I was never the biggest fan of Yirmumah. This was in part because DJ was at the height of his trouble-making days, and actively causing grief high and low across the internet – but it was also ’cause I didn’t really like the comic. It just wasn’t my type of humor.
So when DJ started up Hero by Night – especially with Yirmumah having taken a turn down some genuinely decent sequences - I decided to check it out. I found the name itself a little silly, but DJ had shown some flare for a good dramatic story, and I was interested in seeing what he could put together.
While the comic itself was being released in stores, the Hero by Night Journals were being posted online, telling the tale of the original Hero by Night. I enjoyed the diaries and their format – they were essentially snapshots in time rather than fully fleshed out tales, and it was an interested format for presenting a character. At the same time… it didn’t really compel me to go out and buy the series. The character was enjoyable, but didn’t feel more compelling than any standard comic icons - it felt like just another superhero.
There wasn’t anything wrong with that – but it wasn’t groundbreaking as some seemed to be saying. Every few weeks I stopped by to catch up on the diaries, but that was it.
Then DJ started posting the Hero by Night comic itself. The story of a young kid who finds the magic ring the once belonged to the first Hero by Night, and deals with the consequences thereof. And… it was great! It was fun and exciting, and I couldn’t stop reading. It still didn’t feel like it was anything new – but it was compelling enough to make me eager for every update.
I credit the journals themselves for much of this. One of the greatest strengths of print comics is the sheer amount of background the characters have – the momentum they have developed over the years, with supervillains and sidekicks, triumphs and defeats, personal discoveries and growth. It lends them weight and impact – when done right. Unfortunately, that background is also one of their greatest weaknesses, as they threaten to topple from the burden of conflicting origins and different writers and the need to keep them locked in a perpetual stasis while they can still adapt to – and reflect – modern culture.
With the Hero by Night Journals, DJ managed to capture that same sense of background and history, all neatly defined and delineated. Neither the journals nor the comic were able to grab me independantly – one was the shadow of an already finished tale, the story of a hero whose time had already ended, while the other was no different than countless other comics, with a kid finding a magic widget and blundering into superpowers. But together they formed something more than the sum of their parts – a story with a firm sense of past and present, which manages to keep the reader all the more interested in the comic’s future.
Even though I could simply sit back and wait for Hero by Night to be released online, an issue behind the comics coming out in stores, DJ has finally managed to amp up the tension – and my investment into the strip – that I’m left interested enough to buy it if I see it in the comic shop.
I’d say that’s one form of webcomic success in action.