Monthly Archives: July, 2007

The Best of Comic Genesis: Manic Graffiti

While some other comics seem to be having unfortunate server issues, Comic Genesis seems to have regained a measure of stability – making this a good time to start off the second round of CG reviews!

Manic Graffiti is a niche comic. Now, there are plenty of niche comics out there that are entirely accessible to whatever audience stumbles upon them – Unshelved, +EV, even Penny Arcade, can all be enjoyed without having an abiding love for libraries/poker/video games.  The reading experience is certainly enhanced by familiarity with the relevant topic, but it is by no means a prerequisite for reading – or enjoying – the strip.

Not so with Manic Graffiti. This is a comic about World of Warcraft – and more than that, about all the little quirks of the game, silly quests and bugged game mechanics, class balance and the hazards of pvp. Now, this still makes for a substantial target audience, considering how many people who have gone through the WoW Experience, and how significantly that playerbase overlaps with the internet population in general. And, admittedly, some of the jokes have a more general appeal – but for every one along those lines, there are two more that require in-depth knowledge of the game and lore to truly appreciate.

This isn’t a bad thing, mind you – especially for a comic being created for the artist’s own amusement. It is a chance to rant about the game and entertain those of like minds. But it is a fact that should be noted. Never played WoW? This comic probably won’t do much for you.

But if you had, it just might make you laugh your ass off.

In-jokes are a wonderful thing, and ones revolving around a game are doubly so. They help create a sense of empathy that not every form of humor has – and in this case, you are laughing about shared experiences with all the foolish pitfalls of a game, usually with you as the victim. More than that, it’s a good sensation to fnd a measure of fun in the various frustrations the game can offer. I hesitate to call it cathartic, but I’m not sure I would be wrong to do so. Those who have played WoW can attest to the perils thereof, and those who have weathered the dreaded end-game know all too well how serious such an activity can become.

Being able to laugh about it? That is an excellent thing.

There are, unfortunately, perils of this humor – as I mentioned before, you are losing a large audience right off the bat, since the jokes are impenetrable to anyone who hasn’t played the game. But even more than that – a game like WoW is constantly evolving and changing. Every single reference you make can easily become outdated, as quests become old and rules are altered. Even people who play in the current moment might not have a clue about the concerns of class balance from two years back.

On the other hand, for those who were around back in the olden days, and recognize the reference at hand, it can even bring a bit of nostalgia, for lack of a better word. And that can help you connect with readers on a much more intrinsic level than most.

The strip is certainly funny, even if some of the laughs might not stand the test of time. The art is, at least in my eyes, extremely well done, even as it bounces between two wildly varying styles. On one hand, you have a set of characters rendered in a relatively detailed fashion, which manages to capture the visuals of the game even while it mocks them. On the other hand, we have the ‘noob-style’ cast, which are depicted in an extremely cartoony, almost super-deformed fashion. Which results in almost appalingly cute characters, but also serves as a great tool for poking fun at the game – and the people that play it.

The art can, unfortunately, be a little busy – drawn in black and white, when done in the more detailed style, it can sometimes be tricky to see where one character ends and another begins. This is largely a problem early in the archives, however – later strips seem mostly devoid of that problem, as the artist learns and improves.

Funny how that happens, ain’t it?

Anyway. It’s a good comic, and more than that, it’s a fun comic. Because really, in a world filled with mutant chicken-deer, mutant turkey-buzzards, and giant multicolored snake-dog-chickens, is there really anything one can do other than to laugh?

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San Diego Comic Crisis!

Things are quiet, what with the better part of the internet away at SDCC, and only guest strips left behind to console the forgotten. And considering exactly who might be attending the con, who knows what might yet happen to those in attendance?

Starslip Crisis is a very interesting strip. It feels like something formulaic – and I should make it clear that isn’t meant in a bad way. It is a strip designed around a relatively simple premise, with straightforward characters who live in a single stable environment. When it started out, I viewed it as a simple device for commentary on art and pretension, in much the same vein as Checkerboard Nightmare. And while it may have overridden that perception early on, it has remained the sort of strip one could see in the funny pages – four panels with a small, identifiable cast, and a punchline you can count upon at the end of every strip.

