swan_tower: a headshot of Clearbrook from the comic book series Elfquest (Clearbrook)
[personal profile] swan_tower

(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)

I like Fire and Flight, but this volume is where the story really hits its stride. After our simple, linear introduction, where the plot is straightforward and only a small number of characters get much in the way of attention, the narrative opens up: two strands, with Cutter and Skywise searching for more elf tribes, while back in Sorrow’s End Suntop receives a warning that sends nearly the entire tribe on the road again in pursuit of that pair.

The ensemble nature of this series has always been one of the things I like best about it. Yes, when all is said and done, Cutter is the protagonist. He’s the leader, not just in the sense that he’s the one making decisions, but also in the sense that it’s usually his needs and desires that are driving the main part of the story. (Keep his tribe alive; find more elves; get his kids back. Books five and six, Siege at Blue Mountain and The Secret of Two-Edge, are something of an exception to this.) But the Pinis are very, very good at making everyone around Cutter also matter.

Which is an achievement in comic book format, because in the end, you have such limited space to work with. One of the skills I hugely admire is the ability to characterize in an efficient fashion: Joss Whedon excels at that, and I wouldn’t put the Pinis far behind. In less than twenty panels of The Forbidden Grove, they give us a fantastic exchange between Redlance and Woodlock — two characters who barely got any lines in Fire and Flight — that brings both of them to vivid, breathing life. (For those who haven’t read it in a while, it’s the scene where humans show up outside Sorrow’s end. Woodlock wants to be one of their executioners; Redlance insists on hearing what they have to say because he wants to know why they tortured him; when Woodlock calls for their deaths again, Redlance tells him to shoot the kid first; Woodlock can’t, and Redlance consoles him.)

Those aren’t the only two that go from being images on the page to full characters in this volume. Nightfall, who got a little attention in Fire and Flight, gets more here. Strongbow has several great moments — and they’re not all the same kind of moment; his challenge against Cutter, his rare verbal outburst when the Sun Folk question Dart, and his annoyed “‘Think you can get him?’ Huh!” thought bubble when he’s about to shoot the bird show different aspects of his personality. I can’t off the top of my head recall Moonshade getting a single line in Fire and Flight; here the argument with Leetah about following Cutter, plus the single panel where she lets herself be taken by the eagles after they carry off Strongbow, sell us in four panels on Moonshade’s unshakeable traditionalism and devotion to her lifemate. (Since I posted about gender before, it’s worth mentioning that I 100% believe Moonshade would have delivered that exact same rant if she’d been talking to a male healer who stayed behind when his female chieftain lifemate went off to search.)

Plus there are new characters! Suntop and Ember both have personalities that don’t simply map to “kid,” and they aren’t the same personality; the differences between the twins are clear from the get-go. We get Picknose and Oddbit and Old Maggoty, Nonna and Adar, the Bone Woman and Thief and Olbar the Mountain-Tall and Petalwing. The cast in Fire and Flight was big, but almost entirely in the background. Here a much larger percentage of the characters get their moments in the spotlight, and those moments are not wasted. We’ll get even more as the series goes along, with narrative side strands that step away from Cutter’s concerns to show that other people have their own lives, their own problems, for which Cutter is the one playing a bit part (if he’s involved at all). Done poorly, a large cast winds up feeling like an undifferentiated mass, with the narrative flavor spread so thin nobody winds up with much at all. Done well, this is one of my favorite types of story.

I’ll be making a post at some later point about the art, but I want to note that the concern for rendering the characters with detail extends to how they’re drawn. Part of the reason I never got into the Wavedancers story was that I honestly couldn’t keep the elves of that tribe straight: I don’t know if that was because I read it in black-and-white and the artist depended heavily on color or what, but they all smeared together for me. The way Wendy Pini draws her elves, they can be tiny silhouettes in the background of a panel and I’m still able to tell which character I’m looking at. They are, in every respect, individuals.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

Date: 2017-02-09 10:48 pm (UTC)
sharpest_asp: Cutter cradling the injured Redlance to his chest (Elfquest: Cutter with Redlance)
From: [personal profile] sharpest_asp
I'm not the only one who had problems with Wavedancers?

