CASTALIA: Want Superversive Pulp? Try Eoin Colfer’s “The Wish List”

The superversive conversation at the moment has more or less centered around two topics (things tend to move in cycles; we’ll move on eventually):

  1. What makes a good “strong female character”
  2. The connection between superversive and pulp

I’m not going to rehash that conversation; if you want to see the relevant posts, try these, and click through the comments for discussion. Instead, I’m going to try to give you an example of a relatively modern superversive novel that seems like it would fit pretty firmly in the pulp tradition: Eoin Colfer’s “The Wish List”.

Colfer is best known for his Artemis Fowl series, which is a ton of fun (and pretty pulpy itself) but leans hard into feminism and environmental politics. And it’s not his best work; that would be “Airman”, which is a superb adventure novel that I may also write about one day.

“The Wish List” is something very different than both of those, and in some ways it’s a remarkable book.

Let me try and make my case in order:

1) It has a clearly and unashamedly Christian cosmology. I’m not sure if any other modern work by a mainstream writer is as overtly and clearly Christian as this one. I’m not talking about Christian themes here. I mean St. Peter and Beelzebub literally debate each other at the gates of Heaven (A brief note: the theology is occasionally fudged somewhat, but it’s still undoubtedly Christian):

Even though the archangel  and the demon came from different ends of the spectrum, theologically speaking, they had, over the past few centuries, established something of a rapport…

“So what’s the problem, Bub?” [St. Peter] grinned down the phone line. His opposite number would be spitting fire, but he’d have to swallow it if he wanted a favor.

“The Master is looking for a soul.”

“What about that lawyers’ convention?”

“No. A specific soul. I thought if you had her at the Pearlies, we might trade.”

Awesome. The coolest part of it is that there’s none of that universalist “All religions are true in their own way” crap. “The Wish List” is a novel with a Christian soul, and it tackles its fantasy elements from that perspective.

2) Evil is kicked in the face. In the earlier pulp conversation, Jeffro said this:

I mean the point of a pulp story is to have somebody punch evil and kiss the girl, right?

Good news! Evil might not be punched (Well, sort of, but not really…), but it is kicked in the face. And it’s amazing:

Belch wrapped himself around Meg’s torso. Insane gibberings leaked from between his slobbering lips.

“Finn,” he muttered. “Finn going down.”

That was it for Meg. She’s just about had it…

“Belch,” she screamed, raising down a booted foot, “You can go to Hell!”

She brought the boot down squarely on his wet nose, and the creature that had been Belch Brennan spiraled into the flames, with Meg’s name stretching behind him like a prayer. Or a curse.

3) Yes, the girl is kissed. Not our protagonist in this case, but the deuteragonist gets what surely must be one of the most spectacular kisses in all of fiction:

“Well, Lowrie,” she said, echoes of the teenager in her voice. “Why have you come here?”

It occurred to Lowrie then that he was probably on television.

“Lost love,” he said simply, and kissed her on the lips.

And the crowd went ape, especially when Cicely Ward draped a hand over the dapper old gent’s shoulder and kissed him back. It was fantastic, stupendous.

An ethereal ray of white light exploded from the point of lip contact…

Belch felt it too…”What the hell is that?” he growled, peering over his shoulder.

…”Good,” [Elph] said. “Pure, one hundred percent good.”

Meg felt a rush of blue in her aura.

4) Things get weird. In fine pulp fashion, we get this creation:

Someone, or something, was spinning along beside her. Canine features bubbled under a human skin, poking through like computer animation effects. It was horrible. Grotesque. Yet somehow strangely familiar.

“Belch?” said Meg uncertainly. “Is that you?”

…The dog-boy could only stare in horror as his fingers morphed from stubby digits to pit bull claws. Tears and slobber rolled down his face, dripping in large gobbets from a furry chin.”

Cool!

5) Genres are mixed. In the middle of the fantasy, we get bits like this:

The computer wizard grinned smugly. “No problem, Beelzebub-San, I can uplink him.”

…Myishi removed a nasty-looking object from his box of tricks. It resembled a small monitor on a metal stake. Without hesitation the programmer plunged it into the morass of Belch’s brain. 

…”The brain spike. I love this little baby. The brain’s own electrical impulses provide the power source. Ingenious, if I do say so myself.”

