Regarding Exposition

Dominic Deegan has recently come under a significant amount of criticism. The latest storyline has left readers confused, unhappy and even frustrated, and for a variety of different reasons. Mookie spent the last week pouring out exposition, in an attempt to explain what had gone on in the storyline, and what it had been all about – but may have only made matters worse.

He wrapped last week up with an impassioned plea from Dominic, the title character, that seems to equally be his own attempt to show what the storyline was about to him. To show, I think, a bit of the vision that had lead him through this arc.

And yet, I found myself still unconvinced. But, perhaps for the first time in the arc, I found myself trying to pinpoint exactly why.

In part, I had simply thought that it was the exposition itself that was irritating me, and having an after-the-fact reveal used to excuse what had come before. But… Goblins, this week, did the exact same thing. Did it even more abruptly, in fact, with less warning given.

But with Goblins, it worked. It worked well, in fact. So why wasn’t that the case with Dominic Deegan?

The premise of the arc is as follows (and I apologize in advance if my bias makes it sound more hokey than it is): Snowsong, a powerful ice mage, arrives in the peaceful village that is home to Dominic’s brother Gregory. She has been there before, as part of a cult that tried to destroy it – brainwashed by the cult, she believes that the Deegans are tyrants, and the village in need of being ‘cleansed.’ However, she starts to realize that isn’t the case after all, as she witnesses the behavior of the villagers.

(As a note – I liked this part. This arc started out with a ton of promise. So there is reason number one – starting off on such a good note, if was even more disappointing when things went downhill.)

Meanwhile, Gregory has realized that his magic has been growing out of control, so has Dominic help him power-down – resulting in him having a completely different appearance. He disguises himself as a humble reporter, and writes an article directed at Snowsong, begging her to turn to the side of light and abandon her brainwashing.

Unsurprisingly, his condescending tone doesn’t convince her, and she comes after him in a frenzy. This leads to a confrontation between Snowsong and Gregory, and several of his friends. In the process almost all of them are nearly killed – Gregory himself, in fact, is hit by an attack that should have killed him outright, and it was a miracle he survived it at all.

(Issue number two – having characters constantly brought to the brink of death, then fully restored, starts to grow dull. “Oh no! Character A is almost dead! Now they’re better! Oh no! Character B is almost dead! Now they’re better!” The emotional impact starts to weaken, and eventually loses all significance whatsover.)

At this point, Gregory suddenly powers back up into a Superman-esque figure, and uses his super-powers to save everyone and capture Snowsong.

(This, for a lot of folks, was the big problem. Even once it was established that comic books about “Supermage” existed in this world… for many, it simply broke the fourth wall. There didn’t seem to be any reason for it. It might be easy to accept a fantasy universe, it might be easy to accept a setting with superheroes, but to suddenly have one thrust without warning into the other… well, it certainly left my suspension of disbelief shattered and broken.)

And from there, the strip launched into exposition week, wherein we learn that Dominic was behind everything that happened, and he explained day by day how he had manipulated things, and, to a lesser extent, why.

One could tell right away that this seemed to be a response to the criticism of the arc, and an attempt to fix the problems people were having with it – which I suppose meant it would be even more disappointing when even more complaints came to the front. Some were frustrated with Dominic retroactively being declared the mover and shaker of the arc; for good or ill, it is always refreshing when some of the other characters get the spotlight. Others felt it was a poorly delivering twist, and that more hints should have been given beforehand as to what was going on.

Yet others just wanted the storyline to be over – in the words of one poster, “The only thing worse than this arc is this arc twice.

But for myself, it was simply how meaningless it seemed to be. Why would Dominic come up with such a poorly designed plan? (One that almost got his brother killed!) Why doesn’t he seem even slightly upset over how his plan fell apart, and how many lives were risked because he wanted his brother to play ‘Supergreg’?

And I realized that I wasn’t going to find a reason, because the one who was really setting this all up was Mookie himself.

Now, ok, ok – that may seem obvious to, well, everyone. Here is the thing, though – what I realized is that Mookie was writing this arc for himself. Pretty much every element of the story was designed with one goal in mind – he really wanted to see his love for superheroes brought into his comic.

