The Last Skull (Informal Review?) (Superhero fiction)

I submitted a new story (which is an old story that I've been working on for some time) to the web fiction guide a few days ago; while I'm waiting for its approval/disapproval, however, I thought I'd ask some general opinions on both the layout (which I'm hoping is an improvement--visually and mechanically--over Arcadia Snips) and the story so far (which I'm somewhat concerned with, as it's a bit of a departure from my usual fair).

The story's opening is located here: <-- I'll be posting thrice a week. My idea right now is to create a few 'Arsenal' and 'Biography' posts--'in character' posts about the main superhero's various tools-of-the-trade, adversaries, and allies--to fill in on the few days when I can't make the deadline for some reason.

Anyway, any suggestions, advice, or criticisms--about the page's set up, color scheme, or the story's content itself--would be much appreciated!

FYI, new submissions processing is a bit backlogged, as something broke last week in the admin interface, and I haven't had the time to look into it yet. Might not get to it until the weekend, unfortunately.

I actually went into this intending to read a few chapters, but I ended up reading everything you've posted so far. This is the first superhero story I've read, and while I'm not a huge fan of the genre I really liked this! =D

The layout is good, I've never been a fan of flashy extras (unless they're very well done), and it's easy to read on my widescreen monitor. It is a little sparse right now, but I think the in-character posts you mentioned would fix that. Once it's up on WFG I'll definitely be doing a full review.

I like the fact that from each post, the reader can move forward and backward in a directly linear fashion, but it would be nice if that table of contents was on a sidebar (or something) of every page. Just my .02 cents, but its something that has definitely helped w/ navigation of my own story.

I'm going to review ALL the superhero-themed work listed here when I FINALLY (!) finish my own, so I'll definitely keep you on my favorites bar until that time comes (only 4-5 entries / "chapters" left...)

Nice forward thinking on the "arsenal" posts, btw!

@Chris Poirier: Thanks for the info on the situation. I appreciate it!

@Tahjir: Thanks! I was worried about how it would appear on other monitor types (as I have only my own to go by). I also, as always, appreciate any review.

@joel wyatt: My worry about sidebars with tables of contents on them is that they'd get a little cluttered--especially considering how many parts there are. However, now that I have more than one Arc on the site, I might be able to create a sidebar with *just* the arcs listed. I'll experiment a little. Also, thanks!

RR -- I have to admit I read all 11 chapters in a single gulp because the story is edgy, action-packed, focused and fast-paced. I was very impressed by how smooth it flowed. Gritty and dark. So at a technical level, superb job.

On another level, I was also impressed with the fact that the narrative voice is remarkably different from what I have read of Arcadia Snips. It impresses me when an author can drastically change style and still remain engaging. Nice work.

All well and good -- however, it's upon starting making comparisons after I escaped from the dark little narrative that I had some problems with the text. First, 16 year old Sue narrates like Batman Year One, and that can be accounted for because of her mother's influence a little, but it's still very hard to swallow. She certainly seems more like a young Bruce Wayne spending twenty years training to be a vigilante than she does a teenage girl.

Second, I was a little surprised the helmet didn't distort her voice. After all, she has a sonic weapon and everyone thought her mother was a man. Sharkie figured out she was a girl pretty quickly. Third, there was no "you're the Skull? Really?" during their encounter, and Skull seems pretty famous.

Fourth -- well, I'm aware you've read the Legion of Nothing. I have no doubt you started writing this long before that. My own Samaritan Project originated when I was eleven. However -- it nicely covers the "superheroes of history," "passing the torch," "secret bunker," "teenagers in over their heads" themes in a realistic way -- and Skull doesn't add much to the genre so far. I honestly expected something more novel after Arcadia's tongue-in-cheek wit, banter and satire.

I love that kind of stuff in "Star Harbor Nights" where a lot of tropes and memes from comics get explored and subverted with clever wit -- I thought that was more your line and a straight-forward origin story reminiscent of Batman Begins or Kick Ass was different. Not that you should live up to anyone's expectations but your own -- I'm just saying I find you clever and original, and while this was clever it didn't strike me as particularly ground-breaking or unique.