Pure science fiction, baby.

You can’t argue that this one doesn’t hit the pulp beats, right? Unashamedly Christian cosmology? Genre mashing? Weird imagery? Gals getting kissed and demons getting kicked in the face?

It’s all there.

But is it superversive?

You better believe it is.

Remember the infamous redemption story post?

Well, “The Wish List” is that story and more. It’s a redemption story, and it’s a resurrection story. It’s about not giving up, and living without regret, and making up for past wrongs, and all of that other stuff that’s corny when it’s executed badly and amazing when it’s executed well.

“The Wish List” is executed very, very well. It’s not just fun, it’s not just funny, it’s not just inventive, it’s also moving and inspiring. It’s incredibly superversive.

Is it perfect?

No, it’s not. The Chekov’s gun at the beginning is flashed rather obviously, and many of the plot beats are very predictable. The characters sometimes lean a little too far into the stock end. But you’re having so much fun when you read it that you hardly even care!

Isn’t that also the exact thing that folks like Jeffro have been talking about? Those supposedly “cliche” and “predictable” plot beats were used so much because they were incredibly effective?

“The Wish List” is the sort of book that we just don’t see much of anymore, and fans of pulp fiction or superversive fiction owe it to themselves to give it a shot.

Lela E. Buis Reviews “An Unimaginable Light”

She liked it.

This is the first Hugo-related review I’ve seen of any of the book’s stories. Lela Buis also has her own story in “Tales of the Once and Future King”, and I think I can confidently state that it’s one of my favorites in the book.

Money quote:

Pros: John C. Wright is actually an awesome writer. The number of levels this story works on is pretty amazing. 1) It invokes the Inquisition, i.e. the uppity, beautiful woman accused as a witch and the powerful, degenerate man questioning her. 2) It pays homage to the Asimov robot stories, referring to the Three Laws and similar philosophical issues. 3) It outlines questions in the dialog that fall out from the current conflict between conservative and neo-left politics. 3) It’s pretty erotic. Wright doesn’t fall short on the character descriptions, and the BDSM elements are obvious.

Three and a half stars.

(Note: There are no rape scenes and no actual sex is portrayed, for those who aren’t fans of that sort of thing, such as myself.)

I did respond to something she mentioned in her review in the comments section. For the curious:

Hello Lela! Anthony here.

A note: God, Robot was marketed by Castalia as a superversive anthology because of the authors involved, but when I came up with the idea I wasn’t soliciting only superversive stories. It just happened to turn out that way. Vox himself also has a very creepy story in it.

Your criticisms are fair, and I’m glad you did like it.

The follow-up by Josh Young I think does a lot to put the story in context.

Lela also has one of my favorite stories in “Tales of the Once and Future King”, so you guys should look out for that.

And if you want to know what all the fuss is about, pick up “God, Robot” today!

Marvel 1602 and the Wet Fish Slap Redux

Mike Glyer of File 770 linked to my post “Marvel: 1602 and the Wet Fish Slap”. Against my better judgment I ended up responding to some folks in the comments section who – naturally – disagreed with me.

Worth noting: Despite the fact that I specifically attempted to be polite and tried to make my case as clearly and coherently as I could, my showing up to defend myself seemed to make people much angrier.

The original posts are on the thread; here were my responses:

[From the commenter] Has it never occurred to you that one of Gaiman’s characters happened to be gay simply because a significant percentage of the human population is gay, and Gaiman wrote his story to reflect the actual human population?

No. I’m sure that it didn’t. ?

Despite the monster under the bed stories you might have heard, I was indeed not so blinded by my hatred of the gay population nor my rage at Neil Gaiman to neglect to consider this possibility. After I calmed down from my Smaug-like wrath caused by catching sight of a gay guy in the comics, I did try to think of why.

Here’s the thing: This is not a red-headed scenario, or a blue-eyed scenario.

This was obviously structured near the end of the book as a dramatic reveal. Gaiman clearly considered it significant that Angel was gay. This was a fact about him that *mattered* – not to me, mind. To him. Gaiman.

And – people seem to want to ignore this, but it bears repeating – telling Cyclops made no sense. None. Angel is even offered an opportunity, sitting right in front of him, both to keep his secret and keep Cyclops off his back…and instead he reveals his deepest secret, a secret that in 1602 could potentially be enough to get him ostracized or blackballed from his new community, to the one guy who is *most likely* to want to use it to hurt him.

