REVIEW: End of Month Reviews #79 - July 2010 [spoilers]

Saxon Brenton saxonbrenton at
Mon Aug 30 20:32:32 PDT 2010

[REVIEW] End of Month Reviews #79 - July 2010 [spoilers]  
Reviewed This Issue:
     Derek Radner's Private Journal #6  [ASH]  {high concept 11}
     Journey Into # 13  [8Fold]     {high concept 11}
     Legion of Net.Heroes Volume 2 #37  [LNH]  {high concept 11}
Also posted:
     Legion of Net.Heroes Volume 2 #38  [NTB/LNH/ELSE]  {high concept 11}
     Lifetrap  [ASH]   {high concept 11}
     What?  They're *all* entries for High Concept Challenge?  
     (High Concept round 11 was themed 'death traps', by the way.  You 
can tell that this was put forward by the writer of Doctor Developer, 
can't you?)
     I'm flying off to Melbourne on Wednesday for Aussiecon 4 - the 2010 
world science fiction convention.  I note with amusement that there's only 
one item that is important enough to be repeated: 'Build a Lego Dalek' 
(once for the kids and once for adults) which is a fan fundraiser event.
     Meanwhile, I'm still indulging my schadenfreude by watching federal 
politicians squirm as they try to come to terms with the hung parliament 
result from the Australian national election two weekends ago.
     Spoilers below:
Derek Radner's Private Journal #6 
An Academy of Super-Heroes [ASH] series  {high concept 11}
by Dave Van Domelen
     If I recall correctly I've pointed out on a previous occasion that 
the conclusions reached in _Derek Radner's Private Journal_ couldn't 
necessarily be trusted, simply because Derek's logic was sometimes warped 
by his own immense ego.  In this case I also have to disagree with the 
conclusions, but this time simply because I have a slightly different 
definition of deathtrap.  The taxonomy that Dvandom outlines is a 
perfectly reasonable definition based on the conventions of pulp 
adventures and four-colour superheroes, and makes a distinction between 
booby traps (instant kill) and deathtraps (slow enough for the victim to 
see what's happening, feel fear, and perhaps be able to solve the puzzle 
of how to escape).  
     Nevertheless my immediate reaction upon reading that was to 
disagree, and then reflect upon why I was disagreeing and realise that 
my gut reaction was to use a broader, more colloquial meaning of 
'deathrap'.  For example, a building that's a fire hazard can be called 
a deathtrap.  This was at least in part my motivation for my own deathtrap 
story in _LNHv2_ #38 (involving a deliberate magical effect that kills 
instantly anyone using a firearm in a way that the creator defines as 
'wrong' (and, incidentally, was derived from an old character defence 
idea I developed once in a roleplaying game)).
     But as I say, that's a minor definitional issue based on how much 
you rely on genre conventions.  Once you accept the premise, it's fine.  
Perhaps more to point, how typical of Derek - whose own ego and flair 
for attention-grabbing prompted him to style himself as a costumed super-
villain - to zero in on the melodramatic, showy aspects of deathtraps.
Journey Into # 13
'The Five Graph Trap!'
An Eightfold [8Fold] series  {high concept 11}
by Tom Russell
     Well, that's unusual.  A supervillain who in his more... I'm not 
sure whether to call them 'more lucid moments' or 'less psychopathic 
moments'... recognises that his solutions to the world's problems are 
just as much a threat to the world as the problems themselves.
     I'll split this discussion into two halves.  First is the style, 
which in some ways can be considered to be in contrast to the substance. 
It's bouncy and fun, and is used to describe a world of four-colour 
heroes and villains.  Take, for example, the opening lines:
|    A year ago, Shaka Zoom took over the world for the third time.  His
| rule lasted nearly two whole days-- surprisingly long in the world
| domination game
which is more-or-less the standard piece of writerly trickery for 
implying a world beyond the one that is directly described - a world 
where insane and amazing things are performed by superhumans every day.
You would have seen it before in places like the _Astro City_ comics or 
novels like _Soon I Will be Invincible_.
     A minor quibble is that the often long and elaborate sentence 
structure that is used to reflect Shaka Zoom's thought processes is - in 
places - overly elaborate.  Now, in the discussion thread that followed 
in the wake of this story's posting it became clear that I wouldn't know 
what the proper definition of a 'run-on sentence' was if it came up and 
bit me.  I will cheerfully accept that these sentences have the proper 
punctuation to be grammatically legitimate.  Nevertheless, it remains 
the case that when I initially read the first paragraph I had to go back 
and re-read to make sense of it.  It's legible once the reader knows 
what to expect, but it's confusing when first encountered.  Just a minor 
something to be aware of.
     Finally there's the main point of the story: Shaka Zoom's plan to 
neutralise himself.  To lock himself away in such a manner that he cannot 
escape, and to be clever enough now to keep himself from later out-
thinking the trap he's set himself.  But at the risk of going all 
grimdark, the obvious question is: if you think you're such a threat to 
the world, then why don't you just kill yourself?  Well, to be fair that 
issue was dealt with: he can't bear to end his own life.  That's fine, 
lots of people share the same visceral reaction.  But as a super genius 
there are also options like: synthesise the stereotypical 'cure for mad 
genius' that gets used in a number of mad science webcomics.  Well, 
maybe that type of 'self maiming' of yourself comes too close to suicide 
to be feasible.
     Now, the point here isn't really to iterate all the possible ways 
of neutralising oneself as a threat.  Rather, what occurs to me here is 
something that's probably incidental to what Tom was intending when he 
wrote the story.  (Probably) quite by accident we have a piece of 
characterisation that goes to the major flaw of a lot of supervillains: 
a self-centredness that allows them to take extreme ideological steps 
with others (such as taking over the world) while being unable to take 
the same steps with regards to themselves.
Legion of Net.Heroes Volume 2 #37 
'Death Trap'
A Legion of Net.Heroes [LNH] series  {high concept 11}
by Martin Phipps
     You know, Deja Dude is *soooo* lucky that he's the one writing the 
story.  Normally doing something like creating a death trap and putting 
people inside it to see how they react and then showing up to explain 
you evil scheme is the mark of a villain.  (Staying outside the story 
marks you a writer, which is much safer and allows you the option of not 
being lumbered with things like Idiot Plots unless you actually want to.)  
Fortunately the characters soon recognise his plotting style and just go, 
"Oh, it's just Deja Dude.  He'll just turn up and rescue us from this 
crazy situation he's dumped us in this issue."  The worst thing that can 
happen is that it's embarrassing because for the most part it's correct 
(as Catalyst Lass points out), rather than something that would have 
incited the Legionnaires to go gang up on him in a Fight Scene.
Saxon Brenton   University of Technology, city library, Sydney Australia
     saxon.brenton at 
The Eyrie Archives of Russ Allbery which collect the online superhero  
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