Over-all I'd rate this 4 stars, which is excellent -- I just have this thought in my head that you're capable of 5 stars which means maybe I need to make time to read all of Arcadia.

(on a side-note, I would have the same problems with my own Samaritan Project -- I think there's better superhero fiction out there and I have yet to find it's unique driving force. I write it because my readers voted on it among other options, and because it ties into NMAI so it adds to that narrative world -- but I'm not submitting it to be rated.)

@Gavin Williams: The truth is that writing something like Arcadia--where I'm always trying to outdo myself with my own cleverness (with mixed success, I'll reluctantly add)--can be exhausting.

I've always loved comics, and I've always wanted to write comic-book styled stories. I wanted to try something played straight--with just a few twists here and there. Mind you, I have every intention to try and rock the boat (Superman as a near-unseen unsleeping force of nature who's every second is dictated by the clock--'3 minutes and 20 seconds to stop a volcanic eruption in South America. 12 minutes and eight seconds to halt an alien invasion in northern Europe. 14 seconds to defeat and imprison the Consortium of Evil'--Batman as an insane rich man haunted [literally] by the ghosts of his parents, who demand that he dress up like a cat and fight crime), but as the story is about three people--Sue, Anna, and Daniel--I felt I needed to solidify their relationship with one another first, which means the story's probably not going to be all that clever or playing with meta-tropes for the first few parts; I feel like I have to drag the reader up a mountain before I start throwing them off of it.

Also, if any of the above text sounds like I'm arguing why you're wrong, I beg your pardon--I agree with you. It *is* a straight origin story right now, and that bothers me, and it's something I plan on changing, but I don't feel like I can without sacrificing the story's authenticity (but I'm certainly up to hearing suggestions on how I could do it).

As for the rest--I'm desperately worried that the narrative feels too gritty for a sixteen year old girl. I was hoping that her queasiness with violence--the fact that she breaks down and cries, her forgiving her aunt, her rather blatant and stupid mistakes on her first run--would help alleviate that, but if they're not, I'm going to have to take steps to address it.

The helmet does distort voices; Sue just doesn't know how to activate that part of it (Anna in the next chapter points out that Sue doesn't even know what half her gear does). Sharkface recognized the Skull, but didn't think she was the real McCoy--his mention of a 'halloween costume' was supposed to indicate he thought she was a 'doppelganger'--someone who pretends to be a famous dead/missing hero (I should rewrite that part to make it more explicit). He's also not supposed to come off as famous; rather, he's a low-level thug who thinks too much of himself (with a few surprises).

I appreciate the feedback--you've given me a bit to slosh around in my brain, and I might have to make a few changes to this story before the weekend swings around. Also, in the meanwhile, the next two parts of the second arc have been posted.

I kind of expected that Sue would need to examine her gear more -- and that's how I would have fixed the minor "plothole" instead of ret-conning -- kind of like a Marvel No-Prize, there's always a non-continuity bending way to explain a "mistake" -- I used to love that in their letters pages. The Last Skull works fine as a story -- I just had a few minor qualms. I wouldn't say "4 stars" if they were major problems.

Writing female narrators as a male is something that freaks me out a little -- I experiment with it in a few bonus chapters of Diggory and with my protagonist's sister for several chapters in NMAI -- I honestly think it's hard to do. Sue reads very mature, and she reads very male. I think it's because it's action-oriented text -- she notices only what's relevant for her purposes. Very Batman. I would suggest Sonja's "The Mutants" but it's not online right now -- she had mainly female narrators in a comic book setting and they are more sensitive to social dynamics and the people around them, and also their own feelings. Sue notices only what she's planning or doing -- and she takes initiative. I don't know a lot of sixteen year olds like that at all -- maybe her upbringing needs to be expanded upon.