There was NO REASON AT ALL FOR THIS.

And finally – Angel was not gay in the original X-Men comics. Gaiman changed it. While other updates for characters make at least some sense, it does seem rather difficult to find the connection between being born in 1602 and being gay.

To pretend that adding this in doesn’t spark any sort of questions, isn’t meant to make any sort of point, even though he actually changed a character’s sexuality around specifically to wring out this particular scene, which doesn’t need to exist at all…

…Well, maybe Neil said “Hold on guys, there are no gay guys here! I better try to represent, you know, just for realism”.

Or maybe had a reason in mind when he made the change.

And even THAT doesn’t necessarily harm the narrative, but he handled it in such an incredibly poor, ham-fisted way I couldn’t believe it.

So he doesn’t get a pass from me. I’ll let others decide if it’s my horrible right-wing bigotry informing my opinion or not.

[A commenter] Speaking as a visitor from the 17th Century, I am profoundly grateful to such among your pamphleteers who employ empty inkhorn terms, as “virtue-signalling” and “box-checking”; it is a way of informing this reader that he careth less about the story he revieweth, than he doth making himself look good to rattle-pated, clotpole knaves and boobies.

*Sigh* I sent off my last comment, saw this one, and decided to write this up quick before I left; as I add this section in via edits, one other person has already come in to ignore everything I’ve said (for example, I didn’t say the presence of a gay character was unrealistic, I said it was stupid for a gay character in the year 1602 to out himself to somebody he already knows has a reason to dislike him) and accuse me of being a bigot in as many words. Good stuff.

I didn’t use the phrase box-checking, Mike [Glyer] did.

I did indeed use the phrase virtue signalling, but again, everybody has gotten worked up as if I threw out that word and then neglected the rest of my case, which is simply not true at all.

Now I’m certainly open to the possibility that I was only seeing what I wanted to see because I have such a reflexive disgust and revulsion towards gays, subconscious though it may be.

But nobody seems interested in actually responding to what I really said, but they sure are interested in announcing how they aren’t interested in what I want to say. The one person who tried to respond to me so far twisted the point I made so thoroughly I find it hard to believe he was making a good faith effort.

And NOW I’m gone.

“Tales of the Once and Future King”: A Sneak Peek

This scene is from the frame story of the anthology/novel “Tales of the Once and Future King”, which will be released within the coming months. This scene takes place near the end of the book, when our stalwart heroes are on the run from the villains. Gavin Erewood is the only man standing between them and a horrible grave.

Gavin rose from the dust and dirt with an unholy scream of rage. Gavin was a patient man, but it was still no picnic to sit alone all day baking in the sun while everybody else performed their tasks in the village, and the opportunity for action was a release.

The first arrow he fired whipped through the chariot’s wheels. Bennett’s ingenious system of knots caught between the spokes and sent the chariot tumbling down. The one behind it was forced to swerve out of the way, tilted precariously, and followed its brother into the ground.

The final group of charioteers paid more attention and managed to avoid the pile, but a second arrow did its job. In less than a minute, all three chariots were smashed.

Most of the soldiers were too dazed, or too injured, to move. One managed to turn in Gavin’s direction. He had just enough time to give a yell and rush forward before an arrow hit him in the shoulder, causing him to collapse in pain.

The other soldiers had the good sense to simply flee. Only two managed to keep their wits and courage about them. One of them, who appeared to have a sling on his left arm, amazingly managed to mount one of the horses bareback and go off galloping towards the wagon. Gavin fired an arrow, but it was too late. The rider was long gone, and Gavin had bigger problems.

One last man remained after the crash, and Gavin recognized him immediately from Brand’s description: Count Dima. His face was contorted with anger. He pulled out a sword from a scabbard at his side and started walking slowly into Gavin’s direction.

Gavin hit him with an arrow directly in the chest, sure that the shot was fatal. Dima stumbled back a half step, grimaced in pain, and ripped the arrow out. Gavin fired again and again, wasting his last two arrows, but each time Dima simply ripped them for his flesh.

He sped up as he walked. “Foolish boy! You think your arrows can kill me? You think me a mortal man? I am not! I am darkness!” His face started to contort, the color rushing away until he was as pale as a corpse. “I am your nightmare!” He jerked his head to the side as fangs started forming in his mouth. “I am death itself!

