The Vaal City Lexicon
So it turns out I’m not going to do a Part 2 of last week’s article, Superman: Triumphant. Yes, I know it is yet another abandoned Part 1, but let me lay out my reasons and see if you agree:
First, while I am perfectly fine with dedicating a week’s blogging to my knee-jerk reactions to things, I feel I need to draw the line at two. True, a lot of these posts are built around my pet peeves and things that genuinely make me angry, but I feel like spending two weeks avenging spoilers for a movie I haven’t seen is over the top. I’m sure many of you liked the movie and many of you haven’t even seen it yet and feel the need to skip the article entirely to avoid possible spoilers. Making you sit through two weeks of not being included just goes too far.
Second, it really isn’t in keeping with the style of this site. If I had actually seen the movie and was reviewing it from my ‘what works’ perspective, that would be one thing, but not only was this a reaction to spoilers, but then it turns into a synopsis of a story I’m never actually going to write (unless, you know, DC puts me on the write Superman). Maybe I’m wrong, but readers of this site come here for actual stores and the read the blogs for whatever insights I can give or ideas I can introduce. Last week’s blog did neither of those things and to continue it would be a mistake.
Finally, I just plain think I have a neater idea for a blog this week. If enough people ask to hear the end of Superman: Triumphant and tell me so, I’ll post it on the forum, but this week, I’ve got something new and kind of interesting up my sleeve.
It came from a reader who emailed me in response to my recent ‘4 Moments of Comic Book Shame‘ article. They weren’t writing to argue or agree with my picks and comments on those moments, but to ask a question: What did I mean when I said Wonderdog ‘digivolved to Ultimate’?
That is a very good question and I thank the person who posed it for doing so. It dawns on me that I use a lot of personal jargon on this blog. I’m not trying to coin phrases, it’s just that over the years I and my friends have cobbled together a language all our own out of in-jokes, personal experience, and pop culture mash-ups and it leaks into my writing, both in my works and in my blog (mostly in the blog).
Apparently, this is a malady that afflicts many creative types, most of whom are better at this than me. I would like to direct your attention to The Turkey City Lexicon, a catalog of weird terms and shorthand references cobbled together over the years by writers. That link also leads to TVTropes.org, a website that does the same thing (though lamentably, over the past years, it has been subject of a campaign to eradicate the more interesting and unique terms).
This week’s post will eventually be made into a page that I can link various… Vaalism’s… when I use them, thereby making things easier for newcomers.
So, without further ado, I present to you the Vaal City Lexicon. If you don’t see a phrase or word I use often and confusingly in the blogs, just drop me a comment or email and I’ll add it to the lexicon later!
Digivolve to X
This one comes from the anime series Digimon: Digital Monsters. In the series, the titular monsters are able to transform into new, more powerful versions of themselves via a means known as ‘digivolution’, which has about as much to do with evolution as hamsters have to do with monster trucks.
Long time readers might recall how mimicking this gimmick in my own writing in my younger days essentially destroyed my plotting because I became obsessed with doing newer and ‘cooler’ digivolving sequences. I’ve since cured myself of that, but Digimon still holds a place in my heart.
I still hum this while distracted.
I usually use it for when a character transforms into a stronger or more monstrous form voluntarily (Champion and Ultimate being the terms for these new forms in the show). TVTropes called this One Winged Angel after Sepheroth from Final Fantasy VII’s kickass theme music. I’ll also use it for changes in characters, such as saying someone dumb and useless ‘digivolved to competent’.
Probably my most used neologism, I’ve dedicated an entire article to explain it. That said, it boils down to any death in media that serves no actual story purpose and is instead intended to get a reaction from the audience. This ranges from proving to them that the villain is dangerous, to convincing them that something meaningful is happening in an event. LOL Deaths are characterized by having very little in-story emotional impact, happening in a sudden manner, often disrespectful to the character, and having no lasting consequences.
LOL Deaths are distinct from Women in Refrigerators.
Women in Refrigerators
This is not my term, but one I often refer to. The term was coined by acclaimed comic writer (but then just plain fan) Gail Simone to refer to the injury, death, rape, depowerment or other means of suffering that is visited upon a character for the sole purpose of providing motivation for another character. There are unfortunate implications in the fact that the victims here are predominately female and the motivated characters being overwhelmingly male, but the term is actually all inclusive.
The term refers to a particularly nasty (at the time; things have gotten much, much worse) instance of this from the Green Lantern comics in which the character Major Force kills Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend, chops her up, and leaves her in the fridge for Kyle to find.
You can learn more about this term, including documented instances of it, at this website.
The Originality Trap
Another one that has an article dedicated to it. In a nutshell, this is a situation writers put themselves into when they stop thinking about telling a good story and worry more about telling a completely original one. There is nothing wrong with originality and the quest for it, but allowing it to become a crippling obsession that drives a writer to abandon perfectly good tools for story telling and instead create incomprehensible and unrelatable stories and characters for fear of being similar to anything is a major problem.
I usually invoke the originality trap when a writer uses poorly thought out, high concept ideas when a simple, well known one would have served better.
