Monthly Archives: November, 2006

Fervor on a Friday: This Week in Comics

I always feel bad when I mention a dozen different strips in one entry. It feels too much like name-dropping... but when this many comics are stuck in my head, it would feel like more of a disservice to ignore them entirely.The last week or so, quite a few comics have really been taking the game to the next level. Usually, at any given time, there is only one or two comics keeping me on the edge of my seat, furiously checking the latest happenings come the light of dawn.

Right now, though? Close to a dozen.

Some of the crew aren’t doing anything, oh, specifically special. Simply delivering quality content day after day. Order of the Stick would fall into this category – back to consistently updating three days a week, the strip has just come out of an intense plot arc, and hit the ground running, tearing straight into the next plot without a pause for breath. I’ve heard quite a few people who advocate breaking up such storylines with a bout of good old fashioned laughs… but I think OotS is proof that while sticking to formula like that might keep your content constant, it won’t let you know one out of the park.

Sluggy, Narbonic, Sam and Fuzzy are all in the middle of seriously intense plot. Scary Go Round is reuniting friends long gone missing. PvP appears to have imported Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik into its world. I am confident hijinks shall ensue.

And while some have been laying down aces, others have, unfortunately, been coming up short.

I’m pretty sad. For a while, I felt like I was really getting Questionable Content. I was enjoying the plot, the characterization. I thought the Vespavenger’s entrance was incredibly fun and cool.

And then… blah. The entire storyline smacked of super-heroism – the hero characters of the story (Faye and Dora, in this case) set up something foolish, but ends out working out just fine for them. They arrange a fight with this vigilante, beat the crap out of her, and the police thank them for it. I dislike that type of plotline in general – I can barely stand when Milholland does it, and he does it as well as it can be done.

But it was tolerable right up until the Vespavenger’s vespa turned into… a killer robot. An incredibly stupid-looking killer robot.

It’s not that I think there is something inherently wrong in the robot’s and assorted surrealities in QC. But I rarely find them funny, and I get the sense that I somehow should be – that they are tossed in so the audience can oooh and aaah. And instead I always feel like the quality of the story vanished in a puff of smoke.

Bah. I always feel bad when I’m just all-out critiquing a strip, so I won’t lay into it any more. Part of what really brought out the rant was that, for a time, I was really digging the strip. Top of my list, had me engaged in the characters and interested in the plot. And then two weeks of watching that feeling wash away.

At least I have Dominic Deegan to fall back upon. I was worried – really worried – that our erstwhile seer was going to swoop in once again and solve everything… but Mookie managed to avoid falling back that old pitfall. Pretty intentionally so, from what I can tell. That is awesome. We’ve managed to have a plot where the enemy isn’t yet another world-shattering epic madman out to end the world. We’ve managed to have a plot where Dominic doesn’t just snap his fingers and save the day. It is a really good feeling to see an artist actively learning from what they’ve done before.

And it certainly is going to keep me coming back, and checking the strip every day of the week.

Whimsy on a Wednesday: Adrift in a Sea of Choices

Man has a point.Sunday was the fifth of November.
Monday, entirely by coincedence, I read V for Vendetta.
Tuesday I went and did my civic duty, and voted in the elections.
Today I sit and ponder the act of voting.

I always feel… out of my depth, I suppose. Here I am, lending my tiny but not insignificant voice in a grand decision, and I am never sure if I am truly qualified for the job.

I have a remarkable amount of trouble staying abreast of current events in general, and politics are hardly an exception. I don’t hide my head under a rock by any means, but it is often the last thing I pay attention to, and the more my knowledge of things comes secondhand, is filtered through other peoples views and voices, the more I wonder how much of my opinions are my own.

Even so, I’m firmly on one side of things given the current state of affairs in the US. As uneducated about things as I am, I am solidly against Bush and what he has done. Unlike many of my friends, I’ve never threatened to run off to Canada. I’ve never proclaimed him a fascist, or called him Hitler. But I disagree with what he’s done, and would like to do what I can to change those in power who support it.

