One Punch Reviews #55: The Trenches

I am something of a fan of stories about he software industry. It probably has something to do with taking the driest subject matter possible (programming) and turning it into a story that’s dramatic or epic. One of my favorite biographies is Masters of Doom, the story about the creators behind the revolutionary first person shooter, Doom. It starts off with hard times with the creators being forced the work around the clock in a dank room and ends with a truly remarkable fortunes for its two principle characters: John Carmack went on to become so rich that he amassed enough money to build his own space ship, while John Romero had a momumental rise and fall, going from the rockstar to the laughingstock of the video game industry.

And you can bet that I am totally on board with seeing Man On A Mission, the documentary about Ultima creator and longtime cosplayer Richard “Lord British” Garriott, who also amassed so much money he eventually fulfilled his childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut.

The creators of The Trenches, Scott Kurtz, Mike Krahulik, and Jerry Holkins, also achieved some pretty amazing — albeit less galactic — milestones. Between them, they’ve established one the premiere game expo franchises in the world, emceed the Harvey Awards, were named as Time’s most influential people, and are regarded as the founding fathers of webcomics. Still, I don’t expect this partially autobiographical webcomic about life in the software development industry to arrive at something quite so mind-shattering.

Maybe if one of those lazy bums should get off their butts and build an actual space ship, huh?

The Trenches is staffed by a cast of characters whose noses are represented by various sorts of legumes. Our point of view is anchored by Isaac, a software programmer who’s way overqualified to be testing video games. Still, it’s a tough job market. When you’re living out of your car, beggars can’t be choosers.

We follow Isaac as he tries to desperately get his foot in the door. He finally succeeds when the boss takes Isaac to an Applebee’s, gets drunk, and hires Isaac on the spot. I was going to say that a similar bit happened on the Jaleel White sitcom, Grown Ups, but then I remembered that the boss in that case was a sexy babe, a hot tub was involved, and no one in the world watched that show so I should feel undying shame for even remembering it.

Immediately, Isaac is hated by the people in the company, mainly because his hiring meant someone had to be fired. Chief among his antagonists is Scott Kurtz Quentin McKenzie, a.k.a. “Q”, the team’s Test Lead who’s a big fan of the obscure (and fictional) 80’s cartoon, Lawstar. Isaac makes the mistake of disparaging the cartoon, and he soon finds himself at the tail-end of an office hazing ritual where he has to test a game that doesn’t exist. Fortunately, he finds a friend in Jade Sienna Cora Anders, a veteran who is probably the only normal person in the cast.

If there was a standardized scale gauging the subtleties between Penny Arcade and PvP, The Trenches would fall much closer to the PvP side. First of all, there are no parodies of games, which is the bread and butter of Penny Arcade. The comic is played as a generally straight office comedy with random goofy stuff thrown in. Like, most of the comic will be about the team coming together for crunch time, and then something like a “feral office baby” shows up.

So… PvP, basically.

And naturally, there’s a marketable cute, lovable animal named Mr. Toots. He tests video games because awwwwww wook at the cute widdle bunny wabbit and his cut wittle paws. His presence in the cast that seems to be a throwback to an earlier era of webcomics when everyone was required to have a waaaaacccckky animal somewhere under penalty of death. (Thanks, Pete Abrams.)

All in all, though, The Trenches isn’t a bad comic. It’s shaping up to be on more solid footing than either Penny Arcade or PvP. That’s the way it should be, given the maturity of their creators (despite being the focal points to some of webcomics’ most contentious online dramas, Kurtz, Krahulik, and Holkins have some decent business sense among ’em). It’s early, so I guess it can be forgiven for being a comic that’s still in search of an identity. Is it going to be a straight-up twisted reflection of the foibles of office culture, like Dilbert? Is it going to be a light-hearted relationship drama? Will it be a comic that’s practically usurped by the cute animal star? Will it…

… Screw it, it’s probably just a rebooted PvP.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5).


About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on January 19, 2012, in 4 Stars, comedy webcomic, One Punch Reviews, slice-of-life webcomic, video game webcomic, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I probably wouldn’t have rated it this high. As you said, it’s just a rebooted PVP, but whereas PVP had likeable characters with some dickish traits but they were ultimately good people, most of the characters tend to be meaner versions of them, like the kinds of assholes we see in Penny Arcade. This feels more like the Penny Arcade guys trying to imitate PVP than a new comic.

    Sadly, Kurtz does this a lot. The Kris and Scott show is basically live-action Blamimations, which doesn’t work because on the Penny Arcade show, Kurtz gained a following because he’s naturally spontaneously funny, but loses that when he limits himself with a script that he seems to have only half-memorised. However, I only watched the first three episodes so maybe it’s gotten better.

    I like Kurtz, I really do, but for all his talk of “I want to bring in change and keep things fresh” he seems to repeat himself a lot. But it’s usually entertaining enough for me to not care.

  2. my two cents,
    the pacing in trenches is super slow and the lead is weak kinda unlikeable,
    it still too young and I can see it can become a great comic in the future but is still doing the fundations and kinda too early (at least for me) to review,

    But still is a good comic but I expected something more spectacular because of his pedigree lets see if Kurtz/Tycho/Gabe combo proves me wrong (I hope so)

  3. I agree with algeya, it’s too early to tell.

  4. I was a little disappointed when I first noticed this comic. After wishing for the longest time that the PA guys would do something more with one of their amazing short stories I thought they were finally creating an ongoing story type of comic to counter their joke-a-day one. I feel like they would do really well if they went further with their experiments at fiction. They have some fantastic ideas and the skills to pull them off. Oh well. At least someone is making “New Kid” into a movie. Maybe they’ll publish a children’s book series based on “The Lookouts” someday too.

  5. I more or less agree. The two strips a week pacing is a detriment, but the three creators are, I imagine, incredibly busy, so it’s not like I have a solution on hand. Maybe the comic feels slow because it’s rare for a webcomic to be so followed right at its inception, most don’t get this kind of attention until the archives are years old. However, you didn’t mentioned my favorite part of the strip, the stories from software testers that accompany each strip. Those are astounding, and, interestingly, more interesting than the storylines of the actual strip. I like them so much that I kind of wish that the strip had just been illustrations of those stories.

  6. I like this and want to continue reading it, which puts it above PVP in my approximation. The real life stories shared are actually more interesting but the comicitself is solid.

  7. LawStar is clearly based on BraveStarr, a real 80s cartoon whose mere existence is about a million times funnier than the Trenches’ “parody” of it. Don’t miss the horse transformation in the opening:

    I have to admit I’m interested in the comic, in particular I really want to know what Isaac’s deal is–what his job history is (just how overqualified is he?), why he lives in a car, and why he was so desperate for this particular QA job that any reader (I assume most Trenches readers are familiar with the game industry) already knows is notoriously unpleasant. But I’ve been disappointed so far, it started with an intriguing character introduction and ever since it feels like its just filling space with gags that I don’t think are funny. I’m assuming they’re just spacing out the interesting character-driven stuff, but for now I’m not at all impressed.

    • Huh! I didn’t know that thing about BraveStarr. I actually guessed C.O.W.Boys of Moo Mesa, but BraveStarr makes more sense. Perhaps Mr. Kurtz made changes because he’s hedging his bets for a post-SOPA world. 🙂

  8. I wouldn’t say it’s THAT new… it already has 50 installments…

  9. 50 very decompressed 3-4 panels and super slow paced strips, but still they havent introduced all the main characters yet

  10. Fun appealing character art and acting, boring sitcom office humor.

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