REVIEW: End of Month Reviews #78 - June 2010 [spoilers]

Saxon Brenton saxonbrenton at
Sat Jul 31 17:04:21 PDT 2010

[REVIEW] End of Month Reviews #78 - June 2010 [spoilers]  
Reviewed This Issue:
     Academy of Super-Heroes #107  [ASH]
     The Flagsuit Memo  [ASH]
     The Gong Fu Kid  [Contest]  {high concept 10}
     Jolt City #19  [8Fold]
     Silver Arrow #2  [StarFall]
     SW10: What About Judy And Me?  [SW10]
     World Tales #16  [LNH/Else]  {high concept 10}
Also posted:
     Lady Lawful and Doctor Developer Special: Pull  [ASH]  
                    {high concept 10}
     Legion of Net.Heroes vol.2 #36  [LNH]  {high concept 10}
     My Father's Son #1  [8Fold]
     The Pyramid Trap  [ASH]
     Hmm.  Last month Ted Brock made a return appearance, this month 
Jamas Enright.  Oh, and the theme for High concept Challenge number 10 
was 'the immigrant experience'.
     Spoilers below...     
Academy of Super-Heroes #107
'I Hate Mondays'  [The Office Part 1]
An Academy of Super-Heroes [ASH] series
by Dave Van Domelen
     This episode acts a bridging story from the previous 'Rival Schools' 
arc into 'The Office': a few loose ends are tied up (Fury and Centurion's 
discussion on the effectiveness of Red Widow's media strategy; the follow-
up to Netwalker's rescue mission/theft of the ADA artificial intelligence), 
combined with a setup explaining the new problem that the ASH members 
face (the briefing to explain what the Multiversal Office is and why it's 
a potential threat), plus some scenes reintroducing the main cast in 
thematically appropriate ways and in some cases carrying forward their 
personal soap opera subplots.
     Actually, when I started analysing about how issue 107 hung together 
as a story I mentally ran through the events, and naturally enough the 
first thing was the opening scene with Fury and Centurion - and my first 
reaction was 'Ah, back to the regularly scheduled soap opera'.  Stripped 
of any pejoratives that might cling to the term 'soap opera' it 
describes a lot of modern four-colour superhero comics rather well.  
Historically the comics of the Golden Age tended to feature iconic heroes 
fighting crime in self contained stories, with no carry-over in either 
plot or subplot from story to story.  The watershed change-over to 
'heroes dealing with personal problems in the subplots of their private 
lives' came with the Marvel Comics of the Silver Age.  (And arguably the 
whole trend towards heroes beset with personal problems reached an 
over-ripe asymptote in the dysfunctional protagonists of the 
grim'n'gritty Iron Age.)  These days the trend seems to take an average 
somewhere around the style of the Silver Age - with the exact amount to 
which personal subplots appear being a matter of authorial and stylistic 
choice.  Certainly the ASH series seems to fall somewhere around that 
     That said, it does occurr to me that a situation like that of Fury 
and Centurion doesn't quite count as 'soap opera'.  Despite Centurion's 
ongoing health status as being internally amorphous, neither of them 
has had a direct personal problem to worry about/angst over/struggle 
against for quite some time.  Instead, they are familiar characters who 
are here being trotted out to be used for identification purposes and as 
talking heads.  This actually describes most of the ASH membership, now 
that I come to think of it, and probably for good reason.  On a 
government sponsored superteam with goodness knows how many psychologists 
on support staff, it's reasonable that only a minority of the characters 
are carrying an emotional problem parcel at any one time, even if that 
does mean that most of the rest of the time everybody looks like their 
personal lives have settled into something that looks suspiciously like 
cosey domesticity.
     Crap, but that random thought and its consequences went on for 
longer than I expected.  More important stuff: the Multiversal Office.  
It wasn't until my third read-through that I finally caught the signif-
icance of all the references to bureaucracy and red tape in the first few 
scenes.  (See what I have to put up with?  Sometimes I over-analyse 
stuff, while ignoring other stuff that's sitting in front of me pulling 
faces.  Gah!)  Hmm, and those same scenes also involve questions of 
identity as well... I wonder if that's foreshadowing too.
