Category Archives: Print Comics

So it was written, so shall it be.

In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only wang.Penny Arcade’s latest adventure into continuity has involved an imaginary world wherein the duo behind the strip unleashes Olympus: the future of the arcade, and/or the arcade of the future.

It’s a fun little tale, and delivered as brilliantly as usual. People ask me why I like Penny Arcade, and even occasionally accuse me of rapid fandom, but I’ll hold by my guns – these guys have the comic art down. Even aside from my particular enjoyment of Gabe’s art and Tycho’s writing, I find the rhythm of the strip to be invariably spot-on.

But what struck me the most, in the latest two installments, was that I had several moments of pondering whether or not the plan proposed in the strip was grounded in reality. It’s a foolish, ludicrous thought – but immersed in the grand vision of what Penny Arcade has become, it seems almost tangible.

I’ll get back to why that is possible in a few moments. For now, let me make mention that I picked up a copy of the Warsun Prophecies.

As with their previous books, it is an unsurprisingly quality – and professional – piece of work. The only thing that astounds me is how fast they are coming out with these, without even any noticeable slowdown in their production of new strips.

But aside from the book itself, what caught my attention was the bonus feature in the last few pages – some previews of concept art on their upcoming video game, On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness. It’s pretty brilliant stuff – the game is set in New Arcadia, a humble city in 1920s America, no doubt infested with hobos, gangsters, and more.

What especially stood out, though, was the following statement: “Rather than simply licensing the property to a developer and then standing back while they make the game, we’re actually partnering with Hot Head and making the game together. That means Tycho and I are writing the entire thing and I’m doing all the concept artwork.”

So, obviously, that both bodes well for the game itself, and again, leaves me wondering how they have the time to accomplish all of this. (Enslaved colonies of clones? Diabolical machinations? Potential radical temporal manipulation?)

The big realization, though, was that I expected the game to rock. To rock hard. Which wouldn’t seem so weird… if I didn’t realize how little faith I had in other webcomic pros similarly branching out into new areas.

The foreward of the book is by Scott Kurtz, and is a clearly tongue-in-cheek attack on the success of Penny Arcade over PvP (along with a brief shot at Ctrl-Alt-Del.) And yet, for all of Scott’s cracks at Ctrl-Alt-Del, and his claims that PvPs animated series was going to blow Buckley out of the water… he failed to deliver.

Oh, the PvP animated series isn’t bad. It also has barely even started – I’m sure it will ramp up as they polish the show and get into their proper rhythm. But I am confident that even at it’s best, it won’t blow me out of my shoes. It will be a nifty little novelty, but not ground-breaking. A nice addition to the strip itself, something for the dedicated fan to enjoy, but that’s about it. And, generally, all I can see from most similar endeavors from many and sundry webcomics out there.

Somehow, Penny Arcade inspires a much higher level of faith in what they can accomplish. Partly because of what they have already accomplished. The most readers of any webcomic, by a landslide, if I remember my numbers right. Child’s Play. PAX. And, yes, it helps that they have the weight to through around to get something like this done.

But having the ability to make it happen isn’t as important as having the drive to make it happen right – and that’s what I’ve got faith in.

That’s why, if they said they were going to sit down and open their own utopia of a gaming arcade, I’d take them at their word. And I know for damn sure there isn’t any other webcomic that would get the same response from me.

Sure, they aren’t perfect – for one thing, they need to fix their archives into a slightly more functional state. (Read: a state wherein navigating feels more like searching for strips, and less like wading through a rabid pack of mutant weasels.)

But damn, New Arcadia is gonna rock.

Two Short Years.

I recently read a comic miniseries called “I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League!

It is a lighthearded and entertaining look into a team of generally B-list superheroes, whose dysfunctional group is referred to as the Super Buddies, and who spend as much time dealing with troubles of their own devising as taking care of actual supervillains.

It’s a good read – a fantastic read, even – but it has unfortunately slipped a bit behind the times. I’m sure most comic fans are already aware of the current state of affairs in the DC universe – in general the result of Dan Didio, the Executive Editor, wanting to take things in a more serious direction.

Let’s take a look at the result this has had on the Super Buddies, shall we?

