The Webcomic Overlook #149: Strawberry Death Cake
Strawberry Death Cake, written and illustrated by Elliot Dombo, bears more than a few similarities to a notoriously banned webcomic strip. I’m speaking of Penny Arcade‘s parody piece: a sexy drawing of a tarted-up (heh) Strawberry Shortcake lampooning American McGee’s Alice video game. That very comic got Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins in trouble with American Greetings, which led to some legal mumbo jumbo, which led to that particular comic strip not existing officially. Also everybody got a nice lesson in “fair use” … mainly that no one has any idea what the hell “fair use” even means.
But back to Strawberry Death Cake. Is it possible that this very webcomic was inspired by the parody strip? There’s the title, which features both the words “Strawberry” and “Cake.” Its heroine look like a sexy Goth stripper out of Suicide Girls’ central casting. Penny Arcade has a demon cat; Strawberry Death Case has a demon moose. The parallels are interesting, no?
Curiously, Strawberry Death Cake is more similar to the Penny Arcade parody than to the actual freckle-faced youth in the strawberry-print bonnet. I mean, there’s no strawberries, and there’s definitely no cake. So… why is this comic even called Strawberry Death Cake? Was Goth Panty Flasher too on the nose?
Ah, THAT got your attention!
I should probably give you some fair warning ahead of time: assume, dear reader, that every link is not work safe. Oh, there’s no straight up nudity, if that’s what you’re looking for. However, if your boss catches you looking at underage underwear models in striped nylons, I have a feeling he won’t be giving that raise you asked for.
Based on all the cover art, our main character, theoretically, is Marilyn. She is, most notably, the owner of a pair of panties, which are thrust at the viewer every five appearances or so. Lest you think Marilyn is some sort of slut, I should point out that she also wears some striped thigh-high stockings, a corset, and a way too short miniskirt. That Marilyn… keepin’ it classy! Incidentally, Marilyn is a demon hunter. Her attacks include flying kicks, spin kicks, and generally a lot of moves that call of exposing one’s crotch. Seriously, if you’re in that sort of business, shouldn’t she wearing something more sensible? Like … pants? You know, instead of a Valentine’s Day negligee from Hot Topic?
(Wait, is that even a thing anymore? Last time I peeked into the place, it was chock full of Cookie Monster, Transformer, and Nintendo shirts. Do they stock the stereotypical buckles and leather gear in a super-clandestine Adults Only section located in the backroom now?)
Marilyn carries around a sword stolen from an Soulcalibur game. I suppose that’s supposed to make her badass. Mr. Dombo even does a one-off comic where she owns Dante from Devil May Care. However, while looking for more recent Marilyn action images to include in this review, I noticed something curious: outside of the first two chapters, there are no Marilyn action sequences. Half the time, she’s standing around and posing, often with her derriere hanging out. I’m guessing that, in Strawberry Death Cake, “demon hunter” actually means “kinky lingerie model.”
A stronger case for the status of main character can be made for Jessica. While Marilyn is the grumpy and cynical veteran (at age 18, naturally), Jessica is the fresh-faced newcomer eager to learn about this shadow world of demons. At first, Jessica dresses somewhat sensibly. I mean that using a very, very liberal interpretation of the word. While the skeleton hoodie and short shorts does indeed look ridiculous, I can imagine seeing someone wearing that same outfit to the mall at least. Later, though, she seems to be in a “Who can whore it up the most” contest with Marilyn.
Jessica joins the team after she gets eaten by a demon. No, no, you perverts, not in that sen-… wait, maybe it was in that sense. The comic’s rather vague on the particulars, and I think it says a lot about the comic that I’m not dismissing that possibility outright. Anyway, she’s partially digested, and that turns out to be one of the best things to happen to her. (Ugh.) First, Jessica develops some super powers that allow her to turn guns into other guns. Useful, I guess? Second, we get the following immortal line:
Boy. These are the sorts of problems you want to have!
There are some male leads in this comic, too. Supposedly. Jason shows up in the first chapter, and, as the guy Marilyn saves and the first recipient of super-demonic power by way of partial digestion, he’s seemingly being set up to be the main character. He’s also the lead singer of a band where Jessica’s playing back-up… that’s got to factor into the comic at some point! (It doesn’t.) However, Jason fades into irrelevancy soon after. It figures. When most of the comic’s plots are primarily concerned with getting its female characters in their knickers, guys can’t compete. No one’s bookmarking this comic to see some dude’s abs, I’m guessing.
Then again, Jason does scream, “Yatta!” after a victory once, which ranks him pretty high up on the dorkiness scale. It’s hard to say which was more embarrassing, this or Annakin yelling, “Wizards!” in Episode 1. All things considered, maybe Jason’s demotion to bit player was a blessing is disguise.
Our characters are recruited into a super-secret paranormal organization called the Black Ministry (no relation to the band “Ministry” or the Undertaker’s “Ministry of Darkness”) by Winston, a cartoony moose demon and our resident comic relief character. I’ll give credit where credit’s due: Winston is responsible for perhaps the only funny scene in the comic. Jason goes to the shower, and all signs point to impending fanservice. However, when he opens the door, it’s an anthropomorphic moose.
You’ll come to realize, though, that Winston is easily the most annoying character created since Jar Jar Binks. Witness his “humorous antics.” Listen to his “hilarious” “random” bon mots, such as “Moose needs a new waffle toaster!” Did I want to slam this guy’s head with said waffle toaster?