     Anyway, I'm mildly interested in seeing how the depiction of the 
Multiversal Office is handled in the ASH setting.  My reason?  Well, the 
Multiversal Office first appeared in the initial Net.Trenchcoat Brigade 
story/chaotic add-on cascade _Wrath of the Administrator_ back in the 
early 1990s and later got used by Dvandom in the 'Bad Forms' arc for his 
old Legion of Net.Heroes series _Constellation_ and crossovers.  I 
mention this because I think there's a subtle difference between its two 
depictions - which I suspect I only really notice now because I recently 
reread parts of _Wrath of the Administrator_ when I was researching the 
character of Doubt, the Eight Endless for the 5th High Concept Challenge 
back in December 2009.  The NTB story, being faux-Vertigo style, 
combined the surreal with the Kafka-esque.  The LNH story, being 
superhero parody, took the surreal and pumped a lot of it up to become 
silliness and could not help but tone down some of the Kafka-esque 
elements.  Quite apart from the whole 'superheroes simply fight their 
way through any obstacle' inherent within the genre, the way that Acton 
Lord was able to (quite brilliantly, actually) outthink the Office's 
drain on his life force defies the type of existential helplessness that 
unaccountable bureaucracy should create.
     Now, at the risk of pointing out the bleeding obvious, _Academy of 
Super-Heroes_ doesn't quite share the genre styles of either the Trench-
coaters or the Legion.  It's more of a science fiction/four colour 
superhero hybrid.  What will that mean for the way the Multiversal 
office  manifests in the mainstream ASH universe?  We shall have to wait 
and see.
The Flagsuit Memo
An Academy of Super-Heroes [ASH] sourcebook
by Dave Van Domelen
     Anal-Retentive Archive Kid sighs.  "Okay, fine, screw this.  I don't 
*care* what it's *labelled* as.  If the substantive portion of the text 
is written from an in-universe perspective then it's gonna get treated 
as a story."
     This one-shot takes the form of an email from a member of the 
Combine government's Department of Super-Human Affairs to his new 
superior.  He seeks clarification on current department policy and 
preferred approach on the subject of creating a 'Captain America' style 
iconic national hero (or 'flagsuit') for the Combine.  Several possible 
approaches are outlined, along with their benefits and drawbacks.
     Given the timing of this being published more-or-less concurrently 
with the bureaucracy themed 'The Office' arc starting in _ASH_ #107, the 
reader might be inclined to think that the somewhat cynical opinions 
expressed in the email are a function of the rising bureaucracy caused 
by the Multiversal Office.  This is possible, but it would be a mistake 
to automatically assume it.  _The Flagsuit Memo_ is certainly 
thematically appropriate at this point in time.  However, manipulative 
bureaucracy has always been somewhere in the background of the ASH 
setting.  The very first story - published in the initial _ASH_ mini-
series - was based on the notion of pushing trainees into a 'sink or 
swim' situation.
     As ASH sourcebooks go the email format means it's less dry than a 
number of others.  However, when talking about sourcebooks the primary 
purpose is not merely to entertain but to inform.  People who *need* to 
know this information will (admittedly quite a small group, considering 
the size of the ASH writing stable at the moment) will gulp it down 
regardless of format as long as it's set out clearly and coherently.  
People who are interested in the specific subject, or in the world 
building aspects of a superhero setting, will similarly read it 
regardless.  Casual readers are more likely to be swayed by a narrative-
like structure - but I'm guessing that the email format would be less 
appealing than the story format of, for example, the taxonomy of monsters 
in _Monsters 101_.
The Gong Fu Kid 
A High Concept Challenge [Contest] posting
by Martin Phipps
     Here's the first of there High Concept Challenge entries for round 
10: the immigrant experience.
     Since I got burnt last time I'll go the obvious route and start off 
by taking a guess at which movie Martin is using as a template for this 
story.  This might not normally be too difficult an ask, but frankly 
I've never been that much of a film buff (either through cinema release 
or television reruns) so I'd normally be at a disadvantage in this sort 
of... and yes, I do mean this literally in my case... *guessing* game.  
Fortunately the first _The Karate Kid_ movie has such a high profile 
pop-culture presence that I can recognise its general plot structure 
even though I've never seen it or its sequel.