I was going to type up my own list of the impact on each one, but I see someone on Wikipedia has already done so – so I’ll just copy that:

  • Blue Beetle Ted Kord is dead, killed by Maxwell Lord.
  • Maxwell Lord himself was killed by Wonder Woman and retconned into always having been a villain.
  • Fire has returned to being an assassin, working for the Checkmate organization.
  • Booster Gold was killed defending Metropolis.
  • Mary Marvel is currently depowered and in a coma.
  • Sue Dibny has been killed.
  • Without his wife, Ralph Dibny is a shell of his former self, and appears to have snapped following a botched Kryptonian resurrection ceremony.

Now, some of you may recognize these names, and already know them and their fates. Others might have no idea who these people are. But it should be clear even so – pretty much every member of this entertaining, and for the most part happy, crew have had their lives torn apart and dragged down.

This is just one example. As I said – throughout the DC universe, the goal is, you know – Drama.

Now, a lot of people have complained about this. Some have called out for a return to the ages of yore, when comics were light and entertaining.

Myself? I don’t agree with that either. Sure, comics for kids are fine – and I approve of their existence. I just, well, wouldn’t buy them. I like story, and character development, and something more than “Biff! Bang! Pow!”

That’s the thing. I don’t think comics are going in the wrong direction in principle. What got me started on comics in the first place? It was the Death of Superman and Bane’s breaking of Batman. Big events, dark events, that drew in a large audience. Their trick works.

And, clearly, the same holds true with recent stuff. Sure, fans complain. People hate Didio. He is destroying the characters they love!

…but they are buying the books. They bought Identity Crisis. They bought Infinite Crisis. They are buying 52, and the new titles taking off in the aftermath of it all.

I like having stories with depth. I like superheroes having an element of real people that I can connect to. I like stories drawing forth emotions beyond simple humor.

But that doesn’t mean that drama can only come from darkness, that characters can only develop from having trauma after trauma placed upon them! That doesn’t mean that there is no need for genuinely happy superheroes. For innocents. For goofballs. That doesn’t mean the only way to draw forth emotion is through pain and suffering.

It isn’t the goal that I take issue with, it’s the execution. We don’t need children’s tales. Go for the serious stories. Just, please – spend some time thinking them up. Actually design a story – don’t just think that a sudden act of drama will be enough. You’ll get us for a moment, sure – but once you’ve cut the strings, you’ve got nothing left to work with.

And you might keep people buying with every new disaster and every darker turn, but when you reach rock bottom, there won’t be anything left.

We’re not saying you need to kiddify the books. (Well, ok – I’m not.) And we’re not saying that darkness shouldn’t exist – occasionally that moment of shock, of intensity, can bring the entire picture into perspective.

But when it happens to every single character? When you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting seven dead or dying heroes?

Trust me. I felt the first one. At the second I started to get outraged. And by the point we are at now? I’m dangerously close to not feeling anything for the comics any more – and once it reaches that point?

Well, I’m gone, and that’s game over.

The end of the world as we know it?

My, but there have been quite a few webcomics running guest strips this week – though I suppose more than one cartoonist was exhausted by last week’s Comic-Con.

I missed the con myself, primarily due to living some three thousand miles away. Nevertheless, the many and sundry reports of the con made it seem as though I was actually there, only surrounded by words and pictures instead of, you know, people.

But yeah, the panels sounded like they were crazy awesome, and I’m sad I missed it – though glad that people were kind enough to take notes, as it were, and share the lecture with those of us who missed class.

Anyway, I’ve got a dirty secret. The comic that has, this last week, had me on the edge of my seat, religiously checking the updates every day, and gleefully anticipating the next installment… is Garfield.

I attempt to disbelieve.

Whoa, what? Could this be the end of the strip?

Back when I was a young lad, I was quite the Garfield aficionado. I watched the cartoon, I bought the collections. It wasn’t until I was educated by wiser minds on the internet that I realized the daily Garfield in the paper was… well, bad. It hadn’t always been – once, the jokes had been genuinely interesting, the characters had storylines and weren’t simply stuck in an eternal punchline about mondays and lasagna.

But clearly things had changed, and I went with the flow in mocking Garfield (along with 95% of the other strips in the daily papers), and somewhere along the way I forgot that once upon a time, I actually enjoyed the strip.

So it was quite the surprise to see something of an ongoing storyline in recent weeks. A blog about Garfield brought the matter to my attention – and what can I say? I was riveted. Actually having something happen is a ballsy move in any syndicated strip – especially one as glued to ‘the formula’ as Garfield.

And now we seem to have… well, not just change, but possibly a conclusion. I’m sure we’ll know in a day or two if Garfield has actually wound its way to a happy ending, or if it will return to the standard fare.