But every so often it does shake things up. Things may return to what resembles the status quo – but some changes remain. The plot slowly but steadily moves forward. This is what has managed to make the comic really excel – that it has managed to bring in all these elements of plot and characterization while still holding on to its original form.

That doesn’t mean, though, that every single shake-up doesn’t come with a measure of risk. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – we’ve all heard the saying, right? But just because the formula works, doesn’t mean there is no reason not to try and improve upon it. Every now and then, things heat up, and we get a glimpse at the Chronomantic or see a familiar robot in his quest to destroy all humans.

Or, in this case, we move from what seems to be just another musuem exhibit to a full-on trip through space and time.

I’m not sure where things will go from here. I suspect it will be largely a chance to have fun with cameos and the like – but nonetheless, I like the lengths to which Straub went to set it up. And more than that – I like the surprise of it all. The fact that we have a strip that enjoys occasionally just changing gears, and that can do so in a fashion that isn’t disruptive to the reader.

It is always a good sign when you can tell that the creator of a comic is indulging themselves and has decided to just have fun with what they’re doing – and not only doesn’t ruin the comic doing so, but actually manages to enhance it.

Sorcery 101

My big discovery from Otakon was Sorcery 101 – though it was less of a discovery and more of a final push. This is a comic I’ve been hearing about for months, and in all the right places. It is one of a very small list of comics of which I’ve had a review requested by someone other than the creator. And, you know – it’s urban fantasy, a genre I always like to see done well.

But it has hovered at the top of my “To Read” list for a while without moving, and it wasn’t until I saw the booth and heard the spiel that I really felt the drive to finally dive in. Doing a bit more research helped, as well – it is a comic dedicated to 3-5 updates a week, keeping an even balance of humor and drama, and having a month long buffer of strips done in advance.

Now, let me tell you – a buffer is Sign Number One that the artist is taking things seriously – or more accurately, preserving a buffer is. A lot of webcomics start out with a ton of strips done in advance, but that ends up translating to them relying on those strips rather than working at keeping the buffer full. The poster-child for the buffer, Schlock Mercenary, stands as a testament to it’s value. So seeing that Sorcery 101 has been able to keep a buffer going – that is has an entire page dedicated to a promise to the reader – really stood out as a good sign.

So, with high hopes, I delved into the archives, and found a good comic. More than that, I found a comic with the potential to be a great comic – though it wasn’t quite there yet.

Sorcery 101 has a lot going in its favor. The best way to describe the setting is as a slightly more upbeat World of Darkness – you have vampires, werewolves, mages, sorcerers, angels and all other sorts of magic types living in a modern society that seems to (mostly) mirror our own. They aren’t exactly common knowledge, but they seem to fit into the world with relative ease, and pretty much every character has something to make them stand out as special.

The characters are really the lifeblood of the strip, and it is generally their interaction and relationships that drive the show. They aren’t always likeable, but they are eminently human – despite their supernatural natures. For all their powers, the fight scenes seem dull compared to the challenge of seeing them teach, work, drink, raise their kids, go shopping, deal with their exes. Each character has their own history – no one stands alone in importance. For all the magic flying about, that gives the whole story a great sense of reality to it.

So does the attention to detail. The world is certainly fleshed out artistically, but it also has a great attention to minutiae. Posters on walls, t-shirts, cars and toys – little features that simply help to ground the world. In one scene, while making small talk, a character mentions a shirt they own; a couple hundred strips later, they show up wearing it. It isn’t pointed out, nor is attention drawn to it, but when you notice that connection, it is another small step in giving this world a sense of solidity.

The strip does, to be fair, have some room for improvement. Art-wise it has come a good way in just the two years it has been running, and promises to keep getting better. Story-wise it isn’t really lacking so much as not excelling, and while some scenes don’t stand out as strongly as they could, most arcs do succeed in blending jokes with character development to reasonably good effect.

