REVIEW: Russell's Reviews, Volume One # 4

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Sat Jan 26 09:14:23 PST 2008

Saturday, in the park, it must have been
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/       \      /___  |/ / /___  |/\/___/     NO. 4

SPORKMAN # 11 [JAN 21, 2008], Fishbone

   I still don't have a whole lot to say about this
series, other than to note that it is fairly amusing. 
This one did make me a little melancholy, however.
   Partially this is because I recently passed through
Flint, Michigan, and it's still an economic wasteland.
   And partially this is because Dane Cook is
increasingly ubiquitous, while Mitch Hedberg is still
very dead.  Now, if only Zombie Mitch Hedberg could
appear and dispatch Dane Cook...

COHERENT SUPER STORIES # 14 [JAN 23, 2008] Van Domelen

   In my review of ASH # 84 in the last installment of
Russell's Reviews, I said that you'd never catch Dave
Van Domelen writing an "idiot plot": i.e., a plot that
depends on everyone in the story acting like an idiot.
 Dave responded that I had thrown down the gauntlet,
and he responded with this issue of COHERENT SUPER
STORIES, titled, aptly enough, "The Idiot Plot".
   The title has a double meaning, in that not only is
the story the author's attempt to write such a story,
but that the villain's scheme is a literal idiot plot:
a plot to reduce a number of atomic scientists to
idiots.  It's a very clever sort of pun.
   The brevity of the story, as Van Domelen admits in
the author's notes, does not allow him to really milk
the premise.  We don't get to see Brightsword's idiocy
in action too much, but the general idea-- he jumps to
conclusions and sticks to them regardless of evidence
to the contrary-- is executed palpably.  I really
enjoyed the cover gag-- scientists riding tricycles--
and wished there had been more of that business in the
actual story.
   But Dvandom is also writing a particular kind of
story-- straight-forward plot-based superheroics with
a headlong herky-jerky pace-- or, if you like, a
pastiche of that kind of story, and to dwell on the
scientists would be somewhat anachronistic.  And the
disparity between cover and story is a time-honoured
part of comics of the sixties and seventies, which he
also pulls off well.
   And, for such a plot-based sort of story, he was
able to characterize Brightsword fairly well in a very
short span of time.  The characterization-- perhaps
because it is a broad, humourous characterization-- is
in some ways more concrete than those present in the
ASH series, which are comparatively more subtle and
thus, for new readers, perhaps a bit harder to grasp.
   I mean, there is certainly character work in ASH,
but because it is so often plot- and idea-based, and
because it often features such a large cast of
characters, it is at times hard for a new reader to
differentiate one character from another,
personality-wise.  Once you've been reading the series
for a while, the differences arise culminatively.  In
the case of this story, as well as the excellent Derek
Radner's Private Journal and the most recent issue of
ASH, characterization is immediately discernable.
   I think this comes from the fact that in all three
cases, the focus is squarely on one or two people. 
That's not to say that the ensemble format is
necessarily a bad thing, and it must be said that Dave
generally handles it better than most.


   Because it's been a while since we add a good
contest, challenge, or theme month...
   I'm throwing down the "gaulnaut" re: Idiot Plots. 
The challenge: write an "Idiot Plot" story.  Now,
there's a slight twist here, and I'll get to that in
just a moment.  First, I'm going to give an example of
a True Idiot Plot in action.
   Classic example: in a slasher movie, when the only
girl who hasn't taken off her clothes runs up the
freaking stairs instead of running out the door or
jumping out of a window, thus ensuring she'll be
cornered with nowhere to run-- well, that's her acting
like an idiot.  If she had ran out the door or window
and escaped, they'd be no story, would there?
   And that, in essence, is an idiot plot: if
nominally intelligent characters didn't act like
morons, they'd be no plot.
   And so, a True Idiot Plot is an example of bad
writing.  And, since my aim in these reviews is to
encourage good writing, I am not challenging anyone to
write a True Idiot Plot.
   Rather, what this challenge entails is the writing
of a Modified Idiot Plot.  The modification?  Make it
good.  Write a good story that turns on characters
acting like idiots.
   Now, there are three ways to do this that spring to
my mind, and one of them I'm going to eliminate right
off the bat, because it's an easy, snarky, knee-jerk
way to meet the challenge.  And that is writing a
story in which a character acts like an idiot and
reaps the consequences.  The girl runs up the stairs
instead of leaving the house and, as a consequence,
she gets hacked to bits.  No, no, a thousand times no.
 That requires no skill at all.
   I want a happy ending.  The characters act like an
idiot, and they still win out in the end.
   Now, like I said, there are two ways to do this
that I can think of right off the top of my head. 
There are probably even more ways to do it, and if you
can think of them, go right ahead!  These are just a
couple of suggestions to get you started.
   Example one: the Mr. Magoo Idiot Plot.  The
character acts like an idiot (or, in Mr. Magoo's case,
like an extremely near-sighted elderly man),
consistently making choices that put them in mortal
danger, and yet, through a convergence of coincidences
created through divine providence, escapes completely
unscathed and, perhaps, even blissfully unaware of the
fact that they were in danger in the first place.
   Example two: the Form of Idiot Plot Without a
Catchy, Cartoon Character Inspired Name.  The
character acts like an idiot, but the very same
idiotic actions that put them into danger are the very
same that save them in the end.  It's not dumb luck
and chance that saves them; they succeed through their
own initiative, as insane as it might seem at the
time.  This one would probably be more difficult and
require more structured plotting, whereas the Magoo
example could unfold somewhat willy-nilly.
   Again, there are probably other ways to tackle this
challenge.  So, to reiterate: write an Idiot Plot
story that is a good piece of fiction with a happy
   Well, I've thrown down the "gaulnaut".  Now it's up
to you.

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