Y2K MEETS TYRANNOSAURUS DEX
The single most common response to the question of ‘What do you want to be doing on the Millennium is; have sex.’ The Big-Bang theory at it’s finest. I must admit, I really like the idea of sticking it into the next thousand years, in a quasi-aggressive statement of humanity at it’s finest. Think of it this way; during the last Millennial celebration, most people were huddled inside tiny crofter shacks, with four generations, hitting the ale pot, gnawing on a crust of black bread, and hoping that the heavens wouldn’t crack open and rain fire on them. They’d consider Y2K a bloody bike ride.
In any case, I’m here to discuss the past, and how it shapes the future, here in the world of fanfiction. With the bizarre nature of the CBFFA’s, loss of several major archives and continual fractioning of the community, I think a look back at what makes us is important. So today, like Ian Malcolm once said; ‘So, this is where the dinosaurs are.’
Yes, the Dinos. The Classics. The literary basis of the fanfiction community for comics on line. I’ve culled six from the depths; scraped the very bowels of the genre to find the epoch-making pieces that are collecting dust at forgotten URL’s and dead-end links. Bits of genius and genesis intermingled. These are stories that did more then sing and live in glorious fame in our world. They served as the anglers and recruiters; the salesmen and the public relations officers, the celebrities and the advertisers of the genre, and lured in the unsuspecting by the hundreds. How many of you count Kid Dynamo or Neon Hearts as your first fic read? Or consider Just Lucky, I Guess or Field Trip the definitive versions of certain characters. And even, god help us, Mhairie as the height of fanfiction erotica?
After five years of work and effort, there is now a sense of progression in the work on-line. A literary tradition, if you will, that follows true from the first posted works to the most recent transformation of ideas. Like Dickens, or Twain, or Hugo; these are not works in and of themselves. They are progenitors of entire new realms of creative exploration and extrapolation. It is only partially true that fanfiction is based on professional work. It is also based on itself, like the twists of a moebius strip. These works represent the fertile soil from which today’s incarnations spring from in vibrant life and detail. It is the nature of excellence that brings us credibility in our work, a sign that this is more then just a hobby and a why to pass time. Like any great endeavor, it’s about creating something of beauty, that lasts past us.
In no way is this intended to be the definitive list of ‘dino’ stories, or classics of fanfiction. Instead, it is a smattering of the greats. No doubt it will be contested, since what I consider older fics, others still consider the new kid on the block. However, hopefully this will show the way into the tradition for fanfiction for those still questing for it. As Sir Issac Newton described his own achievements; "I have seen so far because I stood on the shoulders of giants." Welcome to the giants.
Phil Foster, or Pinta Scrumpy has been around a long time, and his work has long been one of the most esteemed. His bright wit, wry situations and masterful dialogue have served as examples for a score of writers since him. He has produced an impressive body of work, including pieces based off of the mad conversations in the early days of Alt.Comics.Fan-Fiction(ACFF). One of those served as the inspiration for Apocalypse, Soon-ish or Days of Future Last Tuesday Evening, Just Before the Football. Certainly, one of the most accomplished of the early comedic gems of fanfiction, it combined English-style wit and surreal comedy with a biblical styled retelling of the days of Apocalypse. The parody crackles with mad delight, images of weighty confusion and insanity. One of the funniest sequences deals with the ridiculous nature of Marvel continuity itself, especially where the Summers/Grey clan is concerned.
1. And it did happen that once more did the dread lord Apocalypse lead his mighty army across the land. And the people did live in fear, for truly was there great pain and death, and truly much Playing his Walkman Too Loud on the Busse.
2. And the people did cry out unto him
"Thou art dead!"
"We did see thee truly die before our own eyes!"
"You're not related to the Summers, by any chance?"
3. And Apocalypse did reply unto the people
"Yea, though I did die, truly was I raised from the dead for I have a season ticket, which I got by saving the coupons on the back of cereal boxes"
Generation X is one of the new kids on the block for fanfiction, but it’s launch date coincided with the rush of fanfiction on the net, and generated a huge volume of work. One of the earliest and most definitive of those was the infamous Field Trip series, by Bum, Harlequin, and Bryan. Written in present tense, constantly shifting points of view, the Field Trip series is a delightfully dark plunge into the world of Paige, Angelo and Jono. Using the evil Mister Sinister as the antagonist in a general sense, the story deals with subjects from rape to teen pregnancy, dancing from emotional extremes like Angelo dealing with being a father to Paige’s confusions of her feelings for both him and Jono. The internal conversations are often the most interesting elements in the story, watching the characters act in contrast to their ‘better’ judgements. The writing is of consistent energy and flow, if not always of quality. However, the portrayal of the trio of GenX’ers served as the benchmark for fics of the next two years. The Field Trip is significant not only as the first real arc of Generation X fics, but as the bar to which the next few years of GenX fics would be measured against.
