This post is a part of our story-by-story review of Philippine Speculative Fiction volume 6. You can see the introductory post, and our disclaimers here. Bold font is Mia Tijam, everything else is Paolo Chikiamco.
The traditional (think Golden/Silver Age) superhero story is one of those story types that draws from a small pool of highly recognizable elements, and requires a very healthy suspension of disbelief.
— sigh, I wish we weren’t gonna do this to this one… but hell yeah, especially if the reader were me, ayayay
That’s not to say that I don’t think you can write a good, straight-up one–Lou Anders’ “Masked” anthology has a few–but simply that few writers make that attempt. It’s tough, like writing a straight-up humor piece.]
— An attempt at a straight-up humor piece about superheroes and villains = ridiculous and funny reality. Right.
I think that it’s this combination of factors that makes it so common in contemporary literature/media to see attempts at deconstructing the genre and its tropes. In movies, this frequently takes the form of light-hearted parodies (Megamind, Despicable Me) where the ridiculous nature of many of the genre’s tropes are used for comedic effect (even works that aren’t straight up parodies take pains to draw a line between what works in a 1940s Batman comic, and what would work “in real life”–see the treatment of capes in The Incredibles).
— Didn’t even watch the first two mentioned. Watched The Incredibles though. Again, I’m not really inclined but I like funny stuff. I mean, who doesn’t? Hell even German poetry and Russian novels crack up at funny stuff.
And anytime the word “parody” is mentioned, I think of Angelo Suarez and Adam David. (Yo! Have we successfully “Salvaged” the “Author” from “Jouissance” and “Thursday”?) Anyway, sorry Sir, carrying on—
[Pao: I think more "subversive" and "transgressive" when I think about those two--parody would be too "mainstream" for them, I think.]
— Hahaha everybody’s into “subversive”, and “transgressive” is being cornered by Karl Mofo De Mesa and Norman Wilayco (add Khavn and Tengal stuff) according to PR. Next to “parody”, there’s “pastiche” for the two A’s hahaha. Anyway, going back to Blue Wonder Boy’s story—
In prose stories, while also used for comedy, the deconstruction of tropes is also commonly employed to show the consequences of the “real world” application of the rules of the genre, where such consequences are either tragic or–as in the case of Villainoguing–a kind of “mundane” that is meant to evoke tragedy by contrasting it with the fantasy.
— So it is either tragic or mundane? Which one will the story be, hmmm? The story (and like most stories that I read) always unfolds like a movie in my head… And the word “villainoguing” itself makes me think of a village of evil and drunken eggnogs singing or going on a sale spree hahahaha
The difficulty I’ve always had appreciating the mundane-type deconstruction is that while these stories do a good job tearing down the tropes (as I said, superhero tropes are particularly easy targets), most can’t seem to then replace those tropes with some element that would make me enjoy the story, the execution or subversion of tropes being one of the chief sources of my enjoyment of any genre story.
—Sir Yes Sir! Because otherwise the mundane is just boring unless you have a Raymond Carver or Junot Diaz or Take Your Pick From The Latin American Women Writers treatment to the “mundane” deconstruction of the supposed extraordinary/fantastic—-
Now, it’s one thing to subvert an element of a genre–in my mind that involves the presentation of an alternative, or some lateral thought–and it’s quite another to simply show the reader the inherent ridiculousness of, say, the fact supervillain thugs have horrible aim. In a pure comedy piece, showing that ridiculousness can be the end in itself, but in any other deconstruction, I need more. That “more” is what was lacking in Villainoguing.
— Or as I saw it: It felt like I was watching super slapstick comedy cartoons while high on something that makes everything move so s…l…o…w…l…y. And you’re just stupefied, that kind of blazed. It would have been better if the effect was like watching those three girl chipmunks sing and dance but instead of to “Single Ladies”, they sing NIN or Sepultura stuff. In fast forward, puede.
What I’m saying is that I think the story could’ve worked as it is IF the pace were faster. That could fill in for the “more”.
I started out being intrigued by the concept–the idea of a super villain script writer was a nice bit of subversion. But that concept was never really explored beyond being a vehicle to allow the protagonist to be employed by the villain–for purposes of Paul’s character development, he could just as easily been the Doc’s janitor, or costume designer, or secretary.
— Concur on the tiny subversion that went pfffttt—-
And that character development is itself problematic, because we don’t really get a good handle on the central conflict. It’s clear that Paul is dissatisfied with his job, but we’re not really shown any reason for him to stick around. Without a corresponding “pull” to equalize the clear “push” for him to leave, (even if it’s just inertia), the story can’t hold its tension, and becomes merely a “day in the life” tale, in a too familiar setting.
— Ah, yes, the futility of the cyclic-all. Let’s now all sing to the Beatles’ “A Day In The Life” …
Yes, there’s an attempt to say “this is all I know so what else can I do” at the very end of the story, but aside from coming in too late, it’s not like it’s shown that Paul has developed a too-specialized skill set (that he couldn’t apply to writing speeches for, say, politicians), and it doesn’t clue us in as to why Paul has stayed for so long as it is (it’s implied that the shine of the job wore off very quickly).
—-Ehem, using psycholinguistics to read the characterization: this may be the Author’s Subconscious trying to work out “writer/writing” issues via a character/story haha. Or this can simply be a case of a bad ballad of a badass’ bard?
That’s really a shame, given that there were a lot of fun moments in the story–the drop off, the friendship with the guard—
— Kenkoy moments ba—
And I truly did find the idea of a villain’s speech writer intriguing.
— Oooh yes… Reminds of this “speech scene” in the Indian movie “3 Idiots”. You should watch that haha.
But for me, there simply wasn’t enough done to make something new and enjoyable from the raw materials of the deconstructed genre.
—- And I quote from the story “I closed my eyes for a bit, straining not to fall asleep.” But hey, the craft is there and just give the guy time for more experience and more readings so that there is more depth. Experiencing this story is an example of what in Rinkonada we call “kinalburo”, in Filipino “pilit na pinahinog” and in English, well, what you said. Life, boils and gels, Life. Gloriam vocis yo!