Her forgiveness of her aunt was very abrupt -- she didn't seem so much compassionate as pragmatic -- and the queasiness might happen to anyone after their first experience with violence and adrenaline. I would look at some teen female protagonists and get a sense of the psychology. Honestly, the first paragraph where she was worried about the mortgage, everything about it told me male, mature narrator -- I thought her dad found the tape instead of her once I read the letter to the lawyer. I didn't catch on about her being a girl until she said she was the daughter in question, and it never really "felt" like that's who I was reading about.

I have no doubt writing Arcadia is exhausting -- I haven't even sat down to work out anything as complex as NMAI in two years -- I treat Diggory as vacation -- it's just fun. Luckily my brain makes things complicated all on its own, so it has some interesting threads developing - but it has no where near the depth of planning that NMAI did. I haven't sat down to read Arcadia because it feels like it needs a lot of thought and focus, and I haven't had time lately.

I appreciate the idea of expanding on her upbringing--that might actually be a fairly workable solution. At this point, it's hard for me to imagine her any differently--she's someone who had to grow up fast and hard in response to the adult(s) in her life refusing to take responsibility. Showing how that happened--and taking some time to expand on her relationship with her mother, before her death--might go a long way to making the character feel more authentic. I'm definitely up for dedicating a small arc to that pretty soon.

I'm of two minds on the problems of a girl occupying space usually reserved for the boy, narratively and psychologically. I understand what you're saying, but my instinct is to undermine it--after all, I've longed to see a female version of Bruce Willis in Die-Hard--a woman with muscle and scars who moves through the narrative with the same murderous ferocity. However, there is a fine line between crossing the boundaries of gender roles and simply /ignoring/ them--the latter is of little interest to me as a writer (and ultimately strikes me as a symptom of laziness).

My want is that Sue Daysdale should be a female heroine who could give Bruce Willis a run for his money--someone with muscle, scars, a quick acidic wit, and a relentless passion when it comes to standing up to the forces of Evil (tm). But in the process, I don't want to nullify the fact that she /is/ a woman; not being one myself (and being generally unfamiliar with female-oriented fiction), I wholly admit this is a challenge I may not be up to meeting. Hopefully, I'll be able to hit the mark using a few story arcs that detail her past--as well as the ensuing relationships with Anna and Daniel that will come to fruition in the next two arcs.

Sorry if the above sounds a mite pretentious; it's something I've given a lot of thought on--I'd love to hear from people (including yourself) who may know more about gender dynamics and their impact in fiction than I do.

I never assume pretension from you Robert, no worries there. I worry about the same things in my own writing, and analyze them to death. Sometimes it's helpful to have the outside opinion.

I realized overnight that I am way more familiar with female-oriented fiction myself than I would have assumed. I grew up reading Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary because I grew up reading anything that came within a twenty foot radius. Then I read Anne MacCaffrey, Ursula LeGuin, Margaret Atwood, Margaret Lawrence, Jane Auel, Mary Doria Russell and even, (gasp) Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. That last was so my wife would have someone who knew books to talk about it with, and I am a very accomodating husband. I've even read a couple Danielle Steele novels with her (enough to know she's tremendously formulaic and predictable). Being married gives me even more insight, so maybe that comes in handy.

First -- working with what you have already (so much easier than starting over) is an arc concerning her upbringing. You have to show her being toughened up, because she comes across as assessing, detail-oriented, action-plan, initiative taking. Everything serves her purpose, there's no extraneous details. This made for breath-taking writing -- but it's not particularly feminine. Not that women don't plan or can't take initiative! But the mind-set is different. I've noticed that my wife's plans incorporate people -- how will this effect so-and-so? Do I need to bring this for say-and-say? How's that going to make so-and-so feel?

For example -- I shave my head down to fuzz because my hair-line is in a slow recede and I don't have time to figure out how to better style it -- same as the military, I just pragmatically assess and execute. My wife, however, has shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, hair gel, a straightener, a curler, several brushes and combs, elastics, clips and hair pins. She needs options. She has different moods. Sue seems more likely to shave her head than curl her hair -- how did she get that way? Because it's not normal -- but it's not implausible either. It just needs explaining.

