosophical quandaries that plagued him
in 2017, or at the very least he isn't bothered by
them at this point in the game.  He's no longer asking
"what should I do?" but rather, "how am I going to do
   This sets the stage for a discussion of warfare,
and the ways in which it has evolved with the
introduction of air power, atomic power, and-- at
least in the case of the ASH universe-- super power. 
And, dividing superhumans into tactical and strategic
assets-- a chillingly analytical word that gives this
installment its title and provides some insight into
the way Derek's mind works-- Derek places himself in
the former category and expresses his desire to be
part of the latter.  Here is a man, then, who is
coolly aware of his own limitations and sets about
figuring out ways to overcome them.
   This is a far cry from the almost insane
megalomania that possesses most supervillains and many
real-word despots.  One might not agree with Derek, or
with what he does-- but no one can ever call him a
stupid man.


   In our last issue, I compared Derek Radner to
William F. Buckley, the American conservative also
noted for his intellectual rigor.  Well, as some of
you may know, Buckley passed away this week, and as a
result I was reminded of some of his intellectually
indefensible positions-- such as, for example, wanting
to brand people with HIV to warn the rest of us.  I
had often in the past regarded him with a begrudging
sense of respect, but that statement-- coupled with
other instances of gay-bashing and race-baiting--
makes doing so morally indefensible.  He might have
been well-spoken and in possession of a fine
vocabulary, but he was a stupid bigot.
   I offer my very sincere apologies to Mr. Radner.

LEGION OF NET.HEROES VOL. 2 # 25 [FEB 24, 2008],

   A new Saxon Brenton story?
   ... and it's short?
   But seriously, this was an amusing little vignette
with the sort of extremely dark humour you seldom find
around these parts.  I especially liked the bit about
the laser death ray execution.
   This story was written as an answer to my
newsgroup-wide challenge for an Idiot Plot ("Throwing
Down the Gaulnaut" Department, RR # 4).  Saxon notes
that it "runs the outer edge of the story criteria",
as it lacks the requisite happy ending.  But it was
still an gleefully manic story, equipped with its own
demonic charm.

SPORKMAN # 15 [FEB 25, 2008], Fishbone

   The concluding chapter to "Lemurs on a Dirigible"
brings it all together quite nicely.  All the jokes
work-- especially the extended episode with Howard and
the bit about the emergency wings.
   More importantly, the characterization of young
Mickey coalesces in ways that were not immediately
present in the previous installments that I've read. 
While he's been hesitant and unsure of himself
previously, here these feelings are foregrounded,
forming the basis of the action and the heart of the
story.  It's really a trial, a test of Mickey's
abilities-- and it's a test that he does not pass, at
least to his own satisfaction.
   These feelings-- very potent and accessible
feelings of failure-- were obscured somewhat by the
number and variety of the other characters.  It was
nice, at least for this episode, to have them more or
less take a backseat, allowing us to spend time alone
with the title character-- alone with him and his

ANTHOLOGY2 # 52 [FEB 25, 2008], Corgan

   This story is tremendously interesting to me in my
role as a critic, though perhaps less so as a reader. 
What makes it interesting is its extremely short
length, and the reason why that's interesting is that
it affords me an opportunity to take an extremely
close look at the nuts and bolts of the writing:
sentence-by-sentence and line-by-line.
   Now, it's not that I never get the chance to get
into the grammatical nitty-gritty.  From time to time,
I'm able to wax somewhat poetical on a particularly
resonant word choice, troubling sentence structure,
and a paragraph that I hold in high esteem.  But-- the
adventures of Drabble Girl aside-- one very seldom
gets the opportunity to look this closely at an entire
   The opening sentence is also the longest, and it's
fairly densely packed with adjectives:

"The pressure of millions of gallons of water crushing
against Schezerade's control cabin was resounded by
warning lights flaring to life, sparks pelting her hot
skin, and ozone pervading her nostrils."

   Ashley Corgan, the author, goes for baroque with
the sensory details.  He or she tries to make the
reader feel, as acutely as possible, what the
character is going through.
   I'm not sure if it altogether works.  It's a
difficult thing to do under normal circumstances, and
trying it at the beginning of a story, in the first
sentence no less, is fairly transparent and quite in
earnest.  A little too emo for my tastes.
   Part of that is because of the length of the
sentence.  Many actions scenes in prose attempt to
show a number of things happening at once, or to
describe a number of things happening very quickly and
fluidly, by putting them all into one breathless
sentence.  I personally don't think this works all too
   In an action film, you can see all the various
actions happening in something approximating real
time; it's as much a temporal medium as it is a visual
one.  In comics, the temporal element is not as
present, but you still get physical representations of
all the actions, presented concisely and concretely.
   This concreteness is vitally important to most
action scenes, which are generally concerned with
visible dangers and the suspense generated by their
presence.  Other action scenes might be more about
interior states or feelings of confusion, and the
creator can change his methods accordingly.
   But in an action scene where you want the audience
to _understand_ everything and _follow_ everything,
it's extremely important that each event and each step
is understandable, easy to follow, and concrete. 
Folding several events or details together in a single
sentence makes them less so on all three counts, and
longer sentences also fail, in most instances, to
mimic the temporal element.  In fact, a longer
sentence makes time feel more languid; shorter and
choppier sentences give the feeling that time is
passing very rapidly.  By the time you get to the end
of a longer sentence in an action scene, you might
have forgotten where it started: which, again, gets in
the way of being concrete.
   I do want to say, before moving on, that the use of
the word "resounded" in the first sentence is a very
interesting one.  Resound, which means quite literally
"to sound again", or to echo or to ring with sound, is
an auditory word.  Here, it is used to link the
auditory detail (the water CRASHING against the cabin)
with details appealing to sight, touch, and smell. 
It's not the crashing noise that resounds, but the
flaring of warning lights, the pelting of sparks
against her skin, and the pervading of ozone in her
nostrils.  Or, more properly, the crashing noise is
resounded through those other phenomenon.  It's a very
nifty usage.

