REVIEW: End of Month Reviews #61 - January 2009 [spoilers]

Saxon Brenton saxonbrenton at
Sun Feb 1 18:54:18 PST 2009

[REVIEW] End of Month Reviews #61 - January 2009 [spoilers]
Reviewed This Issue:
     Academy of Super-Heroes #96  [ASH]
     Mading Mysteries #4  [Superfreaks]
     Mister Blister And Sister State The Obvious #2  [LNH]
Also posted:
     Ars Magna #7  [Indie Release]
     So, here we are back for our sixth year.
     Now, be forewarned that there are several instances in the reviews 
below where I don't have anything particularly deep and insightful about 
the themes or structure of the story.  So instead, in order to keep you 
from becoming bored with a dry plot summary, I've taken a random weird 
observation and just run with it.
     Spoilers below:
Academy of Super-Heroes #96
'Billions Served Part 4: Different Stages'
An Academy of Super-Heroes [ASH] series
by Dave Van Domelen
     Okay, so the flippant summary of the episode is that stuff happens, 
and then the Light Brigade's plan starts to go into effect.  Which means 
a growing swarm of photonic moths forming a globe around the sun.  Now, 
structurally the 'stuff happens' consists of the usually mix of character 
pieces and info dumps, but dramatic tension is built up in the second half 
as the vignettes all culminate in the realisation that Something Dreadful 
Is Happening.
     I was (probably unnecessarily) amused by Netwalker's comment that "I've 
killed off at least a dozen AIs who wanted to destroy the world."  Even 
allowing for Netwalker's admission that not all of those AIs have the 
wherewithal to actually carry out their intentions, it's awfully convenient 
that all these online threats are turning up just at the time that there's 
someone with the right sort of superpowers to combat them.  It actually 
reminds me of the fan discussions about the early issues of _Astro City_, 
of the type world it must be that it *needs* all these heroes to keep it 
from falling to disaster, and how the world was kept from being destroyed 
prior to the most recent two centuries of high-powered superhuman defenders.
     The reasonable answer is that computing technology in the ASH setting 
has only recently reached the point where self-aware AIs capable of such 
threats have been proliferating, especially if their creation is at least 
partly due to violation physics.  The latter would mean that the presence 
of programmers capable of building such AIs would automatically occur in 
the context of other superhumans, some of whom would take steps to keep the 
more destructive ones under control - so that while such artificial threats 
would exist in the various Heroic Ages, they wouldn't be capable of being 
created in the interregnums when there would be no-one to stop them.  A far 
less reasonable answer is that the universe itself has noticed Netwalker's 
superpowers and is creating appropriate threats for him to fight.  That, 
however, assumes a setting that is geared towards superhuman conflict (and 
may even be self-aware in pursuing that agenda) and while that describes 
the Looniverse or even Superguy it just doesn't fit the ASH setting at all.
     However, the most subtly disturbing possibility is that since super-
human abilities in ASH are essentially reality manipulations and are often 
governed by the subconscious, that Netwalker's powers may be creating 
appropriate threats for him to fight.
Mading Mysteries #4
'Hidden Weapons'
A Superfreaks [Superfreaks] series
by Martin Phipps
     Secret Agent Brad James returns and enlists the aid of Mading in 
thwarting an assassination attempt on Obama at his inauguration by more 
clones of Hong Kong movie actresses.  It seems that the secret organisation 
RANDOM has been using new cloning technology to create clones who act 
indistinguishably from humans by who are killers.  Anyway, the mystery 
is solved with some esoteric detective work (based on knowledge of Hong 
Kong movies), gratuitous use of superpowers (easily done when you have any 
power that you decide to have), and culminating in a chase scene.
     Needless to say, a regular and reliable method of producing of clones 
with full adult consciousness - whether an exact duplicate of someone else 
or with modifications of attitude to act as a deep-cover assassin - would 
throw the whole 'clone rights' issue that has been explored in past 
Superfreaks stories on its ear.  And then there's the prospect of military-
industrial complexes around the planet stocking their armies with custom 
personalitied clones who didn't have to grow through the child-like stage. 
Hmm, and the cynical part of me wonders about civil unrest and the growth 
in the crime rate in the United States among the working classes and 
disadvantaged if the option of joining the army to escape poverty were 
Mister Blister And Sister State The Obvious #2 
'Dangling Chads'
A Legion of Net.Heroes [LNH] series
by Tom Russell
     Structurally this story is in two parts.  The first is a lead-in, 
where Mister Blister and Sister-State-The-Obvious are hanging out at the 
LNH-HQ's receptionist desk when Pants Rabbit Lad dies messily, and then 
because this is the LNH it devolves into a wrangle over who has to fill 
out the paperwork.  The second half is an extended info dump to set up a 
new (and ludicrous) political status quo for the Loonited States.  Thanks 
to bureaucratic red tape over the Mandatory Spell-Checking Law, Barak Obama 
is robbed of the presidency because spell checkers on the voting computers 
won't recognise his name, and gym teacher Barracks Boatman is made 
president with Haiku Gorilla as his VP.  (This sort of thing wouldn't 
have happened in Australia of course, because of our Luddite-like love of 
low tech paper-and-pencil voting methods.  Clearly we would have had to 
have come up with out own unique way of comedically fouling up the process.)
     Now, I can't actually complain about the info dump without engaging 
in hypocrisy, so I'll simply note: the info dump works best as a gag once 
you've got to the end and have the big picture settled in your head.  Tom 
seems to have known this, and has taken steps to keep the audience 
interested through the intermediate steps.  The argument over who gets to do 
the paperwork for Pants Rabbit Lad's death is classic LNH style silliness 
and acts as the hook to get the audience to keep reading.  Then, along the 
way, there are other bits of silliness ("Did a platypus have something to 
do with it?").
     As for Barracks Boatman as president, at least one gag scenario occurs 
to me.  He's a former gym teacher, right?  So he's not going to approve of 
overweight superheroes.  So he goes and finds a fat member of the Legion 
- Onion Lad will do for this example - and has him doing pushups.  Now 
Onion Lad is clearly having problems; he's quickly tiring, getting red in 
the face, and frankly is on the verge of a coronary - but is still able 
to answer Boatman's questions clearly and coherently.  Onion Lad's 
explanation as to why this is the case is simple: "Part of Legion training 
is to be able to give inspiring philosophy about the nature of good versus 
evil in the middle of a running battle.  I'd hardly be a proper net.hero 
if I couldn't exposit just because I was winded."
Saxon Brenton   University of Technology, city library, Sydney Australia
     saxon.brenton at
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