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Author Topic: EP304: Union Dues – Sidekicks in Stockholm  (Read 16600 times)
Peter Tupper
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« Reply #40 on: August 11, 2011, 01:03:01 AM »

I did not like this story. As this is a forum, I will, of course, tell you why.

I kept waiting for some twist in the situation. I got very bored while the Chairman regurgitated The Shock Doctrine and very annoyed at Adam's inertness, both of which sucked any tension or jeopardy out of the situation. All I kept thinking of was better hostage situation stories.

This ties into my opinion of the Union Dues stories in general. The opening narration introduces this story as a "superhero deconstruction". So, how does this story fit within that genre?

Listening to this and the other Union Dues stories, I get the distinct impression that they're written by and for people who haven't read Watchmen or The Boys or Wanted or Kick-Ass or The Authority or Marshall Law or Planetary or many, many other titles... basically, someone who hasn't read a superhero comic since 1985 or so, someone whose ideas about superheroes are still in the Silver age, someone who is unfamiliar with superhero deconstruction as a genre and thinks nobody has ever made these criticisms before.

It's like some guy thinking he's clever because he asks, "If Superman had sex with Lois Lane, wouldn't he kill her?" and he doesn't realize Larry Niven covered the same question back in the 1960s.

Superheroes as celebrities/athletes? Been done. Superheroes not going after structural inequality? Been done. Superheroes as politically retrograde and hopelessly commercialized and burdened with juvenile sexuality? Been done. Even the ending of this story is a riff on Watchmen, when Dr. Manhattan says, "Screw the human condition. I'm going to go study rocks on Mars. Enjoy your nuclear holocaust."

The only real novelty here is that it is in prose, not comics, format.

Every Union Dues story, I wait for the other shoe to drop, for something to take a stand against the Union. That's the story I want to see. I keep getting disappointed.
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Kaa
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« Reply #41 on: August 11, 2011, 07:11:06 AM »

I've been reading these replies for several days, and I think maybe some people are missing a very important point. Just because the characters in the story say something does NOT mean that the author espouses the same opinion. I know that when I write a character's dialogue, I try to write what that character believes. Sometimes, that is counter to what I believe, especially when I'm writing a villain.

He has the super in this story come to the realization that he's been used for his entire life, and he turns his back on his responsibility. He (the character) also realizes that his presence is making it impossible for the hostages to understand the danger they're in and that perhaps there is a nonviolent solution (OK, not very likely, but...). They--unreasonably, in this case, since Smasher's hands are tied, and if he makes any action against the terrorists, hostages will die--expect him to be the Deus ex Machina and save their bacon, so they're not even paying attention to what the terrorists (am I the only one who thought they bore a resemblance to Anonymous?) are demanding. Which were certainly unreasonable demands, don't get me wrong (lest you conclude that I espouse terrorism, as well). I think the helplessness of the situation was explained quite thoroughly within the story. This is not a story of the merits of terrorism. This is a story of one man coming to the realization that he's been duped (by the Union and, as it turns out, by the terrorists), the decision he comes to, and the disastrous implications that's going to have.

Does DeRego believe that terrorists are right and that hostage-taking is a good thing? I strongly suspect not. He's set up a situation in which one of his super characters has to make a difficult decision based on a lot of wrong or simply missing information. The terrorists manipulate him, and it's made clear that Smasher is not all that bright. Were he a super strategist, perhaps he could have come up with a better solution.

That decision will have disastrous repercussions on his pyramid, his reputation, the entire Union, etc. What this story does--in my humble opinion--is set up the groundwork for a potential future war among factions in the Union itself--not to mention repercussions against the Union by the public. Smasher isn't going to keep his mouth shut, nor is the press. Smasher's not just going to go meekly back to work, not that anyone would let him after this fiasco. They're going to lock him up in Antarctica. With lots of other supers who have gotten the shaft for one reason or another. And now they can't even replace the Adam Smasher character with another Johnny Bravo who happens to fit the suit and just smooth things over.

Someone upstream said they keep waiting for someone to take a stand against the Union? I have a feeling you're about to.
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Unblinking
Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #42 on: August 11, 2011, 08:49:20 AM »

I always get itchy when people complain about stories having meanings. But then, I also get itchy when people confuse 'politics' -- a term with connotations that issues under that banner only affect people in government or administrative roles -- with 'systemic moral crisis', which affects society at large and which I think is a much more accurate description of the issues raised in this story.

I'm sure I'm not the only one here to notice that all of the Union Dues stories are commentaries on the "state of the union". This one is more direct than most, but DeRego has always used his stories as an opportunity to share things that concern him deeply with people that would otherwise be inclined to ignore the reality. He's trying to be entertaining and polite about driving a point that obviously concerns him passionately. One's disagreement does not negate the quality of the story.