     In any case, Jaden Smith and his mother move to China when she gets 
a job at the United States embassy.  Jaden slowly makes friends with the 
locals, and through his acquaintance with the girl Su zi is introduced 
to the home economics teacher Mr Han, who agrees to teach Jaden 
appropriate 'skill', or gong fu.
     With this setup the whole story is basically an amusing inversion 
of the outsider-must-learn-to-win-acceptance-by-fighting plot.  However 
in this case Jaden's ultimate challenge from the stereotypical gang of 
bullies is to be able to read and order food from a Chinese menu, and 
then eat it using chopsticks.  Extra points for the 'we're not gonna be 
friends because you suceeded, we're just not gonna beat you up' line, 
since it so neatly highlights the rather contrived logic of movie 
conflicts: real gangs of bullies would only be using an inability to 
order from a menu as an excuse to beat people up.
Jolt City #19
'The Little League of Doom!'
An Eightfold [8Fold] series
by Tom Russell
     Well, that was particularly nasty - which was the point, of course.
     Uhm, the story's author notes already make clear its debt to _Lord 
of the Flies_, plus Tom has already made a particularly lengthy commentary 
in reply to Andrew Perron, so I feel I can keep this short and dwelling 
on first impressions.  The thing that struck me straight away about the 
behaviour of the super-powered children is that it was an example of 
possessing and using power without heed for the consequences.  Part of 
that comes from the sheer level of power involved - at Docartes level 
(or in more general pop culture parlance, Superman level) there's few 
superhumans who could simply stop them with brute force alone.  In that 
regard they don't have an immediate need to consider consequences.
     The other part comes from the fact that they are children.  Children 
are often said to be innocent - which is true, but it's not always 
appreciated what that means.  Children may not have the life experience 
to develop some of the more sophisticated perversions that adults do.  On 
the other hand, part of the growing up process is gaining a sense of 'the 
other', of developing empathy for how other people feel and recognising 
truisms like 'do unto others as you would be done by'.  Children can be 
hideously self-centred.
     (And if you so choose you can also throw in commentary about modern 
entertainment, such as electronic games like Grand Theft Auto that are 
also romps of violence without consequences.  Although in this case I 
suspect that this third option would be better described as an 
exacerbation of the previous two.)
     Other impressions:  Poor Blue Boxer is still smarting from the 
public reaction to his fight with the telegraph pole, huh?  Well, his 
success in solving the problem of the Little Leaguers should help soothe 
his ego a bit - but I suspect that'll just set him up for his next fall.  
Sad things is, the Boxer is a bit of the cocky side, coming up with good 
ideas but not necessarily thinking them through.  The engineering of the 
pizo electric boots are a case in point.  So I would hazard that the 
Boxer needs to learn from his setbacks, rather than merely move past them. 
     And then there's Dr Tarif.  WTF!?  Does she read comics as well?  
Or does she just read *everything* and retain it all with near-eidetic 
     Finally, a revised impression of the summary of Fish's fate.  On 
first read through I found it tedious and irritating.  I skimmed through 
it, and indeed I continued skimming through the final coda with Dani and 
Martin.  The question is: why?  I don't think it's the length.  The 
summary of Fish's trial and jail term is only four paragraphs, which is 
actually shorter than the previous scene with Canton and Proctor scheming.
     Another possibility that I gave serious consideration was the way 
more and more injustice was being heaped upon Fish and his reputation, 
since it was about the point that his mother wrote a tell-all book after 
his death that I began to lose interest.  Tom has already noted elsewhere 
that this was a consideration, and that the scene that saw print is a 
truncated and in some ways watered down version, while still seeming a 
bit raw.  So, is it possible that it can be proclaimed: "Tom Russell! 
J'Accuse!  For all your claims of hating anti-superhero stories, you have 
become what you hate, and stand guilty of *gratuitous grim'n'gritty*!"  
Eh, maybe, maybe not.  The final 'the dead are dead, let them rest in 
peace' statement provides a more realistic balance than any revelation of 
a post-mortem vindication, but the fact remains that the scene is still 
written to evoke emotion and the inherent unpleasantness of the emotion 
may contribute.
     Finally it occurred to me that the contrast between the Canton and 
Proctor scene, and the Fish summary, was the key.  The first showed the 
scene, then second narrated it.  Yeah, it's the 'show, don't tell' adage.  