There's a later story, much past core canon, where they show up where I started to be able to tell their personalities apart? But it was a Suntop (with his adult name) storyline, so that might have helped me.

Still loving the reviews. Everything in this is YES!
Edited Date: 2017-02-09 10:48 pm (UTC)

Date: 2017-02-09 11:50 pm (UTC)
sovay: (Haruspex: Autumn War)
From: [personal profile] sovay
Strongbow has several great moments — and they're not all the same kind of moment; his challenge against Cutter, his rare verbal outburst when the Sun Folk question Dart, and his annoyed "'Think you can get him?' Huh!" thought bubble when he's about to shoot the bird show different aspects of his personality.

Elfquest is the kind of series where I have multiple favorite characters and in fact feel positively toward almost all of the main cast, but it interests me now that Strongbow was for a long time my favorite of the Wolfriders, considering that in person he would drive me up the wall. Maybe it was the archery.

Date: 2017-02-09 11:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] swan-tower.livejournal.com
I'll admit that typing up this entry made me pause and go "why do I like Strongbow so much?" <g> The archery definitely had something to do with it; the other elves use bows, too, but it isn't their thing the way it's his thing. I also have a tendency to like the stoic types. But they also just give him a lot of story moments that really spark for me -- his resistance to Winnowwill, his reaction when Timmain almost overwhelms him and subsequent crisis of faith over "the Way," and then all the stuff late in the series with Kureel and Strongbow's reaction to killing him. I probably wouldn't like him in person, either, but I love the stories they tell with him.

Date: 2017-02-10 01:57 am (UTC)
sovay: (Haruspex: Autumn War)
From: [personal profile] sovay
I also have a tendency to like the stoic types.

I like them fine in fiction! In person, it is a way of being in the world that I don't know how to communicate with. I don't find it useful. I need people to tell me the things about themselves I can't read. (I suppose that's where the telepathy would come in handy, although he still manages to hide a major wound by just not telling anyone about it. Sending permits no lies, but that says nothing about omission.)

I probably wouldn't like him in person, either, but I love the stories they tell with him.

Putting some actual thought into my question, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Strongbow is crap at change. Like, canonically, plot-relevantly, character-arcingly crap. He's bad at new things, they scare him, he doesn't always—often doesn't—react well to them. He's the staunchest defender of the Way not only because he values its traditions, but because he really needs the structure it offers his life. You know where you are with the Way. You know who you are. You know what's expected of you. But because irony is as inescapable in the World of Two Moons as in our own, it's just Strongbow's luck that he has to live through the most tumultuous reconception of elfin identity since their forgotten forebears crash-landed on this planet in the first place and sometimes it leads him to look like an asshole. You mentioned last post that it felt unpleasantly out of character for him to claim that Cutter should disregard Leetah's resistance to their Recognition ("and to the humans' cook-fires with what she wants!"), but it feels perfectly in character to me: I don't think Strongbow has ever seen someone refuse Recognition before. Recognition is Recognition. It's an instinct. You're not supposed to have complex arguments about cultural interchange and personal autonomy. You're supposed to make with the babies already. It's worked just fine this way for centuries, what do you want to go changing things for? It's his standard reaction to most new ideas; it just sounds more jerkass when it touches on sexual consent. This rigidity could make him unsympathetic; it certainly makes him the closest thing to an antagonist among the Wolfriders, seeing as how he and Cutter have two major fights about authority and tradition and he actually walks out on the rest of his tribe after losing the second one. But he comes back. And he apologizes. And that's the thing that makes Strongbow interesting and sympathetic: he's crap at change, but he keeps facing it anyway. He has no choice but to live in an altering world and he does the best he can, even if it damn near literally kills him. There's a scene I remember from Captives of Blue Mountain where Strongbow says something nostalgic about Bearclaw at Cutter's expense and Moonshade has to remind him that he and Bearclaw used to fight hammer and tongs about everything—Strongbow has always been Livy complaining about kids nowadays. He probably complained about kids nowadays when he was one of them. And so of course he gets the storyline with Kureel: the staunchest defender of the Way is the one who breaks one of its oldest unspoken proscriptions. It wouldn't have been half as interesting with anyone else.