I mostly agree that one's disagreement with a story's message does not negate the quality of the story (although I think that if you read a story that, say, promoted the reintroduction of slavery to modern culture, that one would be hard pressed to hold to this point) .  However, when the bulk of the story is a bloated monologue making points that plenty of other people have made before, my dislike of that doesn't have anything to do with disagreement to a message, but that has to do with the quality of the story itself.  It wouldn't matter if the terrorists' points were indisputably right, or even if they were indisputably wrong.  It's still an extremely long monologue making points that I've heard before from many different people.  It's not that I find the points offensive, but that I could have Googled a political blog and found near the exact sentiments and explanation.  I'd be more interested if the message were novel, or if it had had something compelling to support the message instead of structuring it all as a blog post style rant.
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Talia
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« Reply #43 on: August 11, 2011, 08:53:37 AM »

I'd argue the story was more about the protagonist's character arc and his ultimate decision to take no action than about the politics of the terrorists and/or the businesspeople. The politics were the framework that allowed him to evolve from this sheltered guy into someone who's beginning to see the world's not as black and white as he thought it was – and who isn't liking it. That's what I got from it, anyway.
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Scattercat
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« Reply #44 on: August 11, 2011, 04:45:50 PM »

I agree with both Talia and Unblinking; the story's primary point is when Adam Smasher decides not to involve himself in the conflict at all, thus deciding against both sides rather than choosing to champion one against the other.  However, most of the story is just a reiteration of the two sides rather than an exploration of what it is in Adam's personality that would lead him to that decision, hence the significant minority of people who object to the structure of the story.  Most people haven't objected to the content of the rants so much as the fact that most of the story IS the rants.  As I said, I would rather have seen a deeper personal exploration of the characters.

FWIW, I am a bit of a comics fan and thoroughly versed in the literature of comics deconstruction (though I tend to prefer the post-deconstruction nostalgia-tinted stuff like Astro City and PS238, where the authors acknowledge the limitations of the Silver Age tone while still focusing on telling a story in that kind of world rather than kicking that world in the twig and berries), and I do not find the UD stories to be necessarily unaware of that body of work.  I would agree that my least favorite UD stories tend to be the ones leaning more heavily toward the abstract deconstruction work, such as "Stockholm," but it's also true that superhero text-based literature is a relatively thin and unexplored field compared to comics, and thus I don't feel it's necessarily wasted effort to review some of the same lessons that the deconstruction of the Dark Ages taught us.

(I would also like to take a moment to recommend Brian Vaughan's "Ex Machina" to anyone who likes layered post-deconstructed superhero literature.  Definitely a modern superhero story rather than a revisitation or deconstruction of the Silver Age.)
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« Reply #45 on: August 11, 2011, 09:25:47 PM »

And just in case you thought the things in this story don't actually happen in the real world, I bring you this tasty little bit of news...
http://delcotimes.com/articles/2011/08/11/news/doc4e43e53aaf10c938631271.txt

"a former County Judge ... has been sentenced to 28 years in prison for accepting nearly $1 million in bribes ... from the builder of two youth detention centers while he was sending young offenders to the lockups."
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matweller
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« Reply #46 on: August 12, 2011, 07:53:29 AM »

And just in case you thought the things in this story don't actually happen in the real world, I bring you this tasty little bit of news...
http://delcotimes.com/articles/2011/08/11/news/doc4e43e53aaf10c938631271.txt

"a former County Judge ... has been sentenced to 28 years in prison for accepting nearly $1 million in bribes ... from the builder of two youth detention centers while he was sending young offenders to the lockups."
Yep. And there is larger suspicion that the new Arizona laws that would make the Gestapo pee themselves with glee were heavily influenced by money from corporations who own jails because tough laws mean more clients and more government money for them. Go privatization!
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Unblinking
Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #47 on: August 12, 2011, 08:44:43 AM »

I'd argue the story was more about the protagonist's character arc and his ultimate decision to take no action than about the politics of the terrorists and/or the businesspeople. The politics were the framework that allowed him to evolve from this sheltered guy into someone who's beginning to see the world's not as black and white as he thought it was – and who isn't liking it. That's what I got from it, anyway.

