The Webcomic Overlook #168: Looking For Group
(The following review comes from guest reviewer David Herbert. Thank you, David!)
You can tell a lot about a writer’s strengths and weaknesses when you take a look at their forays into different types of storytelling. In today’s case, we’re going to look at a comic strip writer’s attempt at writing an ongoing story with a layered plot.
Many of you will know of Ryan Sohmer from his webcomic Least I Could Do, or maybe The Gutters, which was reviewed on this site a while back. Looking For Group is different in that it attempts to have a complex story modelled after the epic fantasy genre, along the lines of Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time or A Song of Fire and Ice, while also parodying the branch of fiction.
How is it? Well, notice that I used the word attempt when referencing the story.
In the first page we are introduced to Cale’Anon, our hero who is the typical pure do-gooder type of protagonist, and Richard, who is the anti-thesis of this character and serves as the source of most of the comedy. The introduction is done well, establishing the characters and their motivations. Cale wants to help the world because it’s the right thing to do, Richard wants to destroy it because he’d find it funny. As the pages go on, we get more of an exploration of their relationship until Richard kills Cale and they need to find a healer. This leads to us being introduced to the other two main characters, Benn’Joon and Krunch Bloodrage, as well as the plot to find the Sword of Truth.
The comic is divided up into 28 page chapters (32 for the first one) which are collected into four chapter volumes. Volume one does a good job of being both light-hearted and yet a gripping story, with chapter three being the best by far as it allows Cale to grow out of his naivety. The second volume then realises the joke is done and that for LFG to continue, it has to become more serious. It does this well, introducing us to a war between the northern tribes of Legarion, the home world, and Legara, an empire in the land who act as the antagonists, while also exploring the characters more and giving them some depth. The ending is shocking and well done, although the final page may leave a bad taste in your mouth since it’s Richard being Richard.
“But David,” you may be asking, “It sounded like this wasn’t a good webcomic”… and you’re right, I only have praise for these first two volumes. Sadly, chapter nine is when the whole thing starts spiralling into the ground.
In the aftermath of chapter eight, Cale and friends must find out what happened to Krunch, following the army to interrogate soldiers in regards to his whereabouts. It does well to continue the story, until we meet Maikos. We then spend six pages doing what could have been done in one or two. Richard has to leave the group to save Maikos’ village from the enemy, since Richard is the lord of said village. Cale has some bad ass moments and we get some awesome lead up to an epic battle between Legara soldiers and Richard’s undead soldiers.
Is the battle as awesome as it sounds? We don’t know. The comic cuts back to Cale for a page and when we return, Richard’s army has won and is set to pack up and leave. Why don’t we get a battle? Because Ryan Sohmer spent the whole chapter filling up the book. And it gets worse from there.
While I am a big fan of this comic, it seems that as time goes on Sohmer’s writing is getting lazier and lazier, unnecessarily stretching out scenes in order to get to the 28 pages he needs to make the whole chapter. And it’s not just the filler, the characters have gotten lazy as well.
In chapter ten, the dwarves, who are evil in the universe except for main character Pella, are sieging the gnomes, who are barely holding off the attacks. Their leader refuses to leave, but it’s discovered that if a particular tower falls, they will. Pella kills the guards and the gnomes flee to safety. However, this is treated as the ultimate evil by Cale, who declares Pella untrustworthy and reasons they could have cleared the dwarves out with strategical assaults until they were all dead.
Okay, but it was made very clear the dwarves were very close to succeeding in winning the siege and Pella hates the idea of them dying, as the dwarves are the descendants of her family (She’s from the distant past). But Pella just makes a weak argument and that’s it, we’re supposed to think she’s wrong and Cale’s right. She even calls out Cale’s willingness to overlook Richard’s murders and he justifies it in that Richard hides the evidence.
Yes people, as long as you hide the evidence, you’re a good person, which makes me wonder how Cale even found out about Pella’s actions since he was asleep the whole time.
Sadly, it doesn’t end there. The next page, Benny comes to him and they start making out. She is then demoted to love interest. Does it sound like I’m being too vague and not giving enough detail? Well that’s all we’re given. She just out of nowhere falls in love with Cale and stops participating in the fights.
Of course, this shouldn’t surprise me. Sohmer did make his career on sexist jokes, but Benny and Pella were different as they were strong characters who could hold their own in a fight. Hell, Benny is introduced kicking ass in a bar room brawl. And now they’ve gone from main cast to side characters. To put it into perspective, go back to The Gutters review and scroll down until you see the Zatanna page. A strong and powerful woman in her own right, yet all she is to Sohmer and DeSouza is T&A.
The worst part of the comic is that we do get glimpses of interesting plots that could have filled in the pages Sohmer needs, but he ignores them. In issue twelve, Richard’s head gets severed from his body and the body is revealed to have its own free will. How is this resolved? They capture the body off panel and then have a filler page where they put the head on Richard’s ass and then chop it off with a sword. There’s also the end, where Cale and Richard go through a portal and discover a world where they are haunted by images from their past. It lasts all of five pages before volume three ends.
Okay, now everything I’ve bitched about comes from volume three, but the comic has volume four finished and is going through #5 now, so it obviously must have realised its faults and corrected them by now, right? No.
While there was an interesting look into Cale’s past before the comic at the start of chapter thirteen, most of the volume is set about preparing for Legara’s invasion of their new home city, which Cale rules as king. We spend two chapters in a cave dealing with giant worms and imps within them, before Legara shows up. Chapter sixteen is almost nothing but filler.
But that isn’t the worst part. In chapter fifteen, Richard is knocked out and Cale looks under his hood to see if he’s okay. Richard shoves him away, telling Cale he saw nothing, when Cale reveals a big plot twist: Richard isn’t dead. This doesn’t even begin to make sense. The guy gets a hole through his torso, repeatedly shot by arrows and had his head cut off… and yet is still alive? Okay, I’ll admit I’m not an expert on the fantasy genre, I just enjoy it, but there’s Suspension of Disbelief and then there’s impossible even by the rules you’ve set up.
Does it look like this comic is going to shape up any time soon? Sadly no. Chapter seventeen has begun the fight against Legara, but we’re breezing through it so quickly that it feels like Sohmer has another filler arc planned to stretch out his thin plot. And the comedy moments with Richard are now feeling pointless and aren’t even funny anymore. They just detract from the larger story.
Art wise, Lar DeSouza does a good job of bringing the world of Legarion to life and the addition of Ed Ryzowski as colourist adds some beautiful depth, although it can be a little jarring for those of us used to DeSouza’s pallet. But as All Star Batman and Robin has taught us, great art cannot save a poor story.
While the comic does have elements of an entertaining story, and if you’re tolerant as I am, you may hold out hope that it will pick up and become as good as it once was, I wouldn’t recommend it to any one as it is now.
Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)
Posted on June 1, 2011, in 2 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, comedy webcomic, fantasy webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics and tagged Looking For Group. Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.