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Me, Myself & I
Hello Maniacs, it feels like it has been a while since I wrote one of these Spotlights.
Late July and early August were very... full of stuff. Things to do. Closing old projects. Opening new ones. It was really intense.
Still, I have some promises to honor and in particular one to one of the most prolific authors in our community. Many months ago I promised Dru to feature one of his oldest and less known stories here. I delayed it for a while, but now it's time to pay my due. Here we go:
For me, this piece of superwoman fiction from 2005 is the quintessential Dru story. While it has been eclipsed by some of his more recent entries, like Not the One or the writing spree that was O-Girl in 2018-19, Stealing From a Thief has a charm that it's hard for me to pass. It's difficult to put my finger on it because, on the surface, the story seems to just go through the moves and yet it captivates me. Before we go any further there's a bit of a caveat: when I say "go through the moves" I don't mean it in a negative way. In fact, I believe that some of you might enjoy it as a sort of piece of "genre archeology", if you want to see where some of Dru's classic tropes come from.
Back on track. If I look at Stealing with a critical eye I think that there are three things that elevate it over some of Dru's later and longer contributions.
The first is the main character. Susan is the perfect example of how to write an amoral superwoman. Sometimes the stories that feature evil superwomen portray them as sadistic monsters, prone to react to the slightest problem with extreme violence and prejudice, bulldozering their way to "victory" without much care for what is around them. They don't just toy with people, they actively look for excuses to do so. This is where Susan is different.
Does she kill? Yes.
Does she toy with people? Yes (more toward the end)
Does she feel regret for it? Not much if any.
Does she make up excuses for it? No.
This last bit is what sets her apart. Susan isn't a monster that loves killing. She is just someone that has found the key to ultimate power and wants to enjoy life. She just want to have some fun, but if you get in her way... it was nice knowing you.
The other bit of this story that I love to no end is how Susan's powers work. I like to call it 'reverse bulldozering'. What do I mean? We often see characters solving every problem by applying an insane amount of the same power or trick. In this story, Dru pulled a clever trick and gave Susan the ability to adapt to any challenge. Instead of punching every problem in the face, she can pull the required power limited only by her imagination. It's almost as if she was a silver age character transplanted into a modern-ish setting. She's all about experimenting and trying new tricks with every chapter.
Finally, there is length. Despite having an open final chapter, Stealing is just five chapters long. This makes it very easy to enjoy, since Dru hit some really high notes in such a short time.
Ok, re-reading this I realized that it might sound generic or uncertain, but that's because I really don't want to give anything away. I don't want to spoil anything out of this story because it JUST THAT GOOD!
Go read it, already!
It's over. It's finally over!
Sorry for the outburst, but today I managed to finish one of the worst projects I had to dela with in the last three years, so what better way to celebrate than taking a deep dive into the backlog of our Library. Looking at the past entries, especially by LFan and me, I noticed that we have covered many of our moste esteemed authors, but there are a few that haven't received this honor yet. so let's fix it with:
Now, I have to be honest, when I think of Ace's stories this is not the first one that comes to my mind. Ace is very well known and respected for his long-winded story Turnabout is Fair Play and the even longer collaboration with Argonaut that gave us The Supergirl of Smallville. If you're starting to see a pattern, it's because there is: Ace is the absolute master of almost pure unadulterated Silver Age style fun, so it's no suprise that many of his stories features some very classic tropes and characters, especially Lois Lane and Lana Lang as Superwomen.
I can already see that some of you are turning away, thinking that you already know the punchline and all the tropes. Maybe you're right, but I want to point out that Ace is one of the few writers here that tried to break the mold of the classic Kryptonian-esque Flying Brick, even without renouncing to his undying love for Silver Age characters. Two of his stories actually featured one of the most unexpected classic superwomen of all: Star Sapphire.
No I'm not gointo tell you which ones: go look into the library, Ace's stories start at the bottom of page one of the "Sort by Author" section.
Those of you that know me better would be surprised to discover that They're All Mine Now is among my favorites and yet it is. The story itself is almost pure action, with the resident superwoman rushing from one emergency to the next, looking insanely good while taking on bank robbers, a building on fire and suicide jumper. There is no plot twist (well almost, more on this later), no deep dive into the motivation of the characters and no clever world-building. It's purely action-driven self-indigent story and I think it's a testament to Ace's skill as a writer how he managed to lure me in.
Given what I already said I'm kind of hesitant to spoil the little plot twist at the end of the story, since it really adds a lot of value to the entire plot. Let's just say that Ace didn't stray to far from the beaten path.
One final warning before going: this story was written in 2011, just a few months after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and Ace made a pretty direct reference to it.
Last week I told you that this spotlight was going to slow down.
Well, it seems that this community conspired to make me a liar, since we got a couple of new collaborators that will try to fill this spot in the near future, giving me enough time to catch up with RL job.