You could be entirely right, but that didn't happen til the very end, after all the rest of the ranting.  If all of the original and compelling part of the story is in the last few minutes, it makes the rest of it rather hard to sit through.
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acpracht
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« Reply #48 on: August 12, 2011, 04:54:04 PM »

Having the writer of Union Dues respond directly to me comments=completely making my day.
That is all.
-Adam
(Not the one in the story... actually me... Tongue)

I have two things to comment on: the return of Steve and the story itself.
First: Steeeeeeeeeveeeeee! It's funny, I slipped so naturally back into hearing Steve's voice again, that it didn't even register in my brain that he was back until he said his name. Then it was like someone poked me in the ribs and I gasped. I think I even said, "Hi, Steve!" out loud to an empty kitchen.
I love his style and, Steve, we miss hearing you say "Have fun", too.
I was so saddened to hear that the joy the birth of your child was followed so closely by a divorce. You have the support of your EP family.

OK, on to the story. This was really quite good. Like a good Union Dues story it was dark and explored the concepts of heroes and villians and victims in a complex way. In this one, we have no true heroes, no true villians, no true victims. OK, a bit of a qualification on that one, the executive assistant, who has almost certainly been killed, is one person who I don't think got justice, and I cringed that she was killed so brutally.
My one criticism is related to my praise - it was complex. It got so deep and complex that at times I found myself getting lost in the conversation that always seemed almost on the verge of dipping into straight Platonic dialogue. I think it could have pulled up short on a lot of this and let the listener fill in a lot of the logical holes. A little less "Here, let me connect those dots for you."
But like I say, got me thinking, I enjoyed it, and Steve, come back anytime.

At the risk of derailing any discussion --

I was purposely ambiguous with the ending, but I did consciously pull back from the hostages all being killed... at least I thought i did. I tried to set up that The Chairman would use his gun in a non-gun way, like a pointer, to quiet the room down etc... I wanted Adam to walk away leaving the events in the hostage room unresolved one way or the other... i.e. he washed his hands of them and they had to work out their differences however that was going to happen. I also wanted Adam to effectively equalize everyone in the room, he doesn't understand class differences, and when The Chairman says to Stacy "to him you're all innocents" he isn't editorializing, he's stating a fact.

I needed The Chairman to monologue, all good villains monologue except this one wasn't the same "moohahahahahah take over the world" type monologuing you'd get from a typical villain, I wanted to give Adam a lecture that would appeal to what his sense of right and wrong should be. I wrote a version of this also with The Chairman and Holly's roles reversed, he was a religious/domestic fanatic and she was a progressive political leader, but I couldn't write The Chairman's dialogue in such a way as to sway Adam without making the story into a horror story. So I went with this role set and therefore the Chairman is forced to deconstruct the Normal world for Adam because of his position as leader of the gunmen.

With that I fade back into the shadows to watch the discussion flow on. Thanks for all the comments.
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CryptoMe
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« Reply #49 on: August 12, 2011, 09:21:39 PM »

I did find this story enjoyable, despite it's mostly monologue nature. There were, in fact, a few places where I laughed out loud.

However, I am surprised by some people's assertions that the end was surprising or that it will cause lot of grief in the Union. As a few people have already pointed out, non-involvement with normals problems has *always* been a main tenant of the Union.
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Gamercow
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« Reply #50 on: August 16, 2011, 03:02:20 PM »

I'm sure I'm not the only one here to notice that all of the Union Dues stories are commentaries on the "state of the union". This one is more direct than most, but DeRego has always used his stories as an opportunity to share things that concern him deeply with people that would otherwise be inclined to ignore the reality. He's trying to be entertaining and polite about driving a point that obviously concerns him passionately. One's disagreement does not negate the quality of the story.

Therein lies the rub.  I don't think he succeeded in being entertaining while driving home a point.  For me, the entertainment comes first. 

And I actually agree with him on the point he was trying to make, but this story seemed closer to a blog post than a short story.
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« Reply #51 on: August 17, 2011, 10:52:32 AM »

I admit I skimmed much of the discussion up til now (I'm quite behind on all my podcasts), but am I the only one who noticed the MC trying to understand what was going on but just not being able to get his head around it? I mean, if he can lead a team he's clearly not an idiot, but what kind of programming did the Union put in him to make it so difficult for him to wrap his head around what the Chairman was saying.

I did get a little tired of the proselytizing, and I also got the feeling that the MC was the true target of the terrorists? Turn one super, strike fear into the hearts of the populace when the others come to rescue them?

One thing that really bothered me was the discussion over who becomes the CEO of a large company. It's totally true. You start a company, it either gets bought or fails, and you go to a new one, which is bigger, which fails or you get headhunted, and so on up the ladder. Rarely do rank-and-file workers become more than directors or mid-level VPs anymore, I think in part because of how quickly we all change jobs. I just left a 10,000-person company to join a 1000-person one (actually we might be closer to 500, but LinkedIn says 500-1000). Despite being smaller, with more fighting for positions, it's actually possible to move up here. Managers become Directors, Directors become VPs, and so on.