"Her mind panicked, reeling with apocalyptic flashes."

I think this sentence would be stronger if "panicked"
was removed and "reeling" changed from a gerund to a
past-tense verb form:

"Her mind reeled with apocalyptic flashes.",

or, perhaps,

"She reeled with apocalyptic flashes.",

which has the same meaning with the added connotation
of physical distress.  The use of "panicked" in
Corgan's original sentence is a bit redundant, and its
removal would change the structure of the sentence
from the more complex two-clause structure to
something simpler.  It's not that the first structure
is bad, per se-- I use it all too often in my own
writing (especially my nonfiction), and my reliance on
dashes, parenthetical asides, colons, and semicolons
is a bit troubling-- but I think a more direct
structure would appeal that much more directly to the
reader's emotions.
   If extremely short fiction has any impact on a
reader at all, it's from being direct; elegant
variation just gets in the way.

   Now _that's_ direct, and it's rhythmic, and it sets
up the twist that's coming in the sentence after next.
"Cramps wracked her insides as a defiant roar of
adrenaline cut a burning trail through her arteries
and veins."

   Now, in this case, I think the linking of the two
details works.  First of all, it's not an extremely
long sentence.  Secondly, the first detail-- the
cramps-- is both concise and, yes, concrete.
   However, I think the second half of the sentence is
a little top-heavy.  The images evoked in that second
half-- the sound of a roar, the cutting of a trail,
and burning-- aren't perfectly complementary.  "A
defiant roar of adrenaline" cutting "a burning trail
through" one's arteries and veins is a little muddled.
   You could say instead, for example, that the roar
"burned through her arteries and veins".  However,
that doesn't evoke the motion implied by a trail being
cut.  "Burned" could mean that everything's boiling. 
If the author wants a sense of movement, of something
starting deep inside her and spreading outwards,
"burned" doesn't quite do it.
   Neither does "blaze a trail", the obvious
combination of the two, for the simple reason that its
overuse has robbed it of all meaning.  Simply taking
out the burning doesn't work; "cutting a trail" sounds
very slow and tedious.
   But dispelling with both of these and putting the
emphasis on the sound, you could have

"Cramps wracked her insides as adrenaline roared
through her arteries and veins."

   The roar, which starts deep inside and echoes
outwards, communicates both the speed with which it
spreads and its primal power.  And without other words
and details to slow it down, the sense of speed is
emulated in the sentence itself.
   Once could make it even stronger by taking out the
"and veins", which is already implied by the presence
of arteries.  Also, arteries-- moving blood away from
the heart, moving it from deep within outwards-- also
resounds the type of motion evoked.

"I'm gonna die... and I'm gonna take this bastard with

   And there's the aforementioned twist, communicated
clearly, efficiently, and forcibly.

"She jammed a neural remote into the small cavity at
the base of her skull before triggering the EVS of her
skinsuit. Her entire form quickly enveloped by a nigh
impervious nano-weave."

   Here, the sentences get a bit clunky with technical
words.  This is actually a very good choice, because
it emphasizes the physical actions.  If the two
sentences previous formed a bridge leading away from
the character's apocalyptic flashes of despair-- of an
interior state-- then these two sentences, with their
added attention to the exterior world, is where that
bridge was leading.
   And while I think those first few sentences could
be cleaned up a bit, and while I also think the
attempts to get the reader involved fell a little
flat, this basic aspect of the story, this movement
from headspace to realspace, was pulled off quite
   The last two sentences,

"Helrot pumped one of his armor's mechanized, ebony
fists into the air. 


leave something to be desired.  Because we're not sure
exactly what Schezerade's accomplished-- because we
don't know how this is going to take him down with
her, and because we never see him taken down-- it's
unsatisfactory.  If we knew what she was doing, then
the ending would be ironic; he doesn't know what's
going to hit him.
   But since we don't-- and, in fact, we're not even
sure where he is in relation to her-- the story really
requires some form of closure that's simply not

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