Did you even have to ask?
And wouldn’t you know it, this comic features not one but TWO odious comic relief characters. After all, you can’t draw sexy underwear pin-ups of an anthropomorphic moose. (Well, technically you can… but I don’t want to find out.) That’s why we have Kendall. I think her character can best be boiled down to “The World’s Cutest Lesbian Molester.” She’s perky. She’s nerdy. And whenever she sees an attractive woman, she either grabs her ass or buries her face in her breasts. This is all as hilarious as it sounds … which is to say, not at all. She’s basically all those creepy underwear-sniffing anime characters from the 90’s, except those anime characters may have been a tad more sympathetic than Kendall.
Chapter 5, incidentally, almost redeems this character. Kendall gets possessed by a demonic hat, and her character begins exuding some disturbing rapist vibes. However, this is all really an excuse to have our male “heroes” take advantage of a room full of brainwashed nymphomaniac women. Plus, in the end, Kendall goes back to her groping ways anyway. Instead of, you know, dying, the best possible conclusion to the character. (It would have bumped this review up a whole star rating, at least.) The experience, by the way, has left Kendall with a lovely head of blonde hair. I mean, why not? We already had a brunette and a redhead. Fans of blondes need cheesecake, too!
Incidentally, the sexual hi-jinks seem rather innocent compared to some of the fetishes that Strawberry Death Cake only alludes to. Let’s see what this comic features:
But all of it’s done in glorious PG-13 so the whole family can enjoy! I don’t know about you, but merely hinting at the kinkiness makes this entire comic feel slightly more skeevy than actually delivering on it. At least, I’d be sensible enough to ignore it.
And just to prove that this comic was written for teenagers too chicken to google for porn, Strawberry Death Cake features several stillborn attempts at “random” humor that falls flat on its face. I’m sure the Death Bunny Squad was hilarious on paper. Bunnies in Nazi regalia? That’s totes random and offensive!
Well, no. I mean, I’ve read Jack, so I kinda have a good idea what truly offensive webcomics look like. (Wait. Am I actually giving Jack credit for something? That’s it… I’m losing it.) And, well, jokes become less funny (and also less “random”) the more you try to convince the reader that something is silly and wacky. So, naturally, there are two whole chapters of Strawberry Death Cake ramming the Nazi Demon bunny joke down our throats. At some point it’s going to be funny!
I initially going to make a remark on the artwork about how Elliot Dombo uses the color red like its going out of style. The color of each panel matches the rage you feel reading it. As of the newest page, though Mr. Dombo seems to have discovered at least five other colors. Perhaps this won’t be a problem going forward. At the same time I think the art’s gone downhill… but it’s only the first page of the new style, so I won’t give Mr. Dombo too much crap for that.
Instead, I’m going to give Mr. Dombo crap about his compositions. Remember how I said it seems like Marilyn never does anything except stand around? That’s because most of the panels she’s in are obviously glamour posters, first and foremost. There’s one panel in particular that seems like it was shoe-horned in. Why is Marilyn striking such a dramatic poise for such a mundane speech? How come her words aren’t coming out of word balloons? And why are the characters so badly drawn in every other panel on that page? Simple: the pin-up art came first, and the entire page was more or less built up around it.
And why not? The pin-ups are fairly well drawn. Plus, they distract the reader from the rest of the comic. Else you might notice that the action sequences are badly paced and ineptly executed, and that every character moves as if they have stainless steel rods jammed up their joints.
I’m not anti-cheesecake, by the way. I think I’ve mentioned on this site before that I liked the Sorcerer Hunters manga. That comic was about hunting down demons, humorous camaraderie … and stuffing its two female leads in revealing dominatrix outfits. But it worked! The characters were generally likable (even Carrot, who was more of an unrepentant perv than Kendall), the demons were legitimately scary, action sequences were executed nicely … and it was sexy. The fanservice was icing on the cake. It’s a pretty good example that when you have a good grasp on the principles of storytelling and character development, the salaciousness feels more like a bonus than straight up pandering.
Strawberry Death Cake, on the other hand, is all icing, no cake. I suppose Mr. Dombo can hardly be blamed. The going theory is that “Sex sells,” and raging libidos bring in curious viewers. However, if there’s nothing beyond that, what the hell keeps me going? The characters — from the standpoint of personality and not physical build — are flatter than flat. The dialogue is hardly more than a collection of “clever” catchphrases that make me want to stab my brain with a fork. Both the paranormal investigative squad concept and the rock-band-turned-supernatural-heroes concepts are inherently pretty solid, but any semblance of plot is completely undermined by failed attempts at “humor.”
I mean, seriously … Nazi Death bunnies.
As a result, I don’t care for either Jessica or Marilyn. Both Kendall and Winston remain characters that you wish had died in a fire. I don’t know why they seem to think demons are such a bad thing. There’s never a sense that Strawberry Death Cake is anything but outside of the pin-up illustrations. Great, put together a DeviantArt gallery. However, a good webcomic? Strawberry Death Cake is most definitely not.
Final Grade: 1 star (out of 5)
Posted on January 25, 2011, in 1 Star, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, comedy webcomic, fanservice, fantasy webcomic, gothic, horror webcomic, manga style webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.