But what the strip could really use is an editor. The web brings with it freedom, imagination, and an audience – but there are times when you can definitely feel the lack of someone standing by to catch mistakes before they go live. Reading through the archives, time and time again I ran into typos, poor grammar, or simply stilted dialogue and poorly managed word-bubbles.

It isn’t enough to kill a strip, mind you – merely to disrupt the steady reading. And, to be fair, I may have felt it more than most. As problems go, this is certainly not the hardest to fix – and with good characters and a solid setting, Sorcery 101 has the heart and soul of a great strip already in place.

Polishing and refining the rest of it? It may take some time, but the strip is certainly on the way – and judging by how word of it has been spreading, there are more than a few people eager to watch it make that journey.

And as of a few days ago, now I’m one of them.

Succinct

Back from Otakon, which went well. I ended up being bereft of cash my first run through artist’s alley, and getting detoured elsewhere when on my way back with cash – which was probably for the best, as otherwise I’d have ended up with more webcomic books than I really know what to do with. There were quite a lot of webcomic people there!

Anyway, still in recovery from the con, from Potter mayhem, and from other assorted madness, so updates will resume on Wednesday. If you’re looking for a good review before then, hop over to Comixtalk for a nice look at Vulcan and Vishnu, a comic I’ve always had a lot of respect for.

Good, Better, Best

Good news: Girly has returned, two weeks earlier than planned! It looks like updates will be coming slightly slower – largely due to Lesnick fully letting loose with the art, and I can’t deny that it looks good.

Better news: Girl Genius 101 just caught up to the Advanced Class. What does that mean? It means the entire archives are now fully online, so now makes a great time for new readers to dive right in. It also means I can kiss an hour or two goodbye, because I’ve got a whole lot of catching up to do, and nothing left to stand in my way.

Best news: I’ve finally gotten around to checking out Piperka and holy cow is it useful. I’ve heard people extolling it’s virtues for a few months now, but as usual it has taken a bit of effort to set aside my normal methods and try it out. I highly recommend everyone else learns from my mistake, and checks it out immediately.

What it does it simple – you select which webcomics you read, and it automatically determines when there is an update. There are other sites that, I believe, do similar things, but this seems to be the most streamlined and efficient out of the pack. It takes a bit of time to go through the lists and mark which comics you read, sure – but I imagine it will take less than a day to make up for the lost time one would otherwise spend checking comics that haven’t updated.

Useful for day to day browsing, and great for keeping track of comics on hiatus so it is easy to discover their return. I’ve been using it for only a handful of days, and I’m already set to swear by it.

Pros and Cons

What.

Anyway. Anyway. Let’s talk about something sane, such as conventions! Well, saner, at least.

Convention season is in high gear, and I find myself planning to attend more than a few that boast a sizable webcomic presence. DragonCon has been an annual trip for me, but this year I’ve added Otakon and Baltimore Comic-Con to the schedule, largely due to the fact they take place basically next door.

To be honest, I had not truly realized how much webcomic presence had grown at conventions – I knew that there was usually a strong showing at SDCC, but this summer it seems like every five minutes I hear about another dozen webcomics being featured at whatever convention is coming up next. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, but I was surprised how much more visible webcomics seemed to be than in previous years.

Maybe it’s just me, or maybe there has simply been more of a push for publicity rather than an increase in activity itself. Hard to say.

In any case, the main purpose of today’s post is to look for some advice. With Otakon being this weekend, I was thinking of bringing along a sketchpad and seeing if I could get some sketches from the various webcomic people there – does anyone know what standard etiquette is with such things? My con experience has usually focused on gaming more than guests, but I’ve seen others post about coming back from cons with sketches from their favorite artists, and was wondering if it was a regular practice or not.

Regarding Books

First, some happy thoughts: 

So, I visited the local library recently, which is something I do far too rarely. While there, I was delighted to find an entire section devoted to graphic novels – and even better, more than a few webcomic collections merrily displayed within. None of the suspects were surprising – Penny Arcade, Megatokyo, American Born Chinese – but still, it was a pleasant surprise.

