REVIEWS: Russell's Reviews Volume One # 11

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Fri Mar 21 22:44:58 PDT 2008

Holy Saturday, Batman!  It's...
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 /____________/ /__  | / / /__  |   //__    VOL.  1
/       \      /___  |/ / /___  |/\/___/     NO. 11

ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES # 87 [MAR 16], Van Domelen

   The time-traveling hi-jinks of Solar Max and Jen
continue apace.  This time around, they thaw out on an
asteroid depot just as it's being attacked.  They make
the acquaintance of a cyborg, Blitzkrieg!, and I must
say that the entire story is appropriately brawny
without ever abandoning the more cerebral pleasures
that the ASH series provides.
   The character of Blitzkrieg! is a very Lefieldian
cyborg and Dvandom constantly reminds us of his rather
odd proportions and features.  It works as a
comics-style meta-joke, but it also works as part of
the story and the setting.  Consider, for example, the
opinions of the villain, Lucus:

"An unappealing mix of obvious mechanical parts and
biologically twisted organics, all function over form.
House Mactor insisted on cyborgs that either could
pass as Santari (save for the legally-required
markings) or that were so completely mechanical that
they could be seen as machines and not people.
Abominations like this DU-3345 [Blitzkrieg!] made
Lucus's skin crawl."

This grounds the character's appearance in the history
of one aspect of the ASH universe.  One even feels a
bit of sympathy towards the misshapen cyborg, and this
is chiefly because the villain has given distasteful
and dehumanizing voice to our own thoughts.


   How do you make a reader like a character who is
unlikable?  It's a bit of a challenge, and it's one
I've taken up for myself more than once.  Sometimes
I've succeeded, sometimes I've failed, and sometimes
I'm not sure what I've ended up with.
   But it's a challenge that keeps drawing me in.  I
like complex characters, and more often than not
complexity results in foibles that can alienate an
audience.  At the same time, smoothing those foibles
over-- "he's not such a bad guy after all" or the even
more egregious "look at all these circumstances, it's
really the other guy's fault"-- makes them less
interesting and makes the writing less honest.
   Those writers (and directors, and actors) who can
look at a character honestly and manage to generate
more interest than revulsion are great artists; those
who can make us like them, though-- against all
evidence and even our own judgment-- they've got
something truly special.
   I'm not sure if Blitzkrieg! necessarily falls into
this category-- his only foible is that he's modeled
after the uniquely ugly anatomy of Rob Liefeld-- but
at the same time, it must be said that Dave takes a
character who could have been just a joke, and he
makes him more than that.  (In fact, I felt a little
guilty afterwards about laughing at the cyborg
   He accomplishes this, as I mention above, by
putting our own prejudices into the mouth of a
villain.  And so, to distance ourselves from Lucus and
his coldness, we abandon those prejudices-- at least
   It's an effective way to make a character likable
without disregarding or smoothing over his unlikable
traits; another way is to take the opposite tact, to
align the reader very closely with the character and
his point of view.  I don't want to get into the whole
viewpoint character/audience identification
discussion-- as audience identification figures are
usually the very opposite of compelling
characterizations-- but in good hands, this method
helps to make the unlikable less alien: it's no longer
about this repugnant Other but rather about Us.
   Last year, I saw a film that used both of these
methods to make what could be an extremely unlikable
character one of the most winning, and interesting, of
the year.  This character is very, very good at
something-- and he knows it.  This thing he's good at
is the only thing he really thinks of-- the only thing
he really cares about.
   He feels that he's always right about everything. 
He's prone to be impatient with those that don't agree
with him.  Flashes of anger abound.  He contrives to
get a friend romantically involved with a woman not
because he wants to play cupid but in order to protect
his own safety.
   He's vengeful and breaks promises when it's
convenient for him.  He puts others in dangerous
situations to pursue his talent.  And while he does
occasionally do things for others, these things almost
always benefit him in someway.
   This character's name is Remy, and the film I'm
talking about is "Ratatouille".

SPORKMAN # 16 [Mar 17], Fishbone

   Greg gets some good mileage out of his celebrity
supporting cast, some jokes about beef stroganoff, and
some political observations.  (Though I kinda wish
Romney's anti-Spoonman ads had been worked more into
the story proper, even if it had to be in a latter
issue.  Still, good stuff.)
   Mickey's general feelings of inadequacy aren't as
prevalent as they were in issue fifteen, but that's
probably because he actually accomplished something in
that issue.  Here, while still being fairly
self-depreciating-- in the dream that opens the story,
he compares himself unfavourably to "real heroes"-- he
does show himself to be witty and quick-thinking as he
manages to cover for four illegal immigrant
stow-aways.  It's a good bit of character work, and a
good joke, to boot-- I really didn't see that
punchline coming, and so it was quite a delight.
   One of the stow-aways is named Julio, and that
reminds me a story.