Also I had a lot of sympathy for the battle scene in Quest's End where it turns out Strongbow is also crap at hand-to-hand fighting. The precision of arrows and quick, direct thought, yes. Swordplay and words that can mean one thing and then another, not so much.

(Incidentally, it interests me that he has the most conservative-looking relationship from a human perspective: a monogamous het lifemate. If he and Moonshade ever had any other partners, when they Recognized one another they stopped. From an elfin perspective, I feel that might actually be out of the norm.)

Date: 2017-02-10 08:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] swan-tower.livejournal.com
It's worked just fine this way for centuries, what do you want to go changing things for? It's his standard reaction to most new ideas; it just sounds more jerkass when it touches on sexual consent.

To me it's not simply a matter of "sounding more jerkass," because in addition to championing "this is the way things have always been, why aren't you doing it right," he's simultaneously violating another ethical principle. And while rape does occur in the animal kingdom (which means it could in theory be counted as part of the Way), it feels wildly out of place to me in elven society, given the manner in which the Pinis otherwise depict their sexual mores. When Clearbrook winds up the unwilling audience to Winnowwill's seduction of Rayek, she's physically nauseated by it: "She has never dreamed of, much less witnessed, such a violation -- such callous manipulation of another's needs and weaknesses." If that's a violation, what is Strongbow suggesting? I can't help but assume that even in Wolfrider society, raping someone is Not Okay, and that's why Strongbow's comment hits such a wrong note with me. I don't think erasing somebody's autonomy and personhood like that is the Way, either.

it certainly makes him the closest thing to an antagonist among the Wolfriders

Yes, very much so. But explicitly an antagonist, in the most neutral sense possible for that word: his job is to stand athwart history yelling "stop," and this is a story where that's a valuable thing. (I believe conservatism can play a useful role in society. I wish what we had in this country was actual principled conservatism.)

even if it damn near literally kills him

There's a scene in the film of The Two Towers where Aragorn and Legolas have an argument before the battle of Helm's Deep, that switches back and forth between Common Speech (English) and Sindarin, which I love because of the implications buried in the points at which they switch. Strongbow's reaction to Timmain hits the same spot for me. After he shuts her out of his mind, he speaks out loud up until the point at which he allows Leetah to heal him. It feels wrong, and it should: for those few panels, Strongbow has given up on everything, ranging from his sense of self to his life. Having him speak out loud underscores the emotional weight of the scene.

And so of course he gets the storyline with Kureel: the staunchest defender of the Way is the one who breaks one of its oldest unspoken proscriptions. It wouldn't have been half as interesting with anyone else.

Yes. I can imagine it being traumatic for Treestump or Scouter or Skywise or Pike, but not to the same degree.

(Incidentally, it interests me that he has the most conservative-looking relationship from a human perspective: a monogamous het lifemate. If he and Moonshade ever had any other partners, when they Recognized one another they stopped. From an elfin perspective, I feel that might actually be out of the norm.)

The Pinis are on record as saying pretty much everybody is bisexual and polyamorous, but because the bedroom activities of the characters are not the focus of the story, a fair number of people winding up looking het and monogamous just because we don't see evidence to the contrary. Clearbrook and One-Eye, Treestump and Rillfisher; eventually Clearbrook and Treestump, but not until after their respective lifemates are gone. Woodlock and Rainsong. Nightfall and Redlance, maybe; I think it's implied that Cutter slept with them during Kings of the Broken Wheel, but the implication is buried enough that a reader could miss it. (Cutter himself is definitely not monogamous: he hooks up with Kahvi during that period, and I listened to an interview with the Pinis where they confirmed that he and Skywise have definitely had sex.) There are also several instances of definite threesomes, casual sex, and sex outside of established relationships, but most of the long-term arrangements are based around Recognition, which means they're het pairings unless the story makes an effort to show otherwise.

