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The Webcomic Overlook #219: Wizard School

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I’ve read somewhere — perhaps on a Snapple cap — that to really put together a good satire, you sorta have to be half in love with material you’re making fun of. Makes sense. If you lack the in-depth knowledge it takes to be a fan, jokes can come off as fairly limp and groanworthy. Like, say, The Big Bang Theory‘s idea of what nerd culture is like.

Harry Potter is one of those properties that has so many odd details that it’s permanently ripe for parody. Now, I’m not a Harry Potter fanatic. I’ve yet to read the last two books, mainly because I was so disappointed by Ms. Rowlings’ awful writing in Order of the Phoenix. However, I’m knowledgeable enough about the world of Hogwarts to enjoy a good Potter parody.

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, for example, is one of my favorite recent fantasy books, and at its core it’s a Harry Potter parody. Imagine the Harry Potter world, only the teenagers populating it more closely resemble the ones you see hanging around, say, Reddit: nihilistic and self-destructive and witheringly snarky… but at the core, really very scared. Grossman used the Potter foundation to create another fully self-realized fantasy world.

Harry Potter parody fiction lives on in webcomics as well with Wizard School, written by Kevin Kneupper and illustrated by Robert Rath. It’s not as good as The Magicians. Mainly because I have five words for you that should send chills down your very spine:

Rayne Summers IS Harry Potter.

Screen Shot 2013-01-13 at 3.14.52 PM

Not literally, of course. While our hero isn’t the actual, factual Rayne Summers, I wouldn’t be surprised if the two shared the same Briggs Meyers score. And hair stylist. Our protagonist, Russell Graham, is a phenomenally successful business guy. He’s also a dick. He makes people bad because he can. He’s a womanizer who can’t speak two likes without referring to his genitals. And he flashes around a big old poo-eating grin that makes you slap him upside the head early and often.

Much of that grin, fortunately, disappears when Russell is whisked away to Bumblebane’s Magical Academy of Wizarding Arts.

Wizard School opens with Harry and Hermoine — or their non-union equivalents — getting iced by an off-brand Lord Voldemort. I’m never a fan of beginnings like this in parody materials by the way. It almost sets up expectations wy too high, as if the originals are clearly the inferior product to the raw world-weariness of the Wizard School brand. Anyway, Harry and Hermoine find out too late that hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good hand gun at your side.

In order to further his wicked plan of screwing with the good guys, the villains So, to totally screw with the good guys, the villains decide to mark an off-brand Rayne Summers named Russell Graham with the thing that marks all heroes of destiny: a lightning star tattoo. If the heroes follow him and crown him as their Chosen One, they’re doomed to fail, as the logic goes.

Screen Shot 2013-01-13 at 3.16.14 PM

So that’s basically that’s the comic’s one joke. Harry Potter has been replaced by a cynical, middle-aged man — something that the regular cast don’t really question, which is part of the joke. He’s trapped in a world where the whimsy and magic just go over his head. Draco Malfoy thinks he’s such a badass? Pffff. Let’s see how tough the little pisher is when you burn his forehead with a cigarette butt or stick his head in the toilet. A grown man bullying children. Comedy!

Unfortunately, that one-note joke gets predictable fairly quickly.

For example, there’s a “sorting hat” scene. I mean, of course there’s a sorting hat scene. It’s pretty much written into stone that if you’re doing a Harry Potter parody creation, you need that, something about Quidditch, and words that rhyme with “fizzleflomp.” There are some changes, of course. There’s no actual hat, first of all, just a trippy hallucination. The school system has also been streamlined. Rather than four houses, there are now two: Dragonsbane for good students and Serpentor for bad students. (For you really old Webcomic Overlook readers: yes, the beloved character from GI Joe does get a shout-out.)

Now that you know the set-up, I leave it up to you, the reader, to guess what happens next. I want your guess in, say, three seconds.

Yes, that’s what happens.

To the point: Russell is faced with a decision. He can either join Dragonsbane and protect innocent lives, or he could join Serprentor and become an evil warlord. And what does Russell decide? He wants to join Serpentor because it’s so badass! Oh man, who could’ve saw that coming? Fifty points to you if you did. Also, fifty extra points if you also called that the sorting hat wouldn’t let Russell join Serprentor because he’s the Chosen One and that’s not what good guys do.

Screen Shot 2013-01-13 at 3.14.07 PM

The world of Harry Potter was fairly anachronistic even during the year it debuted. (Seriously, the kid was straight out of a Charles Dickens novel.) It’s a children’s novel that’s been embraced by adults. The simple morality is fair game to mock. Yet, I can’t help but feel that Wizard School oftentimes misses the mark. It’s OK to joke about the silliness of the scene, but the way it transpires seem to forget that, in the source material, the Sorting Hat thought Harry would make an excellent candidate for Slytherin.

There are also several scenes with Professor Evilmore, the Snapes stand-in. Russell bemoans that Evilmore is clearly a villain, and the school staff act like ignorant hippies who can’t see the obvious. This would make for a clever joke in a parody of, say, the Thor movie, where the characters can’t seem to figure out that the evil-looking Loki is the bad guy.

But Harry Potter? Don’t Harry, Hermoine, and Ron almost always suspect Snapes of evildoing in every single book? And isn’t Snapes almost always falsely accused of wrong-doing? It was actually one of the most clever and subversive things J.K. Rowling ever did in the books: the ones you who think are bad have more going on that you may imagine. (Again, I haven’t read the last two books, though I know the spoiler for the sixth one. My assessment might not stand among the Harry Potter faithful.) Philosopher’s/Sorceror’s Stone, in fact, pulls a nifty double-switch in casting the real villain as one of the professors we trusted. Calling characters out for being buffoons when the issue itself is explored quite fully in the source just seems like a cheap, undeserved gag.