Now, with that out of the way, follows a rant concerning a trilogy of novels entitled The Rise of Solamnia. Spoilers will Follow, regarding Books you Probably Haven’t Read, and Really Shouldn’t Anyway. This is a rant, make no mistake – criticism is there, but it is largely just me raving about some writing that left me frustrated and enraged. Read on at your own risk.

The Rise of Solamnia is written by Douglas Niles. It takes place in the Dragonlance universe, a campaign setting for Dungeons and Dragons. Now, as such, I didn’t come into it with the highest of expectations. When I was younger, I devoured all such works without discrimination, but over the years I’ve become more discerning, and recognize than many of these books are just hack and slash indulgence on the behalf of the authors.

Oh, there are a few gems among them, most certainly, and some of them are very good hack and slash adventures – and that’s why I read them. But I recognize that odds are I won’t discover it to be any great work of literature – and as such, I’m rarely let down when my expectations, in fact, hold true.

The Rise of Solamnia let me down.

It isn’t really the flaws in the research, though that is a bit disappointing for an author so well-connected to the setting. Or the decision to add gunpowder to a fantasy world, which is almost universally a bad idea. Or the fact that villains and armies seemed to spontaneously form when needed, and despite all being manipulated by the same evil deity, seemed to constantly be working at cross-purposes.

No, what really upset me was that the main hero, Jaymes, was a thief, a murderer, a rapist and a tyrant, and at the end of the series, everyone said that was just fine with them.

In the first book, Jaymes is on the run for a crime he didn’t do. He takes some questionable actions during this time – robbing churches and killing the priests who try to stop him, cutting down without hesitation the knights who try and take him in – but I can somewhat accept it. He’s an outlaw, he’s been abandoned by the ideals he believed in, and he’s doing what he has to in order to survive.

By book two, he’s cleared his name, and all other crimes have seemingly been forgotten. Now in a position of power, and vying with rotten nobles, he decides he needs the full support of one of the book’s strongest female figures – the daughter of the country’s corrupt duke, who helped clear his name.

As such, he goes to the other strong female figure, the powerful archmage who saved his life on many occasions – and is, for no good reason, madly in love with him. He forces her to make him a love potion, with which he magically compells the love of the duke’s daughter, makes her marry him, and then runs off to shag some other widow before returning home.

Now this… this is not a nice thing to do. On the author’s behalf, this is reducing pretty much every female in the series to lovesick fools – but you know, as sad as it is to say, that alone doesn’t surprise me. These sort of novels are badly written and sexist all the time – I mean, hell, Ed Greenwood cranks out one of those a week. And simple wish-fulfillment characters, I can understand. I don’t like characters who can do no wrong – they might be one of my biggest pet peeves in webcomics, sure – but some people seem to like them, and they are more obnoxious than outright malevolent.

But when the hero of the story essentially date-rapes the female protagonist? Glorifying the act of drugging women for personal benefit? That’s a scary thing to see, especially in a book read by kids.

Nonetheless, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. At the end of book two, it looked like characters were actually recognizing some of our hero’s behavior as unsavory. I held out hope that he was being written the way he was intentionally, and would face the consequences in book three.

The third book arrived, and my hopes seem to hold true. Several years have passed, and Jaymes has declared himself the Emperor of Solamnia. He rules with an iron fist. In the first few chapters, he makes war on one of his most loyal noble, whose people can’t afford to pay the taxes the Emperor demands. When they arrived to parley under a flag of truce, Jaymes violates the truce, killing their lord in an attempt to capture him. When they try and fight back by destroying his cannons – and failing – he is enraged, and starts blowing apart their city even when they beg for surrender.

Take note that this is a nation founded on the ideals of honor and integrity, which he is throwing to the wind. Fortunately, the people notice that this just ain’t cool. His knights are upset over his behavior. When he returns to his capital, and wanders the streets in disguise, he hears the common-folk speculating on what atrocities he’ll commit next – so he has the speculators thrown in jail or exiled, and decrees it to be treason to speak out against him or his actions. His wife, now pregnant, has realized she was magically charmed, and so he has imprisoned her within her tower against her will. His best friend, a dwarf he traveled with for years, refuses to make any more explosives for him to use against those who defy him. His people hate and fear him, his allies have turned from him, and it looks as though his entire Empire will rise to overthrow him.

