REVIEW: End of Month Reviews #77 - May 2010 [spoilers]

Saxon Brenton saxonbrenton at
Tue Jun 29 15:20:21 PDT 2010

[REVIEW] End of Month Reviews #77 - May 2010 [spoilers]  
Reviewed This Issue:
     Academy of Super-Heroes #106  [ASH]
     Beige Midnight #6  [LNH]
     Silver Arrow #1  [StarFall]
Also posted:
     Coherent Super Stories #21  [ASH]  {high concept 9}
     Going Solo #3  [StarFall]  {high concept 9}
     Journey Into... #12  [8Fold]  {high concept 9}
     Just Imagine Saxon Brenton Vs Andrew Perron In The Return Of The 
                    RACCies! #8  [LNH/RACCies]
     SW10: Rednecks From Mars!  [SW10]  {high concept 9}
     What news?  Well, Ted Brock has returned after years' leave of 
absence and started posting new StarFall stories, and High Concept 
Challenge number 9 had the theme of 'the red planet'.  
     For a moment I thought I had made *another* mistake with the issue 
numbers of an Academy of Super-Heroes series, and double listed 
_Coherent Super Stories_ #20 for both April and May.  However closer 
inspection reveals that the one posted on 6 May ('Prisoner of the Red 
Planet!') had an error in its subject line when it was posted to the 
RACC mailing list/newsgroup/archives.  Fortunately the correct #21 
appears in the body of the post.
     Spoilers below...     
Academy of Super-Heroes #106
'No Behind Left Behind'  [Rival Schools Part 6]
An Academy of Super-Heroes [ASH] series
by Dave Van Domelen
     This is the conclusion of the 'Rival Schools' arc.  It wraps up - for 
the most part - the various stories that have been running in parallel.  
The main exception is Ahmed's plot thread, which... well, it definitely 
closes one chapter of his life, but without bringing resolution to the 
larger issues that come as part of his backstory.  In fact, it looks 
like it's being setup to springboard into a future storyline.  (Whether 
this is what happens is a completely different matter, of course, since 
Dvandom has described himself as a practitioner of the 'throw a bunch of 
plot threads into the air and then try to tie them all together' school 
of story telling.)  That said, this discrepancy doesn't particularly 
stand out because structurally the stories are formed differently.
     Now, at the most basic level of story beats they *have* to be.  If 
the different plots were all truly running in parallel, and had their 
flow of setup, complication, climax and denouement all happening in 
synch with each other, then you'd have a number of slow issues with 
exposition and world building, while others would seem overly frenzied 
as all the action came to a head at once.  This is something that I'm 
mildly annoyed with myself for only noticing around about part 4 of the 
story arc, but Dvandom has deliberately spread things out and mixed 
things up to keep the flow of the stories varied and interesting.
     So for example, most of the plot threads have their denouement in 
this issue.  The problems that were facing the characters have been 
overcome in a previous issue of the arc, and they now have a quiet moment 
to reflect and plan their next move.  The exception to this is the Red 
Widow's quest to find the person who leaked the damaging information 
about her: that plot comes to a climax this issue, and gets a sort-of 
denouement next issue when Fury and Centurion discuss the matter.
     Of course, it helps that there are several different types of 
stories being juggled.  Justice was training to overcome deficiencies 
in himself, and the setup of a training story has more flexibility in 
presentation than, say, Netwalker's adventure to rescue the computer 
intelligence ADA.  Once the basics of the training plotline were set 
up, there was room for how much of the training was shown, and to an 
extent even in what order - especially with the timing of any field 
missions.  By comparison the rescue adventure had a less fluid order 
of sequence and fewer repetitive events that could be elided over.  
And a hybrid story such as Red Widow's combining a training plot and 
a mystery plot will have a slightly different pattern again.
     After all that varied fare I think I enjoyed the Netwalker story 
the most, but I suspect that was simply because it *was* an adventure 
story.  Other bits had a number of cool scenes, intriguing insights and 
WTF moments scattered throughout all of them, but because there was no 
one designated A-plot to bring a consistent emotional focus the arc felt 
like an extended period of downtime.  Which to be fair, it was.