Refers to the tendency of modern writers to take things from their childhoods and ‘taint’ them with large doses of violence, cynicism, sexuality (often in unhealthy forms such as pedophilia, rape or incest), gore, and insanity. Most evident and prominent in mainstream comics from the Dark and Modern Ages, and made almost iconic by American McGee’s Alice videogame.
Most people know this adjective and exclamation from the excellent but short-lived television series, Firefly. I, however, was using the term Shiny as early as 1999. In the show, ‘shiny’ is used to mean ‘good’ or ‘optimal’; my version is slightly different, meaning ‘cool’ in the ‘interesting’ or ‘awesome’ sense. This version of ‘shiny’ can be found in The Descendants, usually uttered by Cyn.
I cannot tell you where I first heard this, but it’s been lodged in my skull since middle school at least. ‘For True’ means, essentially, ‘this thing I just said is the truth’, and can replace ‘honest’ in that usage. This term shows up in Rune Breaker or any other work set in the world of Ere, usually used by people associated with the Bardic College like Kaiel or Trace.
Here’s the Plot
More of a verbal tic than a saying, but hey. I usually say ‘here’s the plot’ before laying out an explanation for something to providing backstory. It’s likely, most of my readers have never heard someone start a story like that and there’s a reason why: it’s a lyric from a rap song.
The arbiter of all knowledge, Wikipedia says that it comes from Gangsta, Gangsta by NWA, but I first heard it when it was reused by another song featuring Dr. Dre, Bad Guys Always Die from the Wild, Wild West soundtrack. (Why yes, I did like Wild, Wild West, but that’s another article).
For posterity, and at risk of possible frivolous lawsuit by the RIAA, they lyrics in question are ‘Slim grabbed the shotgun/”Dre here’s the plot/this is the spot/they call him Doc Loveless”’. And more than a decade later, no one involved in that song imagined it would be used as a segue by a sci-fi writer…
This term was originally from TVTropes, but they have since changed theirs to ‘Derailing Love Interest‘, so it’s mine now, especially since I’ve expanded it. A ‘paolo’ is a character who exists primarily to be in a relationship with another character (who I refer to as the paolo’s ‘host’) to complicate their romantic relationship with a third character. Almost all paolos are effectively disposable and are discarded either by killing them or shoving them aside when it comes time for the host to get with their intended love interest. I go into greater details about paolos in this article.
‘Paolo’ is named for the most well-known example of this trope, Paolo from the television series Friends. This one is notable because he was discarded and actually returned in the same role later in the series. In-universe, he is even once refereed to as ‘a romantic complication you eventually kill off’.
The original model Paolo.
Another one from TVTropes, this one changed to ‘Alpha Bitch‘. A Libby is the ‘mean girl’ of a high school setting, sometimes also referred to as a Queen Bee, though Queen Bees can also be nice and a Libby never is. Libbys are generally well-off and superficially attractive while being popular largely for their infamy.
The term ‘Libby’ comes from the name of a character from Sabrina the Teenaged Witch who is a clear-cut example of this. Amusingly, before I started reading TVTropes, I called these characters ‘Cordys’ for Cordelia Chase, a similar character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Another one that’s not mine. Grimdark is the tonal shift that goes past ‘dark’, ‘gritty’ or ‘cynical’ and into riotous excess. These are the kind of works were you don’t just get the occasional murder or rape or revelation of child abuse for plot or shock purposes—no, those things are set dressing: stuff that is just going on incidentally in the background. And not only that, but there is no hope. It isn’t just that the character feel hopeless or are left with no hope; hope is literally not a thing that exists in these settings because the universe will twist itself to make the worst possible outcome happen. Bleakness is the order of the day and bleak is all this type of story can generate.
The term originated from Warhammer 40k, whose rulebook opens with the immortal phrase “In the grim darkness of outer space…” The setting itself is actually comparatively mild these days and what started as a derisive term for such stories is now being worn as a badge of honor.
I still use it derisively.
I’m not sure I ever used this on the blog, but I have used it on the forums and elsewhere and I’ll probably use it here eventually. Vomit coating is a practice, usually by Fantasy writers, but also deployed by comic writers, particularly later Frank Miller, in which the writer adds an overdose of sensory information in order to give an otherwise standard setting and story the appearance of grimdarkness.
In a typical instance of vomit coating, the narrator is possessed of superhuman senses, particularly of smell and sight with which they are able to detect all the gross minutia of an uncharacteristically unsanitary world. They will often detect the scent of bodily waste, anything that might rot, and any level of decay instantly and convey them to the reader in excruciating detail.
This raises the questions of a) why every place this character visits is in such an advanced state of decay and b) why a character native to some of these fantasy cities isn’t used to the everyday and apparently completely pervasive stench they live in.
So named because the descriptions are often enough to make me feel nauseous myself and because characters in these kinds of stories are very, very likely to vomit and/or be vomited on. I am not kidding.
This one is all over the internet, but I learned it back when I was in college in 2001, before online culture had fully solidified into the meme-generating machine we know today. Still, as a couple of people have asked after it, I feel I should include it for their benefit.