Having said that: yeah, Strongbow and Moonshade are about the last pair I would imagine taking a roll in the furs with anybody else.

Date: 2017-02-10 08:54 am (UTC)
sovay: (Haruspex: Autumn War)
From: [personal profile] sovay
When Clearbrook winds up the unwilling audience to Winnowwill's seduction of Rayek, she's physically nauseated by it: "She has never dreamed of, much less witnessed, such a violation -- such callous manipulation of another's needs and weaknesses." If that's a violation, what is Strongbow suggesting?

That's fair. Doylistically, it's probably the Pinis not having fully worked out the Wolfriders' sexual mores at that point in the story. There's also something in it that makes me think of those romance novel conventions that now read as incredibly rapey, as if Strongbow's idea is that once Cutter gets her in the clinch, the fact of Recognition—I can't believe it took me until this sentence to realize it's not just soulbond but sex pollen—will mean it's actually really hot for her. Considering when Fire and Flight was written, good job on actively avoiding that trope.

It feels wrong, and it should: for those few panels, Strongbow has given up on everything, ranging from his sense of self to his life. Having him speak out loud underscores the emotional weight of the scene.

Absolutely. And he speaks in response to Cutter sending. He's not just deliberately abandoning one of the cores of himself, he's communicating in a way that—the way he's always seen it—closes other people out.

Nightfall and Redlance, maybe; I think it's implied that Cutter slept with them during Kings of the Broken Wheel, but the implication is buried enough that a reader could miss it.

They invite him to "tree with [them]." I'm pretty sure Shenshen is involved with Pike/Skot/Krim during that time, too.

(Cutter himself is definitely not monogamous: he hooks up with Kahvi during that period,

Having already joined once, years ago, on the eve of battle in Quest's End. (Definitely my first exposure to the concept of an orgy.)

and I listened to an interview with the Pinis where they confirmed that he and Skywise have definitely had sex.)

I honestly thought that was just in the text—doesn't Cutter explain Nightfall and Redlance's relationship to Skywise by calling them "like you and me . . . yes for the soul, no for having cubs"? I always took that to mean emotional commitment, physical involvement, and no fertility. They share soul names.

Having said that: yeah, Strongbow and Moonshade are about the last pair I would imagine taking a roll in the furs with anybody else.

Explicitly during the aforementioned orgy, they don't. Scouter and Dewshine, I believe, are also distinguished by the narration as pairing only with one another, but at that point we've already seen her Recognize Tyldak, so we know their relationship can withstand third parties.

(Do you have any idea who Ekuar's lovemate is? I have a very specific image of him in that scene with a Go-Back man with a distinctive headdress, but I don't recall that I ever managed to trace him out into the rest of the story.)

Date: 2017-02-10 09:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] swan-tower.livejournal.com
Doylistically, it's probably the Pinis not having fully worked out the Wolfriders' sexual mores at that point in the story. There's also something in it that makes me think of those romance novel conventions that now read as incredibly rapey, as if Strongbow's idea is that once Cutter gets her in the clinch, the fact of Recognition—I can't believe it took me until this sentence to realize it's not just soulbond but sex pollen—will mean it's actually really hot for her. Considering when Fire and Flight was written, good job on actively avoiding that trope.

That's exactly what it feels like to me, yeah. Which is why it was so jarring to hit it in this re-read, when I have the later mores so clearly established in my head -- and when the rest of the story is busy deconstructing the classic romance trope. Sex doesn't make Leetah change her mind; changing her mind makes sex happen.

Edit: and yeah, totally sex pollen. To the point of "if you try to deny it, you get sick."

