REVIEW: Russell's Reviews Volume One # 2

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Sat Jan 12 11:08:48 PST 2008

IF today = Saturday
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 /____________/ /__  | / / /__  |   //__    VOL. 1
/       \      /___  |/ / /___  |/\/___/     NO. 2

SPORKMAN # 8 [JAN 6, 2008], Fishbone

   This is the first issue I've ever read of SPORKMAN,
and I'm not quite sure what to make of it at this
point in time.  It's very broad parody, and there's
nothing wrong with that; in many cases, it succeeds in
the aims of very broad parody.  At the same time,
there's not too much more than that for me to say
about it, and so my review is somewhat truncated this
time around.
   I would like to comment, though, on the author's
notes that follow the story proper.  In it, Greg
describes his unease at using real persons as
fictional characters, especially since those fictional
characters are to be the victims of a horde of
presumably ravenous lemurs.  He goes on to explain
that the Superguy mailing list receives the rough
draft of his story, that RACC is privy to a slightly
more tidied up version, and that he is working on a
"more comprehensive version for [his] own purposes",
where he will change the names and details of the
celebrities in question in order to make it clearer
that they are parodies.
   While I understand his queasiness, I think the
parody is clear enough, and that changing names and
details would make them less parodies and more
analogues.  Consider, for example, the famous Dan
Ackroyd as Julia Child sketch, or the many parodic
characterizations created by Will Sasso.  I don't
think they'd be nearly as funny if they were saddled
with a sound-alike name, like Juliette Toddler.
   Of course, there is the Mad/Cracked Magazine School
of Parody, which does just that; and my beloved LNH,
for example, is full of characters like
Cheesecake-Eater Lad, who are parodies-- if in name
only-- of famous fictional characters.  But
Cheesecake-Eater Lad does not derive his "funny" from
mocking his "original", but rather from his own
personality and powers.
   Whereas the "funny" from mocking a celebrity and
their well-publicized excesses is derived from mocking
the celebrity and their well-publicized excesses. 
They have a sort of strange iconic power just like a
historical, religious, or legendary figure.  The
reason why, for example, I used Santa Claus in an
Eightfold story back in 2006 was because everyone
knows who Santa Claus is, everyone knows certain
things about him, and so I was able to play off of
that iconic power.
   Using a celebrity in a parodic work allows you to
do the same thing.  Disguising a parody only mutes it.
   That being said, I do understand Greg's unease, and
my discussion here is meant in the spirit of
comforting that unease.  And, look at it this way: a
cursory google search will reveal far nastier pieces
of fiction revolving around celebrity mutilation.  At
least SPORKMAN is funny, and obviously intended in the
spirit of parody.
   If one does decide to change the name and certain
details, one should be careful that in the process of
the latter one doesn't alter those details that are
kosher to the parody.  A Blindsay Blohan who doesn't
booze it up and an Fran Cuttler who doesn't harangue
would miss the point.
   As always, these are just some thoughts.