But yeah, the system is broken in terms of reward-by-promotion. And, really, the higher you get, the less fun you can have making Widgets (or whatever).

So, a decent but heavy-handed story with a little too much repetition for my taste.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #52 on: August 17, 2011, 11:26:30 AM »

But yeah, the system is broken in terms of reward-by-promotion. And, really, the higher you get, the less fun you can have making Widgets (or whatever).

I agree with that sentiment!  I'm an engineer because I like being an engineer.  I have no desire to be a manager or a VP.  The Manager position for our group opened up last year and everyone internally was given the opportunity to apply, but I just have no interest in that.
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Kaa
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« Reply #53 on: August 17, 2011, 12:31:15 PM »

I'm an engineer because I like being an engineer.  I have no desire to be a manager or a VP.  The Manager position for our group opened up last year and everyone internally was given the opportunity to apply, but I just have no interest in that.

Wow. I was beginning to think I was the only one.
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kibitzer
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« Reply #54 on: August 17, 2011, 10:11:24 PM »

I'm an engineer because I like being an engineer.  I have no desire to be a manager or a VP.  The Manager position for our group opened up last year and everyone internally was given the opportunity to apply, but I just have no interest in that.

Wow. I was beginning to think I was the only one.

Nope. Not in the least.
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Corcoran
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« Reply #55 on: August 18, 2011, 12:17:11 PM »

Great story, great read, and Steve, keep going, best wishes to you
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« Reply #56 on: August 19, 2011, 06:02:14 PM »

Mr. DeRego has long been a favorite of mine for his Union Dues stories. He brings a unique taste to comic book superheroes and the ideas of heroes, villains, victims, and innocents are important topics along with the idea of the politics that usually pervade the stories, whether they are modern, real-life politics or the politics of the Union itself.

What I like most about these stories is how we are forced to look at our heroes. Every hero is only human (gifted with super powers or not), yet we expect so much from them since they've already shown us that they are ready to sacrifice (or as in the case of the Union and other such stories, they've been found to have talents which can be exploited... er, " be made useful for the betterment of society"). So we expect them to give up EVERYTHING. By calling someone a hero, we recognize their overcoming of the instinctual "I have to survive" with the conscious decision for "the good of the group comes first, even if I have to sacrifice for them." Yet, here in the Union Dues universe, heroes aren't heroic all the time. Just as other normal people, they get caught in their own lives, their own problems, their own struggles. They make mistakes and sometimes they say, "Screw you guys! I'm going home!" to all the rest of us. We want them to rescue us. We want them to send all the bad guys to jail by the end of the day. We want somebody to make the hard choices for us. We don't want and sometimes can't handle the responsibility of these choices. We want someone to blame if it all goes wrong. It sucks when they say, "You're on your own. Deal with it." In the failure of these super-powered people, Mr. DeRego does an excellent job of allowing us to fit in their shoes and ask ourselves, "What would I have done? Could I have been a hero?"

On the point of the politics themselves, I think that it would have logical for a terrorist to go all soap-boxey on us to espouse his agenda. He wants you to agree with him. He wants you on his side. He wants to convince you that he's actually saving you from the evil on the other side. So yeah, it seems heavy-handed, but wouldn't an extremist act pretty extremely?

I'll get off my soap-box now. Anyone else want a turn on the box? You can see most of the crowd from up there.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #57 on: August 19, 2011, 08:22:46 PM »

I have to admit that the character I sympathized with most was probably the Chairman. God knows I sometimes feel like taking up the black mask and machine gun. To be honest, I sometimes see every day I spend teaching as a bullet, chambered and aimed at the head of the establishment. Sometimes it's the only way to survive. More often than not, it seems like America wants to force my kids to die or spend their lives working crap jobs or rotting in prison, always lining someone else's pockets.

I wanted Adam Smasher to do more than walk away - I wanted him to join the terrorists. Revolution!
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« Reply #58 on: August 19, 2011, 10:49:30 PM »

I have to admit that the character I sympathized with most was probably the Chairman. God knows I sometimes feel like taking up the black mask and machine gun. To be honest, I sometimes see every day I spend teaching as a bullet, chambered and aimed at the head of the establishment. Sometimes it's the only way to survive. More often than not, it seems like America wants to force my kids to die or spend their lives working crap jobs or rotting in prison, always lining someone else's pockets.

I wanted Adam Smasher to do more than walk away - I wanted him to join the terrorists. Revolution!
In other words: Electric Paladin is more left than you  Grin
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aesculapius
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« Reply #59 on: August 20, 2011, 01:42:37 PM »

Too overtly political in an obvious way. I was really disappointed, considering I usually love the UD series.
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