‘Squick’ is shorthand for either the feeling you get when something weirds or creeps you out, or the process of weirding or creeping someone else out. For example, if someone starts talking about their sexual fantasies and the words ‘Galapagos Tortoise’ or ‘James K Polk mask’ come up, you might be squicked by it. It’s entirely subjective, but it is my duty as an internet personality to blithely assume you agree.
Can also come in the form of ‘squicky’ and adjective for something that squicks you out. For example: ‘The Sword of Truth series starts out kind of okay, but even the first book gets real squicky, real fast near the end’.
Self-explanatory, but an explanation is in order and I might put this more poetically in a future article, but here goes.
People tend to frame arguments and hypothetical situations very stupidly. It’s not just a ‘I never took Philosophy 101’ level of logical failure, it’s the kind of serious lacking in understanding that leads to celebrity Twitter meltdowns. And to back this up, they tend to appeal to theoretical people who might do X and Y and thing Z.
For example, LOL Deaths often run on this type of logic: If my villain kills of this D-list character, then the audience will believe they are dangerous and thus experience real tension when the main, franchise-bearing characters are in danger!
The problem is that the kind of person who would fall for that in this day and age does not exist. We all know it, we’re all pretty jaded about it, even the people that love random deaths because its ‘gritty’ or something. In other words, yes, imaginary humans might fall into the proposed pattern of thought, but real people who live in this universe and are made of meat instead of imagination and dumbassery never will, so that thought exercise is pointless.
I just made that one up. Pretty cunning, don’t you think?
90’s/Dark Age References
This last one is not a single term, but someone else pointed out to me that I’ve often made the joke that I just freely assume that my audience is made up entirely of comic book fans, but this is not completely true. They pointed out that in this day and age, it is actually entirely possible to enjoy superheroes via films, webserials and webcomics with zero contact with comics. Not only that, but the Rune Breaker books have been bringing new people to the site who are fantasy fans instead. And finally, man of my readers might still not get my references to the Dark Age of Comics for the simple fact that they just aren’t old enough.
1989 was a damn long time ago, folks, and there are people who are right now fully able to vote, drive and drink now that weren’t alive when the Dark Age began. So for everyone that doesn’t know what I’m talking about when I mock the Dark Age, this is for you.
It all started with the dead of the Comics Code (partially by the hand of Ronald Reagan of all people) and two very good graphic novels: Alan Moore’s Watchmen and the aforementioned Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. These books were damn dark, had lots of violence, mental illness and sexual themes. They also balanced these out by having things like… plots and character development, but those two were quickly forgotten by the hordes of creators who suddenly realized they could pack their books with blood, boobs and poorly researched mental illness (also, rape and drugs).
Into this frenzy of excess strode a single figure who would seize hold of this chaos and transform it through the sheer force of his enthusiasm for superheroes, violence and apparently muscles and pouches. His name was Rob Liefeld and over the next decade essentially every single writer and artist would try to emulate him with disastrous results.
In his own way, Liefeld was a lot like Shakespeare. Not in terms of quality, but in terms of creating from nothing a slew of tropes all on his own. The man’s artwork in particular became synonymous with the era and it is from this that I draw so much of my derisive comments about 90’s style. Behold!
Observe the massive muscles with other, smaller muscles on them. Check out the grimace of supreme constipation, tremble at the huge and stupid-looking guns with cracks in the metal, observe the comically tiny feet and hidden eyes, gaze upon the crotch that seems to be collapsing in on itself, and glory in the sheer pouchiness.
Oh yes, my friends. This happened. Not only did this happen, but it happened to virtually every hero in comics for a while. And it kept happening for years. This was the look of the 90’s.
But Liefeld wasn’t just a pioneer in art-based-on-a-spore-of-madness. No, he wrote comics too. Comics that featured lots of hyperviolent anti-heroes with very little plot or character development and lots and lots of punching and shooting big guns. And the name scheme for these books and characters were ridiculous; all a madlibs of Death, Blood, Guns or related activities.
Credit where credit is due, Liefeld as instrumental in the creator’s rights movement and was one of the minds behind the creation of Image Comics. It also isn’t his fault that the editorial staffs of both Marvel and DC chose to push his style into almost all of their books in their lines during that period. Still, Liefeld and his art and writing style are the most visible and obvious bits of awful that 90’s comics have to offer.
Therefore, you’ll see me reference pouches or tiny feet and the like when making fun of something and all you really need to know is that it all comes back to comparing that thing to the 90’s in comics and how terrible they were.
Damn, look at all those words about other words. I hope it’s been both informative and entertaining for you. Next week I’ll dive into that shipping article the Superman thing preempted it.
Questions, comments, verbal abuse? Please post them below in the comments, or the forum.
You can check in on what Vaal’s working on or just what’s on his mind by following @ParadoxOmni on Twitter, or using the hashtags #TheDescendants or #RuneBreaker. You can also browse books by Vaal by visiting his Author Page on Amazon.com.
Vaal’s latest book, The Path of Destruction (Rune Breaker, #3) is now available on Amazon.com.
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