Gavin remembered Fox’s warning from the forest: Vampires. He started hyperventilating. He wanted to run but found himself unable to get his feet to do more than stumble backward. His mind flashed to another day, years ago, an army of undead soldiers bearing down on him and his friends, transforming into flying, bloodthirsty monsters, scratching and biting…

He forced himself to calm down and look around. One of the horses had wandered off after the crash and was only a few yards away. Perhaps he could make it and take off before the night fell and the vampire got the ability to transform. The sun was already getting low in the sky, and Dima was only feet away.

Dima noticed him glance at the horse and gave a terrible smile. “Do you wish to try and run, coward? Oh, don’t think I don’t know who you are. You are the coward knight. The knight who ran. Well, run again! Perhaps you’ll make it. Perhaps not. But the night is almost here. Your friends will die either way!”

It was the vampire’s first mistake. Gavin thought back to that terrible night, many years ago, the day he abandoned his friend. He thought of Lance, finding him in the Scottish highlands and nursing him back to health, and of Fox’s address to him in the forest: Sir Gavin.

Gavin turned towards the vampire and stood up straight. He drew a short knife from his side. He knew he couldn’t kill Dima, but perhaps he could slow him down. “I am Sir Gavin Erewood,” he said, more confident than he really felt. “I am a Knight of Avalon, servant to the Pendragon of Britain. And I do not abandon my friends. Make your stand here, monster.”

Dima’s smile grew wider. “With pleasure.” He rushed towards Gavin with inhuman speed, mouth opened impossibly wide, snarling like an animal. Gavin waited until the last possible second then turned to the side, slashing outward with his knife. Despite his desperate gambit, Dima’s sword managed to slice him across the chest: Not a deep blow, but a painful one. Gavin cried out; blood spilled onto the dry earth.

And time froze.

…To find out what happens next, keep and eye out for “Tales of the Once and Future King”, coming soon!

“Marvel: 1602” and the Wet Fish Slap

Recently I was at the library and a book caught my eye: “Marvel: 1602”. I went over and looked at the back cover. It looked fantastic! It was a story set in a re-imagined version of the Marvel universe set in 1602 Europe and America. How cool is that? And it was written by Neil Gaiman who, hey, is known to be a pretty excellent comic book writer at least, right?

So of course I picked it up.

The book was awesome! It was everything I could have hoped for. The story was interesting. The 1602 “updates” of the characters were clever. Gaiman didn’t just use the setting as a backdrop but actually made it an integral part of the comic. It was great!

I particularly liked Gaiman’s version of Daredevil, always a favorite of mine. Normally I would have been annoyed at how different this version of the character was from his current incarnation, but after learning about Daredevil’s original pre-noir personality I realized that Gaiman’s Daredevil was actually a really entertaining version of that character, and I enjoyed it immensely.

And yet…

Much like with “Stardust”, Gaiman simply can’t seem to help messing up otherwise excellent stories with moments that slap you across the face like a dead fish.

Throughout the book young Jean Grey, a powerful mutant (called Witchbreed in Marvel: 1602), is disguised as a boy and is used to help power a ship through the water and air. One character (I wasn’t even sure who he was an update of…the obvious choice is Wolverine but he appeared to already be a part of the story in another form)  seems to have taken a liking to Jean…but he didn’t realize Jean was actually a girl.

Near the end of the book – I will spoil this, because it made me REALLY mad – Jean dies. Not the bad part.

The bad part is that later, Cyclops, who was in love with Jean, apologizes to the aforementioned character; he thought he had a crush on Jean, and didn’t realize that he still believed she was a boy the whole time.

…And then he reveals that he DID have a crush on Jean. Jean as a boy. He was gay.

And, for absolutely no reason, when he is offered an out, a way to keep it hidden, he tells Cyclops this.

Cyclops, who he knows already didn’t like him because of his crush on Jean.

And he tells Cyclops this in the year 1602, you know, that most progressive of time periods, where outing yourself as a homosexual to somebody who doesn’t like you was certainly a wise thing to do and would lead to no negative consequences at all, right?