At this point, I’m really getting into the story. We have the set-up for an almost perfect tragic hero, as his own righteousness starts to destroy the nation he wants to save, and his own belief that the ends justify the means alienates his closest allies. This is good writing. His flaws have been exposed, and everything in the earlier books starts to fall into place – the shoddy acts of the villains seem to have almost been designed to throw him into power, as that itself would lead to the nation’s downfall. The struggle between the hero and his allies promises to be interesting, compelling, and cathartic.

And then some bad guys attack, he saves the day, and everyone forgives him.

Seriously. The same ogre warlord he defeated in the last two books somehow finds yet another army, and comes raging into town. Largely through the actions of others, the bad guys are defeated, and all his former faults seem to once again be forgotten. The son of the duke he killed forgives him. The girl he raped says that while she won’t be his lover, she understands why he did what he did, and agrees it was for the good of the nation, and she’ll be glad to raise his son. He apologizes for getting a little overzealous, and promises to be slightly less of an evil tyrant. Everyone cheers.

The end.

I suppose what upsets me isn’t that we have a character who was an anti-hero. If the author was just out to have a another amoral ‘bad boy’ warrior saving the day, without quite realizing the moral and ethical implications of the character’s behavior, I could write that off as ignorance on the author’s behalf. It wouldn’t mean I’d think highly of him – but it is far more forgiveable than recognizing that a character is a terrible human being, and then celebrating all the things he has done to make him so.

I mean, he came so close to making the novels work… and then backed out. I don’t know if it was editorial demand, or if he was simply too attached to the character. Maybe we were supposed to see it as character development, as Jaymes realizing his flaws and redeeming them – but as they say, redemption is not for everyone. It certainly takes more than simply saying, “I’m sorry.”

Anyway. Rant over, my raving is done. This isn’t the first book I’ve been disappointed in, and I’m confident it won’t be the last. In some ways, I miss my younger ability to read through such trash and still cheer at the conclusion – though not so much so that I’m not glad to be able to recognize a bad story when I see one.

There is something to be said for blissful ignorance, sure – but if I enjoyed all stories equally, how would I be able to appreciate the ones that are genuinely good?

The Proper Way to Start the Day

I’m not quite sure how it has come to pass that I haven’t previously mentioned Breakfast of the Gods. It isn’t just that it deserves it – I genuinely remember talking about this strip, at length, on a prior occasion. But searching the archives reveals nothing, so I can only conclude I was merely trying to force it upon my friends in an attempt to ruin their childhood memories.

Breakfast of the Gods is one of those comics that takes a seemingly silly topic and decides to transform into something filled with drama and depth. This isn’t something new – Erfworld does it for turn-based strategy; Cheshire Crossing follows the adventures of Alice, Dorothy and Wendy; and whenever we catch a look at the characters of Something Positive enjoying a round of role-playing, it is usually in a similarly surreal setting.

But even with this evidence, if you had told me a year ago that one could create a powerful and compelling story about the life and death of cereal mascots, I would have called you a goddamn liar.

I’d have been wrong.

Brendan Douglas Jones has put together a world wherein the likes of Captain Crunch and Tony the Tiger stand for honor, courage and loyalty. Count Chocula and his minions torture and murder innocent mascots, and seem to have the lands in an iron grip of despair. The fate of all Cerealia is at stake, and only the mystery of the land’s long-slumbering King might promise the return of a complete and well balanced breakfast…

Wait, why are you laughing? This is serious business, people!

What really impresses me about Breakfast of the Gods is that Jones manages to actually capture a genuine sense of dramatic tension, despite the obviously ludicrous nature of the setting and the cast. He keeps the characters true to form in appearance – the art is perfectly cartoony and brilliantly rendered, which makes it all the more disturbing when the tone grows truly dark. That blend of the silly and the dark is what makes the comic so surreal, but also what makes it so effective.

This isn’t just parody for the sake of parody – though it might have started out as such, it has developed into a genuinely engaging story. Yes, I’m interested in seeing which ancient mascot from the past is brought into the show – but far more than that, I’m eager to see the heroes fight their battles and the mysteries of the Kingdom revealed.