He's not just deliberately abandoning one of the cores of himself, he's communicating in a way that—the way he's always seen it—closes other people out.

That kind of register-shifting is catnip to me.

I'm pretty sure Shenshen is involved with Pike/Skot/Krim during that time, too.

She helps deliver their cub; if there was more implication than that, I missed it.

(Definitely my first exposure to the concept of an orgy.)

The introduction to that book in the edition I have mentions outraged parents cutting out and sending back those page, horrified that the Pinis exposed their children to such material. The Pinis note with some irony that apparently those same parents were a-okay with all the bloody violence that follows.

I honestly thought that was just in the text—doesn't Cutter explain Nightfall and Redlance's relationship to Skywise by calling them "like you and me . . . yes for the soul, no for having cubs"? I always took that to mean emotional commitment, physical involvement, and no fertility.

Innocent twelve-year-old me took that to mean "we chose to share our soul names with each other" and nothing more. <g> But yes, the Pinis clearly meant that to communicate "they have totally banged."

(Do you have any idea who Ekuar's lovemate is? I have a very specific image of him in that scene with a Go-Back man with a distinctive headdress, but I don't recall that I ever managed to trace him out into the rest of the story.)

I have zero recollection of Ekuar having a lovemate, but I'll keep an eye out as I read.
Edited Date: 2017-02-10 09:22 am (UTC)

Date: 2017-02-10 09:39 pm (UTC)
sovay: (Morell: quizzical)
From: [personal profile] sovay
She helps deliver their cub; if there was more implication than that, I missed it.

So I don't have my copies of Elfquest accessible to me at the moment and reading Jink etc. demonstrated to me that the Pinis' online archive is almost impossible for me to search unless it's indexed in some clever way I don't know about, because I can skip to the right section of a physical book and online I have to click through the whole damn thing. I might try anyway, because I could have sworn that was my impression of their relationship and I didn't usually over-read romance into narratives. Because it is not the first way I read relationships with people in real life, I had to train myself to see the clues for characters in a story. As a result if I slash-goggle something, there's usually something there.

[edit] Man, I hate searching webcomic archives. Here's the relevant page from Kings of the Broken Wheel. I got my interpretation from Skot's line: "We'll try again . . . the four of us." I didn't take it to mean that Pike, Skot, and Krim would try for another child with Shenshen as their midwife; I took it as all four of them trying for a child in whatever combination would succeed. Going by the theory of that Recognition triggers female fertility in all tribes but the Go-Backs, I can see that wouldn't help the odds since Shenshen wouldn't conceive by either Pike or Skot unless she Recognized one of them, but that's where I got the idea, anyway.

I have zero recollection of Ekuar having a lovemate, but I'll keep an eye out as I read.

He's only in the one scene that I could find, which is why he got my attention. At the time I just thought it was nice that Ekuar wasn't left out of the celebration, because I liked him; thinking about it now, I am actively happy that the Pinis' inclusivity extended to disabled characters casually having sex lives.

[edit] Here's the main page of the orgy. Ekuar's partner is not the drummer of the preceding page; that guy has a different distinctive headdress. But you see why I felt I should have been able to recognize him in other panels and I can't remember that I ever found him. I realize that's not the point of that scene, but I liked Ekuar as a character; I wanted to know.
Edited Date: 2017-02-10 09:54 pm (UTC)

Date: 2017-02-10 09:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] swan-tower.livejournal.com
I'll keep an eye out for the Shenshen question when I get there. You may well be right; my invincible ability to miss when someone is flirting with me in real life extends to stories. :-P

He's only in the one scene that I could find, which is why he got my attention. At the time I just thought it was nice that Ekuar wasn't left out of the celebration, because I liked him; thinking about it now, I am actively happy that the Pinis' inclusivity extended to disabled characters casually having sex lives.

I glanced at the book last night and I think I see the scene you mean. To my knowledge that Go-Back never got identified in any way, though I'll have to comb through the war to be sure.

Either way, yes, it's another point on the side of inclusivity.