And the worst part? There was no reason for it. It added nothing – nothing – to the story. Why can’t he have known Jean was a girl and had a crush on her, but was too shy to tell her? Or too afraid that Cyclops would be angry at him? Or simply been upset because Jean was his friend?

Or even, if you are really, really incapable of not virtue signaling, if it’s truly so very important to you that people know you’re Totally Not Homophobic, why on earth would you have this character tell Cyclops he’s gay?

It was stupid, it was pointless, and it was insulting that Gaiman decided to make his story worse in order to tell the world that he was Totally Cool With Being Gay. It was a way of telling the reader that he cared less about them than about making himself look good to the right people.

And it’s such a shame, because it’s such a great story otherwise! It was creative, it was fun, it was interesting.

But Gaiman just can’t seem to help himself from delivering that wet fish slap at least once.

And people are getting tired of it.

“Sword and Flower” and Superversive Categories

First things first: I’m not trying to pick on “Sword and Flower”. I didn’t hate it, I think Rawle has potential, and I think he was definitely going for something in the superversive range even if he didn’t hit the mark.

But the discussion by the pulp revolutionaries afterward is helpful in the sense that it helps clarify what we mean by superversive. I honestly didn’t realize there was so much confusion surrounding the concept, and this is as good an opportunity as any to clear things up.

Corey McCleery, author of the popular serialized novel “Fever Blood” on Wattpad and a regular columnist here (as well as a fellow Whippersnapper co-host), recently listed the five main categories of “basic” superversion (we’ll discuss what it means to be “noumenal” superversive later).

There was some shock and confusion expressed that I considered “Daredevil” superversive,  but not “Sword and Flower” (at least, I considered “Daredevil” more superversive).  I do stand by that, and to see why, let’s go through the five categories.

Before I start, it’s important to note that there are degrees of superversion, that is, it’s perfectly reasonable to talk of something being more or less superversive than another thing.

It’s also important – maybe even critical – to note that this isn’t a science. Much like with pulp, part of the qualifying criteria of superversive is that you know it when you see it. This doesn’t mean superversion doesn’t exist, but it does mean that if a work meets this criteria in a technical sense but just…doesn’t seem to “work” as a counter to subversion, so to speak, points are at least going to get knocked off on the sliding scale of superversion, you know?

And without further ado:

Aspiring/Inspiring – These mean that the characters aspire to something greater than themselves, and inspire others to seek greatness, and not remain where they are.

In “Sword and Flower”, there are hints of this, but they’re not very strong. What should have been the obvious turning point of Dimity’s character arc comes after she kills a powerful demon and is, to her surprise, rescued by the people of Weatherford. She is touched by their concern.

She decides she is going to help them find and kill the “head” demon, for lack of a better phrase. Normally this would work as a fine example of somebody else – the people of Weatherford – inspiring someone to be better than they are, but Rawle shoots himself in the foot a bit with this section:

“Here. You must be hungry,” Mash said as he handed Dimity a biscuit. The beige, rough square looked and felt like concrete, but it was either eat this or eat nothing. Though it punished her teeth, she ate it, and it tasted bland rather than bad; a small price to pay to gain the respect of Weatherford. Once the demon hive crumbled into dust, she would never have to worry about rejection by Weatherford again.

Dimity is still calculating at this point. It’s not really about helping the people of Weatherford, but about making life easier for her. This is a subtle but key difference.

There are examples where the characters inspire each other to do better, of course; mostly Rawle goes for romantic love, with the problem – to me, at least – that his relationships weren’t particularly well developed (part of this is less the relationship itself, I suppose, and more that the characters didn’t act particularly like real people, but now we’re going outside of the scope of this particular criticism a bit). Even so, it feels as if there’s something missing here.

Contrast that with “Daredevil”. An excellent example of exactly this sort of quality comes in the second (and best) episode of the series, “Cut Man”. Daredevil, who is severely injured, is being taken care of and hidden from bad guys by a nurse who found him in a dumpster. When he asks her why she hasn’t just called 911, she tells him that she’s heard stories of a mysterious man in black going around rescuing people from attackers, and suspects (correctly) that he is that man. She wants to believe in him and his mission, and so yields to his wishes and helps hide his identity.

Claire later ends up helping Daredevil figure out where a kidnapping victim has been hidden, and becomes a constant aid throughout the season. She is a perfect example of a character who, inspired by somebody else’s heroism, becomes a hero herself.