Your Sue has the bad-ass driven nature of the Gunslinger on the way to the Dark Tower, utterly focused on a goal. She sometimes reacts to consequences to people after the fact, but my feeling with women is they worry about people BEFORE they take action. Action heroes are "act first, ask questions later and damn the consequences" but women incorporate people into their planning.

I am reminded of Sarah Connor in Terminator and Terminator 2 -- she transitions from damsel in distress to bad-ass rescuer. She might personify a lot of what you want to accomplish -- she trains the softness out of herself to protect her son. However, she maintains some of her femininity because her son is her primary concern. I'd watch those -- even just for the fun.

(I tried to post this earlier today, but the compy ate my post. :( )

I've not gotten through all of what is posted online, so I'll refrain from commenting on the product itself until then.

What I was intrigued by is your description of Sue as being the 'female Bruce Willis', but you don't want to detract from the fact she is female. Have you done much research into 'hard-bodied heroines'? Because from this description alone, it sounds like you're trying to shoehorn in a concept which was meant to encapsulate a very tired hyper-masculinity into a female form, and on that basis, I'm not sure that it sounds a good idea. Also, there seems to be some discussion of what being female/feminine "actually means" but it's being ignored.

Obviously, we all know about Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor and Alice Abernathy - they are very common Western depictions of the hard-bodied heroine, and perhaps a good starting point if you feel you need to do research. The actress who portayed Valesquez in 'Aliens' was also a fantastic example. You did indicate a hesitancy about your depictions. I'd also recommend watching 'Seven Swords', specifically for Charlie Yeung's portrayal as Wu Yuan Yin/Heaven's Fall, or Natasha McElhone in 'Ronin'.

The interesting thing about Bruce Willis' character in Die Hard is that he gets by less on skill and more on sheer brazen luck--that and the steady accumulation of scars he incurs throughout the film. He's competent, but in a way that is constantly under assault; he makes /mistakes/--his enemies exploit his weaknesses--they have far more finesse than he does. He's completely out of his element, and often comments on such. But he wins nevertheless, through sheer brute determination and a willingness to apply quick, decisive solutions to the problems he encounters.

Ripley is an excellent example of this, especially in Aliens (she incurs injuries during her struggles, and approaches her battles with the same no-nonsense attitude--when superiors are making stupid mistakes, she takes control and drives the truck through the door--when she needs a better weapon, she staples one together--when the mother Queen sneaks onboard the ship, she fights it off with the futuristic equivalent of a goddamn /bulldozer/)--so is Sarah Connor, especially in Terminator 2 (interesting that both these characters become excellent examples in the sequels?). Natasha in 'Ronin', too--she's played straight as a soldier. Alice Abernathy, though? It's been a while since I've seen the movies, but I didn't think she was a good example. She's got psycho magic zombie jujitsu that allows her to never get touched--to never make mistakes--to never accumulate a single scar. (Assuming you're talking about her in the Resident Evil movies?)

When I pointed at Bruce Willis as a focus for my inspiration, I was specifically pointing at his mistakes and his scars--because it's the scars that interest me. Action heroes who don't have them have rarely interested me. They move through narratives with not so much a ferocious grace as a perfect, untouchable dance--slipping past combat without so much as breaking a fingernail. I suspect (and I apologize ravenously if I am pushing deep into conjecture-land here) this is because culturally, we don't like seeing women with injuries or scars; culturally we may parse it as a contradiction (perception of women as caretakers versus soldiers as lifetakers), as scars imply a willingness to perform violence, and, outside of selective circumstances, we have issues with imagining women as truly violent creatures*.

"Also, there seems to be some discussion of what being female/feminine "actually means" but it's being ignored."

^ In what sense? I don't mean to sound combative with that question--I honestly don't know what being 'female' or 'feminine' means, hence my concern about failing to address it in the character--but in what sense am I or anyone else ignoring it?