Still, today's spotlight is both special and a bit of a cheat (kind of appropriate). As I said before my goal was to highlight great stories that didn't have the recognition they deserved, so I was kind of hesitant to include one from an author that won multiple workshops in the past. Then again, this is a story from 2005, even before the current incarnation of the site, so it deserves a bit of polish.
This story has a special place in my heart. It wasn't the first work of DKC I've ever read, but it was the first that really hooked me. DKC works on a pretty well-known set of tropes. In the past I praised some author for handling the erotica element of our genre in a more subtle or nuanced way, this is not the case. DKC's girls are very overt in their sexuality, they don't make any excuse for it and they rarely need to. In the hands of a less skilled writer, this would be a great turn-off for me, but The Premeditated Providence works this element into the story in a way that is both perfectly in line with the universe and the theme. The two main characters aren't insanely beautiful, sexy and powerful just because, they wished so. Beautification is a really tricky element of our genre, which is often written as an ancillary side-effect, but here it's deliberate and that is something I really enjoy.
Speaking of wishes, one of the things that really hooked me for good are the opening lines: "Not male, not female. It was what it is. And what it is can not be explained by modern science or acknowledged by it. It drifted through the universes invisibly stopping at worlds that teamed with life and technology. Often these worlds and the lives on it would not survive its presence. The entity would not harm the world itself but rather allow free will to decide the fate of an entire planet. It would be hard to understand what its true intent was, for it delivered exactly what it promised. And what it promised was for neither good nor evil. It perhaps felt pleasure in uncertainty, not knowing what would happen in a universe that was as predictable as an egg dropping to the floor. Millions of worlds later it approached the blue planet and randomly selected two that it would reward its gift to and watched with an infant's curiosity, watched a fate that was not intended to be."
For me, this opening is straight out of The Twilight Zone and just like that show, the story tosses a pretty mean curve-ball to the reader. Like in many other pieces by DKC, having two supergirls on the scene is a recipe for havoc and destruction on an untold scale, but this time the resolution isn't a simple tug of war. Remember how I said that the characters are insanely beautiful and sexy... well, without spoiling too much (I hope) this is going to play a pretty big role.
Now DKC is still very active in this community and actually announced a few weeks ago that Infinity Crisis, one of their (I've learned not to assume a gender) stories will be fully re-edited and re-published soon. Personally, I'm also hoping to see another of DKC's projects come to fruition: in the final paragraph of their long-winded epic The Project there is a direct reference to The Premeditated Providence, which means that there might be a potential for future crossovers and mayhem.
Before we start this installment of the Admin Spotlight Theater there are a couple of announcements:
- Both LFan and I hit a pretty rough spot with our respective day jobs, which means that this feature is going to officially slow down a bit. Most of you probably already noticed that we are already doing it almost bi-weekly.
- To compensate and broaden our selection we have already asked some of our moderators and collaborators a little bit of help, as soon as their first pieces are ready we would be able to provide a new, more consistent schedule.
Ok. The administrative stuff is out of the way, let's get this show on the road and this week I'm featuring a story that left many readers puzzled at first, starting with its title, which isn't exactly something that rolls off your toungue:
This was one of Castor's first pieces on this site and, I'm not going to lie, at the time it looked extremely weird. The story had most of the tropes of our genre and yet it felt completely different from everything else we have ever hosted. The story had an extremely slow pace, without any apparent big reveals or crazy stunt. This particular style of narrative is pretty much a staple of Castor's writing, but, for me, it never felt more substantial and appropriate than in Armada. It's easy to turn away saying "boring", but in a way that's exactly what the first couple of chapters aim to. This is not an end od the world scenario, it's a slice of life comedy built around a superwoman doing the least slice of thing possible: taking over a city and establish it as a separate nation because she cares about it.
Now before going any further. I understand that this particular story, especially the last chapter, might be problematic right now. Castor wrote it back in 2013, way before any of us could ever imagined events like those that transpired in these last months. So I urge you to take this story as a simple moment of fun, not an attempt to further any kind of political agenda and whatnot. Any similarity between this story and the events of the Capitol Hill Zone in Seattle is purely coincidental.
Moving on, the slice of life impression is compounded by another of Castor's trope, changes of scene. There is a crapton of small changes of scene detailing how the rest of the world reacts to the insane idea of a super-strong, flying woman declaring herself Queen of Portland. These reactions go from the funny to the extremely serious. My favorite is, probably, the moment we see a completely false and yet completely believable tabloid title about her harem. What really got me here is that this is seeing such a classic supervillainess trope being used in reverse, to characterize Armada in-universe, rather than to the reader.
Still, these scenes aren't just some funny intermissions, they set the path toward Chapter 3. This is when the shit hits the fan and the illusion of the slice of life is shattered. Chapter 3 open with a (literal) bang and goes on to provide us the biggest plot twist of the entire story. I'm not going to spoil it for you, but this is really what made this story for me. Without the final revelation, Armada would have been an interesting, but limited take on another genre. With it, many of the stories plot holes suddenly make sense and our (as in readers') perspective get flipped upside-down.