With that as my outlook, my voting should in theory be simple – Republicans bad, Democrats good, right? Knowing so little of the specifics of things, doing all I can to put the democrats in power should be an easy choice, yes?

And yet, I dislike the simplicity of it all. So just to confirm my outlook, I go and do my research on the candidates. I try to find what truth there is in between the mudslinging and the handwaving. I look up past activities, I look up voting records. (I discover, among other things, that Maryland is home to 2 of the 7 Republican Representatives who voted against the bill that suspended Habeas Corpus.)

I do a great deal of research, and come out of it knowing very little more than I did when I began.

I go to the assigned location, and I vote as seems best to me. And I do it all plagued by the fear that, all in all, it is far too difficult to really know what affect my actions will bring, if any. Part of it is the fear enounced by Spider – but much more is simply the fear that nothing is that clear-cut, and decisions are not so easily made.

I voted, and I did a great deal of research that changed very little about how I voted, and left me not much more confident in my knowledge of the strange world of politics.

But I still feel glad I made the effort, and I feel glad I got a nice little sticker with a flag that says “I Voted.” And on all accounts, I should be damn well pleased with the results of the election itself.

Still, I find myself feeling more contemplative of things than anything else – and in the end, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Moments on a Monday: Shit Happens

I'm not sure whether it would be a compliment or not to say that this angst is proving the most interesting part of the story.I’m beginning to become depressed by how many bad webcomics I find myself enjoying.

Shit Happens is the latest in the line-up.

The comic itself, as many do, starts with random roommate humor and hilarity, and then somehow finds its way to exploring dark and intense drama, with the requisite blood and glory that entails.

But as much as I hate to see that sort of thing happen, eh, it doesn’t really frustrate me – man wants to tell a more serious story, more power to him.

What bugs me is the main character.

Halifax.

You see, Halifax is a Gary Stu, which I just learned is the term for a male version of a Mary Sue, thanks to the wonders of the internets.

To quote wikipedia: “Characters labeled Mary Sues, as well as the stories they appear in, are generally seen as wish-fulfillment fantasies on the part of the author.

It irks me. It is one of the single biggest pet peeves I have with webcomics, and largely because I keep running into it, over and over, and it invariably is the single biggest thing that keeps the comic from being a quality piece of work.

I read a handful of other comics that are offenders. Ctrl+Alt+Del has been well-famed for it, and seems, at least of late, to use that element almost self-referentially. Least I Could Do is practically built around it as a core concept. And even with those two comics, which do it about as well as it can be done, it makes me want to shake my head and walk away when I see it in action.

Halifax lives up to all the expectations. He treats his friends like dirt without them actually, say, stopping to be his friend. His job consists of not doing anything and getting paid tons of money for it. Pretty much every female character in the series has been in love with him at some point. Did I mention in his past he was a secret agent, for no apparent reason?

Anyway. We’ve got a comic with a lame and cliche plot, with a main character who fits every archetype I despise about main characters. Yet somehow, by the time I finished the archives, I find myself enjoying the comic.

Why?

Well, the main problems aren’t quite as terrible – the plague of drama has wandered off, leaving the crew mostly meandering through life – which I find far more engaging then mafioso deals and back-alley shootings. Our ‘hero’, Halifax, remains a pristine asshole, and the friends he so mistreats seem unable to do anything about it despite being in a position of power over him – but baby steps are fine.

No, I find myself far more interested in the side characters. Former villains seeking a better understanding of the world. Demonized ex-girlfriends now offered the possibility of redemption. (Both featured in the picture above.)

Now, both of these characters suffered from being forced into the formulaic drama that dominated the strip for so long. (And for at least one of them, it was a terrible disservice to their character’s representation up until then.) But I’ve found the small dwellings on their current state, and the possibly of redemption for the two of them, to be strangely compelling.

On the one hand, I know that that plot element itself – that of ‘redemption for the fallen’ – is itself formulaic in many ways. But even with the build-up from the rest of the comic, and walking into the scenes dealing with those characters keeping that in mind… I found myself engaged, and actively interested.

