REVIEW: End of Month Reviews #81 - September 2010 [spoilers]

Saxon Brenton saxonbrenton at
Sat Oct 30 18:23:36 PDT 2010

[REVIEW] End of Month Reviews #81 - September 2010 [spoilers]  
Reviewed This Issue:
     The Insidious Doctor Peru   and  
          The Wonderous Doctor Pillbox  [BP]
     Silver Arrow #3  [Starfall] 
     Team Xero #001  [MISC]   {high concept 13}
Also posted:
     Academy of Super-Heroes #108  [ASH]
     ASH Sourcebook: Elemental Planes  [ASH]
     Journey Into... #14  [8Fold]  {high concept 13}
     Journey Into #15   [8Fold]  {high concept 13}
     SW10: August 2010 #1: Predecessors  [SW10]  {high concept 13}
     High Concept Challenge #13 was themed 'a legacy reclaimed'.
     This month's returning author: Tim Munn.
     Spoilers below:
The Insidious Doctor Peru  and 
The Wonderous Doctor Pillbox
A Boring Publications [BP] story
by Time Munn
     The plot in brief: the long-thought-dead Kensington Hesh goes to meet 
with his physician Doctor Peru in order to get his help for a bad case of 
dead which Kensington claims to be suffering from.  In the second episode 
Hesh struggles with the problem of producing a urine sample before being 
kidnapped by Doctor Pillbox.
     These read like scenes taken from a much longer story.  Considering 
the fragmentary nature of these vignettes, and most especially the date 
from three years ago that the first episode was written compared to this 
year's date on the second, I'm strongly tempted to think that Tim may have 
decided to simply finish the plot off and then clear it from his hard 
drive.  Which is not to say it's without it merits.  Not when an attempt 
to prove one's identity produces lines like:
| "Damn!  Only one man could draw fairies riding flying pigs that
| splendidly-- 
     It's comedy pitched at being wilfully silly.  For the most part it 
consists of a conversation between different sets of people with moderately 
witty dialogue.  However there are also elements of slapstick (the arrival 
of Hesh interrupts Peru's dallying with a nurse; Pillbox's arrival through 
the window of the bathroom creates the misdirection set up of a talking 
penis joke).  More importantly though, there's an almost Monty Pythonesque 
abrogation of conventional common sense (Hesh has known the doctor for ages 
prior to his disappearance, but somehow takes seriously a false claim that 
Peru is a dentist rather than a physician?  Bwa?).  Things like that make 
it difficult to determine what the rules of a story's own internal 
consistency are.
     Or perhaps it's simply a story that hasn't been edited as fully as 
it could have been, and elements that I'm interpreting as deliberate 
surrealism are ones that would, in other circumstances, be altered so as 
to read better.  Certainly lines like:
|  He held up the picture for Peru to peruse, Peru having a peculiar 
| look on his face.
from context look like they should probably read 'for Peru to read, 
Peru gaining a peculiar look on his face'.
     I'm not fully sure what to make of them.  There aren't quite as 
inchoate as say, the Honey Love Bunny stories from last year.  Nevertheless 
they feel (and the final cliff-hanger) of going somewhere, even though the 
wider context suggests that they're one offs.  So I guess we'll never get 
to find out if Kensington's newly awaken zombie urges will cause him to 
eat his kidnapper.
Silver Arrow #3
'Observatory of Danger'
A StarFall [StarFall] series
by Ted Brock
     {chuckles with laughter}  Well, I guess that answers *that* question. 
The limitations of Silver Arrow's competence are how far he lets his own 
overconfidence run away with him.
     In addition, one thing I noticed was that the team-up and fight 
scene against the antagonists in this episode bring into focus the tone 
of this series.  The casual way that Big G and Doorway are prepared to 
offer help for their own reasons, and which Silver Arrow accepts that 
help, and then they spent time snarkily bantering at each other, indicates 
that this is meant to be a fun action-adventure series.  And for all of 
Silver Arrow's dissing of the plot devices in the Adam West _Batman_ 
episodes, it remains the case that someone who uses arrows tipped with 
circular saw blades is not in a position to be picky about how reality does 
or does not work - except perhaps as lampshading.