Possibly this is a bit unfair a comparison in this instance, since the 
Fish summary is telling of things happening in the future, and at the end 
of an already lengthy story really does need to be a short and sweet.  
You can't really construct an epilogue showing something like an innocent 
man rotting in gaol for several decades.
Silver Arrow #2  
A StarFall [StarFall] series
by Ted Brock
     I find myself asking 'should I just copy'n'paste my commentary 
on the first issue here?' and then wonder to what extent I'm being 
facecious.  The second issue contains many of the same elements, 
although they have been shuffled to create a different beat pattern to 
the story.  Silver Arrow gets into a cool fight; Jade continues to be 
more deeply involved in something morally dubious than Silver Arrow 
suspects; more supporting cast - both allies and opponents - are 
introduced; Silver Arrow gets to be cocky both in his costumed identity 
and out of it.
     Actually, the bit about Silver Arrow being cocky is interesting.  
On a superficial level it raises the obvious questions about how he'll 
handle the revelation about how deeply Jade is involved with Sun Li's 
business in general and the assassination in particular.  (Providing 
that he ever finds out; Ted may have a twist planned.)  Then there's 
the fact that he's cocky both in and out of costume, but this contrasts 
with his concerned reaction when Fran turns up.  So, he has more depth 
to him that first appearances would imply.  It also suggests that his 
smugness is a function of how in-control he feels; which means the 
audience needs to get a firmer idea of where the limits of his 
competence are.  More wait and see is required.
SW10: What About Judy And Me?
A Superhuman World [SW10] story
by Scott Eiler
     I think I may have misjudged Wyatt.  That includes a mixture of 
both good and bad, incidentally.  I think that somewhere along the line 
the combination of 'crusading gonzo reporter who'll go anywhere' and 
'superpowers' got a bit mixed up in my head, such that I rather 
unthinkingly expected the character to act like a superhero.  This 
despite the fact that only a few moment's recollection was needed to 
indicate that, no, actually he's been acting like a gonzo journalist.  
This wrongfooted me towards the end of the post when his actions, which 
had been predictable up until then, stopped being so.
     Specifically Wyatt is set to marry his longtime girlfriend Judy 
Kraaco, but on the day of the wedding Judy's grand-niece Mary Mystery 
casts some paranoia spells to disrupt the occasion.  Faced  with the 
prospect of arrest because his enemy has soured his reputation with the 
authorities, Wyatt does what any costumed superhero would do: he bugs 
out.  That done I had expected him to do the next standard thing: set 
about clearing his name and winning back the girl.  The first indication 
that this wouldn't be the case was from the comments that Wyatt's brother 
Calvin ferried from Judy - that she had expected him to run away.  
However I didn't even see what was coming even then.  After all, it's a 
trope that superheroes may suffer from their friends having bad opinions 
of them in their secret identity.  Clark Kent is the obvious example, 
and Steve Ditko came close to fetishising it in the comics he created.
      So what happens next?  Well, Wyatt leaves, retrenches, and 
eventually unearths what happened.  Significantly however he doesn't use 
this information to try to vindicate himself with Judy.  And I'm not 
even completely sure whether he even tried.
      At times like this I really regret the presentation of Wyatt's 
reports in blog entry style.  I get the feeling that they're able to 
handle reports of straight facts, but that they're less amenable for 
explaining feelings and motivations.  Even if they're his own.  
Especially if they're his own.
World Tales #16
'Crossing States'
An Elsewhirls [Else] story in a Legion of Net.Heroes [LNH] series
by Jamas Enright
     My pre-publication feedback to this story via email was much the 
same as Andrew's public response on the mailing list/newsgroup: this is 
old school LNH silliness.  Warms the cockles of yer heart, it does.  
There's a moderately ludicrous setup where a new hero arrives in 
Net.ropolis, and despite the amazing odds against it not only gets to 
fight a villain within half an hour of getting off the bus, but also 
discovers that his powers are exactly matched to thwart the powers of 
the new villain.  There's various bits of comedy coming from both 
characterisation (MasterBlaster's attitude is spot on and as self-
absorbed in his schitck as ever) but also from the writing style (the 
ongoing, excessive, and occasionally downright recusiveness of the 
editorial interjections).
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  
Superguy can be found at:       or   or 

More information about the racc mailing list