Like its main character, Just Lucky, I Guess is an example of evolving layers and new depths. DuAnn Cowart is one of the youngest of the Dinos, yet her first work became a classic almost before its tenth post. It is an intelligent and complex tale of mysteries, covert ops and the Marvel Universe wrapped up in Cowart's naturally engaging narrative style. Cowart uses both classic bone-clean storytelling and emotional overplays fused with an impish and slightly naughty sense of humour to craft her tale. Domino, the central character, is difficult at the best of times to accurately portray. Under Cowart's superb craftsmanship, her personality is showcased in rich, wonderful tones. Her streak of irrepressible zeal for life shines through every situation, balancing grim situations and subject matters with a brilliant sense of humour. Just Lucky, I Guess also carries a large supporting cast, from the entire cast of X-Force to a detailed subplot involving Wolverine and Psylocke. One of the other central themes in the piece is the relationship between her and Cable. Like any real life relationship, it is constantly fraught with miscommunication, minor arguments and strange reversals. It also has the distinction of being one of the first fics to prominently feature both Domino and Cable together in a complex plot based on their past mercenary histories. Many members of the subgenre cite this as the single most significant work of X-Force fiction, drawing in dozens of writers. It is still unfinished, and considering the constant increase in quality since the first installment, it's likely that the conclusion will defy belief.
Even genre needs a heart. Sometimes it's best when outlined in neon arcs. Such is the case when the Beast meets up with a young romance writer in Susan 'The Neon Nurse' Crites's massive story, Neon Hearts. Neon Hearts served as the introduction of one of the most popular original characters in fanfiction, Cassie Cantrell. Cassie, a writer of romance novels, is in New York for a literary party when she does an unexpected act of kindness for Hank McCoy. The chance meeting propels them into a sudden, but welcome and tender relationship. Written with a beautiful subtlety and bright humour, Neon Hearts is a refreshingly adult romance. It deftly sidesteps the ridiculous angsty depths that both canon and fanfic are so prone to falling into. Nor does it need to add stimulus in the form of constant interruptions by supervillians and escapes to continuously underline the "heroism" of the character. Both characters shine in the carefully handling of the story, even going to encompass the rest of the time in delightful scenes and snatches. Crites' naturally empathetic style is the strongest feature of Neon Hearts, followed closely by her unerring sense of "natural" plot and character development. At no point does the sprawling work slip into the saccrine levels of emotional improbability. It's a purely charming tale of love that could exist in any world, mutant or human, and needs no fantastic adornments to make it poignant.
Valerie Jones is one of fanfiction's most accomplished writers. Her brilliant work Betrayal was one of the most significant works featuring Gambit to hit the net. Jones herself tried to explain the fascination with the Ragin' Cajun during an interview:
"He's the quintessential romantic hero. A good heart with a horrible past, a man struggling to do what's right despite the overwhelming odds. You just can't help cheering for him, hoping to see him make it through. However, he's bad enough that you're never completely convinced that he will win out in the end, and that's where the fascination comes from."
Betrayal, which has won award after award, is a perfect example of a complex, intelligent suspense thriller set deep within X-Men continuity. The characterization is handled with a master's touch, the shades of deeper personality drawn with the minimum of strokes. Gambit, the centrepiece, is shown for his complex nature, dealing ironically with the paradox of the noble thief in him, the dreamless crusader for the dream itself. One of the more engaging subplots within the tight structure is the dialog between Charles Xavier and the Witness, Gambit's future identity. Xavier, portrayed with his authoritarian nature balanced with a strong sense of patriarchal protectiveness, is constantly matched on every level by the Witness, and a strong sense of respect is formed between them. Betrayal endures as one of fanfiction's strongest examples by it's sheer skill and captivating complexity.