Personally, I don't think I've really enjoyed any of Castor's stories more than Armada. Out of all of his extensive production and numerous experiments, this is the one that really set the bar for me.
Sorry for the delay, but curve balls keep coming over here.
I had a really hard time choosing a story to feature because I didn't want to give another spotlight to one of our most esteemed writers, until everyone else has five minutes of fame... and LFan beat me to two names on my short list. Hence, I present to you:
Over the last weeks, LFan talked about his Mount Rushmore of stories. I really never developed such a concept, but I recognize that some stories really set the standard for some scenes. This one is the one that really has my favorite transformation sequence, bar none.
While the transformation itself takes only a very short amount of story, the gimmick used by Oogber is nothing short of perfect. It plays with a very old and very significant quirk in the human perception (no, I'm not going to spoil it for you) and uses it to great effect to convey the idea that neither we, as readers, nor the character really knows if this transformation is repeatable or what caused it. This is brilliant for a first chapter, because it gave us a beautiful (and very sexually charged) moment that opens many possibilities, instead of closing them.
The follow-up is just as good. Linda is a really fun character, who isn't really good or evil (except, maybe in high school terms), but her curious and mischievous personality creates some great moments with her friends and rivals. She's clearly not into the superhero game, but she isn't trying to take over the world either. She just wants to have fun, to enjoy her powers and their many delights, in particular her super-sexiness. This is a trademark of Oogber stories, he's one of the few writers that really manages to convey how powerful a superwoman's sex appeal can be. Thanks to a brilliant use of fragmented descriptions, interspaced with very short bits of dialogue, he gave us the real impression of the sensory overload experienced by those close to Linda and what "a face that launched a thousand ships" really means.
I really want to tell you more about this story, but I fear I might go into spoilers territory. What really put Linda heads and shoulders over many others origin/discover stories is the quality of writing and how real Linda felt to me when I read this story for the first time many years ago. For me, writing a truly morally neutral character is one of the greatest challenges an author can face and Oogber pulled it out beautifully.
Although we haven't seen one of his stories over her for a while, Oogber is still very active in this community, especially on our Discord server, and has a DeviantArt page where he published a number of other short stories, including four new chapters of Linda.
When I started this series, one of the guiding principles was to favor single-shot stories over series or, at the very least, include stories that didn't have a dedicated shelf in our Multi-Chapter section. This, of course, ruled out many stories I love, which will probably appear in future installments, if my partner in crime LFan continues to feature great series for the past, like Serena. Today I'm going to cheat a little and include two stories that are a gateway to an anthology, rather than a series proper:
Argonaut's Mightora & Mightora Meets Tyrannor
These stories were the first of a series of one-shot -- one might say "episodes" -- where our friend Argonaut injected some major supergirl action into some classic Hanna & Barbera cartoons. I admit that among all the cartoons he worked on Mightor was the most obscure to be. I don't remember watching even a single episode of it as a kid (opposed to Space Ghost and, of course, Scooby-Doo), but maybe that's why these two stories really hit my imagination... or maybe it was the exceptional illustrations by TGK ;)
Anyway, one of the things that made me love these stories the most was how Argo found a way to organically insert his leading lady in the setting without breaking it. In actual fact, he found a way to insert her in a very specific moment of a very specific episode, creating the illusion that in a slightly different world these stories could have been made into the series proper. Of course, many moments in the stories are absolutely PG-13 at the very least. I have to give Argo credit for one thing: he's never vulgar or gratuitous when including sexual elements. All his stories are titillating, but always in a very delicate way and Mightora his no exception. Despite the rather frequent references at the effect of statuesque prehistoric superwoman, all the interactions remain very faithful to the style and the spirit of the old Saturday morning cartoons.
Just like those old cartoons, the real drive of these stories is action. Seeing or heroine spring into action by transforming under a boulder and fighting dinosaurs it's spectacular, insane, over the top and absolutely a joy to read and imagine. It also fit the mold to a T. In no moment I felt pulled out of the immersion, in no moment I felt one feat was too outrageous or silly, because I really felt like I was watching a cartoon and I was ready for anything. As I said these stories were part of sort of anthology, Argo later tackled Space Ghost and three episodes of Scooby-Doo (Zombie in the Endzone, Taking down a Ghost Clown and Charter Fright). Even so, I think that it was with Mightora that he really nailed that perfect combination of harmless fun, absurd situations, humor, superpowered action and little sexual innuendos.
I know for a fact that Argo is still around, lurking in the shadows of our community, even if he didn't write anything new since 2016. I've not gave up hope that one, day I would see one more story from him pop up in the backend feed, but until then, Argo, thank you for all the fun.