Welcome to the desert.
While I sit, hopped up on those funny looking mushrooms and wondering why the sun turned grape flavoured, fanfic happens around me. This has been a funny ol' year for fanfiction, with institutions and traditions collapsing like the buildings at the end scene of ‘Fight Club'; a Chemical Brother's riff and beat over top the fractioning of a fandom into a thousand tiny pieces. Broken mirrors on the ground. Of course, each of those pieces are knife edged, sharp as hell and waiting to cut everyone that passes by them. We've creatively circled the wagons, drawn up into the laager and are waiting for the screaming hordes of Xhosa to descend.
So I leave, go into the desert diminished, and remain Dex.
Exile is a funny thing. Napoleon called it his ‘worse prepared campaign'. But, it gives a certain clarity of ideas. One of those is that, even as others hunker down in small foxholes, I follow some of the same patterns. I used to read ninety percent of all the comic book fanfiction that came out on the net. Ninety percent. Mostly, it was a lot of bad fic, but it also gave me a larger picture of what was happening. I'll shamefully admit that before my sojourn out into the hills, I had read nine fics in the last few weeks.
So, there is the place to start. The column was originally created to help link fanficcers. Back in the day, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth and the Internet was held together with vines and sabretooth tiger gut, there were three big archives. Most of the fandom read one or another of them. Cross-reading was limited, to the surprise of many. IMHO was started to review fics from all three archives, and hopefully draw people into reading new fics and seeing new areas. That means I have to do the same once more.
Well, I may have gone into exile, but I'm coming back soon and I have a mission to match the long tattered beard. But, I need your help as well. Yes, you. Put down the freakin' Oreo and listen.
I need your lists of the comic fanfiction sites that you go to for your fix, the mailing lists you pull your best stories from. Not the sites that are home-pages for one writer, nor the individual lists. Larger scale sites and lists that update and have regular traffic. You can e-mail them to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please, take five minutes to send that information along. It's very important and could generate a lot of good things. As well, if you run a site or list that fits the following description, let me know as well. I'd love to hear from you.
Now, with the drug addled ramblings out of the way, off to the fic.
In the early issues of the X-Men, a subplot involving Cyclops and Psylocke was started, apparently to generate any level of sexual tension to replace the then mostly resolved Scott/Jean/Logan triangle. It didn't work out very well, and fortunately disappeared from the book. However, the potential of the dynamic remained with a lot of fanfic writers, creating a dozen different stories. One recent contribution is My Little Runaway by Erika Burke . Burke, best known for her work with Kitty Pryde, takes a new track as she splits a single plot through the heads of three X-Men: Cyclops, Psylocke and Phoenix. The rapid shifts between personalities and motives underscores each aspect of the new triangle, without falling out of character. Using a lush range of description, Burke creates a dynamic tapestry of miscommunications and emotional errors that build the entire series of incidents into a believable whole. The obvious trap would be to simply create a abuser/abused set of characters and take the cliched cop-out. Burke avoids all of that, focusing instead on real world motives and yearnings, bringing familiar characters into a new and deeper level of understanding. One of the best recent emotive offerings that sidesteps the common for the credible.
Occasionally a fic gets into this column because of some other reason than technical brilliance. This fic needs several things, a good technical beta first and foremost. However, the content of the fic transcends any stumbles. Sometimes Two Beers Is All It Takes by M. Keith Davis is simply a damn funny fic. It takes a basic idea of the New Mutants on a day off, and proceeds to pile madness on top to madness until it climaxes with a fantastically funny and utterly absurd ending. Comedy this days tends more towards either the sardonic or the stupid. Davis writes a madcap gem that flips from scene to scene with rapid speed, always cranking up the humour with each new situation. It's a classic sort of teen sex comedy; a Hughes run that could have hit the screen in the eighties, totally unrepentantly fun. One of the flat-out funniest pieces I've seen all year, it deserves a look and a few belly laughs to anyone who enjoys the New Mutants and humour.
