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Elseworlds Writing Challenge Results

Judgment!

Wow, did this contest get a lot of entries. Nineteen in all! That's more than our last couple put together. It's good to see that so many people out there are interested in writing. Several of the entries come from people who've never contributed to Fanzing before, which is also nice to see.

I know you're all eager to see who won, but a couple of words first about the approach taken in judging. This was a contest to write Elseworlds stories. So, borrowing an idea from how we judged the Reclamation Challenge, we used two main criteria in judging these:

  1. Were they really Elseworlds?
  2. Were they good stories?

I think the second one is fairly self-explanatory, but the first might need some elaboration. The basic idea of an Elseworlds is to examine what heroes would be like in worlds other than the DC Universe. However, a story that starts in current continuity (give or take) and happens through the course of the plot to alter the status quo is not really an Elseworlds. If it were, than a Dick and Babs romance story that ended with them together would qualify!

No entries were disqualified for failing to meet that definition. We didn't explain it in advance, and that's our fault. But it was used as one of the criteria in the judging, alongside more traditional elements like plot, characterization, grammar, etc.

The nineteen entries have been divided into three groups: fourteen contenders, four finalists, and one winner. Commentaries will go through those three groups one by one, with the entries in each group dealt with in alphabetical order.

The Contenders:

Anarky and Chaos by Mathew D. Rys

Possibly the first Joe Potato fanfic in history, right here in Fanzing! The writing style is decent, and the characterization of Joe Potato is good.

Anarky's motivation is difficult to understand; he's been dreaming about Batman, so he goes on a rampage to find him. Why he thinks this will help is never explained. He also decides to reform on fairly slim justification. Despite contradicting some relatively recent events in the comics, this story is close enough to continuity to make its Elseworlds status questionable.

Barry Me Not by Ron Schablotski

This story reads like a five hundred page novel condensed into a few thousand words. Key story elements, entire subplots, and supporting characters rush by, given a paragraph or two before the story moves on. There's no dialogue at all. Also, the characters didn't seem to have much to do with their original sources; the hero is called Barry and is the "fastest gun in the west", but there's nothing in his character other than that to suggest the Flash.

Crisis Survivor by Carl J. Gonzales

The revelation of the survival of the Earth-2 Robin on the merged post-Crisis Earth is the basis for this story. The effect this has on the Batman is explored to decent effect, and the other Dick's pain is well portrayed.

The story is really just a vignette, though. They talk a bit, then the Earth-2 Dick kills himself. It could have used more development. The dialogue tends to be too exposition-laden. Also, as originally submitted, the story had no quotation marks. The Elseworlds quotient of a tale set in current continuity is also pretty slim; this story was clearly written with the intention that it would fit into canon.

The Explanation by Adrian Tullberg

What if Batman's only chance to save a life was to reveal his identity? What if that life were as worthless as a human being could be? These are interesting questions, and Adrian explores them well. By upping the stakes with that second element, he is able to demonstrate just how deep Bruce's values go. The writing is also good, though Bruce's narration distances the reader from events rather than drawing them in.

Though it takes it in a direction DC is unlikely to, this story is clearly set in current continuity. In fact, the first time I read it, I didn't even realize it was meant for the Challenge! It would also have been nice to see what the reactions of the people to whom Bruce is giving "The Explanation" to are. I had a hard time believing that Bruce Wayne is unused to dealing with the press.

The First and Greatest of Them All by L.T.Hayes

Another story featuring a pre-Crisis hero emerging into the current continuity. Popular subject, apparently. This one has the Spectre rescuing the original Superman from Hypertime. There are some nice touches, such as the inclusion of the JSA and Power Girl, to connect this Superman to the current universe. I was also pleased to see that the second half of the story includes some conflict, since it seemed another story in which people would just sit around and talk pleasantly.

The story does meander a bit before then, though. Another problem is that at around the halfway point of this fairly short entry is a summary of events to date. The punctuation is routinely incorrect. And, as with Crisis Survivor, this may not really be an Elseworlds.

Holy Terror 2 by Danell Lites

The first of Dannell Lites' two entries, this story is billed as a sequel to the graphic novel Batman: Holy Terror. It's very nicely written, and I'll pardon some purple prose as being that of the first-person narrator, Bruce, who does seem the type to wax melodramatic at times. The characterization of this alternate Bruce is very good, being reminiscent of the one we know but with many subtle touches to remind us he isn't.

But this isn't a sequel to Holy Terror. It is a somewhat expanded prose adaptation of it. About half the story is a straight retelling of the graphic novel, and all of the plot is contained therein. The following scenes simply describe some other people in this world whom Bruce has recruited, none of whom actually do anything, and then show him asking the Kents, Lana, and Superboy if they will help him. These aren't bad scenes (though I think the existence of Superboy is thematically against the approach to Superman's death taken in the graphic novel), but they don't stand up on their own. Nevertheless, this is a very high quality prose adaptation, and shows new aspects of the original work.

