Fake Review #3: Curveball by Milton Horace Dante Longfellow III

Milton Horace Dante Longfellow III wanted to take another crack at writing a review. Having already been burned once by the gentleman, I was dubious. I asked him what he planned to review, and suggested The Points Between, since it seemed a little more in line with his aesthetic than Pay Me, Bug! did. He said “No, I thought I’d review Curveball.” I said “No thanks, I’ll pass.” He said “No really, it’ll be fine.” I said “You must think I’m some sort of idiot.” He said “That aside, I still want to write this review.” So… what the hell.

To be human–to be frail in the face of the brutality of life, finite in the vast scope of time, merely mortal in a world that existed long before you were born and shall exist long, long after you return to dust–is to embrace the power of myth. What is myth, other than the telling of stories of those who, in some way, have risen above the frailty, finite mortality that defines us, have transcended the irrelevant and mundane world and become like the gods themselves? Heracles, Perseus, Odysseus, Achilles, Aeneas, Beowulf, Gilgamesh–these are names that we recognize even if we don’t truly remember the stories that surround them. And in each age we invent our own myths, add our own heroes to our own pantheons, each tailored to fit the world they represent. And so in a different era we have Charlemagne and his Paladins, and the story of Roland and Oliver. And in a different era we have Arthur, and his Knights of the Round Table. And in another we have Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

But as we come closer and closer to the modern era, heroes become significantly less grand. One can appreciate that Elliot Ness and the Untouchables were incorruptible, but they are still seen as mere men. Mortals, to be remembered with respect, but they will not have their name writ large in history. There is little, if any, mythology about them. And so in the modern age it becomes necessary to introduce a mythology born from the fires of children’s entertainment: a mythology that started, as most do, in bold, simple colors, a mythology that grows deeper and more complex as time causes the color to fade.

And so we have Superman. Batman. Captain America. The Flash. Spiderman. “Super heroes,” beings that are possessed of godlike power, that use that power for good. This is the new mythology, and tales such as these feed the unspoken need for grand tales of epic feats, bravery, resolve, and an unswerving commitment to fighting back the darkness of the age.

This paean to the mythologies of old has oft been overlooked and dismissed by the very same scholarly community that dissects the varied re-tellings of Heracles cleaning the Augean stables, or the many Masters and Doctoral thesis papers exploring the conflict between Odysseus and Polyphemus. And yet in spite of this withering cultural scorn, the tradition has continued, and continued to expand. The modern mythology has expanded beyond the original four-color scrolls that retold the stories of the original new god-archetypes (The Kryptonian, The Billionaire Vigilante, The Heroic Soldier, The Really Fast Guy, and The Loser Who Let The Devil End His Marriage To A Smoking Hot Babe Because He’s An Idiot.) Once again we have poets creating Epic Sagas and, eschewing the iconic imagery of the past, are resorting to simply retelling these great tales using words alone.

These new myths are appearing everywhere. You can find them as books, both physical and electronic. You can also find them posted serially, electronically, shared communally via the great story-web that has become an integral part of our daily lives over the last twenty years. There are writers and stories featuring new pantheons, new gods, new heroes of this new age. They proliferate. They abound.

Curveball is one of these stories, after a fashion. I would like to say that this example of the new mythology carries with it the stirring hymns and blood-coursing poetry that typifies the majesty of this genre. I would like to say it, but I cannot. Though it pains me to say, Curveball apes the form but does not rise up to the promise. It is, in short, a sullen deconstruction of a mythology, and ultimately fails there as well.

In form it takes upon itself the presentation of the four-colored scroll: each piece of the story is presented as an “issue” and it uses many of the narrative devices (storytelling in present tense, terse description of location, frequent use of onomatopoeia to place sound in context with action. It purports to follow the publishing conventions of the same scrolls. It even has the audacity to describe itself as a “prose comic,” which is a pairing of words that makes absolutely no sense given that prose and comic consist of two entirely different presentational styles that, while both valid, are incompatible with each other. A comic has pictures. Prose may, on occasion, have pictures, but in this case it does not. The elaborate incoherence of this pairing suggests a level of detachment from the world in the part of the publisher that I find both disturbing and grim.

Form aside, its function should be to aspire to the heights of this new mythology that came to be in the middle of the last century, and continues into this. It starts out promisingly enough: the story starts with an aging hero, one whose glory is still sung by the bards but who has approached his twilight, performing a last act of heroic resolve. It costs him his life: like the hero Heracles, who was ultimately poisoned by centaur’s blood and forced to immolate himself on a pyre, he is shot through the head by a genetically engineered World War II Nazi.

This has the makings of an epic tale. From there we could have flashed back to the beginning of his life, and see it unfold through the years as he finds glory, becomes great, only to know of its tragic, desperate end.

Alas that it were so.

Instead, immediately after this glorious death we are introduced to another hero. A lesser hero. A… common hero. A hero that does not wear a badge of office, a crown on his head, a robe falling across his shoulders. No, this hero wears a grease-stained trenchcoat and bears all the markings of the kind of musician who was popular among miscreants in the late 70s and early 80s. He projects a smirkish kind of sneer rather than any innate nobility, and instead of showing a virtuous upstanding life, he drinks and smokes and consorts with the lowest forms of humanity in what is purported to be the worst city on earth in which to live.

This is his story. He is the titular “Curveball,” though he is only ever called “CB,” and we are expected to believe that at one point in time he and the noble being who dies so grandly at the start of the story were close friends. He was, according to a later revelation, once a “super villain,” later the great hero’s sidekick, and now he is drawn into the murder, and to the mystery behind it.

I can’t tell you much about the mystery. I paid very little attention to the mystery. I detest mysteries. They are vulgar.

This could, I suppose, have a base sort of appeal to those who are interested in such things. But there is not, so far as I see, any presence of mythology in this world. Where are the supermen? The cowled vigilantes, driven on by an unquenchable thirst for justice? The selfless paragons who ensure that the lives of lesser men are kept safe from those who would do them harm?

And where, in the name of all that is good and just, is Issue Three? Confound it, man! It was supposed to be out last Wednesday!

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