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Daring but Didactic

By Rhodeworks, author of Not All Heroes

Jan 30, 2019: Vigilantes Make Us Safe (henceforth VMUS) is an intriguing, ambitious idea. Essentially, it is a collection of serials where each one follows a specific character in a wider world where the American government has legalized vigilante justice. In short, I feel the idea, while shaky, is more let down by the execution than the core concepts.

This review covers Hitbox, Rebel Rebel, Dynamo, Serenity and Toxic, as well as the first few chapters of The Law. I have attempted to condense the thoughts, positive or negative, into ones that are more of a recurring pattern across the various works. The most obvious part of the pattern, and therefore what I’m going to mention first, is that VMUS feels like a very political work, written as a response to certain events that took place within the United States over the past few years, and the fears of what might result from them.

So, for better or worse, VMUS certainly feels unique.

But it is hard to ignore that feeling, and it leaves the various works feeling quite didactic. The third-person present tense, combined with the characterization and often-clunky dialogue, reinforces that feeling. The sense of didacticism is further bolstered by how the stories proceed, as if we are reading a summary of stories written elsewhere. Often, the pacing is a bit shaky, where a lot of time (and words) is spent on exposition, and the elements that could be quite interesting are hastily ‘told’ over. I think the worldbuilding is hit hard by this, too (and I could’ve sworn there was a page on the site that illustrated some of the world’s fictional history, but I couldn’t track it down.)

I don’t have an issue with a political work. If that’s what A.M. Thorn is attempting, then I applaud them and I want to make it clear that I am not penalizing them for it. The issue is that chapters sometimes read more like a summary than a story, and it really hurts the potential. A lot of the components of these stories feel quite strong, but they aren’t given the best opportunity to shine.

For example, I point to the characters. Conceptually, I’d say they are all pretty solid and I liked them all well enough. However, the story uses a lot of distancing language – and a lot of exposition – which, along with that didactic tone, makes it difficult to immerse myself in their lives and problems. As an aside, I think Jia was my personal favorite of the various protagonists.

The writing is all generally pretty solid. As far as grammar and spelling go, I didn’t notice any issues. The stories are pretty easy to follow. However, the exposition can really slow things down. The stories can feel hard to read because so much is heaped on the reader so quickly, exacerbated by the length of many of the paragraphs.

My personal pick of the ones I read is The Law. A lot of the issues I’ve raised are less present there. If I had to point to one thing I’d recommend VMUS does, it would be to guide new readers a bit better. With so many stories, even I felt a touch of choice paralysis. Just a little hint which one is the best to begin with, y’know? As it is, it feels like every story has to spend time establishing itself as if the reader is completely new to the VMUS world.

Overall, though, I think VMUS has a lot of ambition and heart. The execution doesn’t quite match those two things, however, which lets it all down. But there’s so much stuff here, with such a varied cast, that I think everyone might be able to find something they like. With experience and confidence, I think A.M. Thorn might be able to create something really interesting.

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Enjoyable Despite the Shaky Premise

By Megajoule, author of The Warlock Ruthless

Jan 28, 2019: Note: sort of part of a review swap, though I’ve moved away from doing them and wanted to review VMUS anyway. I always endeavor to be honest.

Vigilantes Make Us Safe (or VMUS) is worth checking out. That’s my thesis statement for this review, so you know how I feel about it right off the bat. The work oscillated between "fairly solid" and "solid" but ended up at fairly solid for me. There were certain works that were more intriguing or well written than others, I think especially the later ones.

Most of what I read includes Hitbox, which seems to be the kind of foundation piece of VMUS, but I don’t think there is any one story that’s supposed to be the main one. I read portions of the others but enjoyed "The Law" the most.

VMUS is built off a premise I found somewhat faulty, and while I always try to allow a story the concept it sets out, there was some inconsistent worldbuilding around the idea that made it hard to buy. I would describe it as vaguely "The Purge" meets superheroes/vigilantes. The basic summary is that the President is gung-ho for allowing Watchmen style vigilantes back on the streets again. He pushes a bill through Congress that gets vigilantes legal rights. The Purge-esque elements come from his strange insistence that people should start right away.

It makes me wonder if it’s purposeful, but the problem is details outside of that are scant, at least within Hitbox’s story up to where I read. Certain clerks have no idea what the language of the bill even means, but then the test Zach ends up taking seems like it’s been run for years at this point, fine-tuned to a smooth process. The clash strains immersion.

That said, I found that to be the weakest part, which means that the rest of VMUS – the characters, the writing, and the grammar – range from solid to compelling. Zach, in particular, I actually quite liked. He is somewhat of a stock trope, being the orphaned son of multibillionaires a la Batman/Iron Fist. However, AM Thorn spins it more realistically, to the point that I felt like I would do exactly what Zach would do if I had enough money to live on for centuries and was deeply depressed: I would stay in my shitty apartment and play games and eat/drink myself to death (of course, Zach swerves course when he finds out about the VMUS act).

I mentioned enjoying The Law quite a bit. The first episodes were fairly tense, full of mystery, and seemed even more tautly written than Hitbox. Hitbox had some early stilted dialogue and writing that I noticed (though not enough to make me stop reading), while The Law was more competent and terse, and not quite so wooden with exposition. Perhaps because there was the expectation that you’d read other works first, but it didn’t waste too much time rehashing the premise.

Overall, I ended up on fairly solid. While the characters were neat and the writing overall quite good, the premise of VMUS is hard to swallow and inconsistently built around, and some dialogue can be wooden. That said, it’s definitely worth a look if you like grounded superhero stories. With the vast library, you’re more than likely to find something you enjoy.

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Apply today for the Vigilantes Make Us Safe act!™

By Admiralmonkeyman, author of Fuji

Nov 2, 2018: I will be referring to Vigilantes Make Us Safe as VMUS for short.

Serenity takes place in an anarchistic society where anyone may brandish their own form of justice.

Vigilantes Make Us Safe relies heavily on social and political insights, and does not shy away from talking about sensitive topics, which can be a strength and a weakness at times. Because of its braveness on tackling modern-day issues, VMUS’s reader base narrows. But this commentary also gives it an original and mostly unseen view on the political side of vigilantism.

I think A.M. Thorn captures the feeling of vulnerability and fear well in his serial. Characters are well rounded and have an array of emotions and motives, giving them a sense of depth.

One problem with VMUS is the grammatical errors, a few missing words can be found in each chapter, which doesn’t greatly hinder the reading experience, but it is something that requires attention from the author.

I enjoy how Thorn has his multiple serials intertwined yet separated from each other. It’s not necessary to read every story going on in his universe, but you’ll miss the constant nods and references, which brings a sense of satisfaction to the reader.

Serenity slowly unveils the curtain on Jia’s family legacy well, enticing the reader to move forward with ‘just one more chapter’.

I believe A.M. Thorn has a serial worth checking out, and although some parts weren’t for me, I found myself enjoying the read. And with a wide variety of stories to choose from, I think you’ll find something to enjoy as well.

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