JSA: Continuations by Allen Neuner

There are some nice bits of characterization here, and the choice of people whom the JSA turn to will please people with an interest in Golden Age heroes. The writing style is good.

But there's no plot here. The JSA ask a bunch of people to join; some say yes, some say no. That's it. And this is a real pity, because the idea of stories about the JSA operating while thought to be Communists sounded really cool. It also makes the whole story seem a bit pointless. We don't get to see the team do anything, so what does it matter who's on it?

Legion of Frontier Heroes by Chaim Mattis Keller

Chaim does a great job of transposing the futuristic Legion of Super-Heroes into the ol' West. This is a no-powers story, and given the myriad metahuman abilities of the LSH that define its characters, that's quite a trick to pull off. The plot works well, and the mystery elements are handled decently (though any LSH fan can spot what's going on a mile off). The writing style is good, flowing well.

The main problem with this story is that it's exactly what the LSH comic is sometimes accused of being: a jumble of dozens of characters that will hopelessly confuse the uninitiated. We get little characterization for many of them; they show up, do their thing, then leave. This isn't Easter Egg stuff to reward the careful reader with an LSH background; this is the plot. When Iron Kid sacrifices himself, it's difficult to care, because we don't really know who he is. There's also some problems with first person narration that includes events Star Boy cannot possibly know; the narrator literally enters rooms halfway through scenes he's been describing.

A Meeting On Earth-Prime by Bob Meadows

There are some very nice details in this story. Batman's scoffing at his comic book counterpart surviving without super-powers, and the multi-racial nature of the "real" heroes that the comic book companies ignored, were my two favorite touches. I'm also going to commend the daring decision to have the people upon whom the super-heroes are allegedly based be, well, jerks.

The problem with this story is that the characters just sit around whining about how they don't like their portrayals. We really don't care that deeply about them, so we have little sympathy. I wanted to slap them and say, "Some of us have got real problems, buddy." It's also largely plotless; again, it's just characters sitting around whining.

The Origin by Seth Gotlieb

A neat idea: what if Shazam chose Bruce Wayne to be Captain Marvel? It's also a competent, if brief, re-telling of Captain Marvel's origin.

Unfortunately, that's all this story is: Captain Marvel's origin. The boy is named Bruce Wayne, but it makes no real difference; we only get the origin, and he acts exactly as Billy did. Many of the sentences begin with adverbs, which makes the story seem hyperbolic.

Oz by Cyndi Smith

There's some very effective work in this story in showing Dick's pain and self-loathing after being crippled. The attempt at capturing the fractured nature of his consciousness immediately following the attack succeeds admirably, alternating his thoughts with the sounds of the machines keeping him alive to very good effect.

The reader doesn't really have a sense of Dick's recovery, though. The narrative doesn't allow them to follow it, instead glossing over much of it and giving only random bits and pieces.

Part of the Game by Danell Lites

Danell's the only person to enter this contest twice, and both her entries are quite polished. This one avoids the problems of Holy Terror 2, going without any "homages" to published works and without the occasionally purplish prose of the other piece (reinforcing my guess that that was just to convey Bruce's viewpoint). There was some very good characterization, both of Dick through his narration and of the various supporting characters. The writing style is nice and flows well. The mystery was reasonably well done, if you ignore the prologue.

This story was very strong in many ways, but there were a few problems that kept it from making the finalists. First, as mentioned, the prologues gave away the identity of the killer (she's a blonde female, and there's only one blonde female in the story) and effectively killed the mystery. Second, the epilogue seemed forced, instead of flowing from the story. Third, the decision to gloss over the first confrontation between Bette and Dick when it occurs in the narrative was extremely damaging to the drama (and it didn't help that it had also been briefly covered in the prologue). Finally, we're supposed to care deeply when Babs is shot, but Danell has never shown her to us, and it's bad writing to trade upon pre-existing feelings.

Superman 5: The Doom Of The Day by Christ Klien

Frequent grammatical errors and stilted phrasings made this story very difficult to read and occasionally incomprehensible. Errors such as missing words and incorrect verb conjugation occurred about once or twice per sentence. Given this, it is difficult to accurately gauge other elements, such as plot and characterization. There is also some question as to whether the Superman films constitute a valid Elseworlds, but it's a moot point.

Twenty by Nikoru-Chan

The first third of this story belongs to the subgenre of fanfic known as "hurt/comfort". Like "Mary Sue" fanfic stories, it is not impossible to tell a good one, but it takes extraordinary skill not to make it seem as though heavy-handed auctorial manipulation is being used to do a disservice to the characters and tell a story of primary interest only to the writer him(or her)self.