     (And as an aside, it's not like downtime isn't a good or even 
necessary thing.  I recall one piece of criticism from the Howling 
Curmudgeons website pointing out that in extended sequential stories in 
mainstream comic books the tempo of the ongoing narrative needs to be 
varied.  Basically it was an argument against what is sometimes called 
subplot-itis, where the ongoing storyline is always dealing with one 
problem or another and as a result the emotional intensity never varies.  
Now, this may prevent a reader from having an easy jumping off point 
between clear-cut storylines - but the unvarying pace also runs the risk 
that the reader could look back and with justification claim that the 
protagonists are in much the same situation as they're always in.  That 
not only haven't the characters advanced anywhere (which in the long 
term would always be the case anyway) but that the illusion of change 
consists of them running as fast as they can to stay where they are.)
     But returning to the main point, my gut feeling is that the 'Rival 
Schools' arc has a misbalance between its types of storylines.  While 
they all had moments of danger or at least excitement, only the Netwalker 
rescue and the Red Widow mystery had a feeling of urgency and hence of 
being anything like an A-plot.  The rest of them were interesting but 
gave the feeling of marking time as we shuffled between subplots.  This 
may be partly because of the number of plots being juggled (although 
roughly half a dozen isn't that big) combined with the aforementioned 
lack of immediacy.  However I think it may also be partly because of the 
unique circumstances relating to the theme of the arc.  The 'teaching' 
motif means that when the concept was most strongly given concrete form 
- as with organised classes - there was a heightened sense of things 
being skipped over off panel - even more so than the date stamps normally 
     Finally, the highlight for this issue?  Definitely the twist at the 
end of the Red Widow sequence when Matrioshka was shown to be monitoring 
the Freedom Alliance in general and the Red Widow in particular.  I had 
lost track of the fact that the Impossible Five had intervened in the 
creation of the Freedom Alliance in the current version of the timeline, 
and so this came as startling.  And Cronyx's comments about Red Widow 
showing more potential in this version of history is the type of thing 
that would prompt Gaspode the Wonder Dog to say, a comment like that *bodes*.
     Next up: Oh crap.  It's the Multiversal Office.
Beige Midnight #6
'The Ice Caverns Of Existence'  (The Bart Age)
A Legion of Net.Heroes [LNH] miniseries
by Arthur Spitzer
     I was originally planning on skipping over commentary on this 
mini... (checks back through archives of past EoMR) *again* but I came 
across some characterisation in it that I absolutely adored.
     Now, Arthur is quite good at depicting existential angst.  And 
at this point in the story the existential angst is particularly 
appropriate, considering the beige effect being created as part of the 
ominous buildup to the awakening of the Bryttle Brothers.  Nevertheless, 
when I got to the part where Contraption Man sat down and had a talk with 
Ripping Dancer, it sent tingles up my spine with the depiction of someone 
who was (still) all messed up inside as a result of going through Retcon 
Hour the first time, but wasn't incapacitated by it.  Instead Contraption 
Man was using it as a negative motivation - something to steer away from.  
It was such a simple thing, but in the light of Contraption Man's past 
history and the way most other characters are currently falling victim 
to the apathetic depair of the beige effect, it was a lovely thing to see.
     While we're here, let's summarise the plot.  Previously the Legion 
had defeated Hex Luthor's plans to both use thousands of newbie net.heroes 
as cannon fodder against the Bryttle Brothers while also manoeuvring 
to take over the world.  They exposed his plans and deposing him as 
president.  Now the LNH have split into groups (again) in order to 
defeat Bart, the Dark Receptionist and herald to the Bryttle Brothers, 
in less collateral damage intensive ways.  One group has gone to the 
planet Qwerty, where Bart has been arranging an elaborate trap.  