Breakfast of the Gods is another series that wins on sense of style. Jones is able to take the characters from battle on the high seas to noir-style detective drama in a heartbeat, all the while weaving an epic story out of absurd elements. The first chapter, entitled “The Last Good Morning,” is finished – and seriously, is that not an awesome name or what? The title for Chapter Two, “O Cap’n, My Cap’n,” is chosen equally well – and the chapter itself is moving along at a steady pace, after a brief hiatus between the two.

Now’s a great time to dig in – assuming you don’t mind having part of your childhood permanently warped in your mind.

For a story like this, that’s a very small price to pay.

Practically a tradition, at this point.

When I was young, my father gave me a number of old comics. I can’t remember most of them, but I do know that, among the tales of brightly colored heroes and fantastic adventures, there were a handful that stood out.

They were horror comics. They had names like Worlds of Terror and Weird Tales – and they were. They were odd, they were strange. They were occasionally vaguely unsatisfying, and they were always unsettling. I did not much care for them – though I read them all. I read most anything I could get my hands on, and so even though I far preferred the superhero tales – where the good guys won, and the endings were always agreeable – I read the Weird Tales nonetheless.

Years later, I don’t remember the slightest about the other comics – but the horror tales stayed with me. Given how terrible my memory normally is, even being able to recall a handful of scenes from those stories is a great feat – and a testament to the fact that, unlike everything else in that collection, they alone left a lasting impression.

But alas – those sort of comics faded away. Public criticism of comics – especially ones with potentially disturbing content – resulted in their departure, and the return of the superhero genre. I imagine you could find similar tales in the underground comic scene, but that would be a challenge, and finding them in modern work is even more difficult – even among webcomics, notorious for delving into any and all genres available. 

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

I was told about Split Lip a few months ago, but I only just got around to truly looking at it in depth. It is precisely what I was told it was – a monthly horror webcomic, with a new self-contained story each month, featuring a different artist for each story, all written by Sam Castello. When I finally read it, though, the startling thing was what else it was – it was just like the horror comics I remember reading all those years ago.

Strange. Occasionally unsatisfying. Always unsettling.

Some of the stories are psychological thrillers, some feature more supernatural horrors. With others, the line between the two is entirely unclear. Sometimes the endings are outright horrible – with others, merely bizarre. But they all manage to hit that punch of strangeness and terror, just enough to send a little chill running up the spine.

Costello writes in just the right tone to keep the reader off balance. He manages to track down artists from all over the world, each with their own style – but always a style that fits the story perfectly. Always a style that captures the almost surreal imagery infusing the story.

Surreal and disturbing, yet filled with curious and creative ideas – perhaps that is really what defines this brand of comic. Having clever concepts that draw you in, even as they are unsettling enough to push you away. It isn’t about outright scaring the reader – it’s about trapping them in that state between repulsion and interest. In fact, there’s something of a horror story in that concept alone, isn’t there?

Costello and his cohorts certainly get it right, story after story, month after month.

The Third Friday the 13th Webcomic Horror Award goes to Split Lip, without a shadow of a doubt.

Nothing Reckless About It

You know, it wasn’t until yesterday’s update that I realized quite how much I was enjoying the recent Reckless Life storyline.

Now, I’ve enjoyed Reckless Life for a long time. It wasn’t one of the strips that convinced me to subscribe to the Graphic Smash collection – Fans! and Digger did that – but it was the biggest discovery that subscription rewarded me with. It’s something of a crime that, while I’ve mentioned it in passing a time or two, I’ve never given it a proper review. In my defense, it was on a subscription site, and I tried to avoid directing people towards content that wasn’t freely available; but Graphic Smash has since moved away from that model, and the archives of Reckless Life are now open to all.

Given that I no longer have any excuse for discussing the strip, let’s get started on fixing my mistake.