* Important distinction here, I think, by the way--for something to be a *truly* violent creature, we have to not only imagine it capable of violence, but capable of having violence performed to it--we can imagine Ripley getting her arm chewed off by aliens, or Sarah Conner getting shot, or Natascha getting in a bloody car wreck. But can we imagine Alice getting killed by zombies? No--she'd do some sort of magic zombie jitsu to avoid her fate at the last second. For that reason, I have trouble classifying her as a *truly* violent creature--she performs violence to others but violence never happens to her. She's violent without consequence, and I find that boring. Also sexist, but I might be pushing it there.

I loved the fact that in Diehard Bruce Willis had to walk on glass and couldn't fit into shoes and basically won through sheer determination. He's not Superman. (I like Superman because of his "truth and justice" values as a symbol, but he's not the easiest character to make engaging. Fragile humanity is a lot more conflicted).

I think it's better to make a vulnerable hero than an invincible one. I think it's interesting that both Aliens and Terminator 2 were made by James Cameron. In both cases, however, Ripley and Connor have motivations -- Ripley is trying to save Newt and Connor of course has her son.

I don't know if a person can really define "femininity" without sounding sexist, especially given that it has different definitions in different cultures, and our image is currently drastically in flux -- In a century, women have gone from dresses, corsets and happy homemakers to heart attacks from over work at the office, wearing suits and being the primary breadwinner. Should women be curvy or skinny? Beautiful or strong? Feminist or floozies? We have a lot of competing cultural messages. However, in this specific story, even with mistakes, I would say that I couldn't "feel" that Sue was a girl. Right from the first paragraph my "gut" kept picturing her male, and all I can point to is my own experience of real women, women in films and women in fiction. When women become violent, it is my experience it's because of personal reasons, not pragmatic ones.

What I mean by that is Superman fights for Truth and Justice. Batman might have started out to avenge his parents, but he turned that original purpose into a Crusade on crime. Cops fight for Law and Order. Soldiers fight for Queen and Country (though not always a queen involved). Men fight for causes, and purposes, and honour, and territory. These are abstract impersonal things, which is quite possibly why men can be aggressors without worrying about consequence so much -- because they can justify the violence because it served their cause. It's not a person I'm shooting, but the "enemy."

Women fight to protect children. Or they pick up their husband's gun after bandits shoot him down. Or to escape an attacker. They aren't as often tied to causes, but more to solid, real-world necessities. And they worry about the people involved. That's what I think anyway.

I think Sue's character will emerge more as you involve other people, like Anna, because then we'll see how she socializes -- and that might help.

One of the problems I might have is also that I'm interested in the deconstruction of gender roles (without doing harm to those who occupy them, mind), so instinctively I see 'masculinity' and 'femininity' as traits that shouldn't be chained to 'male' or 'female'. The idea of 'feminine mystique' or 'masculine ruggedness'--I don't like the 'feminine' or 'masculine' parts in front of them, and I'm intensely interested in detaching them from their respective genders.

As a result, this makes it hard for me to get down to brass tacks about 'femininity'--because instinctively, I want it in concrete terms, and am repelled by definitions that include any sense of mystery or undefinable characteristics.

"Women fight to protect children. Or they pick up their husband's gun after bandits shoot him down. Or to escape an attacker. They aren't as often tied to causes, but more to solid, real-world necessities. And they worry about the people involved. That's what I think anyway."

Well, the Major in Ghost in the Shell fights for reasons that don't involve children, or a husband, or a love interest, or fear--similarly, Natascha in Ronin fights for reasons that have nothing to do with her status as a female or the necessities of her immediate situation. I'm just throwing those examples out there as a contrast. Of course, neither of these characters are a sixteen year old girl.

I don't know Ghost in the Shell other than the fact it has comic books, and I don't know which Ronin you mean -- the comic or the deNiro movie? I don't remember a Natascha in either case, so I think I'm out of my experience on those. But are those characters still feminine?