Date: 2017-02-11 09:07 pm (UTC)
sovay: (I Claudius)
From: [personal profile] sovay
I'll keep an eye out for the Shenshen question when I get there.

See above; I set my teeth and paged through to find the scene I remembered.

Either way, yes, it's another point on the side of inclusivity.

I also appreciate that Ekuar does not have a magical disability. You could make the case for Sun-Toucher, who is introduced seeing into the hearts and minds of the Wolfriders whose faces he can no longer see, but Ekuar was disabled because of his magic: his rock-shaping skills were the cause of his tortures by the trolls of the Frozen Mountains, not something that sprang up in him to compensate. He's got the most cheerful presentation of PTSD in the series, but he's still got it. All those portraits of Greymung, shaped over and over into the rock outside the Go-Backs' lodge. I hope eventually he no longer felt the need to do that.

Date: 2017-02-14 01:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] swan-tower.livejournal.com
Ah, I'd forgotten that the line is "the four of us." Because we don't see Shenshen with the other three very much, I'd parsed that as "the three of us trying to breed and the midwife helping us do it."

Date: 2017-02-14 01:40 am (UTC)
sovay: (Rotwang)
From: [personal profile] sovay
Because we don't see Shenshen with the other three very much, I'd parsed that as "the three of us trying to breed and the midwife helping us do it."

That whole section is so elliptical, with decades and increasingly centuries passing between pages in the notches covering Cutter's tree, I think I just figured they'd just hooked up in one of the ellipses.

Date: 2017-02-13 07:09 pm (UTC)
teleidoplex: (Default)
From: [personal profile] teleidoplex
Strongbow has always been Livy complaining about kids nowadays. He probably complained about kids nowadays when he was one of them.

I laughed so hard at this I just about burst my stitches.

Date: 2017-02-10 08:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mindstalk.livejournal.com
Following up on past discussion: Morrolan is described in Taltos as "fairly dark" of complexion, though lighter than a Hawk or Vallista. Exactly what that means I dunno, but it's something. Teldra is white.

Date: 2017-02-10 09:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] swan-tower.livejournal.com
Yeah, it's hard to judge what that means. In several centuries of British literature, it would just mean they're kinda tan or swarthy, but still within the bounds of what we would now class as white. On the other hand, it might mean he's roughly Indian in skin tone, with Hawks and Vallistas being sub-Saharan African. Or anything in between.

Date: 2017-02-13 07:25 pm (UTC)
teleidoplex: (Default)
From: [personal profile] teleidoplex
Totally swinging by this conversation without having any clue about the context!

From comments of beta-readers for Chiaroscuro, I can give annecdata that the default read of 'dark' is not 'black'. I have several racially black characters in that manuscript. Most readers didn't pick up on that at first (or in some cases, at all), because I used the word 'dark' and avoided the various food comparison descriptions that are so problematic.

Date: 2017-03-01 05:43 am (UTC)
sovay: (I Claudius)
From: [personal profile] sovay
Most readers didn't pick up on that at first (or in some cases, at all), because I used the word 'dark' and avoided the various food comparison descriptions that are so problematic.

What ethnicities or appearance did they envision instead?

Date: 2017-03-03 06:15 pm (UTC)
teleidoplex: (Default)
From: [personal profile] teleidoplex
Beta readers tended to default white and just assumed more Mediterranean skin tones (which, granted, the book is set in a secondary world with Italianate influences, but the port city setting is deeply multicultural because... port city, duh).

My other descriptors (such as natural hair textures) didn't seem to have any impact. I've chatted with authors of color that I know, and they've agreed that dark ≠ black for many white readers, especially in things written by white authors and/or in the absence of real-world cultural markers.

Now, granted, I tend to use physical description sparingly, so I definitely recognize that this also falls on me. I've decided this is a case where I have to wield a textual baseball bat rather than be as elegant or subtle as I'd like to be. But then, I guess that's true of a lot of writing.

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