REVIEW: End of Month Reviews #69 - September 2009 [spoilers]

Saxon Brenton saxonbrenton at
Fri Oct 30 17:01:38 PDT 2009

[REVIEW] End of Month Reviews #69 - September 2009 [spoilers]
Reviewed This Issue:
     New Exarchs #15  [SG/LNH]
     Jolt City #18  [8Fold]
     Pigs In Time #4-5  [LNH]
     Superhuman World 2009: The Trillions  [Misc : Contest]  {High Concept 3}
Also posted:
     A Singular Fire  [ASH]
     Beige Midnight #5  [LNH]
     The Doggie Conversationalist #1  [LNHY]  {High Concept 3}
     Haiku Gorilla Super-Special of Special Awesomeness! #1  [LNH]
     High Concept Challenge #3  [LNHY : Contest]  {High Concept 3}
     Journey Into... #7  [8Fold : Contest]  {High Concept 3}
     Just Imagine Saxon Brenton vs. Andrew Perron In The Return Of  
          The RACCies! #3  [LNH][RACCies]
     Spoilers below...
New Exarchs #15
'Execute Plan B!'
A Superguy/Legion of Net.Heroes [SG/LNH] series
by Dave van Domelen
     Hmmm.  Okay, perhaps a bit abrupt as endings go, but that's under-
standable under the circumstances of the writer having flagging interest  
in the Flash Gordon style stories that inspired this story arc in the  
first place.  If motivation was otherwise I'd have expected a few more  
issues of sneaking into the city and doing reconnaissance and having  
close shaves and contacting the inevitable city based rebellion and  
suchlike before the climactic showdown with Sung.  I say this not just  
because that's the way stories tend to be structured and paced (which  
means yes, I'm probably thinking in cliches again by indulging in the  
conceit that there's only one 'proper' way for a story to be paced), but  
also because Dvandom has in the past showed a liking for mega arcs based  
in multiples of twelve.  It might seem like there would need to be  
padded to cover the seven episodes needed to get to issue 24, but throw  
in ongoing subplots for the kids of the Preteen Patrol and the squirrels,  
and I think it would have worked okay.
     Ahem.  Anyway.  Full marks for the clever use of the concept to  
scare Sung away from trying to conquer 000SUPERGUY with marketing.  The  
notion that a superhero class universe will inevitably have suffered so  
many crises, catastrophes and sundry destructive Events that it is very  
tough, in the sense of what-doesn't-kill-you-makes-you-stronger, works  
not just on the meta level but also on a literal, non-fourth wall  
breaking level as well.  It's a rationale that is far more plausible  
than many other tactical threats, since it's a simple enough concept  
that it remains fresh in the reader's mind when other, more complex  
strategic situations have been overlooked (or been overridden by troop  
and weapon build-up).  It is especially more plausible than most plot  
devices and deus ex machina, since by their nature made-up resolutions  
are easily retconned away or trumped with some new and more powerful  
made-up widget.
Jolt City #18 
'War of the Balloonists!'
An Eightfold [8Fold] series
by Tom Russell
     If you conceptualise the progress of this series in terms of ongoing  
development of the status quo of its protagonists, then metaphorically  
this would be the start of a new trade paperback.  Or perhaps more  
literally as the start of a new novelisation, if Tom decides to publish  
this story in deadtree format as well.  Anyway, it's a jumping on point.   
Derek makes his debut as the Blue Boxer, sidekick to the Green Knight,  
and it doesn't go all that well.  He gets mockery, and because we're  
talking about the internet age not only does it happen in real time and  
propagate virally, but also a lot of it involves people just being  
smartarses rather than just being mainly the tub thumping of demagogues  
who see an opportunity to exploit something for their own ends.  And to  
be fair, apparently he's not the first person to be inspired by the  
return of the Green Knight to take up four-colour heroing, so it's quite  
probable that there's internet mockery of others as well.   Needless to  
say: anyone who has enough drive to regularly dress up in costume and  
fight crime also has enough pride to be wounded by this sort of thing.   
At the end of the day he'll simple have to build up his rep.  On the  
other hand his private life is going pretty well, even if he's not  
particularly found of Dani's cooking.
     Meanwhile Jolt City is caught between the antics of two villains  
claiming the name 'The Balloonist'.  One an aerialist and the other a  
creator of living inflatable animals.  (Now, me, I would of forgone  
calling them Balloonist One and Balloonist Two and instead used flying  
Balloonist and squeaky toy Balloonist, but that's a nitpick.)
     The squeaky toy Balloonist is used to particularly good effect.    
Now, both Balloonists provide memorable characters and the opportunity  
for investigative work and perhaps some heroing action - although in  
the Blue Boxer's case its more an opportunity for embarrassing faux pas,  
such as the rogue telephone pole incident.  However, investigating the  
mechanics of the squeaky toy Balloonist's abilities also brings up  
discussions of the moral consequences of creating and dealing with  
living things.  Things like the sanctity of naimal vs human life, and  
the treatment of non-protein life forms.  In other words, it's an  
example of Jim Henley's thesis that superheros are a 'literature of ethics'.
Pigs In Time #4-5
'Invasion of the DaLEDS'  and  'Bareback To The Future'
A legion Of Net.Heroes [LNH] miniseries
by Martin Phipps and Tom Russell
     Well, crap.  My Geek cred is in tatters.  Despite my *decades* of  
being a _Doctor Who_ fan, and musing on things like (LNH reference here)  
how Occultism Kid could defeat the Daleks with a Monty Python skit, it  
never *once* occurred to me that the Daleks should have nonexistent  
depth vision because of having only one eye.  To the extent that their  
poor shooting consciously registered at all I assumed that it was just  
major character plot invulnerability.  Thanks a lot guys.