And even amoungst the greats, you have greats. Since it was written, nearly eight years ago, it has won countless awards, brought more writers into the genre than any other single work, and been held up as the example of everything that fanfiction is worth writing for. Kid Dynamo by professional writer Connie Hirsch is one of the paramount works of fanfiction produced. An exhaustive tale set in the Fall Of The Mutants era of the New Mutants, it concerns a young woman with a shared past with Magneto, the then headmaster. The story weaves its way in and out of the canon history, intent on slowly painting Jessica Pierce in subtle shades. She is an intensely angry young woman who has gone from violence to violence in her life, yet anger is not the central motivation of the character. Hirsch takes an interesting turn, trading angst for determination and will. The work moves cunningly through established canon, deftly integrating the new character in with the often confusing elements of the X-Men. Pierce is a powerful character, with extremely strong emotional and mental motivations. Her distrust of Magneto and her resentment of him is challenged not only by his actions in the months following her joining the school, but in the revelation that he is her father. The work also contains a lighter side, and flashes of both light humour and ironic wit surface time and time again in the peace. Written in the first person, it illuminates a rather caustic and often brilliant wit in the hands of Pierce.
My mother didn't raise no fool, as they say, and unlike most mothers, she specifically warned me about black cars like this. I speeded my pace a little, looking for alleys and cross streets: and I noticed that the black car increased its pace to match...
With both humour and purpose fueling the piece, Kid Dynamo is a single sweeping arc of discovery. The piece holds and enraptures from the introduction all the way to the surprising twist ending. Hirsch has only written the single piece of fanfiction, which is all the more tribute to her genius, that it has both intrigued and inspired writers in the genre since it's original post years ago.
These six pieces, in one way or another have served as benchmarks for fanfiction, and served to set a foundation on which, directly or indirectly, a large amount of current work is based on. However, to claim that this is the definitive list would be both ridiculous and negligent to works just as important. Where would we be with Tapestry's massive Dawn Arc which spawned forth likely the most popular original character in fanfiction? Or Kielle's brilliant derivative work No Way Up? Luba Kmetyk's Idylls Of The Cat contains some of the popular and consistently well-written fiction in the genre, while Generation Cat created a whole new viewpoint on GenX fiction. Can there be a list without Denise Keppel and JL Puckett's work, or the writings of Sigma 7 and Abyss? This is but a taste of the greats of the past; a hint of the ghosts and creative phantoms that fired the imaginations of thousands of readers and writers, building a vast and thriving subculture. These are the true creative inheritances of fanfiction. These are dinosaurs that extinction would hurt us as much as they.
And now for a little reprogramming. Put on your colanders and eye hooks while I dig out the Beethoven CD and tell you what you will like this month.
The recommended book for this month is Russell Smith's brilliantly caustic and urbanly surreal "Noise." A Canadian author and journalist, Smith sets his work in the life of a Toronto freelance journalist, who specializes in food criticism, and the evaluation of the terminally hip. Filled with masterfully natural dialogue, and remarkable atmosphere, the book is a grimly humourous delve into the eccentrics of the modern world of magazines and fads; of freelancing and sex. Used as an example by Myles Skinner during his session at DexCon II, it is a bitterly edged innovative quest with a series of surprising twists and situations lurking in wait for the reader.
The recommended website is a strange one. Frozen is a new comicbook premise in process, from Mandy "Harlequin" Lever. Featuring concept art by the talented Chiaki and Ashlan, the proposed comic features a group of teens brought back from cryogenic status into a world much changed. Altered by the very treatment that allows them freedom from the cryosleep, they find themselves in the position of power and responsibility in this world that is very different from the one they knew. The site features both pictures and detailed outlines of the characters, and is looking for art submissions. With the possibility of a long-time fanficcer making a crack at the industry, it's worth a few minutes.
The recommended CD is Balakirev's "Islamey," orchestrated by Liapunov. Featuring unnaturally crisp strings, it brings shades of Mussorgsky with its diving runs and trilling scales. While it can be considered a mostly string piece, it features several strong horn sections, and an ethereally lovely flute solo snuck in almost absentmindedly in a gap in the flow. I'll be first to admit being a sucker for 'triumphs' or movements of upswinging energy in orchestral pieces, like in Orff's "Carmina Burana" or Holst's "The Planets," and it features a mid-segment of swelling horns and strings which peaks beautifully and collapsing into a welter of the same scampering runs as earlier.
And, yes, I am trying to get this thing on a schedule again. Hopefully, this time will prove more successful then the last. As always, comments, feedback, flames, diatribes or blood feuds can be sent to me at this address. And, again as always, I am more then happy to look at guest reviews and, perish the thought, reviews of my own work here at IMHO. Time now to transcend the material world and enter Nirvana. At least until next month's column, anyway.
And you, in the back! I saw you laughing.