   My uncle, who I lived with during my time in
Detroit, owns a cabin on Beaver Lake.  Beaver Lake is
"up north", but still a part of the lower peninsula of
Michigan-- I guess you could say it's in the fingers
as opposed to the palm or the thumb.
   He went up there once a few years back with his
mother, my maternal grandmother, to hunt and fish and
do some work on the cabin.  As they were driving home,
they came across a deer lying in the road.  My uncle
determined that it was dead but had not yet started
rotting.  Having a general affection for venison, he
loaded the corpse into the back of his truck.
   As they neared the Metro Detroit area, they pulled
into a McDonald's drive-in, and-- well, I bet you saw
this coming a mile away-- it turns out the deer wasn't
dead after all.
   My uncle took it home and kept it in the back of
his truck.  Over the course of that weekend, my uncle
and I brought it food and water.  We decided he needed
a name and, for reasons I still don't quite remember,
we decided that name should be Julio.
   Julio started to trust us.  He would let us stroke
his coat and pat his head.  I even fed him once out of
my hand.
   But we knew he couldn't stay; deer are not allowed
to roam the city of Detroit.  And my uncle had no
desire to drive back up north to let him out.
   That Monday, my uncle took Julio into the garage
and slit his throat.  He died quickly.  My uncle
strung Julio up and began butchering him for meat.
   That night, we ate him.

17], Spitzer

   In the writer's notes accompanying this story,
Arthur Spitzer says that "This is pretty horrible",
and I must say this is one case where I emphatically
disagree with the arthur's own interpretation of his
   Stories like this one are actually pretty awesome. 
First off, it's balls-out hilarious.  Every line is
funny-- even the ones that aren't.  I can't say that
the story appeals to the heart, as it isn't exactly
sentimental, or even that it appeals to the brain,
because the last thing it has anything to do with is
   This is a story that appeals directly to the
funny-bone.  The constant, almost arbitrary surprises
and peculiar turns of phrase create a kind of
surrealism unhampered by the pretensions of
surrealists; this is a story that exists purely to
exist, purely to entertain and frighten us and to make
us say, "what the fuck was that", over and over again.
   "This is pretty horrible," Arthur said, "but I felt
I needed to write it anyway."
   And to that I say, Don't fight it.  Feed your
impulse, Arthur.  Follow this whacked-out muse of
yours.  The end results are too glorious and rewarding
to ignore it.

THE REVERSE ENGINEERS # 1 [Mar 18], Burton

   A lot of pathos here, as the kinky mad genius of
withdrawn, paternal, and, at times, willfully obtuse. 
Andrew focuses on the character's relationships--
which, if you think about it, is exactly what he does
in the much lighter LL & DD-- instead of the vagaries
of plot.
   He's not afraid to jump ahead several years at a
time, which throws the changes in those relationships,
from one scene to the next, in high relief.  And the
conclusion, which finds Dr. Developer crippled up with
grief, is surprisingly strong-- it hit me right in the
gut.  Andrew's not afraid to take on strong emotions
head-on, and he does so without erring on the side of
sentiment.  No, every convulsion and every sob is
earned, damn it, earned not only by this story but by
the stories in LL & DD.
   It's a testament to both Andrew's skill and to the
power of serial literature in general.


   I'm looking forward to seeing what Detroit has
become under the guiding hand of Doctor Developer; he
had to do a better job than Kilpatrick.

SPORKMAN # 17 [Mar 20], Fishbone

   First of all, regarding the question on the letters
page, regarding making every installment stand on its
own two feet and providing the audience with the
information they need to understand that installment:
Greg, you're actually pretty damn good at that as is.
   Making an installment stand on its own doesn't mean
recapping every event or every character's history; it
means giving the reader enough to work with so that
they can read that one episode and enjoy it.
   The way you introduced Dillweed City is actually a
fairly strong example of this.  When Dillweed City is
first mentioned, you don't start telling us about what
has transpired before.  But Mickey's reaction to
Dillweed City gives us the information we need at that
moment: for some reason, Mickey wants to stay far away
from it.  It creates a question in the reader's mind,
and that question is answered at the issue's end.  If
that's not strong, economical, self-contained
story-telling, I'm not sure what is.
   That being said, I'm sorry to see the celebrity
supporting cast go.  I know that you previously
expressed reluctance in using real-world figures, or
parodies thereof, but you got a lot of mileage out of
them, joke-wise, and they formed a very nice chorus
   I'm sure you'll replace them with other supporting
characters, ones who are completely original and just
as entertaining, and I'm looking forward to that.


   One thing that made SPORKMAN'S dirigible storyline
more accessible despite the rather sizable supporting
cast is that the supporting cast was made up of
characters that most readers are already familiar
with.  We know who Britney Spears is, and her
fictional counterpart carries with her the iconic
weight of what we know and think about her already. 
Freed from the burden of establishing all those facts,
the author is able to immediately commence with taking
it into new directions-- directions that are, in this
case, extremely funny.
   One of the things that attracted me to Santa Claus
was his iconic power.  Here's a fictional character
that, in one form or another, we're all fairly
familiar with.  Certain aspects of his character and
his world don't need to be established: we know he's
impossibly old, that he has a wife, that he flies
around the world in one night giving presents, that he
lives at the North Pole.
   Since all that is already established by the
reader, I was able to spend more time on the personal
touches that were more important to me.  Now, I'm not
sure if I succeeded, exactly-- that Santa Claus story
is crying out for me to rewrite it, in some places
drastically-- but if I had to painstakingly establish
a pudgy immortal philanthropist and his legions of
elves, the end result would have been messy, perhaps
even unbelievable.  If a reader was able to buy into
at all, it's because they've bought into it before.
   So there is something to be said about using public
domain characters that have already been embedded in
the public consciousness.





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