     Okay then.  Issue three has been skipped over and will probably  
never be written.  Let's move on.  Issue 4 has Master Blaster and  
Sarcastic Lad raking around 16th century England.  And by 'raking'  
I don't mean they're doing gardening, I mean they're acting like rakes.  
Debauched lotharios interested in carnal intercourse - in this case  
with King Henry VIII's wives.  While pursuing this goal, they become  
involved with the proverbial pointy end of an invasion by DaLED robots  
from the future, and are able to defeat them by means of a time paradox.
     Well, no.  Actually they're able to defeat the DaLEDs because  
Master Blaster has lots of Big Guns that he can hand out to the King's  
guards for the big fight scene.  The time paradox comes into play when  
Master Blaster and Sarcastic Lad need to escape from the King's guards  
after the battle.
     This story particularly highlights the way that Master Blaster is  
a linear thinker who thinks with his main head (which would not be too  
much of an exaggeration nor too much of an unkindness to describe as  
the one that doesn't sit on his shoulders).  It isn't that he's stupid  
(although he *is* an idiot).  Rather, he doesn't worry much about  
anything other than sex and guns until it directly affects him.  At  
that point he can work out without too much trouble what's going on (if  
only because he's seen enough SF films to recognise the plot elements),  
and pull off a convincing line of fast-talk.  As evidence, notice the  
way that he doesn't start engineering the time paradox until after it  
happens to them.  Otherwise, as seen in issue 5, he views time travel  
as a way of getting to exotic new locations.
     Speaking of which, issue 5 starts with the two of them not-quite-stuck  
in Japan in the future, enjoying VR porn.  Not-quite-stuck because, as  
the series premise stands, the time cycle works but can't be properly  
steered.  However, to reiterate, Master Blaster is sanguine with this  
state of affairs: from his point of view the time cycle is simply a means  
of tourism: cross-time sex tourism, that is.
     Anyway, at Sarcastic Lad's instigation they move on.  They arrive  
in ancient Sumer and decide to debauch around there, becoming involved  
with the local queen, Ishtar, who refuses to let them leave when even  
Master Blaster has had enough.  She claims to be a goddess, but  
fortunately for the two LNHers the surprise arrival of a time cop to  
reveal that she is in fact a human from the future masquerading as a  
goddess.  The time cop has been... kind of pursuing, kind of waiting  
for the right moment to act... for all three of the temporal miscreants  
for a while, and has now reached the appropriate moment to act without  
risking an inconvenient paradox (as opposed to the convenient paradox  
used last issue against the DaLEDs).
Superhuman World 2009: The Trillions  
A Miscellaneous [Misc] posting  {High Concept 3}
by Scott Eiler
     The third High Concept contest theme was a hero who talks with  
animals.  In this story (which is presented in the form of a press  
release) the Dunevoy Laboratories develops and then deploys a mechanical  
means to control mosquitoes to attack one of two alien spacecraft.  As  
Scott points out in the author's notes, the various concepts of 'hero',  
'talks' and 'animals' were all interpreted loosely.  
     I recall reading Neil Gagman making the observation that the most  
basic thing that a story must do is keep the reader interested enough to  
keep turning the pages and upon reaching the end not feel ripped off with  
what they had read.  In that regard I think this story works in two  
significant respects.
     Firstly there's thelling of the story: the presentation of a  
problem and its solution.  In this case the problem is an alien incursion  
(since the press release is so obviously a piece of propaganda I'll  
refrain from assuming it's a literal invasion, but I'll get to that in  
a moment).  The solution is an innovative biological attack using  
mosquitoes.  Of course, at heart this is a reprise of HG Well's _War Of  
The Worlds_.  I mention this neither as condemnation nor praise, since  
to my mind the execution of the details is sufficiently different to make  
it an interesting variation in it's own right.  Rather, the comparison  
helps me segue to the point that like _War Of The Worlds_ this story  
reads on a superficial level as more like science fiction than superhero  
fiction.  This should be obvious since it's quite overt that there are  
no costumed crime fighters.  Now, this is fine.  As I have had reason to  
note in the past (and I am certainly not the first to do so) comic books  
are a medium, not a genre.  They don't *have* to be about costumed heroes.  
However, an important point is that this is a function of the story's  
presentation rather than the setting per se: 'The Trillions' is a sequel  
to the previous High Concept Challenge story by Scott, 'Cry For Iran',  
and that *did* have superhero elements.
     The second aspect is more subtle.  The press release is quite  
obviously a piece of propaganda, and I found myself going over it to  
try and pick apart any inconsistencies or even minor details that could  
be used to infer what might really be going on.  So, for example, there  
is talk of an 'alien occupation', harvesting Earth's oxygen, and  
obsessing about the number of aliens both in the ships and off planet  
- but there is never any clear statement other than possibly/probably  
untrustworthy accusations as to what the aliens were doing on Earth.  
Resource harvests?  Colonisers?  Crashed convoy?  It's not clear.   
Since the premise was intriguing enough to get me to read through  
several times times, I'd count that as a good sign for an opening issue  
or chapter, but that in turn suggests that this story would best be  
served by further development of the hinted at/dangling story elements.
Saxon Brenton   University of Technology, city library, Sydney Australia
     saxon.brenton at 
The Eyrie Archives of Russ Allbery which collect the online superhero  
fiction of the rec.arts.comics.creative newsgroup and its sibling group  
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