Meanwhile another group - with the semi-coerced Hex Luthor in tow - has 
travelled into the past (to Retcon Hour, in 1994) to pre-emptively mess 
with Bart and instil a weakness in him that the Legion can use at a 
later date.
     Among all of this Hex and the Legion continue jockeying for the 
upper hand as they set up doublecrosses and counter-doublecrosses for 
each other.  Thematically this is appropriate, since no matter what 
previous versions of Hex Luthor may or may not have been like, the 
current iteration is a Man With A Plan.  That said, at a very late 
stage of preparing this review it occurred to me that Occultism Kid 
was probably not the best person for Hex to give his little speech 
about how the naive net.heroes should trying living in the real world.  
As a master of mysticism Occultism Kid should have a better grasp than 
most people that personal point of view is paramount in dealing with 
reality, and should not have been rattled by Hex's opinion.  From 
Occultism Kid's standpoint Hex's ruthlessly pragmatic/cynical stand is 
still just another variation on a hopelessly materialist take on reality.  
This in no way affects Hex's later actions in neutralising Occultism 
Kid's magic: that was an eminently sensible tactical move.  But in the 
initial verbal sparring match Occultism Kid should have rolled his eyes 
in quiet amusement at how limited Hex's viewpoint was, or perhaps 
matched Hex with his own take on the matter and used it to deliberately 
break his mind.
     And running off on a semi-tangent there were many amusing scenes, 
ranging from the appearance of the ever-reactionary Legion of Net.Hippies 
("Why did it have to be Hippies?") to Kid Recap facing down Ultimate 
Ninja.  The best bit was the extended sequence where Occultism Kid gives 
up (for perfectly logical reasons) his protection against being retconned 
and ends up as a cynical Net.Trenchcoat Brigade style magician.  I sit 
here wondering whether the points I made where something that Arthur 
considered, and then rejected because a disquieted reaction from 
Occultism Kid to Hex's speech made for better foreshadowing.
Silver Arrow #1
'The Hornet's Nest'
A StarFall [StarFall] series
by Ted Brock
     Okay, so, at this point I usually go on about administrivia and how 
such-and-such a new author is eligible for the 'Best New Author' at the 
next RACCies awards.  But in this case I'm not, because as already noted 
above Phantasm is a returning contributor; Ted formed StarFall back in 
the 1990s when he was still going by the handle Arsenal.  You can give 
him some sort of antimatter version of the Little Johnny Sako 'Come Back 
Giant Robot, Come Back' Loving Cup if you really want.
     So the plot in brief is that Silver Arrow is an established super-
hero in Los Angeles and in this adventure is in the middle of working to 
bust the drug cartel headed by Sun Li.  Silver Arrow has an inside 
informant in the form of fellow University of California: LA student Jade 
Wong, whose exact loyalties and motivations have been presented ambiguously.
     I find myself strangely intrigued by the way that, so far, the 
complex characterisation has been given to the supporting cast member 
Jade.  Silver Arrow himself is competent, sure of himself (even cocky), 
has a good relationship with his parents (who, incidentally, know his 
secret identity) and friends at UCLA.  And with that in mind it's a good 
thing that he serves up such a good fight scene to keep the audience 
entertained, because so far we know next to nothing about what motivates 
him.  It's not really a fair comparison to make about the first issue, 
but I'm reminded of the quip Grant Morrison made in the _Animal Man_ 
comic years ago: upon having it explained to him that he's a comic book 
character, Animal Man demands to know what he is and gets the reply, "A 
generic comic book hero with blond hair and good teeth. One of hundreds."  
There will be time enough to flesh out all the characters in subsequent 
issues, but Jade's current situation as a mole for Silver Arrow in Sun 
Li's organisation looks like an explosion waiting to happen; even just 
the question of where her ultimate loyalties lie is enough to make me 
want to read more.
     Overall it's a good superhero story which establishes its premise, 
has a well written action sequence, and a hook to keep the readers coming 
back for more.
Saxon Brenton   University of Technology, city library, Sydney Australia
     saxon.brenton at 
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