(Shoot, a better gag would be the good guys just jumping on the Snapes guy for every dang thing. “Look at that, the faucet’s dripping.” “Oh my God, EVILMORE!”)

Screen Shot 2013-01-13 at 3.13.14 PM

The rest of the jokes seem like pale attempts to cater to the 4chan and Reddit crowds. Hey, look, Russell has a familiar that’s a foul-mouthed goat! And his name is “Goatsie“! A ha ha ha ha ha! (Kill me.) Oh no, Russell is now stuck with a magical horse that looks like a character from a popular kid’s cartoon! And his name is Brony! Ho ho ho ho ho! (KILL ME.)

Oh, man, the White Wizards who intermarried among themselves to keep the bloodlines pure … and they’re portrayed as rednecks! Wait… that’s actually kinda clever. Ten points to Wizard School. But wait, they’re rednecks, right? Get ready for some SODOMY … and bestiality, sure why not.

In the end, Russell is just not the sort of guy we as readers are not asked to root for. Technically, the “heroes” of The Magicians were even worse than Russell by benefit of being more realistically and three-dimensionally selfish. But you sort of rooted for them anyway, if only to see if these horrible kids can actually grow up and change.

Russell, on the other hand, is very much in the Rayne Summers mold: the only reason to root for him is because we’re told to. The key to rooting for anti-heroes like, say, Gregory House is to see that for all the character’s bravado, they’re also acknowledged as deeply damaged. The gag here is that even the main character is unsympathetic … and really, that’s too thin of a joke to hang a whole webcomic around. Wizard School is the sort of comic that would really benefit by, say, adding a love interest to call Russell out on his BS. Unfortunately, the closest this webcomic ever comes is with Celeste, a fawning fellow student who’s twelve years old. Pretty creepy, though not as creepy as Russell rationalizing how Celeste as an 18-year-old stripper with older man issues would be part of a win-win scenario.

Lesson here: a cynical, selfish lead character may be cheeky, but it doesn’t automatically make your story good.

Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)

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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 15, 2013, in 2 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, comedy webcomic, fantasy webcomic, parody webcomic, pop culture caricatures, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. I don’t know for sure, but I remember hearing that it was Mel Brooks who thought you should parody things you like, which is why he parodied spaghetti westerns and old monster movies instead of 90’s slasher films.

  2. The comic really needs a cast page

  3. I’m pretty sure we’re not supposed to root for Russel – that’s kind of the point. See the last image, “I’m pretty sure I’ve always been a terrible person”. In a different comic, he would go through some sort of redemption arc or have some redeeming qualities. But he doesn’t, which is kind of the point.

    • Oh, I get that. I know we’re not supposed to root for Russell. But, since he’s unlikable… What’s supposed to make me want to read this comic at all? The parody is not all that clever and the jokes aren’t that funny. I guess humor is subjective, but introducing a character named Brony is pretty much low hanging fruit.

      • Reepicheep-chan

        Agreed, even if the protag is a bad person you should at least be able to _like_ him. I can thinking of genocidal psychopaths who are more likable.

      • There are plenty of jerks in fiction who have a fanbase despite having no positive qualities. The jerk is either the butt of the majority of the physical humor or has certain qualities taken to such extremes that he loops around to being likeable again.

        • Correction: This only applies to one-dimensional comedic characters. Russel should have been this considering the nature of the comic. Either that or make him similar to the house example you provided, which was a good insight by the way.

        • Or the jerk’s actions should face the same consequences (or worse) and reactions that would be seen in the real world. There can be quite a bit of comedy gained from jerks trying to play the system only for it to hilariously backfire, screwing people over only for them to turn out to be important, and the dissonance of how they see themselves compared to how they really are. It’d be much funnier than them acting like a jerk and getting nothing worse than an eyeroll and a snarky aside.

          • yeah, a good example of a well-done comedic jerk would be Bender from Futurama. We cheer for him because we know he’s ridiculously awful, but he has a certain charm and things do backfire and he does get his comeuppance now and then.

  4. Magic Xylophone

    “and they’re portrayed as rednecks! Wait… that’s actually kinda clever. Ten points to Wizard School.”

    Yeah, sorry El Santo. Had you read the sixth book, you would have found that Rowling already had that trope covered as well. In fact, it made for one of the best scenes in the whole series.

  5. While I disagree with your assessment of J.K.’s writing in the fifth book, and would DEFINITELY recommend you check out the sixth and seventh books, as they are my two favorites in the series (and yes, there ARE severely inbred, ‘redneck’ wizards in the sixth book), I definitely do agree with you about this comic, El Santo. I had a very similar reaction to the killing of the Harry and Hermione expys, in that I thought the comic was basically screaming ‘LOOK HOW FUCKING CUTTING-EDGE AND REALISTIC OUR STUFF IS COMPARED TO YOUR STUPID HARRY POTTER HAHAHAHAHAHA’, and that just about everything afterwards felt like a mean-spirited parody done by someone who had only bothered to skim the stuff they were parodying, that, while occasionally providing a genuine bit of amusement, mostly just left you feeling bored and annoyed.

  6. Potter Puppet Pals already did the “wizards shooting guns” joke long before this comic did it, and it was much better.

  7. Didn’t Sluggy Freelance (of all comics) already do this exact same thing years ago? When the first HP movie came out?

    This whole idea just sits in a special ring of dead horse hell.

  8. Ey Me ha gustado bastante tu noticia asi que pense en dejarte un mensaje. He pillado tu feed para no perderme tus entradas. Abrazos desde Peru

  1. Pingback: Tall, strong, well-mannered hero? Yawn. Tactless, arrogant, misanthropic sociopath? Yes, please. « The Broke Bookworm

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