That was a surprise, and surprises can be good things.

So there it is – not exactly the most inspiring review, I imagine. I generally try to avoid too much naysaying here – if I have a comic that I honestly can’t find anything good to say about it, it isn’t worth the time to do so, as much desire as I may have to rant about it. Even the trashiest comics are the product of hard work and a story that someone, somewhere, is proud of, and I don’t feel it is my place to do nothing but sit back and rag on that. (Cept Megatokyo. I kid, I kid!)

But here you have a comic that starts off weak and walks into the pitfalls that many have before it. And at the end of it all… well, at least for me, I found a faint spark of quality, enough to keep me interested. I can’t promise it will make the best reading experience for anyone, but it was enough to give it some recognition.

And that’s definitely better than nothing.

Child’s Play

It's back!
One doesn’t really need to extol the merits of Child’s Play – but it is so incredibly hard to avoid doing so.

This is a program that has seen an astonishing amount of success. It has earned recognition from defendants and opponents of the gaming world alike, and has gone a long way to combat the ill reputation that is sometimes thrown against video gamers. It has seen public exultation by the very same people who previously criticized gaming as violent and causing violence.

It is amazing because it shows the character behind the people at Penny Arcade – the most successful webcomic to date, which doesn’t have the slightest need to produce things like Child’s Play or the Penny Arcade Expo, or to have demonstrations at children’s schools or do any of a number of myriad things outside the base needs of their comic. But they do so anyway, because they want to give back to the community, and they want to celebrate the gaming community.

It is amazing because it is successful due to the thousands of ordinary folks, gamers and non-gamers alike, who donate to it.

I doubt it needs, even remotely, any mention from me. I doubt I can say anything about it that hasn’t been said with better words and more effect by other people. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still worth saying, still isn’t worth recognizing the power of this program and value of this effort.

Child’s Play is back for another year, and that is a damn fine thing to take note of.

Dirty Deeds

Sluggy Freelance has been running the long-awaited next chapter in the story of Oasis.

And it’s definitely good stuff, and a long way away from the slump Sluggy had been going through. We have glimpses into Oasis’s past, though the mystery of her origin remains unrevealed. Torg and Riff are doing their best to track that down – and unsurprisingly, their ‘best’ involves blundering through sewers ineffectually.

I find it a blessing and a curse that anytime I have to go scrounging through Sluggy Archives, I somehow end up rereading That Which Redeems.And, primarily, we get to see what Oasis herself has been up to, having taken up residence in a nice little town where she exterminates crime with an iron fist. A ton of new characters are introduced: her adopted family, her mentor, a variety of townsfolk… and Nash Straw.

Nash is an intrepid reporter out to figure out the town’s secrets, despite the fact that everyone in town is doing their best to confound him.

He’s a fun character to follow the exploits of, and even though if he gets his story, it won’t bode that well for Oasis or the town, watching him work on uncovering the truth leaves us half rooting for him.

Unfortunately he’s also a bad guy.

He’s a professional bad guy. That means that he’s not outright unlikeable, not just cruel for the sake of being cruel – but it also means he’ll kill a young girl if the job calls for it.

I’m torn. He’s a really well designed character, and its not like half of the cast and crew of Sluggy haven’t been villains at one point or another. But I get the feeling it’s only a matter of time before he gets taken out – Oasis has survived far, far worse in the past, and has an unfortunate tendency not to leave her enemies alive.

I think a lot of the success of any given storyline in Sluggy comes down to the villains. Pointless and stupid villains just don’t work for me. That’s why I hated Gofotron – and conversely, some of my favorite storylines – The Bug, the Witch and the Robot, Fire and Rain, That Which Redeems – all have an interesting take on the good guys vs the bad guys.

So I’m really liking what Abrams has done here, even as I’m torn as to what direction I want to see the story go.

Lesson of the day – getting your audience invested in your bad guy before the evil reveal is both very effective, and very, very mean.