Daredevil himself fights not for himself, but for his city, a constant theme of the season. It’s a core concept of “Daredevil”.

Let’s move on.

Virtuous: This means that there is a right and wrong in the world. This does not mean there can’t be moral complexity and ambiguity – in fact, when done well this can be incredibly powerful – but even then there needs to be an understanding that there’s a difference between right and wrong. The characters themselves don’t necessarily need to be virtuous, but the concept of virtue must exist in the framework of the story.

Virtue is more or less assumed in “Sword and Flower”, which is as it should be. I have nothing to criticize here.

Even so, “Daredevil” is superior on this point. The Kingpin serves as a dark mirror for Daredevil; he claims to have the same end goal as Daredevil – saving Hell’s Kitchen – but has absolutely no limitations on the means he’s willing to use to accomplish that goal. And Daredevil himself does some disturbing things throughout the show, to the point where “We’re not so different, you and I” actually becomes a serious plot point. This connects to the “virtuous” category in the sense that it explores the idea of whether we can talk about right and wrong in terms of individual actions as opposed to broader goals. Daredevil suggests that at the very least discriminating against who we’re hurting matters, while the Kingpin considers such a strategy ultimately ineffective. The dueling philosophies makes for a compelling conflict.

Next up, Heroic– Closely entwined with the second category, the Heroic category means that there is a standard of heroism. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have a hero, it means that the protagonist has a code of ethics under which they work, a code of ethics that marks them as something more than a villain.

“Sword and Flower” has a villain who’s obviously evil, a literal demon and a psychopath. Dimity is better than him practically by default, as are Mash and the other Puritans. The problem here all goes back to that problem of a lack of realistic characters, and the earlier issue of the lack of inspiring/aspiring characters. Dimity’s code of ethics isn’t really that much more than “survive”. Eventually it turns into “Survive and also help Mash survive”, but even then she hyperfocuses on Mash to an almost sociopathic degree, completely ignoring the deaths of an entire team of warriors who are ostensibly her allies.

Does she reject the evil demon’s offer to also become an evil demon? Yes, she does, but on the other hand, this offer is made by the same man who implied he might have raped her just a few minutes ago. Why would she listen to anything he has to say?

So Dimity is more than a villain, but it’s not because she has any sort of code of ethics so much as she wasn’t born a sociopath, or at least, she wasn’t born AS sociopathic.

Daredevil’s code of ethics is a major theme of the show: What is he willing to do to stop the Kingpin? Would he be willing to kill him? Should he be willing to kill him? At what point is beating up on the bad guys not heroic but just wrong? The show uses the conceit of Daredevil speaking with his Priest as a tool to explore the issue of what it means to be a hero and to avoid falling into villainy. Again, this is a major theme of the show.

And onward again, we have Decisive – This means that the characters are active; their actions matter. They are not bereft of agency, at the whim of fate, or purely reactive to the things going on around them.

This is actually a major problem in “Sword and Flower”. Dimity dies. No choice there. She goes into the Lesser Heaven. No choice there. She is discovered and kidnapped by the people of Weatherford after killing a demon (who was trying to kill her). No choice there. She attempts to escape, can’t, and is rescued by the people of Weatherford. Her choice is robbed; the decision she tries to make is thwarted. When she does FINALLY make the choice to help on her own, the decision is couched in self-interest, in making life more pleasant for her in the town as opposed to doing it simply because it’s the right thing.

Mash, though not the protagonist, is a little better here; at least he makes the choice to defend Dimity, and this has consequences. Elizabeth is a great example of this category in action. She does the right thing at great cost to herself, ending up first with imprisonment and later a violent death, but after she accomplishes her goals. Unfortunately, Elizabeth is only a subplot in the story. While this definitely is a contributor to the category, the book isn’t very strong here as a whole

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve started remembering more and more how season one of “Daredevil” was practically a textbook example of superversive fiction. “Daredevil” is all about decisive characters. Daredevil doesn’t need to do any of what he does, and his actions have huge ramifications, positive and negative, on himself and hid friends. But he does it anyway, and as a result, Wilson Fisk is arrested and his criminal empire dismantled. And he’s just one of several characters who make similar choices.