I think of Uma Thurman in Kill Bill -- she's rugged and focused and violent and dangerous. She also gets hurt. However, again she's fighting for something personal -- she thinks her child was killed and her husband murdered -- and then when she finds out the child is alive she fights to get her back. But beyond the personal purpose, she still seems like a woman and not just a samurai with breasts -- I think of the scene where she's fighting an old friend and they both put away their knives when the little girl comes home from school.

I don't know that *all* women fight for personal reasons instead of abstract ones -- it's a general impression I have from different sources. However, to be very specific to this particular instance -- my impression of Sue in the Last Skull was that she was a mature man, and that "voice" in my head didn't go away even after she was identified as a female teenager. My sense of her being so purposeful and action-oriented has something to do with that, but also her vocabulary -- voracious appetites that don't abate aren't often found among starving teenagers -- she writes in a mature fashion. Again, I think her upbringing is key to resolving that problem and prevents you from having to start again from scratch -- it's not a necessity to CHANGE her narrative, but it might be necessary to give exposition to EXPLAIN it.

I'm pointing out how I would solve the problem that so far I'm the only one complaining about -- hopefully you get more opinions from others about the text before you take me too seriously. I worry that I've derailed this -- I hope I've been helpful.

Gender role is one thing -- for instance, right now I'm the primary care-giver for three children while my wife is the primary bread-winner. That's the reverse of my grandparents roles. But I know I take care of my children in entirely different ways than my wife -- and I would call them masculine ways, and hers feminine -- though perhaps they're not universal and just limited to my experience. My wife worries that my kids will get hurt and gets very nervous and protective, while I'll let them climb crazy monkey bars -- I just make sure that I'm darn ready to catch them. But she won't even let them try, she prefers to wait until they're older. I figure they're learning something about independence and problem solving, she wants them to be safe.

However my wife is extremely rugged, and can put men bigger than me into full restraint with her bare hands -- she's a child and youth worker and has dealt with some angry mentally-disabled clients. She played ringette (like hockey) and competitively swam. She's better with tools than I am -- she just gets to work while I like to read insruction manuals. But she still comes across as a woman, not as a man with breasts.

Pardon--in Ronin (with Robert DeNeiro), the character's name is Deirdre--she's certainly a female, and there's certainly a romantic interest between her and DeNeiro's character (though I am incredibly loathe to contain femininity to the realm of heterosexuality). As for Ghost in the Shell--I'm thinking specifically of the anime (not the manga), which has Motoko Kusanagi--a cyborg who commands her own military squad. She's pretty much a ridiculous bad-ass (and very overt and open about her sexuality, to boot).

Point is that I like to defy stereotypes while maintaining a sense of verisimilitude in my prose. I also like characters who can occupy multiple roles--grizzled, scarred bad-asses who are simultaneously mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters--but I obviously haven't established Sue in any of those latter roles just yet. Also, yeah, sorry--I'm getting distracted (I do that). I'm working on the mentioned past arc now--hopefully it'll accomplish what needs to be accomplished.

There is a frisson between Deirdre and Sam, but I hesitate to call it 'a romantic interest' as it's certainly not one of her primary roles within the story and mostly seems to be acts of manipulation.

I used Alice as an example as 'hard-bodied heroines' are female action heroes whose motivations or lack of them are not restricted by shiny objects or getting jiggy with the male characters. While you may not think her motivations or character development is up to the same standard as Ripley or Connor, she still stands up as an example under the basic premise and is fairly entertaining.

"There is a frisson between Deirdre and Sam, but I hesitate to call it 'a romantic interest' as it's certainly not one of her primary roles within the story and mostly seems to be acts of manipulation."

Oh, right--I beg your pardon--I actually completely forgot. It's Sam who finally expresses what /seems/ to be genuine interest, but only in a very roundabout way. 'Romantic interest' is probably a very poor choice of words to describe their interaction.