Team Xero #001
'Brassica Revealed'
A Miscellaneous [Misc] series  {high concept 13}
by Jamas Enright
     This story takes the form of a video episode (created with the 
xtranormal service) rather than as a text piece.  Jamas says he's 
experimenting with the software in order to get a grip on it before 
attempting a video episode of an established series like _Alt.Riders_.  
Now, I have no familiarity with either xtranormal or other video 
animation tools like it, so I have no real way of assessing whether some 
of the rather obvious problems with the execution of the pacing of this 
story came from a limitation in the software or from Jamas' inexperience. 
Nevertheless I'll risk stating the bleeding obvious and describe what I 
can see to the best of my ability, even if those observations won't 
necessarily be useful for improving the situation.
     So, the plot in brief is that Mantis is a villain working on his 
scheme for world domination (again) by sending out preying mantis minions 
who will devour everything (again).  Then Brassica arrives to thwart him. 
Mantis is unimpressed, until Brassica reveals himself to be Mantis's old 
foe Broccoli Man - who in a flashback sequence reveals how he cunningly 
disguised himself as his own purported sidekick to lull Mantis into a 
false sense of security.
     In similarity to 'The Insidious Doctor Peru' story above, there are 
a number of moments of wilful silliness.  For example, Brassica enters 
Mantis' headquarters without trouble because Mantis left the back door 
open, thereby allowing the hero to bypass the guards and traps; Mantis 
pauses in his villainous rant to worry about the proper plural of the word 
'mantis'; or the fact that Mantis doesn't recognise Broccoli Man when 
he's disguised as Brassica even though he's only changed his name and not 
his costume.  However the humour also goes a bit further than random 
silliness, as Brassica takes the opportunity to points out one of the 
basic flaws of villainous behaviour: they could legitimately make millions 
with their supertechnology but instead waste their time on eternally 
doomed attempts at world domination.
     Now to the problems.  It's very slow and the body language is very 
stiff, which makes it almost look as though it's a rehearsal read through 
of the shooting script just before filming rather than the final product.  
There are obvious attempts to get around this.  For example, during 
Mantis' monologue at the start there's a cut from a medium distance shot 
to a close up.  More change of viewpoints like this would help give a 
sense of dynamism, but I don't know how hard they would be to set up - nor 
how hard it would be to do other shots, such as extreme close-ups, jumping 
between left and right profile, or even overhead shots.  Another thought 
that occurs to me is perhaps there may be some way to speed up the frame 
rate on (parts of) the action sequences - Brassica discovering the back 
entrance or Broccoli Man falling off the rooftop - so that they don't 
occur at such a leisurely pace.
     Then there's the speech generator.  Ack!  I remember listening to a 
radio interview something like five or six years ago where it was claimed 
that developers had produced a new generation of speech synthesisers for 
automated telephone answering systems, and that these systems were now 
able to speak in much more realistic way - placing emphasis on different 
parts of words rather than enunciating everything in a flat monotone.  
As a test the interviewer picked the word 'bugger' for the new software to 
try (because this is a word that we rude colonials settled from convict 
stock still use as a casual vulgarism here in the Antipodes).  Guess what?, 
the software couldn't handle it - producing what sounded like two words 
(perhaps hyphenated): bug gher.  As I was watching Team Zero I kept 
wondering if there was some way to trick the speech generator into placing 
stresses on parts of words - maybe by typing in the words phonetically, or 
typing those parts of the words in capitals, or perhaps even by adding 
punctuation marks in where they wouldn't normally go.  That said, it can't 
possibly be left to the ingenuity of the users to try and tweak the voice 
acting.  You'll notice around the 1:05 mark that Brassica asks what Mantis' 
nefarious deeds are, and it's only from context that I could tell that 
this was a question.  I'm sorry, but even when allowing for differences in 
national accents, if the software can't handle something as simple as a 
typed question mark and translate that to a rising inflection in the voice, 
then there's something substandard about it.
     So, overall an amusing story marred a beginner’s use of the medium.  
It's entertaining as long as you use willing suspension of disbelief to 
look past the execution problems.
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 
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