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).