Alice bothers me because it's a action archetype we see a lot--the beautiful femme fatale with no scars or muscles who uses crazy martial arts to never get hurt. On the rare occasions she *does* get hurt, she's either immediately out (and needs rescuing--usually by a handy nearby male) or as good as dead (see Electra from Daredevil--when the sai goes through her hand, we know that's the signal for 'she's going to be the dead woman in Daredevil's past'). I don't think there's a male counterpart to this--we have no trouble imagining guys getting hurt, but if a woman gets hurt, she's either done or dead (the latter especially if the injury would result in a serious scar). I can't take an action hero seriously unless they're out of their element--unless they're bleeding and taking hits and doing everything they can just to keep their head above water.

I think it's in the second movie that Alice drives a motorcycle down a skyscraper that's exploding above her while shooting at zombies with machine guns below her. I couldn't keep watching after that.

The fact that she has no motivations grounded in sex or jewelry *is* probably a good point; I just have trouble buying a character who doesn't take a punch.

"Alice bothers me because it's a action archetype we see a lot--the beautiful femme fatale with no scars or muscles who uses crazy martial arts to never get hurt."

Really? Because as a female viewer of action films, I have to say that it is an archetype I don't often see. I'm struggling to think of matching examples within Western films especially. There are certainly very few actual heroines who fit this description (there are very few REAL action heroines full stop) - plenty of villainesses, who then die impossibly beautiful deaths, single trickle of blood coming from their mouths. If we're talking East Asian cinema, yes, it is abused, I blame Zhang Ziyi.

As I have already said, Alice is a readily recognsible example of this type of heroine, the hard-bodied heroine, and one that people other than film scholars are likely to know. I think you missed my actual point in bringing her up as an example. I also think you've partially mixed in a scene from Day Watch. Perhaps I should have said LeeLoo in 5th Element, or JiJa in Chocolate (perhaps this wouldn't be a very PC choice - she does administer crazy kung-fu kickings, but we see her getting equally decked in certain fights), or Valezquez in Aliens.

"Really? Because as a female viewer of action films, I have to say that it is an archetype I don't often see. I'm struggling to think of matching examples within Western films especially."

Ultraviolet, Underworld (#1--never saw #2, but I'd guess it's not much different?), Daredevil (Electra), Iron Man 2 (can't remember the woman's name, but the girl who plays Stark's new assistant--pretty sure she never takes a hit?), Aeon Flux (ironic, since the anime version had her dying horribly in every episode), and the baronness from G.I. Joe (an example of a villain, like you mentioned, but still a pretty clear example I think). You see this in horror movies too, I think--there are some counter-examples (almost all of them involving protagonists in the final few scenes), but once a woman gets hurt in a crippling way, that's her cue to die. I'd also hesitantly throw in the kung-fu girl from Serenity--who, as I recall, never suffers any serious injuries--not sure how I feel about that example though, because the character was vulnerable before she became capable of violence (her mental problems were established *long* before she turned into crazy kung-fu girl).

"I also think you've partially mixed in a scene from Day Watch."

Yeah, you're right--I beg your pardon--I looked the scene up--somehow I had transposed a motorcycle and an explosion on a scene where she just runs down the side of a skyscraper and knifes a bunch of people to death. The action scenes in the movie are still pretty ridiculous (as action movies tend to be!), but I'm not sure where on earth I got the version of events I just described (the video: - horrible music video warning!).

Anyway, Valezquez is (to me, anyway) *definitely* an excellent example of a subversion of the archetype. Dunno about the rest, but that's just because it's either been far too long or I never saw the movie.

EDIT: Also, after a lot of thought, I've put my submission of this story to the web fiction guide on hold. I'm going to do some rewriting; not sure to what extent yet (still thinking it through). Might turn the main protagonist into a guy (talking with others here, it's striking me now that I'm a little uncomfortable with some of my underlying assumptions)--at the very least, I'm going to revamp the backstory, because it strikes me that 'The Skull' is kind of generic and bland.