SUPERFREAKS SEASON 3 # 12 [JAN 8, 2008], Phipps

   I think it's become customary by this point for me
to begin any review of Superfreaks by reiterating my
ambivalence towards the series.  Sometimes, I really
enjoy it, and sometimes-- well, not so much.  There's
a number of reasons for that, tendencies that Martin
Phipps has that I find fairly frustrating at times,
things which I've gone into in greater detail before
and probably will go into greater detail again later
on, but in this particular case I'm happy to report
that I enjoyed this issue, probably more than most of
the stories in "seasons" two and three.  And so I am
afforded the opportunity to discuss one of Martin's
tendencies that does not frustrate me, but rather
quite the opposite.
   Often in his fiction, and especially in this
series, Martin has a way of resolving conflicts in a
sort of surprising off-hand fashion which subverts the
classical and rather staid three-act structure of most
action stories.  It's very similar to a shaggy-dog
story, in that he builds tensions and expectations
towards some massive confrontation only to side-step
it with a seemingly effortless grace.  The difference,
of course, lies in the way in which he accomplishes
this.  With a shaggy-dog story the "build" is the
point and the punchline rather negligible.  Whereas
with Martin, the punchline is the whole point, and so
it is invested with a fair amount of wit, imagination,
and a kind of ruthless logic.
   He used this trick in his excellent LNHY story, the
original MATTHEW ALMIGHTY.  Matthew Petrie, an atheist
temporarily invested with the powers of God, has cured
the world of all disease.  God challenges him that
without disease the world's population is going to
grow out of control.  Rather than concede the point
(and thus concede a part of the whole
just-God-unjust-world argument), Matthew drastically
reduces the chances of pregnancy world-wide.  It's
that sort of logic-- and inventiveness-- that I'm
talking about.
   It's on display here in the conclusion to Martin's
chest-popping alien story.  Extreme, the Superfreaks
analogue for Superman, uses his heat vision to fry up
all the aliens, thus saving a group of kids who are
cowering in a building.  One of them is still

  "Because what if one of them were hiding in a lead
box.  Would you still be able to see it?" 
  "Well then how do you know for sure they are all
  Extreme smiled.  "Because there aren't any lead
boxes in this neighbourhood." 
  "Well, sure, none that you saw." 
  Extreme sighed.  "My x-ray vision can see through
anything except lead.  Anything.  So if there were any
lead boxes in the neighbourhood then I would have
noticed that.  Besides, why would there be any lead
boxes in this neighbourhood anyway?"

   Rather than have one last surviving monster leap
out, or having the kids face said monster, or showing
the fight scene, Martin resolves the problem in a way
that deflates the drama but exponentially increases
the pleasure.  And this is something Martin usually
does fairly well.  Sometimes, the wit, imagination,
and logic behind this sidestep isn't as witty or
imaginative, and in those cases it's not as enjoyable.
 The pleasure is not derived from the structure (or,
in this case, the subverting of structure), but from
the details.
   And in this particular issue, there are a few more
details to hang onto than in its immediate
predecessor.  I like, for example, how they deduce
there are several aliens rather than just one.  It's
not a whole lot of detective work, but it's more than
he usually gives us, and it certainly whets the
   I thought the conclusion to the troll-slayer
storyline was suitably clever; it was nice to have one
of the police officers come up with a plan and
implement it.  And there was a surprising amount of
dramatic impact to self-defensive killing of the
suspect, and to the detective's reaction to what had
happened.  It's one of those moments-- character
moments, moments with a degree of emotion behind
them-- that shows up once in a blue moon in this
series.  I wish there were more of them like that.
   I didn't particularly care for the television show
subplot, which didn't really seem to go anywhere.  I
mean, I guess I understand it-- it shows that Michael
won't divulge case details out of concern for the
victims and their families-- but it felt like it
intruded somewhat on the rest of the story.  Perhaps
in this case Martin didn't it use it as well as he
could have.
   It reminds me a bit of the Columbo scene way back
in the first season of SUPERFREAKS.  One of the
detectives goes to meet her hero, a lieutenant in a
familiar rumpled raincoat, basically to tell him what
a big influence he was and so they can compare his
more deductive methods with the more lab-based
methodology employed today.  It wasn't really a part
of the rest of the story: it was a standalone scene. 
I guess if done another way it could have constituted
a sort of character moment, but since it wasn't in any
way integrated into the plot or any thematic thread,
it just seemed kind of... there.
   And I got the same feeling with the television
subplot in this issue.  Anything can be dramatic or
funny, but only when it's put in some kind of context.
 And sometimes (and this, too, is a structural issue)
it seems like a lot of things in SUPERFREAKS need to
be put in a clearer context, so that the
characterization can be richer and the digressions
more resonant.

SPORKMAN # 9 [JAN 9, 2008], Fishbone

   More of the funny, plus Cthulu.

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