Reckless Life is, in short, one of the most professional comics on the web. Everything about it seems to fit perfectly into place. Visually, the strip is consistently a pleasure to look upon – and more than that, feels pretty much artistically flawless. I am a fan of a great many webcomics that are still coming into their own – and there isn’t anything wrong with that. But as much as I enjoy seeing an artist develop over the course of a strip, Tim Demeter stands out as someone who has already mastered their own style. The world of Reckless Life makes brilliant use of contrasts and shadow, drawing from a palette of black and white, greys and reds. It makes for a cinematically powerful setting, and while it doesn’t sink in tone quite to the grim level of Sin City, a similar sense of stark simplicity is still there.

The stories are similarly well-executed. Tim hits a very careful pace between humor and drama – if one storyline deals with personal relationships, the next will be about ninjas. It all seems very carefully planned out – but the formula at the heart of it doesn’t prevent the stories from all working exceptionally well. Another nice touch is that each storyline is almost entirely self-contained. The strip does grow into a more complete world as it goes on, but it is not at the beck and call of a single over-arching plot. While new characters might be introduced who become recurring characters, and our hero, Locke,  each episode is still able to easily stand on its own.

And rest assured, the characters who start to populate the strip are good ones. While fundamentally they may seem iconic – the hot-headed thief, the cold-blooded hit man, etc – they manage to develop into interesting characters. The credit for that goes to Tim’s sense of style – the characters stand out as more than merely stereotypes, and being visually dynamic manages to help make them into genuinely engaging individuals.

Let’s take a look at the star of the show: Locke. Master thief, gambler, joker, he’s just as good as he thinks he is – capable of dodging bullets and breaking through the best security in the world. Yet somehow, despite his skills, his relationships constantly fall apart, he doesn’t have friends so much as acquaintances, he lives in the ruins of Old Vegas, and manages to end in jail as often as not.

Locke is a fun character – he is able to do feats of incredible skill, and walks and talks like someone out of a movie… but the degree to which life seems to fall apart on him makes him exceptionally human. He’s the hero of the story, but he isn’t a good guy – not really. He has lived a life that has taught him that the only way to survive is to look out for number one, and while he doesn’t rub that philosophy in the reader’s face, you can see it in everything he does.

He has his good qualities, and would probably even be a nice guy if the world had dealt him a better hand. He’s surprisingly loyal to those he would call friends – even when they’ve betrayed him. He’s still willing to kill, hurt and steal if that’s what it takes – but in a world of corruption and crime, he compares favorably. He’s not a good guy – but he’s better than most, and that’s enough.

Which brings us to the latest storyline, where we learn what made him this way. After perhaps the most absurd story yet – the tale of how Locke Saves Christmas, complete with Santa, sleighs, and singalongs – we moved into the grim and gritty world of Locke’s past… as an emo kid in highschool.

The comic remains true to form, and takes a concept that could be cliche, and instead makes it work. In some ways, it is hard to picture Locke as the kid he is, living a life in suburbia.. but it also seems strangely fitting. And we can see it all begins here, as his life starts to go downhill, step by step – the title of the arc is Murphy’s Law, and you’ve got three guesses as to why.

It isn’t that Locke has the worst life in the world. He doesn’t. He’s had some hard breaks, yes, but in many ways it is his own nature as much as his circumstances that continually leads him down, step by step. But that doesn’t make him not sympathetic – in many ways, it makes him more so. He’s human – we can relate to that.

This week’s update shows Locke standing outside as it starts to snow. His friends and family are gone and left behind. He’s dropped out of school, been fired from every job, and sold his most valuable possessions for a handful of cash – and has been evicted anywhere. He has no home. He has no one. And here he is, standing in the snow.

It’s a powerful moment, but Mr. Demeter manages to do it justice. He’s had practice with scenes that lack any dialogue, but most of those are action sequences – much easier to pull off.

I’ve been enjoying the recent arc, but this was the moment that really grabbed my interest. Because we know how the story ends, in a way – we know who Locke becomes. We know that he does manage to improve his lot – and even if he doesn’t end up with the perfect life, it is still a far site better than this. We’ve even seen, quite early in the series, that he is able to find at least some degree of peace with part of his past.

But we haven’t seen how he gets there – and that is the story I think is about to start, and one I am definitely eager to see.