Alestar is one of the most brilliantly empathetic writers to hit fanfiction. Her work is more than a plot and story, but an intense and occasionally uncomfortable trip inside the heads of her characters. Throw My Head Away is a perfect example of that. Using gentle humour and masterful representations of the X-Men, Alestar works her way inside a surprisingly complex Bobby Drake. The clean prose and almost lyric stylings of her writing are enthralling, pulling the reader between each perfectly encapsulated moment. The story focuses on the real human aspects of the X-Men, as people, flawed and unsure. She populates her sections with minor touches; little idiosyncracies that define the characters as effectively as pages of exposition. The story is so well constructed that the end comes almost too fast, leaving the writer paused at the edge of a much larger world. Clearly one of the best emotive writers working in fanfiction today, the only negative side is that she doesn't produce more.
Bobby Drake is one of the most re-designed characters in comics fanfiction. Perhaps it's his normalcy that makes him such a great candidate for interpretation. From Omega Mutant to gay lover, his range across the history of fanfiction is unequaled. Loki's Rose manages to twist him down yet another path, with her piece, Snow People . Set back in the early days of the X-Men, it completely reverses the dynamic of Jean Grey joining the team. Rather than having four young men vying for her attention, a tom-boyish female Bobby Drake is suddenly defranchised of her ‘little sister' status, called on to act like a proper young woman; like Jean. The sudden family relationship of Hank and the female Bobby is one of the most interesting of the whole story, a touching brother-sister communication. Bobby's actions are both believably immature and wholly understandable, shaping her into a very real young woman, at the same time maintaining a link between her personality and the canon Iceman. A fun and interesting fic overall, it dips into some untouched areas of Bobby's life, creating a wonderful final piece. A must read for any fan of the early X-Men.
I like Cherry Ice . The writer, not the sno-cone. The reason I like her is that she enters fanfiction without the slightest hesitation about what should be. She tosses aside the normal learning period of a new writer and dives straight into the work with professional aplomb. The Karma Downs is a first rate example of the levels that fanfiction can hit. Smoothly told, with bone-clean prose and a deftly handled plot, it reads like a limited series that never was but should have been. The balance between the stresses of college and those of being an X-Men are deftly handled, creating a number of very real feeling situations for Sam Guthrie to handle. College is a time of change, and Sam makes a transition out of the X-womb into a fully realized person. The subplot with the tricky dual nature of Emma Frost creates an overall tension that nicely underlies the entire story. In all, The Karma Downs is an often deft exploration of the real emotions of the X-Men at large, with an extremely well executed subplot, which gives the piece a rich complexity that is missing from many of its counterparts.
John Constantine is a difficult character to write. The main problem is that John is not terribly likeable, and most writers find that a difficult trait in their protagonists. As Ellis once described him, "he's Society's Bastard, holding a small poisoned set of ethics to his chest. That little voice that says Fucking People Over Is Wrong, and No One Else Should Have To Live Like This." That's what makes Rossi so damn good. Her John is the soiled mage with the blood of friends on his hands and a head full of nastiness. He also will do the right thing, whether he wants to or not. Death And The Art Of Pyramid Selling is a perfect example of that gritty world. Changing the London urban-bizarre for the equally unsettling pastoral England, Rossi creates a story built on conflicts; right/wrong, country/city, surface/depth. The equally frightening world of make-up selling structures, with their fanatic-like empowering sessions, plastic smiles that never meet the dead shark eyes, and the devotion to products which are about disguising the true face of something from the world, makes the suburban housewife conspiracy backdrop all the creepier. Real life is always better for horror. We can more readily dismiss the idea of a vampire scratching at the window then we can our next-door neighbor. Rossi deftly twists commonality into something less wholesome, and set to eventually appear from behind the make-up and kiss the world with twisted lips.
Lemme tell you, writing this from atop a column, facing the sun with arms and legs outstretched in an X shape is one hell of a task. Right up there with the killing of messiahs in my juniper bushes, battering around young pupils who think a lack of housing and poor self-maintenance are the signs of wisdom, and looking suitably wise and hermit-like for the young women who come out to say ‘Gosh...' and look impressed. As always, opinions, feedback, flames, etc, yadda, whatever can be sent to me at email@example.com. I can also be reached via my mailing list at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dexf/.
Now, if you don't mind, my mushrooms are calling...