I get where he’s coming from. Look at the picture up above, of Supergreg flying along – you can really see what he’s trying to do. The sense of joy he’s trying to capture. He wanted to see one of his characters as a superhero, and that is what the arc was designed to accomplish.

And I can’t blame him for that. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it a thousand times again – it’s his comic to write. He gets to decide what goes in it, not me. And sometimes it is ok for an author to indulge themselves. To tell their own personal fantasy, to reward themselves for putting up this free comic day after day, year after year.

But… they do need to accept that such a story isn’t going to be met with rousing cheers of appreciation. Most fans are looking for a dynamic and well-balanced story – not what is, essentially, glorified fan-fiction. Seeing the characters turned on their heads for the sake of a brightly-colored spandex suit…

Well, it feels hollow, to everyone who had already come to enjoy the pre-existing paradigm. And the author doesn’t have to play into what the audience wants – but they also need to occasionally look at what their goal is with the comic. Are they trying to tell a genuine story, to develop a work they want people to take seriously? Or are they just bringing to life random concepts they find neat?

The choice is certainly theirs to make – but I think a bit of awareness about what they are striving for, vs what they are actually doing, can go a long way.

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5 responses

  1. …I’m definitely feeling alone, here. I’m one of the few people in the world that liked this arc. I was exceedingly happy to see Dominic pulling the strings again. It’s called “Dominic Deegan,” after all. After a no-Dominic allowed arc, I wanted to see the crotchety seer up to his old tricks again. I didn’t mind the “superhero” stuff at all…maybe because I have little brothers myself. I kinda like that things got away from Dominic and his string-pulling too. Namely that Snowsong realized that she was being manipulated and responded accordingly; the only thing is she thought it was Greg manipulating her, not Dominic. I have no idea why so many people were bothered by this arc. I enjoyed it just fine.

  2. It’s definitely something I’m torn about, in a lot of ways – on the one hand, I don’t want Dominic to be infallible, so seeing the plan go awry does help humanize the character.

    On the other hand, I’m a little bothered by the fact he used a plan that put the lives of his family and all the villagers at such clear risk, wherein only through luck did things turn out okay. Or, at the very least, that the only one seeming to be giving him flak for it is Pam.

    On the other, other hand, I did really like today’s strip, so… I dunno. Maybe that is part of the issue itself – at least for me, the arc has a lot of good and bad pulling in different directions, which certainly results in a conflicting response.

    Then again, it may just be something going around – I don’t know why, but a lot of webcomics seem to be under flak at the moment, so maybe it is just approaching-end-of-summer-blues.

  3. I have to admit that I found this plot arc entirely tiresome. I guess snowsong wasn’t really established as a threat, which made me lose any tension, and the twist so utterly surreal and pointless it was a bit annoying.

  4. Part of the problem might stem from Mookie’s tendency to overromanticize all the wrong characters – I don’t know that we, as readers, have any reason to care about Snowsong’s problems, or be invested in her redemption. Like Siegfried before her, she’s an obnoxious, one-note character; it doesn’t help that Mookie already did a successful redemption story with Szark in the strip’s earlier years. His audience has a point of comparison, and I can’t blame them for seeing current events in a poor light.

    “Supergreg” does seem to be symptomatic of a greater shift in the comic’s tone, though; it feels like DD has been moving deeper and deeper into a Silver Age-esque superhero paradigm, where Good Defeats Evil and Nobody Ever Really Dies Because It’s Comics. The strip’s always been a bit… well, I don’t want to say “shallow” because that’s not really it, but dramatically speaking, it’s lightweight; you’re never going to find yourself reading it in tears, or in shellshock because of the day’s events. Granted that not every comic has to do that, but Mookie keeps going through the motions – with characters coming THIS CLOSE to death and rebounding – and never delivering that last push. And after all this time, it’s just wearing so, so thin.

  5. I think that is definitely part of it… I’m certainly not going to demand that he should kill off characters with every storyline, but having him waving around the appearance of danger and suspense – when it isn’t actually there – is just going to confound the reader.

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