Moving on again, we have our last category, Non-Subversive. This is probably the most subjective of the five categories of standard superversion. It simply means that the work does not attempt to subvert the paradigms of healthy culture, and doesn’t mock and criticize needlessly.

“Sword and Flower” is pretty good on this score. It has a clearly Christian cosmology (the historically dominant religion of western civilization since the fall of Rome), masculine heroes, and feminine women (once again, Elizabeth rightfully looms large here). It isn’t perfect; for all of the praise of its female characters, Dimity doesn’t actually act very feminine at all. She takes a major leadership role and heads directly into battle right along with the men – and Mash, her supposed love interest, volunteers her. Now, he has an excellent reason for volunteering her, but…it still doesn’t really sit right.

Even so, I can’t fault “Sword and Flower” on this one. It is very much supportive in general of western civilization.

“Daredevil”, once again, is excellent in this regard. Daredevil is a warrior; the Kingpin is a violent thug; Claire is a nurse, almost a literal helpmeet. Karen’s main skill is convincing other people to join the fight. Daredevil goes to see his Priest on a regular basis, something played completely straight. The Priest is not a Father Just-Call-Me-Bob, but a real preacher, a traditional Catholic loyal to the Church and her teachings. Again, it’s not perfect; the sight of little old ladies throwing people across the room is a bit silly. But a good 90+% of the show is shockingly “traditional”, for lack of a better word.

So there you have it. You don’t need to necessarily agree with me, but hopefully this helps you understand my thought process. It doesn’t come out of nowhere.

And if you’re wondering why I picked “Daredevil”…don’t blame me. Apparently there was confusion over how “Daredevil” could be considered superversive, but “Sword and Flower” couldn’t. This struck me as a self-fulfilling prophecy: Supposedly, the big issue with superversion is that we need literal angels to come in and save the day in an obvious way. But then I said that the gritty street-level superhero story “Daredevil” IS superversive and “Sword and Flower” – a story that does, in fact, have literal angels in it – was, if not entirely non-superversive, much less so. Thus, we didn’t know what we were talking about and superversive meant whatever we wanted it to mean.

Hopefully one can see how it’s at least a little unfair to say that if we don’t define superversive specifically in a way that makes it sound narrow and limiting, than any definition we use makes no sense or is arbitrary.

Even though this is the first time it was all codified like this – after careful observation of the various books in the supeversive recommended book list, and teasing out what they had in common – this has in its essentials been what superversive meant from the beginning. There’s a reason one of my first articles here was about “Daredevil”, and there’s a reason why a new analysis of the show from our more refined modern perspective confirms that original analysis with flying colors.

Superversion as a concept makes sense, and even if it’s a categorical variable, as Corey put it, that’s not the same thing as not being a variable at all.

The Superversive in “Sword and Flower”

Okay. Re-reading the discussion, and talking with a couple of the people involved, it appears my second post is the one that provoked the really strong reactions. I’ve thought about it some, and I think I’m still going to defend it; though admittedly part of this is my own fault.

Look, calling the biggest problem of the book the lack of the superversive is oversimplistic; more accurate is to say that the problem is the lack of believable or interesting main characters. The problem could be solved by taking advantage of a storyline natural to the setting and giving the main characters redemption arcs. This provides them with motivation and context for their actions and can even explain some of the nonsensical or ridiculous character decisions. And it’s a naturally superversive arc that can be incredibly powerful when done well.

Sure, there are other ways to solve the problem. But I was asked to look at it from a superversive critical framework, and for several reasons I actually do think this would be the best way to solve the book’s main problems. Everyone becomes more interesting, more motivated, more decisive, and even more relatable. Puzzle pieces start to fit; and it all fits in like a glove with the setting anyway.

Are there other ways to greatly improve the story? There are, sure. But this is the most natural, and I think the most powerful, option.

I don’t much care what Star Wars did or didn’t do. “Sword and Flower” isn’t Star Wars, it’s its own, original story. If we’re making a big deal about the huge variety of stories that can be told in the pulp framework I’m not sure why Star Wars suddenly became the standard to judge “Sword and Flower” by.

So yeah, to say “The biggest problem is the lack of the superversive” isn’t quite right.

More accurate is “The biggest problem is the lack of believable character motivations, and this problem could have been solved in a way that fit the narrative naturally and was superversive, which would have been a huge improvement.”

But that’s not as pithy.