Unfortunately, Nikoru-chan lacks that skill. The lack of explanation for much of the story's events (who was that doctor, and what was that organization?) reinforce the impression that this story exists only to hurt poor Robin so he can be comforted by and bond with an original character called Kaze. The ending has some unbelievable plot points (Robin fakes Tim Drake's death, but he's made sure Batman is out of town that week, so Batman never finds out that the world thinks Tim is dead) and several habitual spelling errors. It also has a questionable Elseworlds content, since the beginning is set within the Batman canon (albeit a little while ago) and it only diverges from there.

The Finalists:

Broken Mirror by Syl Francis

There's a lot of excellent stuff in this story. There's good characterization of both Catwoman and Batman, some well-described action sequences, and generally excellent writing style. The audience's expectations that in Elseworlds all roads still lead to Rome are cleverly manipulated with regard to the Flying Graysons.

While reading this story, I thought that it was going to be a lock to win, right up until I got to the ending. Unfortunately, the resolution is lacking in several respects. Batman remains on the wrong side of the law, so his relationship with Catwoman is still unclear, and the gangwar he has precipitated is still imminent. It's not just that these issues weren't dealt with that was a problem; the characters and the narrative itself act like everything is tied up.

By the Dawn's Early Light by Sandra Miller

Fanzing has received a few novellas for previous contests, but this may well be the first bona fide novel. It's seventy thousand words long! But don't let that scare you, since it's well-written and engaging. There's good characterization, and the reader really gets immersed in the world Dick occupies. The use of quotations at the beginning of each chapter was effective at tying this war into history. The touches of Titans continuity are also good, rewarding Titans fans without being likely to confuse or distract the casual reader.

The main problem with this story is that it's a military sci-fi story with no combat scenes. There's one brief space battle at about the halfway mark, but it's described on the level of fleet tactics; we get not a single dogfight in a story in which Dick Grayson has become a combat pilot. Not only would such action scenes have been a good way to vary the story's pace, but it makes it difficult to really sympathize with Dick when we are never shown what his current activities are really like.

Also, while I was pleased that the Ch'Ton turned out to be more than the implacable and unfathomable aliens they initially appear to be, several inconsistencies arose as a result of their humanization near the end (they self-annihilate when their queens are killed... but then they don't, they commit suicide on a planetary scale routinely... but feel bad that a city got destroyed, etc.). Finally, the duel that ends the war is fought by an original character who first appears about four fifths of the way through the story, rather than the protagonist, which distances the reader from the outcome.

In the Dark, Dark Night by "Blinky the Tree Frog"

This is a very well told tale. Melanie manages to alternate between some very tense sequences and some more humorous ones, and does both quite deftly. The two narratives, one told by Barbara Gordon and the other in the third person (but clearly demarcated, unlike in Legion of Frontier Heroes) mesh well together. The writing style is excellent.

The reason this story didn't win is that, while it is an Elseworlds, it didn't really have to be. It would have worked just as well as a Nightwing story (albeit with some needed explanation for why Azrael went nuts, but given his normal mental state that wouldn't be too hard).

Young, Just Us by Arlene Pon

A fun little story. There's some good humor, nice characterization (I love Cassie's reaction after to her own actions during the attack, which was very believable), and a bit of action. It also works well within the genre it seeks to emulate, the high school comedy/drama. The writing style is very good.

There isn't really anything wrong with this story (well, there might be, but nothing comes to mind and I'm not going to put it under harsher scrutiny than the other entries just to find some problem). It's just too slight; I'd have loved to have seen the characters and situation more fully developed. Length for the sake of length is a bad thing, but this story could have been twice the size without seeming at all padded.

And finally...

The Winner:

True Colors by Rachel Ehrlich

In the end there can be only one, alas, and this time it's True Colors. This story works both as an excellent Titans story and as a fantasy story unto itself that non-Titans fans can easily enjoy. The decision to focus on a core group of a half-dozen characters rather than try to cover every Titan ever was a wise one, allowing for strong characterization of all the heroes.

At first the confrontation with Dark Angel seemed anti-climactic, but on reflection it ties very well with the story's themes (and, incidentally, it's nice when a story has themes): widening one's viewpoint and putting aside prejudices. The writing style is quite good, flowing well and keeping the reader interested and involved. I admit that I'd have liked to have seen Richard's confrontation with his parents, but this story was more about his own realizations that the world is more complex than he had thought than it is about changing the course of civilization, and in that sense the tale is satisfactorily completed when he takes responsibility for his family's treatment of the creatures and frees them.

Congratulations to Rachel, and thanks to all who participated.

 
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