One thing I do have to recognize, regardless of where Garfield goes from here – the fat cat has genuinely embraced the web. The website is a bit overloaded – but contains an archive with every single strip of the comic. That is a hell of a lot more than most newspaper strips do, and I must give props for that.

Tales of a Wandering Blogger

I have of late been enthralled in quite a lot of reading that takes place – gasp – outside of the internet.

Foremost among these has been the Rurouni Kenshin manga.

First I should explain my history with Kenshin – I started watching the anime series some four years ago, in the midst of college. I got my friends into the series, and we made the mistake of getting too many people interested in watching it.

We got through the second season – the Kyoto arc, the real highlight of the series – in a reasonable amount of time. But the rest of the series… well, we had heard it wasn’t as great as what had come before. And it’s true, most certainly – it isn’t that it was bad, but that it was simply not great.

But we wanted to watch it anyway. To finish the series. We knew going into it that it was nothing more than fun little filler, but as long as we knew that, we wouldn’t be let down.

Unfortunately, we had some friends graduating. Others growing busy with various jobs, schoolwork, and other concerns. The long and short of it?

It took two and a half years to finish watching the series – to finish that one final season.

But we did it. A couple months ago we gathered back together, arranging a break from our jobs and our lives, and watched the final episodes, and it was a good feeling to complete that experience in the company of friends.

But for myself, that wasn’t quite the end of the Kenshin saga. The manga, you see, was being released in English.

While watching the Kenshin series had been a communal thing, reading the manga was, predictably, a bit more solitary. I was impressed by how closely the series mirrored the comic (at least for the first two seasons). I was more impressed by the fact that, unlike a lot of manga I had read before, I was able to easily follow the artwork, the story, and pretty much everything going on.

And, damn, but it was a good story – and when it diverged from the series, and continued its own plot, it only got better.

But like all things, it came to an end. The last volumes were released, purchased and read. It was a powerful conclusion to an excellent series.

And, like any time that a work of fiction I was embroiled in came to an end, the end was bittersweet. As fitting as the conclusion might be, as necessary as the ending might be, it is still hard to let go of well-loved characters.

So this is my shout-out to Kenshin. An awesome anime, an awesome manga, an awesome story. It might be old news to folks in the community, but that doesn’t make it any less great.

Snapshots in Time

In Memories. It may not come as a surprise that I am avid fan of print comics as well as webcomics.

Print comics were my first love with the genre, and I still remain attached to them in this day and age. Some of what I read has changed – I have ditched all the original Marvel works, though I do read the Ultimate versions. I am still also quite the fan of DC, though my focus is much more heavily on the bat clan than Superman and friends.

As such, I can sympathize all too well with the concerns of Anne, part of the creative team over at the Wotch.

See, two characters from the DC universe – Stephanie Brown, the Spoiler, and Cassandra Cain, Batgirl – have been poorly treated of late.

I won’t get into specifics – Anne has a post at the Wotch that covers the details.

There is a danger in print comics, one that is much less likely to rear its ugly head on the web. You see, the characters of DC, of Marvel… they are part of the company. They are not one individual person’s work, and writers can – and will – change.

Which means the characters change, as well. Sometimes for the better – and sometimes the writers throw out everything that has come before, have their new test subjects completely break character, and have some ‘dramatic plot point’ happen just for the sake of something shocking.

It’s infuriating.

I still like my print comics. Even as things change, sometimes those changes are well done. Sometimes I can see heroes die, or fade away, and accept it as the conclusion of a well-written story.

And sometimes it is meaningless, and serves only to incense.

Anne said it well, and drew a scene that captured well who these heroes once were. And I think all those who were true fans of the characters appreciate her for it.

MetaParody can be MetaPerfect

Return of the RainmakerToday, I am a happy panda.

The reason for this, for those who may be pondering why, is that I just got my latest issues of PS238. And them’s some good readings.

I’ve always been a fan of the work of Aaron Williams, and the two comics he updates on the web – Nodwick and Full Frontal Nerdity – are both pretty rad.

But I really love Public School 238. The premise – a school specifically designed for the eduction of metapowered youth. It starts out fun and silly, playing around with all the cliches and jokes that can come out of the genre… especially when dealing with kids, and school teachers.

And then… it really gets good. The humor is still there, but it embarks on ambitious storyline after ambitious storyline, each one leaving the reader wanting more.

I got my daily dose today, and can only hope the weekly doses of Nodwick will be able to tide me over till the next issue…